Olive Muriel Pink: her radical & idealistic life. A poetic journey by Colleen Keating


It is exciting to have in my hand  my new poetic journey published by Ginninderra Press.

Olive Muriel Pink: her radical and idealistic life.  

This is the story of a remarkable Australian woman anthropologist, artist, activist, and especially Aboriginal advocate. She  was a trailblazer who lived  on the edge, exposed raw truth as witness to the turbulent first 75 years of the 20th century. Olive lived till 91 from 1884 –1975. So her life overlaps with some of us.  I am hoping, everyone especially our young women get to know her as one of our Australian heroines.

She was a woman warrior till her last breath and the saying “bad things happen when good people do-nothing” could never apply to Olive Pink.   For she was a passionate visionary and worked for her beliefs, despite great adversity and many set backs.  You are going to love this story. After you experience it you will want to share it and buy it for your friends .

Here is one more woman documented as we reclaim our women  from history for history one by one.  There are many more women we need to write about, sing about, dramatise , make films, documentaries and TV shows and podcast so we can never say again ‘history is a about men written by men for men.

 I chose two words for my title radical and idealistic . There is a juxtaposition in these two words radical  meaning someone who advocates for political and social change . Then at the same time  idealist meaning she dreamed sometimes too close to perfectionism perhaps unrealistic. 

As a radical she was one of the very early women to study Anthropology at Sydney University.

She received grants to  live and work with the Warlpiri people , north of Alice Springs and when she could no longer work as an Anthropologist she became a welfare worker in Alice Springs and spent a lot of time supporting the young Warlpiri and Arrernte men before the courts especially where she considered that tribal (lore)law and custom were not being taken into account. She would call out and demand rights for the young men who could not speak English and mostly did not know why they were brought in. Magistrates were afraid of her and made sure they had interpreters when she was around. 


One humorous story – she demanded to visit the prison as she heard stories of the poor conditions. Refused, because they knew she would write about it to the papers, she disrupted court even louder after her caution,  enough to get a fine or 5 days in prison. When she refused to pay the fine. the magistrate rang the gaol warden to tell him ‘that nosey Miss Pink’  was coming to prison. The warden jumped in his 1950’s jalopy and raced down to the court house to pay the fine not wanting her near his gaol .  

Every day the pen was her sword. Besides calling out the legal system she sent out letters  to the Governor of NT. letters to the Prime Minister of the day, letters to the newspapers and she sent urgent telegrams where she felt it necessary.

I was privileged to do my research at the Australian Aborigine and TorresStrait Islander Institute in Canberra where I spent days with access to 22 boxes of her papers, letters, diaries, calendars (she painted). I found further papers at Darwin Parliament Library and  Central Library in South Australia.

Then at the same time she was an idealist . . she dreamed of perfection. One realises her goals were grand and often unrealistic. She was fighting against the tides of progress, the opening up of the inland,  the economy , political decisions, stolen land for cattle stations, mining,  missions, the reserves, the soldiers racing up and down on the new road opening up Darwin  in the 1940’s. and always a  fearsome advocate against male treatment of the Indigenous women. 

Olive Pink is a witness to this world that is our history and it is good to have it recorded as background to her story. 

Finally quite ostracised  because of her radical thinking she  moved over the Todd River to a degraded common . Here she suddenly thought was a great place to fence off and protect the native flora that was disappearing. She finally over two years had the land gazetted by the then Governor Paul Hasluck.


 In 1956 , Olive, now 71 years of age ,  when most of us would consider retiring, became  the first woman curator of the first Arid Botanic Garden in the world. (defined  by a rainfall  below 13 inches).  She employed Warlpiri gardeners and made sure they were properly payed. For the next 20 years she worked to create an eco-friendly garden with its own water system.  

She lived in the garden as curator till her death in 1975.

 Today the OPBG has over 600 Central Australian plant species, 148 of these occur naturally within the rocky hill habitat.  There are also 40 rare and threatened species  Acres of walking tracks taking visitors around the garden and up the Hill where great views overlook Alice Springs, the Todd River and the MacDonnell Ranges. There are self guided walks and learning stations for the visitors,  Bird watching and wildlife Native euros (wallabies)  and rare black footed wallabies  live in the garden.


The Bean Tree Cafe where I had a date in September to launched my last poetry collection  set in the Kimberley and the far north, called Desert Pattern and was supposed to be there layer this month to launch this book, is very popular with  locals and tourists. 

Described as ‘indomitable’ and ‘unforgettable’, Miss Pink is someone who evoked contradictory opinions –

A difficult and eccentric woman 

A visionary and fiercely dedicated to the Aboriginal cause

Scourge of politicians – some calling her Public Enemy No 1

The first woman land rights advocate

A communist

An early conservationist of native flora

All said Olive Muriel Pink is  one of Alice Springs’s most colourful characters a noted pioneer of the Territory and a great Australian.