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Bill leaves lasting legacy

Friday, 2nd March, 2018

William ‘Bill’ Riley was a passionate, caring man who fought for his family, community and the environment until his death last week. PICTURE: Gavin Schmidt William ‘Bill’ Riley was a passionate, caring man who fought for his family, community and the environment until his death last week. PICTURE: Gavin Schmidt

By Emily Roberts

William ‘Bill’ Riley was a passionate man, who liked a joke, and would do anything for the community and those around him.

Bill passed away last week and his legacy will continue to have an influence in communities across the Far West and other NSW communities. 

He always commented “he did not belong to one community or Aboriginal nation, but belonged to all as he was adopted, accepted and respected everywhere he travelled, visited or worked”.

Bill was born in White Cliffs and lived in Broken Hill. Bill’s daughter Colleen said he had been in residential care in Wilcannia since November 2017. 

As Bill knew his health was deteriorating he decided to go to the Wilcannia Hospital as it overlooks his beloved Darling River, which is where he wanted to be on his final journey. 

Colleen said Bill had his loyal best friend “Grunta” by his side until the end.

“Grunta is missing Dad and looks for him every day.”

That hard work out in the bush had taken its toll on his health.

“Working in bulldust and the diesel fumes has stuffed up my lungs,” he said in 2016.

The 83-year-old former National Parks worker was part of the team behind the successful listing of the Paroo River Wetlands in 2002, travelling to Uganda to lobby for that same project.

“They told me I could only speak about the Paroo River, but at that convention, when I was halfway through my address, I threw it aside and let go from the heart about what’s happening to our river here,” Bill said in 2016.

Bill was very passionate about saving the Darling River, its tributaries and other inland River systems such as the Murray, Lachlan, Murrubidgee and Paroo.

In 2012, on water reform he wanted his fellow Aborigines to “get off their butts” and take part in decisions that affect their communities, their livelihoods and the social fabric of the Far West. 

“Look at Wilcannia and Menindee. When the river isn’t flowing the fish aren’t biting, people are just sitting around idle, there is no work and no recreation. The crime rate goes up straight away.

“It’s integral to the health of my people that the rivers are looked after.”

In 2016, Bill spoke to the BDT about feeling guilty about the time when he was young and he helped to clear land that has now been invaded by cotton. 

Cotton has been a disaster for Australia. It has done more than anything to kill the Darling River, and that’s why the plight of the river and people who live along it must be brought to the nation’s attention, Mr Riley had said.

“Bill had worked in many occupations including mining, droving livestock with his father at the age of 14, farming wheat, railways. He was the manager of several pastoral properties and ranger of National Parks,” she said.

“He was a jack of all trades. 

“He and Mum have four kids, six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

“He and my Mum would have been married for 60 years this year.

“They were married in 1958.”

Colleen remembers her father singing lullabies with his guitar.

“Almost every night, he would sit on our bed with a guitar and sing us lullabies.

“He didn’t see the bad in anybody, only good - he was a mate to everyone.

“He liked to stir people, he was a stirrer - he liked to have a joke.

“I think that is what most people will remember.”

“He was always there if people needed him.

“He spent a lot of time fighting for the environment and water - he did that right until the end.

“He was passionate about keeping Aboriginal people out of the justice system and keeping the young ones on the straight and narrow.

“He will be sadly missed by absolutely everybody - but he is at peace now and there is no more pain.”

The service for Bill will be next Monday at 1.30pm at the Musicians Club.

Colleen said the family were looking for memories people had to share of Bill to put in his eulogy.

Anyone with any stories can email catter77@icloud.com.

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