RADIO personality Jamie Dunn is still cracking the jokes but he has a serious side too, quietly returning as many Aboriginal artefacts as he can to their rightful owners.
IT was in Rita Rainbow’s second-hand shop in Marcoola, on the Sunshine Coast, that Jamie Dunn first saw it.
It was a smooth, crescent-shaped piece of metal which he recognised at once as an Aboriginal breast plate.
On it was a name – Fred Embrey – a date and a place.
An idea sparked in his head. All the information was there. He could return it to its rightful owner. He handed over $800 and spent that night on the phone, calling all the Embreys he could find. “Hello,” he would say. “Are you Aboriginal?”
Dunn, who at the time was at the height of his fame with his sidekick puppet, Agro, and Logie award-winning television show, Agro’s Cartoon Connection, didn’t have any luck.
People were indifferent, polite, but ultimately no help.
Then, as fate or luck would have it, he bought an indigenous history book.
In it, unbelievably, was a photograph of Fred Embrey wearing the very breast plate now in Dunn’s possession.
At the time, Dunn convinced Channel 7 to fly him out by helicopter to do an Agro show for school kids at Cherbourg, an Aboriginal community, northwest of Brisbane.
At the end of the show, he presented the breast plate to the school.
“There was a scream at the back and it was someone who was related to Fred Embrey,” Dunn says.
“The breast plate had been stolen from the Embrey family so this had a good ending.
“I’m not keen to buy items to create a market but I don’t want to see something sit in a second-hand shop that might mean something to someone or enable indigenous people to celebrate their culture.”
Dunn, 62, looks out from his third-floor Bribie Island balcony. He has a lovely view of the Pumicestone Passage. But he sees something more than a playground of boats and picnic spots.
“Imagine being the tribe on Bribie Island . . . this would have been a complete paradise. In those days, the Ningi Ningi tribe were over on the mainland side, the Joondabarrie tribe lived here on the island. There would have been oysters, dugong, grass beds just over there. Most of the clans on the north coast here were shifted out to Cherbourg. They had different languages, different cultures . . . they just jammed them altogether.
“I don’t bang the drum. I’ve kept these years that I’ve involved myself quite quiet. All I did was send back a few things.”
Dunn is a fossicker. He frequents Lifeline, op shops, antique stores, even the dump. Among the T-shirts and pottery fish, sometimes he finds something real. Something that makes him stop in his tracks and commit to action.
During a fossick at Brisbane’s Paddington Antique Centre, he saw a set of six ochre-coloured, carved corroboree sticks. The accompanying documentation detailed how a priest, in the 1940s, had taken them from Aborigines at Fitzroy Crossing, some 400km east of Broome in Western Australia, and later sold them.
The story cut Dunn to the core. It made him angry, sickened him.
“I hated that priest,” he says. “He’d put them (the Aborigines) on the mission and was trying to “Christianise” them. The fact he had taken these away and sold them, it irked me. I was completely disgusted.
“I bought them for about $900. I bought them to take them out of circulation and I knew I was buying something worthwhile to someone spiritually. They were important to someone.”
Dunn, working at B105 at the time, teamed up with his co-host Robin Bailey’s mother – Julie James Bailey, a professor in media studies at Griffith University – who successfully returned them while she was on a trip to Broome.
The Cairns museum has also accepted a donation from Dunn of an Aboriginal axehead dating back to the late 1700s.
Dunn has self-educated himself in indigenous culture.
His collection of indigenous books, worth thousands of dollars, has also been gifted to the Aboriginal and Islander Independent Community School at Acacia Ridge.
Now armed with knowledge about indigenous culture, Dunn cringes when he remembers a careless remark he once made. It still makes him feel ashamed.
“I bought a derelict house in Paddington and there were squatters,” he says. “A friend of mine came over and asked me what I was doing and I said: ‘There’s been some Abos in the house’.
“Fancy saying that. I carry it. I’ll never forgive myself for it.”
Dunn, who has dropped from 116kg to 89kg following a heart attack five years ago, recognises some people might think of him as difficult, perhaps abrasive, demanding.
“I’m really not that person. I’ve just never taken much crap from people. I don’t suffer fools.”
Dunn and his second wife divorced a year ago and, until recently, he lived by himself. He now has taken in a boarder, or more precisely, a listener, who “needed a place to go”.
He doesn’t have a problem handing out his mobile phone number and says “dozens” of listeners or viewers have, over the years, become his friends.
“One of my best friends is Pete the truckie who I met on Cartoon Connection.
“And Jay, my very special friend Jay. He is 23 and I met him at B105 when he was 14. He goes to bed cuddling up to an Agro doll. There can be 20 calls on my phone at any one time from Jay and I do my best to take as many as I can. It doesn’t worry me at all.”
There have been various incarnations in Jamie Dunn’s career. From young rock star with his self-penned 1975 hit Jamie Come Home, to his alter-ego puppet Agro – with seven Logies to show for it – (Agro, often carted around in the boot of his car, hasn’t been fully retired and still makes the odd appearance “on request”).
Then there were the enduring years of success with B105’s Morning Crew where, at his peak, he earned more than $500,000 a year.
He has also been on the airwaves for Maroochydore’s Zinc 96.1 FM and had a tempestuous two years trying out AM radio as “the next John Laws” on 4BC which, as Dunn puts it, ” wasn’t a good fit”.
But what has been a good fit is his gig at indigenous radio station 98.9FM.
“After 4BC, I got a call from 98.9 to say: ‘Why don’t you spend the rest of your radio life with us?’ I am loving it.”
Article and Photo from Sunday Mail 20th May 2012