Mrs Crombie and Mrs Brown

Eileen Unkari Crombie and Eileen Kampakuta Brown

Friends of the Earth is sad to note the passing of Mrs Eileen Unkari Crombie and Mrs Eileen Kampakuta Brown. Mrs Crombie and Mrs Brown were key members of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a senior Aboriginal women's council based at Coober Pedy.

Sister Michele Madigan, who was the 'paper worker' for the Kungkas in the 1990s, writes:

Mrs Crombie was a larger than life character. She was a mover and a shaker, full of good ideas and things to do, to be done.

Mrs Crombie was one of the three kungkas who founded what was to become the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta – renowned originally for reviving the Aboriginal women's traditional culture.

It was Mrs Crombie who in the early days spoke up first for all the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta who were to lead what became the successful six-year campaign against the proposed national radioactive dump in SA. In April 1998 when all had just heard of the Government's plan for the radioactive dump down the road as it were at Billa Kallina, it was Mrs Crombie who stood up horrified in the middle of the Kungkas meeting room demanding action. Soon after that, it was Mrs Crombie that gave the direction 'No-one's listening to us. Ring up the Greenies!', resulting in many years of good partnership and selfless work by so many environmentalists from all over the country.

As a storyteller she was almost unsurpassed. A visit to her especially in her latter years was always entertaining. All the senior women had their own style of expression and notable words to contribute to the Irati Wanti – Stop the Poison – campaign. The Government have their ears in their pockets was one of many Crombie classic sayings.

Mrs Eileen Brown was born around 1932 to Yankunytjatjaru and Pitjantjatjara parents. Her family travelled the country Anangu way in the spinifex and sand hill country. "It was here at Alpanyinta − Sailors Well − that I grew up," said Mrs Brown. "I was working − I learnt whitefella's work; work with the sheep."

Mrs Brown later married Anangu way and also at the Lutheran Church in Coober Pedy. She was working at Walatina when the British were testing nuclear bombs at Emu and Maralinga. She remembered the day the ground shook and the black mist rolled from the south and many of her family became ill.

Over the decades Mrs Brown kept very busy teaching Anangu culture and she became involved with the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. Mrs Brown said: "We don't want the culture to die. We want it to give strength to the land and also strength to ourselves, to our children and grand-children.

When she heard of plans for a nuclear dump near Woomera, Mrs Brown said: "We knew enough about the irati (poison) from when we were young girls. We knew we had to fight it."

Many Friends of the Earth activists had the pleasure of working with Mrs Brown, Mrs Crombie and the other Kungkas on the SA dump campaign. As luck would have it, the campaign was won just as FoE's 2004 Radioactive Exposure Tour headed to the SA desert, so the Kungkas and the greenies celebrated at a Woomera camp-site.

In 2003, Mrs Brown was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia.

The Kungka's 'Irati Wanti' website is archived at http://tinyurl.com/y8jbuh8

(Full names used with permission from the families of Mrs Brown and Mrs Crombie.)