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Northern Territory Legislative Council

Tributes from Harry Giese’s colleagues on his retirement
Debate in Northern Territory Legislative Council, 3 April 1973

Comments from his fellow members, elected and official:  Ron Withnall, Dick Ward, Martin Finger, Rupert Kentish, Goff Letts, Bernie Kilgariff and Dawn Lawrie

Mr WITHNALL: …Mr Giese and I were appointed as official members of this Council in October 1954…Mr Giese has given this Council some eighteen-and-a-half years of continuous service as a member. He has given the community of Darwin long and dedicated service extending over a longer period than that. It speaks volumes for his capacity and wisdom that he was able to hold and administer such a delicate department as the Department of Social Welfare as successfully as he did. The problems associated with the Aboriginal people of Australia are probably the most difficult problems which face people in Australia today. I want to go further than merely expressing appreciation; I want to congratulate the former member Mr Giese on the manner in which he discharged that task. It is impossible to discharge a task of that nature without coming into frequent and sometimes violent collision not only with other members of this Council but with other persons and associations in the community. So far as this Council is concerned, while there have been heated altercations, the honourable member has always preserved a sense of humour…I regret that he is leaving and I am sure that honourable members will join me in expressing that regret…


Mr WARD: I have pleasure in seconding this motion. My association with Mr Giese is not as long in time as that of the honourable member for Port Darwin but it does go back to 1957. As far as conflict in the Council is concerned, I engaged in that with Mr Giese as much as anybody else did. He had an extremely difficult task. He was saddled with a policy with which I was in disagreement, but his tenacity in supporting that policy was only to be admired. There have been considerable changes in Aboriginal policy since 1957; we have gone from a system of wards and non-wards to what we have today. Mr Giese at times had to stand out against these changes because it was the policy of the government of the day that that attitude be taken. In all these conflicts, his attitude was admirable; he was a fighter of the highest order and he was certainly a loyal government supporter. I am sorry to see him go...


Mr FINGER: I would like to add my support to this motion. Honourable members will realise how one feels when a part of one’s team is replaced and this is no reflection on members who are replacing Mr Giese…In particular the years of experience that Mr Giese gained have been of particular help to me…

I tried to find out the first statement that Mr Giese made in this Council and I found that there is no Hansard…I presume this would be his first bill—the Native and Historical Objects Preservation Ordinance of 1955. That followed on from the National Parks and Gardens Bill. This is typical of the sort of legislation for which Mr Giese was responsible. It was legislation implementing government policy.

It could be said that there has been conflict in these matters but I am sure that out of this conflict something good developed. It is like the hammer and the anvil: provided you have some metal in between, you are able to do something constructive. If one might look at the period in which Mr Giese served in this Council, it was a period when things got going. It is true that things got going in relation to Aboriginal matters. Honourable members will appreciate Mr Giese’s ability, his powers of expression and his powers of debate…


Mr KENTISH: I support the motion. Mr Giese has been with the Council a long time and there would be few people who would know the position when he started his work. His work in the Council reflected his work in the field. I have had close association with Aboriginal work in the Territory for 35 years and when Mr Giese became Director of Welfare and Aboriginal Affairs, there was no direct involvement of the government in Aboriginal Affairs…

Mr Giese started from scratch with his field work and with legislative work. It was an enormous task and few people would really be able to appreciate the enormous accomplishments which he has made during that period. There has been plenty of criticism and perhaps not enough appreciation. Perhaps we appreciate in retrospect the things which he has accomplished. I am glad that in his place we have a representative who has cut his teeth in the Northern Territory and has a firm foundation in Aboriginal welfare here. We could have fared worse; we may have had a director from Tasmania…


Dr LETTS: I would like to support the remarks of the previous speakers. When Mr Giese came to the Territory the role of Aboriginal affairs departments around Australia was still very much a philosophy of smoothing the pillow of a dying race as far as full-blood Aborigines were concerned. Mr Giese bought a new energy, initiative and idealism to the whole question of the welfare of the Aboriginal people in Northern Australia and, as a result of [the] leadership that he provided the philosophy of nineteen years ago has vastly changed. It is now clearly recognised that the Aboriginal people throughout Northern Australia are very much alive.

To see the extent of his achievements, we have to compare the situation now with what it was then. I believe that all the publicity which has been given to Aboriginal matters in the last five to ten years has tended to pick out the worst features of policy and very little has been said to indicate some real achievements which have been made and for which Mr Giese can claim a great deal of credit. I have not always agreed with some of the methods which he has used, but the achievements are still substantial. More than anybody else in the post-war history of the Council, Mr Giese was in the position of an Aunt Sally. The most controversial issues and policies came under his responsibility and he was shot at by everybody and anybody on anything and everything. He managed to survive and perform with determination and distinction as an official member…


Mr KILGARIFF: I join with other members in supporting this motion. Mr Giese has given very long service to this Council…[His] first words in this Council were probably ‘So help me God.’ No doubt he needed it and I hope he got it. He had a very difficult job. On many occasions he had to carry out policies and he was the Aunt Sally. He was tenacious and courageous. When I first came into this Council as a non-official member about fourteen years ago, I found that he was a very helpful man. Outside the Council, I have known him for many years on the Cultural Grants Committee. On this organisation, he gave valuable assistance because he had an inside knowledge of all the various organisations in the community and he was extremely sympathetic to the various organisations in the Northern Territory. There are the youth centres and various organisations which one must look upon as a monument to his ability and to his service.

This year, I have found that on the Welfare settlements and the missions everyone regretted that he was leaving…It is unfortunate that, after giving so much service to the Territory, he should be leaving now under such circumstances. No matter what anyone says, under the care of Harry Giese much has been achieved.


Mrs LAWRIE: As the newest member of this Council, I support the motion. I know better than anyone how approachable Harry Giese was. During my maiden speech, the former member and I crossed swords but he was aware of my deep concern for social welfare problems throughout the Territory. At all times Harry Giese was available for guidance and assistance. The honourable member for Ludmilla put his finger on the heart of the matter when he said that Harry Giese was a public servant who had to discharge his duties under the policies of a previous government. We all agree that Harry did that to the best of his considerable capabilities…


On 22 February 2000, after Harry Giese’s death, the Legislative Assembly held a special session, A Tribute to the Memory of Mr Harry Giese AM MBE, recorded in a booklet of the same date. Northern Territory Chief Minister, Mr Burke, said:
‘Harry Giese was a man who served the Territory in so many different ways it is difficult not to overlook some part of his enormous contribution.’

(See http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/42457524 and access at Northern Territory Library, call number 515174; NTC B351.9429 (GIES) TRIB)