Ridgeway, Executive Director of the N.S.W. Aboriginal Land Council, talks about his upbringing on the Bellwood Aboriginal Reserve in northern New South Wales; his move to Sydney with his mother and brother while still at primary school; his attendance at St. John's College in Lismore on an Aboriginal study grant; the influence of his Catholic education; early work experiences in a factory and in the National Parks and Wildlife Service; political influence of his grandmother, Phoebe Mumbler; employment in the NSW public service in various departments; departure from public service to work for NSW Aboriginal Land Council; his view of the relationship between Aboriginal land issues and environmental groups and mining interests; the role of the NSW Land Council; land claims in NSW; Aboriginality and bi-culturalism; the Aboriginal Mediation course developed for the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre; native title; the NSW Geographical Names Board; the role of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
Ridgeway discusses the need for agreements to be reviewed; reconciliation; joint management issues; cultural appropriation; the Murray-Darling Basin Commission; water; Mabo legislation; his admiration for Neville Bonner; Aboriginal leadership in the 1990s compared to the 1970s; sovereignty; personal qualities and life and his desire to reintroduce the Gumbaynggir language. He also speculates about his position, and that of the Land Council, in seven years' time.
A member of the Gumbayriggir people, Aden Ridgeway was born at Macksville on the north coast of New South Wales on 18 September 1962. He grew up on the Bellwood Aboriginal Reserve but moved to Sydney with his mother and brother. They lived around the inner city area, suburbs such as Redfern and Alexandria. He completed his last years of primary school in Sydney but then attended a Catholic secondary boarding school, St. Jolins College at Lismore, NSW on an Aboriginal study grant. On leaving school, at the age of 17, he sought work through the Aboriginal Employment Training Branch of the Dept. of Employment and worked briefly as a spot welder in a sheet metal factory in Sydney. Seeking outdoors' work, he approached the head office of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and eventually obtained a job in the Service's Cultural and Historic Division, where he was an assistant with archaeologists doing site surveys. After three years as a technical assistant and then two years as a National Parks' ranger, he obtained a position as a policy officer in the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.
From there he worked in various parts of the NSW Public Service, including the Dept. of Administrative Services and the Department of Minerals and Energy. He then left the public service to work for the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, becoming its Executive Director in 1994. From 1990 to 1994, he was a councillor for the Sydney region of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. He was Executive Director of the Land Council from 1994 to 1998, in which year he was elected to the Senate for New South Wales. A member of the Australian Democrats since 1990, he has been the Party's spokesman on the Arts, the Centenary of Federation, financial services and regulations, reconciliation, the Republic, tourism and industry. He has served on Senate legislative and general purpose standing committees relating to economics, finance and public administration.