On 19 July 2022, family and friends gathered to celebrate the life of Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta Senior Elder, Uncle Clive Atkinson.
Uncle Graham Atkinson shared stories of Uncle Clive’s life, adventures, and legacy as he farewelled his big brother.
Clive was born in Echuca in November 1940 during World War II. His parents, Clive Atkinson Senior and Iris Atkinson nee Nelson, were proud First Nations people being descendants of the Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta nations.
Clive was the oldest of five siblings from this relationship and also brother to 2 older siblings, the late Dempsey Johnson and Fay Carter nee Johnson, from my Mother’s first marriage. We never used the term stepbrother and stepsister in our family, we were always one close family unit of seven siblings.
From his early beginnings both parents instilled an enduring pride in his Aboriginal culture and Indigenous culture which flowed down to all his siblings. Never be ashamed of your Aboriginality son his parents would often say and throughout his life Clive actively practised and promoted his culture. As a proud Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta man he always stood up for his culture and the difficulties that Indigenous people experienced during his early years. Being the third oldest in a family of seven siblings the younger brothers and sisters always looked up to Clive’s role in the family.
Clive’s culture often found expression in his creative artwork which now has left a long legacy and impression on Australian society not only locally, but also nationally and internationally.
Clive excelled in his primary and secondary school years here in Echuca with his natural artistic talents gaining recognition from his teachers. He never received any formal art training prior to this time but possessed a natural ability and talent in his artwork, some of which he won popular awards.
During his teenage years he also stood out as a skilled sportsman and played football for his beloved team Echuca South, starting in the midfield and then rising to the fullback position. He proved to be a very tough competitor on the field. He also trained in professional running under his cousin, George Nelson who was a top professional runner himself and trained many other successful local runners, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. In the 1980s he was President of the Koori Golf Club and organised many events across the state, including social matches with the Māori Golf Club based in Melbourne.
During those early years Clive also developed a passion for music that became his lifelong interest. By teaching himself the guitar and the inspiration he gained from other talented local musicians such as the late Archie Walker, Clive his brother Wayne and later Paul Burchill formed their own four piece band in the late 1950s called the Raiders. Then in the early 1960s this band morphed into another band called the Shades where Clive became lead guitarist with Wayne on bass and Paul our brother in law on rhythm guitar and vocals while I providing a driving back beat on drums.
Clive was the unofficial manager of the band and handled our bookings which resulted in the Shades Band playing at dances and functions throughout the Goulburn Valley, Murray Valley and Riverine district. The band became very popular across these regions playing gigs at the weekend and also during the week at key venues like the Astor Ballroom in Shepparton and St Marys Hall in Echuca while still doing our day jobs. The Shades always attracting big crowds wherever they appeared.
Clive’s musical tastes and interests covered a wide range of musical styles which started with the popular instrumental group the Shadows who had the number one hit Apache. However, his tastes were later influenced by the emergence of pop groups such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others. I should say that another influence in Clive’s musical passion was the support he got from our mother the late Iris Atkinson who in her early years performed in a singing and dancing group at fundraising events during the World War two years.
Today I can still picture my mother helping Clive learn new songs and tunes that he would listen to on our record player at home in the dining kitchen area. She would often listen intently and chip in and say ‘I think you need to go up a bit or go down a bit on that key. And once he worked out the song would give him words of encouragement like, ‘that sounds terrific son, I think you’ve got it!
Neither Clive nor any of us in the band could read music, all our songs were learnt by ear. One of the highlights in the bands career occurred in the mid 1960s when it won the State battle of the bands contest in Benalla Victoria. What a proud day that was for Clive and all of us with Molly Meldrum’s brother Brian Meldrum out front belting out ‘Put on Your High Heel Sneakers’ and Clive playing the lead break which won us the contest that memorable day.
In 1966 Clive along with one of his mates the late Paddy Malone made their way to England exploring new horizons for work and to travel the European continent in their spare time which is what many young Australians were doing back then. Clive worked in England first before moving to Canada where he found work in the printing industry and completed a Diploma in Graphic Arts Design part time in Vancouver. Around 1971 he returned to Melbourne with his first wife Linda and established his home in Doncaster East where they raised their children, Stacey and Daniel.
Clive continued to work in the printing industry after his return to Melbourne but with his graphic design skills under his belt he decided on a career change by going into partnership with a colleague and established their own graphic design business called Advertype located in Clarendon Street South Melbourne. This became a highly successful business with a seven figure turnover and employed a sizeable team of graphic artists. Taking advantage of the emerging information technology trend and the rise of computers Advertype established a successful market niche in the city’s corporate and business sectors.
By the early 1990’s Clive established his own company called Atkinson Partnerships which focused on indigenous graphic design products. His work expanded across both the indigenous and non-indigenous business sectors leaving an incredible legacy of indigenous artwork and marketing products. In the early 1990s both Clive and Judy celebrated the arrival of Bidja Atkinson. Soon afterwards Clive and Judy together with Bidja moved back on country to his property in Echuca to run his business and become involved in local community activities not least for a time Chairing the Moama Land Council and supporting the local Aboriginal Cooperative in Echuca. He along with Judy later established Mugabereena a Registered Training Organisation running courses in bush furniture making, arts and crafts, car mechanics courses and others.
Clive’s artwork legacy not only exists here in the local area but can also be found nationally and internationally. Many local councils have benefited from Clive’s work. For instance for some years before the Shire of Campaspe updated its logo Clive’s original logo design could be seen as you entered the Shire region. I always got a kick out of telling people that my brother designed that logo and was delighted when I travelled from Melbourne to Echuca and would see the Compaspe Shire logo on the northern highway just north of Heathcote.
I could continue proudly celebrating Clive’s achievements except to say that he and Judy have well and truly left their mark on the various landscapes where their work has appeared. The most recent achievement of course was the naming of the new Dungula bridge by Judy that was recently opened. Judy and Clive also created the magnificent mural alongside the bridge that recognises and acknowledges the first Nations people and traditional owners of this area.
I could not help but notice and appreciate the wonderful care that Judy gave to Clive during this difficult period. I know our family us very grateful to her for this.
I want to say it has been an honour being able to share some of these highlights today with you, and wish to close by passing my condolences to Clive’s immediate and extended family. In all our lives, he was an inspiration for the life he lived and the legacy that he has left and his many accomplishments.
In closing, I wish to share with you the challenges and struggles he had with his health problems towards the end. I frequently visited Clive and Judy particularly prior to the lockdown and immediately after it, and tried to keep regular phone contact to see how Clive was going. That is our family tradition which is about caring for each other. However, each time we communicated, I noticed his health was declining, and the sickness he was struggling with was not curable but only manageable. So as we give our brother boy a send-off today we wish him a safe journey back to his Dream Time.