Walking Between Worlds: A Tribute to Lewis William Griffiths (23 November 1957- 5 February 2013)

Lew Griffiths was one of the great contributors to the contemporary era of Indigenous politics when so much has been achieved.

I first started writing about my, and everybody’s,  best friend, Lew Griffiths, when I heard the shocking news of his death. I attended the Canberra memorial service for him and heard Noel Pearson’s moving tribute to his adopted brother. It made me pause for thought. The Yolngu people allow time to pass before the best reflections can be made. In keeping with Noel’s pledge to support Lew’s young sons, I wanted to write something that Lew’s family, particularly the boys, could read one day that would give a small indication of his journey and his sometimes hidden achievements.

Lew was a very great, often unacknowledged, man. It was his business to be invisible. But it is important that his role is now acknowledged widely. As I was initially writing I could hear Lew saying “Don’t just fire something off Bots”. Lew would want some deep reflections about the journey and the trail and the path ahead and that is what I have tried to do here.

Lew and I often reflected on the telephone late at night. We were outside balanda, wybella and yet probably as close as you can get to being inside among several Indigenous communities and leaders. It was a privilege but also a massive challenge. Just comprehending the distances between cultures, earning enough money to pay the bills and do the work was invariably a topic of our conversations. I know many mainstream people came to view us as trouble – because when they saw either of us they knew they would be asked for something that was difficult. Yet the journey outweighed the penalties and sensible thoughts of careers and respectable occupations.

Lew did far more than I and over a longer time frame.  I came to admire his commitment. The photograph on the title page was a classic. I love it because it has my mountain Mr Peter Botte (Ngalbabulal) somewhere lost in the distance. We had just finished filming an introduction to a Cape York seminar and that phone rang for the hundredth time. It was on the board walk at Cairns, a place that became his second home.

Lew had the world on his telephone. In between driving long distances, filming, negotiating, developing, thinking, eating, sleeping and loving his family and friends – there was always that telephone number - 0418-261-033 - whoever inherits it will find they have Australia, from the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, Ministerial Chiefs of Staff, news editors and the local building contractor calling them day in and day out to plan, ask, ponder, dream, organise, build, strategise, shoot the breeze. Lewie, I wish I could call you now and talk to you about all that has been and all that is to occur[1]. Travel on to Baralku safely old son, we’ll have a camp fire there some day!

Download the paper, 10,000 words.

[1] Special thanks to Joscelyn Parker who originally gave me some peace and quiet and sustenance at her beautiful shed to write the initial draft of this piece.