Bob Randall (Aboriginal Australian elder)

Robert James "Bob" Randall (c.1934 – 12 May 2015) was an Aboriginal Australian elder, singer and community leader. He was a member of the Stolen Generations and became an elder of the Yankunytjatjara people from Central Australia. He was the 1999 NAIDOC Person of the Year.[1] His 1970 song, "My Brown Skin Baby They Take Him Away," is described as an "anthem" for the Stolen Generations. He was known by the honorific "Tjilpi", a word meaning "old man" that is often translated as "uncle". He lived in Mutitjulu, the Aboriginal community at Uluru in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Bob Randall
. Robert James Randall

Died(2015-05-12)12 May 2015
Mutitjulu, Northern Territory, Australia
OccupationAboriginal elder, singer, community leader
Awards1999 NAIDOC Week Person of the Year

Early lifeEdit

Randall was born around 1934 at Middleton Pond on Tempe Downs Station in the Central Desert region of the Northern Territory. His mother, Tanguawa, was a Yankuntjatjarra maid at the station and his father, Bill Liddle, was the White Australian owner of the station.[2]

At about the age of seven, Randall was taken away from his mother and family under government policy which forcibly removed thousands of half-caste (half-Aboriginal) children from their families. This policy came to be known as the "Stolen Generation." Randall was taken to The Bungalow, an institution for half-caste children in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, then later was moved to a reservation on Croker Island in Arnhem Land, thousands of kilometres away from his home and family. Randall was given a new identity and birth date.[3][4]

City lifeEdit

Randall was kept in government institutions until he was twenty when he, with new wife and baby, was banished for questioning white authorities. He moved to Darwin and later to Adelaide, South Australia, working, studying, establishing a career as an Aboriginal cultural educator, and looking for his family and country of belonging.

Randall was affectionately known as "Uncle Bob" or "Tjilpi" (old man or uncle). He established Croker Island Night and several organisations in Darwin including the RRT Pony Club, Boxing Club, Folk Club, the Aboriginal Development Foundation. He worked as a counsellor through the Methodist Uniting Church.

In 1970, Randall helped establish the Adelaide Community College for Aboriginal people and lectured at the college on Aboriginal culture. He served as the Director of the Northern Territory Legal Aid Service in Alice Springs, performed on stage in Child of the Night and Dream of Reconciliation, appeared in the documentary films Mixed Up Man and Secret Country by John Pilger, had roles in the movies Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave, and established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centres at Australian National University, University of Canberra, and University of Wollongong.[citation needed]


Randall led a country music band that serviced regional Aboriginal communities.

In the early 1970s, Randall earned widespread recognition for his song, "My Brown Skin Baby, They Take 'Im Away," which focused national and international attention on the issues of the Stolen Generation and opened the door for Indigenous story songwriters throughout Australia.[5] It led to the filming of a documentary by the same name that won the Bronze Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. His lifelong efforts to retain Aboriginal culture and restore equal rights for all living were recognised in 1999 when he was named NAIDOC's "Person of the Year".[1]

In 2004, he was inducted into the NT Indigenous Music Hall of Fame, recognising the historical significance of his classic story songs.

Later lifeEdit

Later in life, Randall returned to his mother's country in Mutitjulu.[when?]

His story was recorded in 2002 by the National Library of Australia for the Bringing Them Home oral history project and appeared in the associated publication Many Voices: Reflections on Experiences of Indigenous Child Separation. Randall authored four books, including his autobiography, Songman, and three books for children: Tracker Tjuginji, Stories From Country, and Nyuntu Ninti. He contributed his personal story of being stolen to the anthology, Stories of Belonging: Finding Where Your True Self Lives, edited by Kelly Wendorf, published in 2009.[citation needed]

Randall died in Mutitjulu on 12 May 2015, aged approximately 81.[2]


In 2006, Randall co-produced and narrated the documentary Kanyini with Melanie Hogan. It was voted "best documentary" at the London Australian Film Festival 2007, winner of the “Inside Film Independent Spirit Award”, and winner of the Discovery Channel "Best Documentary Award" in 2006.[6] In 2013 he appeared and performed in Mbantua Festival's outdoor performance, Bungalow Song. In 2014 he appeared in John Pilger's film, Utopia[7] and released two documentary films with Andrew Harvey, Songman and Living Kanyini.[citation needed]



  • Ballads by Bob Randall (1983) – CAAMA
  • Bob Randall (1984) – Imparja


  • Desert Songs 1 (1982) – CAAMA
  • First Australians: Songs by Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders (1978) – Aboriginal Artists Agency
  • Rebel Voices From Black Australia (1990) – Imparja
  • Ted Egan Presents the Aboriginals (1987) – EMI


  • Randall, Bob (2003). Songman: the story of an Aboriginal elder of Uluru. ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ISBN 0-7333-1262-4.
  • Randall, Bob; Kunyi June-Anne McInerney (2003). Tracker Tjugingji. IAD Press. ISBN 1-86465-030-3.
  • Randall, Bob; Susan Haworth (2007). Stories from country: my pony Hooky and other tales. ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ISBN 978-0-7333-2047-7.
  • Randall, Bob; Melanie Hogan (2008). Nyuntu ninti: (what you should know). ABC Books. ISBN 978-0-7333-2049-1.


  1. ^ a b Coolwell, Wayne. "NAIDOC Person of the year". Speaking Out. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Brown Skin Baby: Songwriter of Stolen Generations anthem dies in central Australia". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 12 May 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  3. ^ "The stealing time". The Economist. 13 June 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  4. ^ Chandler, Jo (3 June 2009). "Lore of the land". The Age. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  5. ^ Flanagan, Martin (13 October 2012). "Embracing joy amid sorrow of the brown skin babies". The Age. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  6. ^ Molitorisz, Sacha (6 September 2006). "Kanyini". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  7. ^ Parkinson, David. "Utopia". Empire. Bauer Consumer Media. Retrieved 15 June 2015.

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