William Charles Bates, the Indigenous land and legal rights activist who led the campaign that saw the first national park in New South Wales returned to traditional owners, died in Adelaide last week, at the age of 66.
The Barkandji man had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, more than nine months ago.
In 1983, Bates led the Mutawintji blockade, which resulted in the NSW Government closing off sacred sites to the public and the eventual handing over of the national park to traditional owners.
Mr Bates' skill at winning over and bringing different people together shone when it came to the land rights movement.
In the early 1980s, he began mobilising local Indigenous communities, preparing to launch a campaign to have local land handed back to traditional owners.
It took 15 years of campaigning, but eventually in 1998, Mutawintji was returned to its traditional owners, with the government leasing the park back.
"He was very proud of [the] Mutawintji handback; that was a very long road," his daughter Angela Bates said.
'Shining beacon of hope'
Among Bates' many other achievements was the setting up of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and being nominated as the first western region councillor with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
He was a councillor on the Central Darling Shire, led numerous rallies and blockades in western NSW and in Sydney, and was instrumental in the purchase of many properties in the far west by local land councils.
Barrister and former colleague, Eric Wilson SC, described Bates as "a shining beacon of hope" in the Indigenous land rights movement, both in his local community and nationally.
"There has to be hope. Often there's not a lot of hope in these communities, and he's a shining beacon of hope," he said.
NSW Aboriginal Land Council chairman Roy Ah-See said Bates' power had lain in his ability to work on all fronts of activism.
"William Bates was as comfortable leading a blockade as he was negotiating across the table to achieve the best deal for his people," he said.
From the mission to the law
Born in 1950 in Wilcannia, in far west New South Wales, William Charles Bates grew up on the town's mission and left school in his early teens to work as a farm labourer.
His daughter Angela Bates said this gave him a strong work ethic from a young age.
"He did a lot of hard, manual work to help with his family," she said.
"He came from a really big, poor family [and] he helped them out a lot."
She remembers her father as a keen hunter, eager to use his traditional skills to provide for family and friends.
"He would always provide for the elders in the community," she said.
"He'd go out and get kangaroo or emu or bring home an echidna; we grew up on wild meat."
Walked in two worlds
In his early 20s Bates became involved in Indigenous legal advocacy, and this led him in to a job with the Aboriginal Legal Service.
"He sort of found his calling in advocating and championing the rights of Aboriginal people," Ms Bates said.
Mr Wilson said Bates proved to be a talented and capable field officer with the legal service, despite his disadvantaged background.
"William, a young man who didn't go all the way through school, showed over his whole life that you can do things from within your local community," he said.
"I've read the bail applications he'd written by himself and they were as good as any solicitor would have done.
"He walked in both worlds; he learned from people and he used it to adapt the process to get results."
Bates went on to help establish the Western Aboriginal Legal Service, the first NSW Indigenous legal service to be based outside Sydney.
"A lot of the young lawyers who came out here in those early days did it for free [so] dad would go out and get sheep and wild meat to provide for them," Ms Bates said.
Bates' ultimate priority was always clear — restoring land to its traditional owners and protecting and restoring Indigenous culture.
"William's vision was for every local land council to have land in their region," Mr Wilson said.
"William and I would go to court and at night time, he would be calling a meeting to help set up the local land councils."
'Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land'
In 1983, blockades at the state-run Mutawintji National Park began to draw attention to the cause, a time remembered vividly by Mr Bates' daughter.
"I remember camping at the old Menindee mission when all the families there would meet and talk about land rights," she said.
"I remember the smell of the screen printing when they bought back [land at] Weinteriga and Mutawintji, printing t-shirts with things like 'Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land'."
Mr Wilson said the now ubiquitous catchcry was born during the one of the many trips to a property the land council would later purchase.
"Jim Bates, William's dad, got more excited as we came closer to Tibooburra and started talking about his land," he said.
"William said, 'Dad, it's not your land anymore, whitefellas own it' and Jim said, 'No, they only borrowed it; always was Aboriginal land and it always will be'.
"William took that and that became the poster. I'm very sure it came from there."
As the Land Rights Act was debated and changed, Mr Wilson said Bates seized the opportunity.
He recalled the time Bates trapped then-NSW premier Neville Wran at Broken Hill airport.
"He cornered him at the moment Cabinet had a Minute before it, changing the way the Land Rights Act worked," he said.
"William said 'Don't do it, we're just about to buy Weinteriga'. That was a seminal moment."
Revolutionising land rights
Bates went on to convince local land councils to pool their financial resources and begin buying properties in the region.
That plan revolutionised land rights in the NSW according to Mr Wilson.
"He established a regional land council and that regional land council changed the face of land council politics in NSW," he said.
"Putting their money in to commercial bills to earn enough interest to raise enough funds to actually buy properties, it's a pretty amazing operation."
Weinteriga was the first property purchased by an Aboriginal land council in the state.
Councils went on to purchase several properties around far west NSW, a process that is continuing today.
Special dreaming sites significant to family
The latest property purchased, Nuntherungie, backs on to Mutawintji, and is a piece of land Ms Bates said was especially significant to her family.
"He took me to Mutawintji before I went overseas not long ago, to do a smoking ceremony with emu bush to wish me well on my trip, then we went to Nuntherungie," she said.
"What was so special about that day was at the top of the road to Nuntherungie, you can see Mt Coonaberry.
"That's a special dreaming site, it's a sacred site, and it's where my great grandmother was born, at the foot of that mountain.
"Dad told us the Dreamtime story; it was very special to experience."
Following his diagnosis, Bates spent three months at Adelaide's Leukemia Foundation.
The father of eight returned to his home town of Wilcannia in April and travelled from there to Broken Hill for further treatment.
He was cared for by his partner of 30 years Norma Kennedy and daughter Angela.
The ABC has received permission from the Bates family to use his name and images in this story.