MS 4642

Don McLeod correspondence

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The resources represented by this finding aid contain words or descriptions which reflect the author's attitude or that of the period in which the resource was written. These words or descriptions may be considered inappropriate or offensive today. The resources may also contain images and other references to deceased persons, which may cause sadness or distress, particularly to the relatives of these people.

Access and Use Conditions

Summary Information

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Library
McLeod, D. W. (Donald William)
Don McLeod correspondence
MS Call Number
MS 4642
Date [inclusive]
0.09 linear metres (1 archival box) + 2 items in Manuscript Plan Cabinet
Correspondence of Western Australian activist Don McLeod, mainly with Ken Liberman, who was active in the United States on behalf of Australian Indigenous people. Includes a few newspaper clippings; reports of both writers' activities and schemes relating to McLeod's work with Australian Aboriginal people; funding problems; commercial ventures; criticism of state and federal governments and politicians; strong opinions about those involved in Aboriginal affairs and their actions; some reports on personal lives of McLeod and Liberman.
Preferred Citation
Items from this collection should be cited as [Title or description of manuscript item], Don McLeod correspondence, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, MS 4642, Series [no.], Folder or Item [no.].
Compiled date
March 2010

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Access to Collections

Open access - reading. [Access code: R1]

Materials listed in this finding aid may be subject to access conditions imposed by the Indigenous communities and/or depositors. Users are advised that access to some of the materials may be subject to these terms and conditions which the Institute is required to maintain.

Obtaining access permissions

In cases where permission is required, it must be obtained in writing and must be signed. It is recommended that permission to copy and quote from the collection is requested at the same time if this is likely to be needed.

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E-mail library staff or telephone them on +61 2 6246 1182 for assistance in obtaining permissions.

Use of Collections

Closed copying & quotation - Principal's permission. [Access code: B1].

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Obtaining copying and quotation permissions

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Scope and Contents note

This collection consists mainly of letters from Don McLeod to Ken Liberman. There are also some replies from Liberman.

Ken Liberman came to Australia in 1975 to teach as part of the Foundational Faculty of Murdoch University. He wanted to live with the Western Desert Aboriginal people and transferred to the job of Research Anthropologist (Western Desert) at the Western Australian Museum in mid 1976. As a result he came into contact with some Ngaanyatjarra men who lived on the Western Australia/Northern Territory border and who invited him to take the job of Community Adviser at Docker River where he worked from November 1977 to September 1978. It was during this time that he met McLeod whose work he had admired.

Ken Liberman, or his associates of the Northern Hemispheric Association for the Advancement of Australian Aboriginals (NHAAAA), were authorised to collect moneys, on behalf of the Desert Nomads of West Australia, by Jack Oberdoo, President, and Don McLeod, Adviser (Letter, August 1979).

The NHAAAA was formed by Liberman and his wife after their return to the United States. They believed they could effectively assist the Australian Aboriginal people by publicising their land rights problems in Europe and the USA. Their activities included film tours to many US black churches, a tour of Japan hosted by the Japanese Green Party, testimony at the UN Human Rights Commission, and lobbying of the US Congress on particular issues. NHAAAA operated from 1980-1990 (see copy of email from Liberman in Folder 4).

The letters between McLeod and Liberman tend to be reports on both of the writers' activities and schemes as they related to McLeod's work for Australian Aboriginal people. For example, by Liberman writing regarding the possibilities of raising funds in the United States, McLeod contacting all the Embassies and High Commissions in Canberra in an attempt to bring Australia's racial discrimination to the attention of the world at the United Nations, and McLeod making very outspoken comments.

The difficulties of finding sufficient funds is a continuous theme in McLeod's letters. Many of the letters cover funding required for commercial ventures, such as buying stations. Schemes such as seeking funds from several foreign governments in order to settle Vietnamese and Cambodian boat people in the Kimberley are also covered.

Criticism of state and federal governments and politicians over various actions are also reported on by McLeod and some letters from McLeod to politicians can be found in the correspondence.

