• 78-year-old Evan Blackman says he's accepted that he may never be compensated for eight years of unpaid labour. (NITV)Source: NITV
Murri workers whose wages were controlled by the government until the 1970s are applying for reparations for their unpaid labour, but have all but given up hope that they'll ever be repaid in full.
Ella Archibald-Binge

3 Aug 2017 - 5:31 PM  UPDATED 3 Aug 2017 - 5:31 PM

78-year-old Evan Blackman worked for eight years without a proper wage, mainly in slaughterhouses across north Queensland.

Now, he and thousands of others have applied for a share in the Palaszczuk government's $21 million reparations scheme. 

The maximum individual payout is $9200 for new claimants, while those who've already been successful under a different scheme may be eligible for a "top-up" payment of up to $2200.

"If I get some money, that's to my benefit. If I don't, I'm not gonna cry about it," Mr Blackman tells NITV News.

Under the Aborigines Protection Act from 1898 until the 1970s, the wages of Indigenous people were split between a government-controlled savings account, tax and an Aborigines Welfare Fund, with the worker sometimes receiving a small allowance.

When the act was overhauled, the wages were never returned. 

In total, the government has offered to repay $55 million since 2002. Historians estimate it's about a tenth of what's owed.  

"I'm a bit wild with things that have been going on, but what can I do?" says Mr Blackman, who's been on a disability pension following a heart attack in 1986.

"I’ll fill out the form and whatever happens, happens." 

Those who accept reparation payments must agree not to pursue any legal action against the government to seek further compensation.  

But that hasn't stopped 68-year-old Melita Orcher, a former domestic worker, from joining a state-wide class action, which has attracted around 3400 people so far in its bid to sue the government for unpaid wages.

"I'm not worried, because I just know in my own heart there's never going to be anything for us," Ms Orcher says.

"I'm in my late 60s now and this fight went on for a long time - we just got bits and pieces of money and that sort of thing. 

"Even if they tell us we'll get a few little dollars... I've had a stroke, I've had an open heart [surgery], and I'm also a diabetic, and I really feel sometimes that there's nothing to live for." 

The current reparations scheme has paid $11.1 million to more than 4300 claimants, of which:

  • 3552 people have received a "top-up" payment
  • 682 new claimants have been found eligible
  • 232 previously ineligible claims have been reassessed as eligible

429 claims have been denied.

Applications for the current scheme close on September 29, 2017.

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