Army Times

What did World War Two mean for the Northern Territory's Aboriginal people?

Ted Egan in conversation with Kathy Mills, Host – Peter Forrest

Territory legends Ted Egan and Kathy Mills chat about their experiences and memories of the Northern Territory in ‘Army times’ and after. ‘Army times’ for the Territory’s Aboriginal people was a time when many of them who had not previously been in close contact with white people were taken into Army ‘control camps’ – sometimes voluntarily, sometimes under compulsion. When the war ended many of the Aborigines could not or would not return to their home country. The Government solution was to establish ‘welfare settlements’ where these people could live new lives, preparatory to entering the general community.

Ted Egan, as a Native Affairs Branch officer, was closely involved with the development of these new settlements. Kathy Mills, a Kungarakan / Gurindji woman, is from a family that made a notable contribution, not only to the war effort but also to the Territory.

Look forward to some poetry and songs – and robust discussion.



Peter and Sheila Forrest

Peter and Sheila have been researching, writing and publishing about the history of the people and places of northern and inland Australia since the 1970s. In that time they have written and published 34 books as well as innumerable articles, radio broadcasts, films, talks and lectures. They have a special interest in the Second World War in the Territory, particularly the impacts of the war on civilians. Their book Battling: Territorians and Their War (2012) was about the Territory civilian experience and was a stark reminder that ‘war isn’t only about soldiers.’ Their more recent publications include Their Promised Land: A History of the Barcoo Shire, Queensland (2014); The World Flies in … and Darwin Takes Off (2016); Together: A history of the CWA in the Northern Territory (2018); and Mandatory Reading: Lawyers and Life in the Northern Territory (2018).

Ted Egan AM

Ted Egan was 16 when he first came to Darwin in 1949, intending a short stopover en route to South America where he thought he would find adventure as a gaucho. He went no further – the Territory offered more than enough adventure! He quickly demonstrated an empathy with Aboriginal people. He spent the next 25 years as a public servant, crocodile hunter, Native Affairs Branch officer, and school teacher, acquiring a Bachelor of Arts degree along the way. He listened carefully to everyone he met, soaking up remarkable stories and astonishing speech patterns. By the late 1960s he was in demand as a singer and story teller. In 1969 he wrote the song Gurindji Blues, a powerful commentary on the Gurindji struggle for land rights. A few years later he began writing and singing full time, with national popular success. In 2003 he was appointed Administrator of the Northern Territory, the pinnacle of the many honours and awards that have justly come his way; however, he considers that being involved in 1952 with the establishment of St Mary’s Football Club in Darwin, to provide an opportunity for Tiwi players to participate, was the highpoint of his life. For the centenary of the Great War he created the multi-media kit – The Anzacs 100 Years on, in Story and Song. Recently, he shrugged off an aggressive cancer. Now, he is busily engaged planning his 90th birthday celebrations in 2022 – and he is still writing, still singing, still telling yarns, still delighting everyone he meets.

Kathy Mills

(Aunty) Kathy Mills is a community leader, poet, singer, Aboriginal elder and activist. She is a living representation of almost all the main themes of Northern Territory history; she is from a family of people acknowledged since the 1920s as being outstanding community leaders and exemplars. In 1986 Kathy was recognised by NAIDOC as the national and NT Aboriginal of the Year. She has been a member of the Northern Land Council and a member of the Stolen Generations inquiry panel. She is a strong advocate on matters relating to alcohol and alcoholism in the Territory. She is a Kungarakung / Gurindji woman.

Buy Tickets