Leroy Johnson is a Barkintji Wimpatja man from Western NSW and is Chairman of the Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Growing up my role models were my dad, grandparents, uncles but other people I look up to and respect include Muhammad Ali, Michael Long and Tony Lockett (I’m a mad Sydney Swans supporter).
I’m very passionate about Land Rights as it’s allowed me to reconnect with my mother’s People and my mother’s land, my land. I’ve lived in a few communities around NSW where I’ve worked and learned how to help blackfellas along the way and I’d always get asked to join this LALC or that LALC depending on where I was at the time. I used to tell them no because if I’m going to be a member of a LALC, it would be back home where I come from. So in 2003, after not seeing Wilcannia for 15 odd years, I was able to attend a meeting there about the management of Mutawintji, which our LALC had got back in 1998. I instantly fell in love with Wilcannia, Mutawintji and my mob. I got involved with Mutawintji LALC in 2008 and I was coming back home a few times a year right up until 2012, when I moved home for good. It’s been a steep learning curve for me ever since.
There are so many opportunities nowadays for our young people, and really you just hope that they will take any opportunity and make the best of it. So that is why I think that we as a Lands Council should try to provide more opportunities for our young people. Out at Mutawintji, we currently have opportunities that expose youth to their country and their cultural heritage in a way that builds lifelong connections to people and to land. We are looking to expand in the tourism area and offer to teach young people how to guide people around their country in culturally intimate ways. We are custodians of a very special place and it is up to us as leaders to ensure that we clear pathways for youth to not only access the land, but to learn how to look after it in both blackfella and whitefella ways.
Personally, the highlights in the history of Lands Rights in NSW for me are the protest marches and the blockades of the 1980’s. I was just a kid then, but I still love the feeling I get when I hear the catch phrase “What Do We Want, Lands Rights, When Do we Want It, Now.” My elders weren’t afraid to stand up and demand our land back and demand attention from the governments of the day. That’s where it started and without that, we wouldn’t be here talking about highlights.
I don’t think the vision has changed that much from gaining access to our land so we can continue our strong connection to it. If there is a strong connection to land, there is a strong connection to people, to history and to creation. Our people struggle in so many ways living in modern Australia without this, so Land Rights should be about having the right to your identity. When you know who you are and where you come from, you then have the power to decide, for yourself, where you want to go in life. In a word, empowerment. I just hope that I can play a part in continuing this.
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