Jul 182023

Uncle Bob gave permission for his name and image to be used after he passed. Cara Britton painted the image and also contributed to the article.

I would like to recognise the wonderful life of Uncle Bob Randall. Uncle Bob was a traditional keeper of Uluru, and a Tjilpia special teaching uncle.

In term 2, our First Nations Discussion Group watched a film called Kanyini. This film, made in 2006 by Melanie Hogan and co-produced and narrated by Uncle Bob Randall, tells of Uncle Bob’s own journey as a child of The Stolen Generation. In the film, Uncle Bob generously shares his wisdom about First Nations views on ownership/custodianship of the land.

Uncle Bob’s father was Bill Liddle, the Scottish owner of Angus Downs Station in NT. Bill was married to an Arrente woman but she was not Bob’s mother. Bob lived the traditional life with his Yankunytjatjara mother and other mob on the property, but was not part of the Liddle family. He talks about the joy of the bush life, where you not only have one mother and father, but all your Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents are your careers and guides. He describes the peace and joy of being at one with the land. Not owning it, because the “land owns us“, just being a caretaker of the land for the short time you are there. The land is described as being everything in it, earth, rocks, sky, waterways, trees, insects, animals and how the land goes on for ever. It was here before any of us and will be here after. He tells us that you are never lonely when you are on the land.

However, at the age of 7, in keeping with the assimilation policies of the time, Bob was taken to an institution in Alice Springs for half caste children. He then lived in Government institutions until his 20s. He then set about discovering his mob – at that time no records were kept for Aboriginal people – and getting an education.

During his lifetime, Uncle Bob worked as an educator in cultural awareness, preservation and responsibility to the environment, as a counsellor, and as an advocate for equal rights and land rights.

He was also a musician, with a country music band. His song My Brown Skin Baby They Take Him Away became an anthem for the Stolen Generation. Try listening to this on YouTube without shedding a tear!

Cara was so moved by the film we watched that she painted Uncle Bob’s portrait. Cara says: I found that through seeing Kanyini, and reading about Uncle Bob, his gentle wisdom, humility, and deep love of land settled into my heart. As he said “caring with unconditional love, with responsibility“. In my painting, I was inspired to show Uncle Bob as being of the land, part of, within, not separate from. He is the land. Uluru stands as a sentinel behind him. His gift to us is his message – love and care of the land, not ownership.

Thank you Uncle Bob.