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Page, Walter (1904–1956)

by Alan T. Duncan

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Walter Page (c.1904-1956), Aboriginal activist, was born about 1904 at Lismore, New South Wales, son of Mary Page. He was one of the few Aboriginal children permitted to attend Lismore Public School. Many years later he recalled that the assistant-master Herbert Moffitt had taken a keen interest in him and had said, 'Walter, don't be shy, I will make a good little scholar of you. Some day you may be a great man among your people'. The teacher later became a justice of the Workers' Compensation Commission. After leaving school, Page undertook general farm work, fencing and shearing, particularly for the Armstrong family of Disputed Plains station. He became known as the accomplished rider of Armstrong's hunters and jumpers in show-rings throughout the Northern Rivers district. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Lismore, on 16 May 1936 he married Charlotte Close; they were to remain childless.

Although Page and the leading Aboriginal activist William Ferguson were elected on the Aborigines Protection Association's 'ticket' to the Aborigines Welfare Board in November 1943, Page's eligibility was questioned on the grounds that he was not 'a full-blooded Aboriginal'. When he was not permitted to take his seat, a struggle developed between the A.W.B., supported by the colonial secretary J. M. Baddeley, and the Aboriginal electors, who boycotted further nominations. Questions were asked in State parliament and an impasse ensued. Eventually, in January 1946, Page was named as the successful candidate.

A regular attender of the board's monthly meetings, Page deplored the abysmal standard of Aboriginal housing and the lack of educational opportunities for Aboriginal children. Although the government had agreed in 1939 to transfer the responsibility for the education of Aboriginal children to the Department of Education, there were still many Aboriginal schools on A.W.B. stations where the manager, who had no teacher-training, was obliged to instruct the children as part of his day-to-day duties. Page's address to the international conference of the New Education Fellowship in Sydney in September 1946 was published in Education for International Understanding (Adelaide, 1948). In January 1948 he and Ferguson toured Aboriginal stations on the north coast; their written report to the board was commended. Later that year they both travelled to Aboriginal stations and reserves in the Riverina and the south-west, and wrote another comprehensive report.

During his visits to Sydney, Page invariably called on 'the judge', as he affectionately referred to Moffitt. In turn, Moffitt introduced him to influential people whom he thought would support efforts to improve the situation of Aborigines. Page continued his work to better the condition of his people in a quiet, unassuming way that won him numerous friends and supporters. He lacked the fiery disposition of Ferguson and was widely regarded as a thorough 'gentleman'. Page did not seek re-election to the board in July 1948 as 'he had no patience to carry on'. Survived by his wife, he died of cancer on 9 March 1956 at the Memorial Hospital, Kyogle, and was buried with Pentecostal rites in the Aboriginal cemetery at Woodenbong.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom (Syd, 1974)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 14 Mar 1944, p 1632, 6 Mar 1945, p 2354, 8 Mar 1945, p 2502
  • New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board, Dawn, 5, no 3, 1956, p 7
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Sept 1946, 15 Feb 1949
  • Aborigines Welfare Board minutes, 1945-48
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan T. Duncan, 'Page, Walter (1904–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/page-walter-11329/text20227, accessed 26 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012