The writers also express their strong opinions about the Australian government, ATSIC and others involved in Aboriginal affairs. There is also some information about both of the writers' personal life.

Reports etc. mentioned as having been sent with the correspondence were not included in this gift, although there are copies of a few newspaper clippings.

Other correspondents include Maureen Berman, Stephen Corry (Survival International), Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister of Australia), W.J. Allen (Secretary, Commission on Aboriginal Affairs, Uniting Church of Australia), Senator Susan Ryan, Craig Van Note, Miss Webb (World Council of Churches), Warburton Community Inc. (WA), Foreign News Editor, New York Times, Peter Costello (Deputy Leader of the Opposition), Alexander Downer, (Leader of the Opposition), and Joshua Frith (  The Australian newspaper).

For a complete listing of material by and about either McLeod or Liberman see Mura, the AIATSIS catalogue.

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Biographical note

Donald William McLeod (1908-1999) was born in Meekatharra, Western Australia. He left school at sixteen and became a prospector, mechanic, well sinker and miner.

In 1937 senior Aboriginal Law men of the Pilbara and desert regions were asking him “Why is our country no longer ours?”, and “Why can’t we travel without being arrested?”

Don McLeod researched their questions and in 1942 was invited to an important Law meeting held at Skull Springs on the Davis River. McLeod was the only white man at this meeting attended by at least two hundred Law men. It was at this meeting that arrangements for a strike in protest at working conditions in the pastoral industry were made.

Through the continuing efforts of Aboriginal organisers Dooley Bin Bin and Clancy McKenna the strike began on 1 May 1946 and lasted in its first phase until August 1949. The strikers were able to sustain themselves by hunting kangaroos and goats, establishing a buffel grass seed market in Sydney and gathering pearl shell. Many strikers were arrested for leaving their employers without government permission and locked in chains, McLeod among them, for enticing people to strike. Eventually graziers agreed to pay wages to the stockmen.

After the strike, McLeod set up an Aboriginal land company, Nomads Pty Ltd, and bought Strelley Station, east of Port Hedland. McLeod continued to be active in advocating rights for Aboriginal people and took part in the 1980 Noonkanbah protests.

McLeod recorded his experiences and those of Aboriginal people in Western Australia in his book How the West was lost: then native question in the development of Western Australia, Port Hedland, WA, 1984.

McLeod died in Perth in 1999 at the age of 91.


Roberts, Paul, Foreword, in McLeod, Don, How the West was lost: the native question in the development of Western Australia, Port Hedland, WA, 1984

McLeod, Don, How the West was lost: the native question in the development of Western Australia, Port Hedland, WA, 1984, p. 40-42, 49

Rearden, David, 'Don McLeod Aboriginal rights activist 1908 – 1999' ,  Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1999, p. 37

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Administrative Information

Provenance note

This collection was donated to the AIATSIS Library by Kenneth Liberman in August 2009.

Arrangement note

Most of the letters were received in reverse chronological order and this order has been retained. The small number of letters that were not in this order have been interfiled.

Two newspapers clippings are held in the Manuscript Plan Cabinet.

Processing Information note

This correspondence was organised and described by C. Biggs and J.E. Churches, using Archivists Toolkit, March 2010

Related Archival Materials note

Correspondence is also held by the State Library of Western Australia.

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AIATSIS Thesauri Headings

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in Mura, the AIATSIS catalogue, The Thesaurus can be found through the Quick Links feature on the same page.

Corporate Name(s)

  • Nomads Pty Ltd.
  • Strelley Community.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Pilbara area (WA SF50, SF51, SG50)
  • Western Australia (WA)

Personal Name(s)

  • Liberman, Kenneth
  • Liberman, Kenneth
  • McLeod, D. W. (Donald William)


  • Enterprises
  • Government policy
  • Government policy - State and territory - Western Australia
  • Politics and Government - Political action - Activism

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