Amy McQuire celebrates the life of Tiga Bayles, a man who changed the face of broadcasting with the power of his passion, and the strength of his character.
Over the weekend, a legend passed away.
Tiga Bayles was so many things to so many different people. To his family, he was a rock – a much-loved brother, uncle, father, grandfather and great grandfather. To the radio station he helped set up, he was a stronghold – a man we turned to for guidance and support.
To me, he was a mentor – a man who could have made so many feel intimidated by the depth of his knowledge, who could have torn so many people down, but instead chose to build them up.
I heard him referred to as the voice of Aboriginal Australia earlier this week. I can understand the appeal in the label. Tiga’s voice was lyrical – it had deep ebbs and flows that reminded me of the melodies of country music; his long pauses were filled with power in a medium so frightened at the prospect of radio silence.
But Tiga’s power was in his recognition that, in black Australia, there is no one “voice”. There are many. And he spent a lifetime ensuring as many as possible were heard.
In a landscape where media outlets have a contact book made up of the same five Aboriginal people to comment on First Nations issues, Tiga’s work was not only unique, but vitally important.
If you look through the archives of his decades-long national black current affairs show, Let’s Talk, broadcast from 98.9 FM in Brisbane, you would find a treasure chest of Aboriginal voices from across the country.
And they are not sound bites. Tiga spoke to a different person every morning for an hour, fleshing out the issues of the day, delving behind the news to bring you the truth.
While other journalists flourished the rhetoric of politicians with their own shallow analysis, Tiga went to the source. He gave strength to so many mob who are so often ignored, who are subsumed into the vicious 24-hour media cycle.
I can still remember the first time he invited me on Let’s Talk. I was 23, the editor of Tracker Magazine at the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, and was nervous about speaking to him.
What sort of insight could I possibly give about issues that Tiga had lived and breathed before I was even born?
I was speaking about land rights in NSW, and Tiga had been the first chairperson of NSWALC. He had marched on the streets for land rights, and here I was trying to give context to an issue he knew intimately, a struggle he himself had sacrificed so much for.
But I shouldn’t have worried. Like so many other guests, Tiga immediately made me feel comfortable. He fostered and fertilised my voice. He helped me grow.
This is important because he not only supported the voice of Aboriginal men, but also ensured that Aboriginal women were represented on his show. In fact, they were the heavyweights.
He would often reference the life lessons of his mother – Aunty Maureen Watson – and had a monthly segment with two strong elders – Aunty Lilla Watson and Aunty Mary Graham.
Arrente writer Celeste Liddle, Dr Jan Hammill, Larissa Behrendt, Priscilla Collins, Pat Dudgeon, and Tammy Solenec were just a few of the other regular voices.
He also regularly featured commentators like Luke Pearson, Chris Graham, Jon Altman, Danny Teece Johnson, Greg Phillips and Eva Cox. I’ve missed so many people who were on Tiga’s show, but I wanted to provide an example of the types of guests he broadcast throughout Brisbane and the nation.
The impact of these daily hour-long conversations was far-reaching. Not only did it help Aboriginal Australia get their voices out, but it also gave an invaluable insight into the true story of our peoples, in a way that doesn’t deny our strength and autonomy.
Tiga was often approached at country music festivals by non-Indigenous people, people who often had prejudiced views towards blackfellas, who would often tell him how he had completely changed their outlook. Tiga was literally doing what so many journalists purport to do, but fail. He was changing hearts and minds. And he was doing it by airing brutal truths. He saw no need to soften them.
But his work was more than just providing a platform for neglected voices. At the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association, under the guidance of his Uncle Ross Watson, Tiga helped build the self-esteem of so many Aboriginal kids. It was much more than preparing them for a career in media, it is about preparing them for life.
Tiga embodied what Aboriginal media is supposed to be about. While a corner stone of black media is journalism, it is so much more than that. Tiga helped mould Aboriginal media to become a model of self-determination for our people. And he launched so many careers, and secured so many futures for Aboriginal families and people, like my colleagues at the station Dan Rennie and Trish Collins, both of whom are often unacknowledged but invaluable to First Nations media.
Aboriginal community radio stations are hubs for the community. They provide training opportunities and employment in areas where there are otherwise none. Sadly, like all areas in Aboriginal affairs, black community stations have struggled due to chronic underfunding.
I’m sad that Tiga left this earth while Aboriginal community radio is still so under-valued.
On a personal note, Tiga gave me more than I could ever repay. On the cusp of being a single mother, and desperately wanting to move back up to Queensland, I rang his long-time friend and collaborator Karen Scott, herself a champion of Aboriginal media, and asked if I could come up. The answer was immediate.
I think I was on air with Tiga the very next week. He broadcast until mid-February, when he became too sick to continue.
I will always think of him behind the microphone, headphones on, as he began with the iconic “I’d like to acknowledge the sovereignty of all First Nations people”. This memory gives me strength to not only continue his legacy, but build upon it.
I hope that others will do it too.
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