Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture

Nugget Coombs
Image: National Archives of
Australia: M2153, 4/5

The Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture is a free public lecture that from 2010 has been co-presented by the Australian National University through its North Australian Research Unit (NARU) and Charles Darwin University through its Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous Leadership.

The lecture is named in honour of Dr Herbert Cole (H. C., better known as "Nugget") Coombs, born 24 February 1906 and died 29 October 1997.

Nugget Coombs was an Australian economist and public servant probably best known for his role as Governor of the Reserve Bank (appointed in 1960), and who, in his post-retirement years, made a significant contribution to enhancing the rights of Australia's Indigenous peoples, especially to land.

Coombs was Chancellor of ANU from 1968-1976. In 1973, ANU established its North Australia Research Unit in Darwin. In retirement in 1977, Coombs became a Visiting Fellow at the ANU's Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies (CRES) in Canberra. It was in this capacity that he began visiting NARU's newly acquired offices and residential accommodation from the early 1980s. Nugget became a regular visitor for quite extended periods for more than a decade.

8th HC (Nugget) Coombs North Australia Lecture (2016)


Download the transcript from the 2016 lecture (PDF 145KB)

For the Northern Territory, 2016 is the year of two big anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off and the 40th anniversary of the Commonwealth Parliament's passing the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act. 2017 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Commonwealth's Northern Territory Emergency Response - the Intervention.

What benefits have government policies delivered to Indigenous peoples over those decades?  How would Nugget Coombs rate the quality of advice and programs that have emanated from government bureaucracies, NGOs and powerful individuals, as they have applied to Indigenous affairs?

The passage of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act remains its acme. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory have been so distracted gaining, then defending, their rights that they simply have not secured their future. Developing the North is a hollow mantra without real inclusion of Indigenous peoples: the need for them to be consulted is ignored and self-management continues to elude them.

Closing the Gap targets remain unmet.  In the Northern Territory, social determinants of health for Aboriginal people are stagnant while the rates of imprisonment are ever increasing.  The scandalous treatment of Aboriginal juveniles by the Northern Territory's justice system has led to a Royal Commission; at least its appointment will, to the relief of the Aboriginal population, help dispel for a long time the possibility of Statehood.

The failure of public policies in the Northern Territory leads only to the conclusion that Aboriginal people themselves must seize the agenda for change, in order to achieve social and economic development on their own terms for themselves and for the nation.

About the presenter

Joe MorrisonJoe Morrison is the Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Land Council. He was born and raised in Katherine and has Dagoman and Torres Strait Islander heritage.

Joe holds a tertiary qualification from the University of Sydney and has over 25 years' experience working with Indigenous people across northern Australia and internationally on the management and development of traditional lands and waters. His experience includes extensive community development, research and policy creation focused on land and water rights, climate change, Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous ranger employment and Indigenous governance.

Joe was the founding Chief Executive of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, a small not for profit company that brings western science-focused research into local community based settings across tropical northern Australia. During this period NAILSMA provided high-level policy, research and advice to Governments and Indigenous organisations on Indigenous Rangers, climate change and carbon economies, water policy and community development.

He has been intrinsically involved in the 'Northern Development' agenda advocating the importance of Indigenous control over our lands and waters through the creation of Indigenous development prospectus that sustains people, culture and future generations.

Joe has authored and co-authored many articles relating to Indigenous rights, management of country, economic development and of northern development.

Previous lectures

Open all | Close all

7th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture (2014)

The 7th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture, “Looking Back & Looking Forward” – After The Intervention, was presented by the CEO – Wurli-Wurlijang Aboriginal Health Corporation, Dr Marion Scrymgour.

6th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture (2012)

The 6th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture, Coombs' Bastard Child: The Troubled Life of CDEP, was presented by the Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU, and Adjunct Senior Fellow, CDU, Dr Will Sanders.

5th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture (2010)

The 5th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture, The Coombs Experiment, was presented by Coombs' biographer Tim Rowse, formerly of the ANU's History Program, but by 2010 he was at the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy. The lecture was subsequently published as a chapter in his Aboriginal Studies Press book Rethinking Social Justice.

4th Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture (2005)

In 2005, after a short hiatus, the HC (Nugget) Coombs North Australia Lecture was re-invigorated and re-named, the "Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture". The lecture, Indigenous Governance, Leadership and Economic Development, was presented by Mick Dodson, who by that time was a Professor at the ANU's National Centre for Indigenous Studies.

3rd HC (Nugget) Coombs North Australia Lecture (1999)

The 3rd HC (Nugget) Coombs North Australia Lecture, Aboriginal Rights in Kakadu: Breaking the Bonds of Economic Assimilation, was presented by Jacqui Katona, who led the campaign to stop the Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory.

2nd HC (Nugget) Coombs North Australia Lecture (1998)

The 2nd HC (Nugget) Coombs North Australia Lecture, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Cycles of Survival for Indigenous Australians, was presented by the Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Pat Dodson.

The NCML series will continue to focus on various aspects of Australian Indigenous Affairs policy and Coombs' contribution to it, particularly in North Australia, and be co-hosted by ANU and CDU biennially.