In Harold Furber the Central Land Council has lost a former assistant director and Alice Springs has lost a leader of great passion and strong convictions.
Mr Furber was born in Alice Springs in 1952 and in 1957 was taken from his mother Emily to the Croker Island Methodist Mission, along with his younger sister Trish, when he was still only four years old. During his early years on Croker, Trish was adopted by a couple from Queensland. Other future leaders such as the late Tracker Tilmouth became his surrogate family.
He first left the island to attend Darwin High School, returning to Croker for the school holidays until he was sixteen years old. Later, he did an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker in Adelaide. He went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma in Social Work, the latter at what is now the University of South Australia.
A talented footy player, he rubbed shoulders with the great players of his day at the North Adelaide Football Club in the early 1970s. During the off season he also played for the Buffaloes in Darwin. After he found his way back to his Arrernte family in Central Australia, he made a name for himself at the Pioneers and Souths football clubs in Alice Springs.
Determined to find his sister Trish, he signed up with a Queensland footy team, which gave him the opportunity to search for her. He eventually succeeded and was best man at her wedding in 1974.
In the late 1970s he became one of the early employees of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in Alice Springs. In 1991, when he was the director of the Yipirinya School, he decided to broaden his education. With the help of an ATSIC scholarship he studied at the University of Canberra, graduating with a Batchelor of Arts (Public Administration).
Mr Furber became the CLC’s assistant director in 1994 and worked there in a variety of senior positions until 2005. He was very invested in the repatriation of cultural objects to their rightful owners and is one of the authors of the CLC’s oral history collection Every Hill Got A Story. His recollections about his experiences as a member of the land rights movement, the Stolen Generations and as a driving force behind many Aboriginal-controlled organisations around Alice Springs in the 1970s and 1980s make for compelling reading.
Organisations that have benefited from his energy and passion for more than three decades include the Tangentyere Council and Desert Knowledge Australia, where he was a deputy chair and board member. He was part of the committee that planned the Desert Knowledge Precinct and until recently served there as elder-in-residence. He also chaired the Desert People’s Centre (a joint venture of the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and the Centre for Appropriate Technology) and was on the board of the Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre.
Mr Furber also ran (unsuccessfully) as a Labor candidate for the NT Legislative Assembly twice – first in 1990 in Greatorex, and then MacDonnell in 2001.
Most recently, he advocated strongly for the establishment of a National Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Gallery at the Desert Knowledge Precinct. He was implacably opposed to the NT Government’s plans for a National Aboriginal Gallery at the ANZAC Oval.
Mr Furber passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family in Alice Springs on Friday. He is survived by his three children, Melanie and Patricia Marron and Declan Furber Gillick, and his sisters, Margaret Furber, Toni Arundel and Trish Kiessler. He will be deeply missed.