Some people work with crocodiles, some write books, and some have helped the Northern Territory gain self-governance.

Key points:

  • Goff Letts was born in Donald, in the Wimmera, in 1928
  • He went on to become a vet, then a high-profile politician
  • Letts says he wrote his memoir, Where Brolgas Dance, so that history wouldn’t be forgotten

But only Goff Letts has done all three.

Born in Donald in 1928, Letts has told his life story in a new memoir, Where Brolgas Dance, to be launched soon in Darwin.

The 93-year-old describes his childhood in the Wimmera as a happy one.

“I grew up in a wonderful environment — the township and district of Donald and surrounding places, was absolutely wonderful, despite the Depression and then the war,” he says.

An elderly man with glasses in a white jumper holds a copy of his book with a picture of a brolga on the front in a hotel room

Letts with his memoir, Where Brolgas Dance. (

ABC Wimmera: Andrew Kelso 

)

“I had three wonderful brothers and one became a medical doctor, one became a diplomat serving in overseas posts for Australia and the other’s Robin, who’s editing the Buloke Times.”

Letts wouldn’t stay in the area forever, and after gaining a scholarship to Melbourne Grammar he went on to Sydney to further his veterinary career, before getting posted to Leongatha by the Victorian Department of Agriculture.

There he met “the most wonderful person” — his wife Joyce — and they have been together for 70 years.

Moving up 

It was also whilst working in Leongatha that Letts encountered a rare livestock disease, pleuropneumonia.

“It was a bit like COVID in cattle,” he says.

“The Commonwealth government decided they were going to try and eradicate this terrible disease from Australia, and I was recruited as a member of the veterinary team that was attacking it, and the main focus of the infection was in the Northern Territory so I got posted there.

Being a vet led Letts into the field of conservation, particularly around one of the Territory’s most famous animals.

“There was a lot of research being done, particularly on endangered species at that time … but crocodiles were a special case, and they came to the notice of the Wildlife Advisory Council of which I was the chairman very early in the piece, because they were very much in danger of becoming extinct.”

A man and his children standing outside their house with pet buffalo, Lucky

Letts became a renowned conservationist in the Northern Territory. (

Supplied

)

Through that role Letts worked alongside Dr Grahame Webb to develop a plan of crocodile management which, he says, was among the best in the world.

“Our advice was much sought after by other countries and we made trips to Africa and South America and you name it, to help other people who were having similar problems because of overhunting,” Lett says.

“People started to see a new value in crocodiles; before they’d been the enemy, now they could be seen as a friendly beast.”

A ‘better deal’ for the NT

Letts began his political career in 1970.

“I was getting a bit sick of the Canberra bureaucracy and so I resigned and went into private practise and stood as an elected member, and got elected,” he says.

“I knew all the all the old guys who had been campaigning for a better deal for the Northern Territory so we succeeded with the help of Dr Rex Patterson in getting a fully elected assembly for the Northern Territory.”

Prince Charles and Princess Diana on tour in Central Australia, including a trip to Uluru.

Letts became a leading figure in helping the Northern Territory gain self-government.(

Supplied

)

Letts was leader of the assembly when Cyclone Tracy tore through Darwin on Boxing Day, 1974.

He and Joyce had been heading to Donald for his parent’s golden wedding anniversary, and by the time they arrived back in Darwin the city’s power and communications had been destroyed, and their son and daughter were both nowhere to be found.

“After the third day they got the ABC up and running and General [Alan] Stretton got in touch with me and said, ‘look, people are panicking, they’re rushing to the airport, could you go on the wireless and ask them to calm down?’

Recording history 

In his new book, Letts hopes to record not only his own story, but the events and changes he witnessed.

“I just wanted to make sure that some the things which have been forgotten and some of the things which have never been recorded, get put down on paper from a historical point of view,” he says.

Where Brolgas Dance is expected to be released in Darwin on July 14 — COVID restrictions permitting.

From a vet in Donald to ‘the father of self-government’ in the NT
Source:
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