A HEARTBROKEN father has paid tribute to his son, describing him as generous and gifted across all walks of life.
“He had a very strong presence wherever he was from a very young age,” said David Martin of his eldest son Bruce.
“Wherever he was he lit up the room.”
David recalled the time he left Aurukun with Bruce, bound for Canberra.
“He came down with me when he was 4, maybe almost 5, and he barely spoke a word of English,” he said.
“I’d only ever talked to him in Wik-Mungkan and so I started teaching him English in the Greyhound bus on the way down from Cairns.
“We would go through endless fields of sugar cane so I pointed out the window and said to him ‘sugar cane, sugar cane’.
“Anyway, half an hour later we come to another field of sugar cane so I said ‘what’s that?’ and he thought for a while and said ‘corned beef’.
“He knew that it was a double-barrelled word, but the only one he could think of was corned beef.”
Despite being a dark-skinned child in a white-skinned city, Bruce had no trouble fitting in, his father said.
“When I got him down to Canberra I was single parenting and he was staying with me in a university flat,” David recalled.
“I’d ride him on the back of my bicycle to a childcare centre.
“The first day I checked him in – this little boy with barely any English – and when I picked him up they told me he was organising games where they played crocodiles and all kinds of things.
“He was never fazed – a gift that not many of us have.
“As he grew up he created this big circle of friends and, as you can see from some of the tributes, people from that era – from his primary and secondary school years – still kept that friendship with him and talk about his impact on them.”
David said his son managed to fit in everywhere.
“Wherever he was – Aurukun, Cairns, Canberra or even Germany or England – he was different from the mainstream but confident and comfortable,” he said.
“It wasn’t just that he was different it was that he refused to be categorised as being lesser than those around him, or better, for that matter.
“He had this sublime confidence that the world was a good place and that he liked people and that people would respond well to being treated well.”
Although Bruce had more opportunities than most kids from Aurukun, that was his Aurukun family’s wish, David said.
“When he came with me to Canberra at first I was still with Dorothy and the family ended up coming down for a period,” the renowned anthropologist said.
“He went through primary school and, by then, Dorothy and I had separated. However, the family were still saying that they wanted him to be educated.
“There was a family meeting and the unequivocal response was ‘we want to see him get an education’. We thought that Canberra Grammar was the best fit because it offered a wide range of courses, but also a lot of sport.
“Bruce was very good at just about every sport.
“But the general atmosphere of the school is what we liked most about it.”
Despite attending one of the capital’s best schools, Bruce wasn’t a silver-spoon child.
“He had friends from all walks of life there and he never changed who he was,” David said.
“He didn’t develop the upper-class attitude, which is the assumption that the world is made for you and it exists to serve you.
“We never saw anything remotely like that in him.”
A diverse upbringing that saw Bruce sink his teeth into every challenge and opportunity produced a brilliant man.
Friends would joke that he was almost too gifted.
Everywhere he went he would have people eating out of the palm of his hand, such was his leadership and charisma.
Whether it was sport, politics, riding a horse or speaking with people – Bruce was brilliant at it.
He still had the ability to surprise, though.
“I’m looking at a wood print of a crocodile as I am talking to you and I hadn’t even known he was the artist until my wife told me,” David said.
“There are two side by side on our walls, and one of them was done by a prominent artist from Arnhem Land and the other was done by Bruce.
“I was told that this was the first one he had done and it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Asked if there were any talents that his son didn’t possess, David was quick to respond.
“Money,” he said.
“Holding his money and saving his money. For him, money existed for the moment and that didn’t serve him well.
“Although, it must be said, he was very generous with his money.
“It didn’t stay with him for very long.”
Despite some financial challenges, Bruce was still an achiever in business.
“He actually owned a small helicopter business for a short while,” David said.
While Bruce was a man with many interests and career paths, his father said a business opportunity in Weipa realised a dream, even if for just a short time.
In 2016, he purchased the successful North Queensland Civil Engineering Contracting business with two other partners.
Sadly, he eventually left the business as his partners had other visions for the company.
“I think owning NQCEC did realise a dream at the time,” David said.
“He wanted to be someone who could do things at some scale – not just small things – and NQCEC offered him that opportunity.
“What he wanted out of that was obviously a living for himself but also to make it a company that was thoroughly Indigenous.
“He didn’t want just Aboriginal employees, he wanted to hire Aboriginal sub-contractors so they could also have a viable business of their own.
“I think that was the closest thing to realising his dream and it ended tragically for all sides.”
David said his son was the victim of many pressures that young, educated and ambitious Indigenous Australians face.
“Everybody wanted a lot from him and even though he usually said yes, at times it became too much for him,” he said.
“In the last months of his life, he had stayed with friends in Townsville, I think in no small part to be able to better manage the range of pressures on him.
“But true to his deep commitment to his Aurukun family, he had made arrangements to get to Aurukun for the funeral of a much-loved uncle.
“His violent death at the hand of others meant that he never got there.”
Bruce will be farewelled at a funeral service at the Uniting Church in Aurukun this Friday.