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Joint Media Release
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
24 May 2002
The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp and the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Philip Ruddock, today noted with regret the passing of Big Bill Neidjie, a senior elder of Kakadu National Park and a traditional owner of the Bunitj estate in northern Kakadu.
Although Aboriginal cultural tradition normally prohibits it, Big Bill's name is being used at the request of his family. He died at his daughters' home at the East Alligator Ranger Station in Kakadu National Park last night.
Big Bill Neidjie was called "Big Bill" by those who knew him because of his physique and physical strength probably gained through his time working on the luggers transporting stores and supplies to remote island communities in the Northern Territory.
He was born just after the First World War and in his long life, saw much change occur in his traditional lands in the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. As a young man Big Bill assisted in the defence of Australia during the Second World War, working at the radar station at Cape Don. He was in Darwin during the bombings in 1942 and is remembered as assisting Aboriginal people during and after the devastation.
After many years of working outside his traditional lands, Big Bill was a central figure in their establishment as a National Park in 1979, after which he returned to Kakadu to commit the rest of his life to supporting the joint management of the Park.
Mr Ruddock said, "This man saw enormous change in this region and for all of his long life proudly sought to share with others the deep affection and connection that indigenous custodians have for their traditional lands."
Dr Kemp said, "He was instrumental in the establishment of Kakadu National Park and was deeply committed to sharing his love for his country, his respect for the heritage of his country and his indigenous culture with countless thousands of park visitors and all who shared his love for the natural world."
He is widely known as 'Kakadu Man' - after the title of his first published book of prose and philosophy. Later, in 1989, he published a second volume of prose entitled 'Story about Feeling'. In both works he spoke of his deep feelings for his country and his indigenous culture. "His wisdom and insights embodied in these works will continue to be valued for years to come," Dr Kemp said.
He was also the last surviving speaker of the Gagudju language (pronounced gar-ga-djoo), an indigenous language from northern Kakadu after which Kakadu National Park is named.
In 1989 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to conservation.
Dr Kemp and Mr Ruddock expressed their condolences on behalf of the government, to his family, the traditional owners of Kakadu National Park and to the park staff to whom he was well known.
Dr Kemp's office Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400
Mr Ruddock's office Jeremy Chitty 0418 971 042