Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Dr Charles ‘Chicka’ Dixon

Today we mourn the passing of Dr Charles ‘Chicka’ Dixon, a wharfie, unionist activist and leader who dedicated his life to fighting for justice and human rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Affectionately known as ‘Uncle Chicka’, he passed away on Saturday at La Perouse in Sydney.

Uncle Chicka was an outstanding leader who loved his people and devoted his life to their well-being and future, earning wide and enduring respect.

Along with his compassion and determination, Uncle Chicka had sharp political acumen, and a great sense of humour.

He often told of how, as an 18 year old, he was inspired by hearing Indigenous activist Jack Patten speak. Later he was an organiser with the Waterside Workers’ Federation at the Sydney wharves where he worked.

He attended Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) annual conferences in the 1960s and, in 1970, was convener of the Trade Union committee of the Federal Council.

He was there on the Freedom Rides in 1965, and campaigned strenuously for a YES vote in the 1967 referendum.

Later, on 26 January 1972, he was involved in the establishment of the Tent Embassy on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra.

In the same year he led the first Aboriginal delegation to the People’s Republic of China – a mission that highlighted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues internationally.

He was instrumental in establishing new alcohol rehabilitation programs for Indigenous peoples, after visiting and researching models in the United States and Canada.

Uncle Chicka worked with fellow reformers, including Mum Shirl and Fred Hollows, to establish the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service. This became the model for many services throughout the country.

In 2006, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of New South Wales for his eminent service to the community.

And in 2008, his lifelong contribution to Indigenous Australians was again nationally acknowledged when he received the NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award – an award I had the great privilege to present.

Beyond the public gaze, Uncle Chicka was a father, grandfather, brother and uncle to a large extended family and a respected leader to many more.

Today our thoughts are with all of them as we mourn the passing of a truly remarkable Australian.