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Felix Barton interviewed by Esme Biddulph in the Esme Biddulph MS 3742 collection [sound recording]
Bib ID 2102398
Format AudioAudio [sound recording]
Barton, Felix, Interviewee
Access Conditions Access open for research; permission required for public use, contact Manuscripts Section National Library of Australia. 
Description [1971?] 
1 sound tape reel (ca. 26 min.) : analog, 1 7/8 ips, half track, mono. ; 7 in. 

Michael Sawtell was born in Adelaide on Oct. 20, 1883, the son of a successful scientific instrument maker. Educated at St. Peter's College his parents intended he would go to university and follow a professional career but at age 17, he went to work for the cattle king, Sir Sidney Kidman, as a drover where he continued his reading of the classical writers. During this time he came into close contact with the Aborigines and learnt much about their way of life, folklore and tribal rites. He left Kidman in 1904 and went to the Northern Territory where he tried buffalo shooting, tin mining and some droving for Darwin wholesale butcher Bill Laurie. He settled in the town of Borroloola whose police station contained a private library of 3,000 books, sometimes referred to as "the University of the Northern Territory" and freely lent to members of the town. In 1908 he leased 16,000 hectares of land in the unexplored Obagooma country in Western Australia and drove there 50 head of cattle from Darwin. On the way he found in an abandoned camp a copy of Robert Blatchford's Merry England, a text on socialism and became a socialist as a result. Two years later having failed to establish himself as a cattleman he resettled in Perth and joined the Socialist Party then wandered Australian outback preaching socialism to outback workers. While he was in Broken Hill, the great 1917 National Strike broke out and he lead over 100 workers through its street in support of the Strike. He spent as a result the next 6 months in Parramatta Jail which he enjoyed as it gave him time to catch up on his reading. Later in 1930 he settled in Sydney and married and together opened a health food store in Victoria Arcade, preaching socialism on Sundays in the Domain. But later having become disillusioned with the socialist cause he took up the cause of Aboriginal welfare and in 1940 was appointed to the Aborigines Welfare Board, going on walkabouts with the Aborigines to discuss the problems as they viewed them. Also, in the 1930s he became convinced of the merit in the proposal by Dr. John Bradfield, the designer of Sydney Harbour Bridge, that the water in the coastal rivers of North Queensland could be diverted by tunnels along the Great Dividing Range into the river systems of Central Australia - the Georgina, Diamantina and Copper Creek. His dream was to transform the Australian outback by providing an increased water supply. He spent much of his spare time writing to the newspapers, publishing pamphlets and lecturing on the need for water conservation and Aboriginal welfare to address the neglect of our rural areas.


Digital master available National Library of Australia ;

Subjects Barton, Felix -- Interviews.  |  Sawtell, Michael Olaf, 1883-1971 -- Biography.  |  Poets -- Australia -- Biography.  |  Water conservation -- Australia, Central.  |  Drovers -- Australia -- Biography.  |  Political activists -- Australia -- Biography.  |  Aboriginal Australians -- Public welfare.
Other authors/contributors Biddulph, Esme, Interviewer
Also Titled

Interview with Felix Barton of his childhood days with Michael Sawtell, social activist, poet, drover and bushman


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