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Book review: Making Change Happen: Black and white activists talk to Kevin Cook about Aboriginal, Union and Liberation Politics

by on April 15, 2014

Making Change Happen: Black and white activists talk to Kevin Cook about Aboriginal, Union and Liberation Politics, By Kevin Cook and Heather Goodall, Published by ANU E Press, The Australian National University Canberra; Title also available online at

This is an important book for many different reasons. The book is innovative in its approach to a historical account of Aboriginal political activism and social change. Whilst there is a narrative structure, it is told through the voices of the many and varied people who were part of the movements for change in critical reflection and dialogue with a leading charismatic man who was never far from the action – Kevin ‘Cookie’ Cook. In this sense the book is a history of several inter-locking social movements for change, a biography and model of Aboriginal approaches to talking about and remembering past events and people.

While this is a crucial story of Sydney and NSW Aboriginal activism for change from the late 1970s and 1980s, it is also a story about an incredibly gifted person who possessed rare abilities to bring people together, to enable and empower those yearning for change and harness resources to make things happen.

The book charts the history of the building of alliances and networks across the trade union movement that were then drawn on, with the institutional support of Tranby Aboriginal college to develop radical approaches to Aboriginal adult education, the anti-apartheid movement, decolonisation movements in the Pacific, international solidarity in Canada, India and beyond, the movement that successfully pushed for the Deaths In Custody inquiry and revitalised NSW land rights movement. These key moments and movements in NSW Aboriginal activism are told through the leading participants which always included Cookie somewhere making sure things happened and given context by UTS history Professor Heather Goodall. Goodall’s work to make sure this important part of NSW Aboriginal politics is accessible to a wider audience is to be applauded.

This book will provide readers with an understanding of the many interconnected elements of Aboriginal movements for change from the late 1970s and 1980s. It should also give you a sense of what constitutes the conditions for achieving change. ‘Sticking fats’ was often repeated by those in conversation with Cookie – it means to stick together, to stay solid. Kevin Cook possessed the rare ability to bring people together and with Tranby College at its heart, built networks and connections: ‘a place that allowed ideas to grow and develop’. As Goodall reflects ‘they all shared desks, shared meals and had unhurried talks over shared cups of tea in the Tranby sun, all these people built up lasting connections’ (p 124).

And true to character, it’s available for free from ANU e-press @

Reviewed by Dr Heidi Norman, Communications Program, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney.

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