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Minister Scullion: Mr Lester OAM – a pioneering campaigner for his people

25 Jul 2017

Joint Media Release
The Hon. Ken Wyatt MP, Minister for Indigenous Health

Rowan Ramsey MP, Member for Grey

Mr Lester OAM, a tireless campaigner and pioneer for Aboriginal rights especially in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytatjara (APY) region, sadly passed away in Alice Springs last week.

Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said Mr Lester was a true champion of his people.

“Mr Lester was a hard-working campaigner who fought for a better future for his communities and Aboriginal people – and delivered a better nation because of it,” Minister Scullion said.

“Although he will predominantly be remembered for his community leadership and national advocacy work regarding the Maralinga atomic testing, Mr Lester’s crowning legacy will be his work to invest in the future of Indigenous Australians.

“Mr Lester understood the benefits of a good education – both a cultural education and a western education – and worked hard to encourage Indigenous children to attend school.

“Mr Lester’s family, community and country are rightly proud of his legacy and the progress he delivered for our First Australians.”

Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt AM, said he first met Mr Lester at an Aboriginal Lands Trust meeting in 1988.

“His intimate knowledge of legislation and land rights and his resolute resolve for fairness for the peoples of the APY Lands was absolute,” Minister Wyatt said.

“I served on a committee he chaired and was honoured when he affectionately referred to me as his ‘ruck rover’.

“From his youth right through until his final days, he inspired real change that will continue to make a difference for generations to come.”

Federal Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, said Mr Lester was a remarkable Australian and Indigenous leader who would be missed by the many people he championed.

“Mr Lester campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal people and it was his efforts which led to the establishment of the McClelland Royal Commission,” he said.

“He was dignified, humble, tireless, resourceful and giving. May he be always remembered.”

Mr Lester was a Yankunytatjara man, born in Walyatjata in northern South Australia in 1949 who started his lifelong campaign to improve rights for our First Australians when as a young man, he joined the Aboriginal Advancement League in Adelaide.

He later worked with the Pitjantjatjara Land Council on Aboriginal lands rights issues and significantly, as an organiser and interpreter he assisted the handover of freehold title to the Anangu people in 1981 across the APY Lands.

As the first Chairperson of the Pitjantjatjara Council, Mr Lester was instrumental in the Uluru handover. He stood alongside and interpreted Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen’s speech at the handover ceremony in 1985.

The Coalition Government expresses its deep sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Mr Lester and the many communities across Australia he worked so hard to improve. 

Find out more

Visit the Minister's website to view the original media release.