WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.
16 July 2021 // Darcy Cummins
Darcy 'Mulga' Cummins (30th January 1929 - November 1988) was a Guguyelandji man born in Wondai, Queensland. His father Willie was brought down in chains from Cape York and placed into Cherbourg Mission. Upon leaving, Willie built a home and a reputation as a highly respected traditional Songman/dancer. He grew his family up with traditional cultural values and music. They would often have get togethers, festivals, and cultural gatherings. Willie's second wife Ettie Meredith would often say that no one was able to out do him at the time.
Tricked by authorities into bringing his children back to Cherbourg on the premise of a new home, Willie's children became part of the Stolen Generation. Along with his siblings, Darcy aged seven and confined to callipers on both legs as result of Polio were unaware of what was to occur. They spent the remainder of their youth in the very harsh conditions of dormitory mission life.
When he was old enough, he escaped the Queensland Protection Act and began to make his way in the world. Darcy worked as a young man for the future Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen on his peanut farm in Kingaroy. Underpaid and in harsh conditions he earned eight shillings a week and slept in the cow bail. At the age of eighteen he married Ruth Richards and they fled to outback Queensland.
Although his life was hard and he sometimes had to hock his instruments to feed his family, his love of music never wavered. As his family grew, they frequently moved around trying to get work. As a labourer he paved a lot of the outback roads as well as in Meanjin (Brisbane). He was also the first Teacher on Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement in the 1950's. Throughout this time he would regularly take his children along to gigs and shindigs, which instilled in them a love for all types of music.
Relocating to Meanjin, the Cummins family also spent a lot of time around the fringe camp known as Boomerang Alley, where local Aboriginal musicians such as Ducko Fraser and Richard Martin would gather to jam, sing songs, dance and generally have a great time.
A multi-instrumentalist who played trumpet on Saturday nights in the Winton Town band and could be seen performing in his Rock n' Roll band 'The Ravens', he also played guitar, bass, drums, Hawaiian pedal steel guitar as well as lap steel guitar. Darcy was noted for attempting to break into the mainstream and saw music as a way of trying to bring Blacks & Whites together in his legendary band "The Opals" (One People Australia League).
He became an event producer growing the Opals into an early event franchise which included the legendary Opal Dances, Opal Fashion Parades, Opal BBQ's & picnics, Miss Opal Beauty Pageants and Opal excursions on country.
While in Meanjin his home on Boundary Street, West End became a refuge to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth as he encouraged them musically through instrumentation, musical direction and stagecraft. It was also a haven for Aboriginals escaping The Queensland Act and hosted many critical thinkers and activists of the day.
A community organiser, Darcy was also involved with a early organisation in the 1960's called AISHRA (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sport Health & Recreation Assoc) also YALANJI where he together with Kawanji (Pastor Don Brady) organised an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Song & Dance venue for both Traditional & Contemporary Dance.
He earned a Churchill Fellowship in 1968 and alongside Kawanji, they travelled to the USA & Europe where they met with other marginalised people to exchange ideas around justice for his people. This included talks with AIM leadership Russell Means, Dennis Banks and meeting Civil Rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In the 1970's along with Jack Walker he took the first Aboriginal Football Team to tour Aotearoa (New Zealand). He also travelled to Western Australia through the Kimberley's and Goldfields, producing a damning report on the racism in the Welfare system by public servants and bravely naming them. Endangering his job by making public statements of the findings he said "We are not here to create any political trouble...We have an obligation to people of both races to make clear the terrible situation that exists in this State. If we say something then something may get done. Our reports will be recommended ways to overcome the problems".
Darcy also held his own community accountable, and was noted for taking Liberal party member Neville Bonner to task on a TV debate.
In his senior years in the 1980's he taught Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and youth music from his home in Townsville, QLD. There are many notable musicians he taught music to who can attribute their success to his teachings even today including; The O'Chin brothers, Ron Hurley, Wally Gueivara and Angus Rabbit who would go on to play in the iconic Mop and the Dropouts.
Darcy passed away in November 1988 aged 59 years. He had been at a meeting held in Meanjin standing up against corruption in Aboriginal Housing. After speaking up against individuals who were engaged in nepotistic behaviour by giving their family members housing and excluding others more needy, he was verbally abused. Darcy fell to the floor with a heart attack and laid helplessly while being accused of feigning it until an ambulance was called. Held in high reverence, his funeral drew hundreds of people and a cavalcade down the streets.
Never once complaining for the hard life he had, but always fighting for justice and the best for his people, his influence is shown in the legacy of musicians and community leaders that followed.
Darcy Cummins the Caterpillar Tractor Driver who paved many outback roads as well as in Brisbane (Ipswich Road)