Ken Brindle is one of the many unsung heroes of the struggle for Aboriginal rights and as today marks 85 years since he was born in 1931, we wanted to pay tribute and celebrate his life and his work.
NITV Staff Writers

19 Oct 2016 - 7:54 PM  UPDATED 20 Oct 2016 - 11:11 AM

Ken Brindle was born in New South Wales in 1931, and spent his earlier years at the 'United Aborigines Mission' children’s home in Bomaderry, and then later spent time at the infamous Kinchela Boys’ Home.

Like many Aboriginal youth of that time, he was denied a high school education and instead worked on a farm just outside of Tamworth. He eventually ran away, moving between different Aboriginal reserves and missions, picking up work wherever he was able, and staying anywhere people would put him up. He would later reflect on this time in his life, saying 'in this business of helping one another along we reckon we’ve got something pretty valuable that the white feller hasn’t got’.

Brindle enlisted in the Army in 1952 and served in South Korea in 1954-55, this was an significant time in his life, and he was quoted as saying, "for the first time in my life white people were treating me as an equal. It made me realise that [A]borigines don’t have to be inferior".

In 1960 he helped reestablish the Redfern All Blacks Rugby League Club with fundraising from the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (AAF). He participated in several AAF campaigns, particularly those against racial profiling and police targeting of Aboriginal youth.

Even though his involvement with the police was most commonly as an advocate for others he was prosecuted several times, but always fought the charges in court and won. Once, he was even awarded £400 damages plus costs for malicious prosecution, a rare win for Aboriginal people against the police at that time, or at any time since.

In an article he wrote for the August 1970 edition of New Dawn (a monthly magazine published by the Aborigines Welfare Board between 1952-1975 which is well worth researching, especially for NSW mob!), he described the Redfern All Blacks as "an expression of identity and visible proof that they can organise and manage their own affairs."

According to his entry in the Australian Database of Biography, written by Lyn Brignell, "His activism was characterised by an infectious energy and enthusiasm underpinned by intelligence, cunning and a sense of humour and he drew many converts to the Aboriginal cause. Those campaigning for Aboriginal civil rights were often branded as communists, but when Brindle was accused of being a `red’ he would laughingly reply, `are you blind mate, I’m black’."

NITV spoke to Uncle Stephen Ridgeway, a former resident of Kinchela Boys' Home, a long time resident in the Redfern community and former player and executive member of the Redfern All Blacks about his memories of Ken. 

"He was one of the ex Kinchela boys. He and Burnum Burnum (Harry Penrith) they ran off together."

"I met Ken the year that Kennedy died, in 1963. It was at Alexandria Park and they were playing touch football. He married a girl from Kempsey, Mavis Jacky, and he knew my father."

"He got all the black people together and started the Redfern All Blacks. Because we weren't allowed to play on the white sides."

"Ken bought two places in the block in Redfern and he let the boys from Kinchela stay with him. There was about 27 of us. It was two stories, four bedrooms. We had bugs everywhere, in the kitchen, everywhere. But we all looked after each other. He was like the big brother to us Kinchela boys"

In 1989, the NSW Aboriginal Education Council created the Ken Brindle Memorial scholarships in his honour. The Ken Brindle Memorial Shield is also presented each year to the most promising player in the grand final of the annual New South Wales People’s Knockout Rugby league competition.