LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – The disarray of Territory politics at present is tempting many commentators locally and interstate to claim this is a consequence of the meager choice of quality in our political candidates due to the Northern Territory’s small population base, reflected in such comments as “our gene pool is simply too shallow”.
On the contrary, such comments reveal a lack of knowledge of the NT’s political history, and conveniently ignore what’s happened in Federal politics and some state governments (NSW, for example) in recent years.
It’s also ironic given that the majority of our “gene pool” from which we derive many of our members comes from interstate, a point not lost with some who criticise the current Chief Minister, for example.
The NT’s much smaller population decades ago was a major impediment for the devolution of powers from the Commonwealth for self-government.
This factor lay behind the NT Legislative Council (1947-74) consisting partially of elected members and with little legislative power; and also of limited voting rights for the NT’s Federal member, too.
Even the fully elected Legislative Assembly initially had no greater powers than its predecessor, from 1974 until self-government was granted in 1978.
Yet the Territory’s tiny population base of that era was no impediment to the rise of a number of politicians of great calibre, integrity, character and achievement.
Amongst these were Jock Nelson, Bernie Kilgariff, Dick Ward, Harry Chan, Frank Johnson, Tiger Brennan, DD Smith, Neil Hargrave, Len Purkiss, Colonel Lionel Rose, Sam Calder and Tony Greatorex (significantly, most of those named are associated with Central Australia, a region of far sparser population then than it is now).
Some were rough diamonds or had comparatively brief careers in politics, and there were personality clashes, too; but their standards of behaviour and intellect were far superior to anything we see today and their achievements vastly more outstanding.
They were all genuinely committed towards the NT and spent most of their lives here (only two died interstate); there was none of the lip service so common to our politicians now.
Sadly they are largely forgotten despite some having buildings, parks, streets, suburbs or electorates named after them. Perhaps the reason for our corporate memory loss is that these figures from the recent past now put us all to shame.
History is vital for the perpetuation of good government.
Caption: Retired politician Bernie Kilgariff at a function held during the CLP Annual Conference in Alice Springs in August 1988, during which he and his wife Aileen were awarded Honorary Life Memberships to the party of which they were foundation members in 1974. Mr Kilgariff’s political career was from 1960 to 1987, serving as a Non-official Member of the NT Legislative Council (1960-68), Member for Alice Springs (1968-75) and Senator for the Northern Territory (1975-87). He still holds the record as the NT’s longest-serving politician. Photo by Alex Nelson.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR