The Indigenous Elders of this land have lived through an extraordinary
range of experiences. Since colonisation, they have...
Aboriginal Elders’
Voices:
Stories of the
“Tide of History”
Victorian Indigenous Elders’
life stories & oral histories
The...
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
VICTORIAN INDIGENOUS ELDERS’ LIFE STORIES & ORAL HISTORIES
Abo...
iii
Contents
A note about ACES, the title and the cover vi
The writing team 1
Aunty Fay Carter, Uncle Reg Blow and
Kate Ha...
iv
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
We were all cousins, more or less 87
Aunty Iris Lovett-Gard...
v
Contents
Learning from Indigenous Elders
Keeping the traditions — keeping the 157
culture strong
Since time immemorial 1...
vi
A note about ACES, the title and the cover
In 1998 and again in 2002, land justice was denied to the
Yorta Yorta people...
1
The writing team
Aunty Fay Carter is an Elder of the Yorta Yorta and Dja
Dja Wurrung people. Following in the footsteps ...
2
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Uncle Reg Blow is from the Tribelang Bunda
people of Queensl...
The writing team
3
Kate Harvey is a non-Aboriginal woman who
has been involved with the Victorian
Aboriginal community for...
5
"To truly turn the tide,
some land must be returned."
Aunty Fay Carter, Yorta Yorta Elder,
Aboriginal Community Elders S...
7
Indigenous Elders:
keepers of knowledge; custodians of
land and culture
Since the British invasion, the Indigenous Elder...
8
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
today. They are the heads of large extended families and
kin...
Indigenous Elders
9
a history that has been hidden from most non-Indigenous
Australians. But the book is not only a collec...
11
NGINTAIT
NGARKAT
WOTJOBALUK
MARDITJALI
JAADWA JAARA
WURUNDJERI
TATUNGALUNG
TAUNGURONG
NGURELBAN
KWATKWAT
JEITHI
WIRADJU...
13
Cummeragunja
1889–1953 (Stn)
188313present (Res)
Lake Tyers
1861–present
Wallaga Lake
1891–present
Town
Station
Reserve...
Elders’ stories
Story1
17
OLIVE JACKSON
Yorta Yorta Wiradjuri
Growing up running from the welfare
I was born on my Grandfather’s land, the...
18
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Living with Gran on the move
After Mum died, well Dad ran a...
23
Growing Up Running from the Welfare – OLIVE JACKSON
Story1
Uncle Eddie Atkinson,
captain of the
Cummeragunja football
t...
30
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
The Flats. We were married there and we couldn’t afford
to ...
33
Growing Up Running from the Welfare – OLIVE JACKSON
Story1
Working at the Aborigines Advancement League
My husband was ...
34
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
and eight great grandchildren and we all get together
often...
35
Growing Up Running from the Welfare – OLIVE JACKSON
Story1
grandson Chris Harrison studied. He’s a beautiful dancer.
Wh...
37
Story2
LOLA JAMES
Yorta Yorta
Respecting our Elders
In my story I want to talk about the importance of Elders
like my G...
38
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Yorta said “Now he’s ours, now he’s ours.” The children of
...
39
Respecting our Elders – LOLA JAMES
Story2
were stolen from the school at Cummeragunja, and how
my Great Grandfather arg...
50
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Koorie Elders
I feel the Elders can teach the young ones a ...
51
Story3
LES STEWART
If your Mother didn’t tell you, then your
Grandmother did!
There’s so many things that I’ve done in ...
58
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Plenty of learnin’, plenty of yarns
I got no education but ...
65
If your Mother didn’t tell you, then your Grandmother did! – LES STEWART
Story3
just lookin’ away from the foot of the ...
67
Story4
AUDREY CRITCH
Kurnai Wotjoballuk
Don’t dwell on trouble
My Mother was Alice Pepper and I think she
grew up at La...
68
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
After we left the
orphanage we were
able to find Mum,
but I...
69
Don’t dwell on trouble – AUDREY CRITCH
A good feeling at The Flats on the riverbank
As a young woman, I went to live in...
74
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Aunty Alice was the NAIDOC Elder of the Year in 1999,
the U...
75
Don’t dwell on trouble – AUDREY CRITCH
Because she is my Mother
There is this lady I know
who is not a model
and not a ...
77
Story5
GWEN NELSON
These are my people
My name is Gwendoline Nelson, nee Wilkie and I was born
in 1922 in Adelaide. My ...
78
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
I grew up moving around
Mum later married a white man calle...
85
These are my people – GWEN NELSON
Some people didn’t like us getting married because I am
Aboriginal and Gordon is whit...
87
Story6
IRIS LOVETT-GARDINER, AM
Gundit-jmara
We were all cousins, more or less
In 1999 I got my Masters of Science
for ...
88
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
just sit and dream about what they have done, all the
journ...
91
We were all cousins, more or less – IRIS LOVETT GARDINER
Then cousins were taken away
The time of childhood
was great f...
92
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
With only our grief for them.
And their grief for us.
Then ...
93
Story7
DIANNE PHILLIPS
Gundit-jmara
Aboriginality is about culture, not colour
My Mother was a Gundit-jmara woman from ...
104
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
green if you like, as long as you treat me right, I’ll tre...
105
Aboriginality is about culture, not colour – DIANNE PHILLIPS
that too. We aren’t asking for all our land back, just th...
107
Story8
FRANCES GALLAGHER
Gundit-jmara
Take up the opportunities we struggled to
make
My Mother was Ella Violet Winters...
108
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
The women would weave
baskets but they didn’t
teach us. Un...
111
Take up the opportunities we struggled to make – FRANCES GALLAGHER
teenagers. That’s named after Aunty Marge Tucker wh...
112
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
To The People Of Kosovo,
I would just like to convey this ...
113
Take up the opportunities we struggled to make – FRANCES GALLAGHER
For our Elders Caring Place
Up there in Canberra,
o...
114
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Our people lay dying,
their blood running red,
staining th...
115
Story9
EILEEN ALBERTS
Buanditj
Home
I’m going home!
Where?
I’m going home!
But where?
Just home.
No place in particula...
116
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Growing up at Little Dunmore,
the Old Place,
was an experi...
123
Home – EILEEN ALBERTS
In the mornings,
it was a basin wash outside the back door,
and cold tank water to rinse your ha...
125
Story10
GWEN GARONI
Taungurong
We were supposed to forget
our Aboriginality
For most of my life I was pretty much unaw...
132
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
to do a bit of farming, but he was refused. That seemed
so...
133
We were supposed to forget our Aboriginality – GWEN GARONI
and I don’t think white people ate
them. We spent a lot of ...
136
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
interested in their Koorie history and heritage and will
m...
137
Story11
BRIAN KENNEWELL-TAYLOR
Not enough heart to say sorry?
When I was growing up it was a time of great uncertainty...
152
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
cousin through Link Up, but he
wanted nothing to do with u...
153
Not enough heart to say sorry? – BRIAN TAYLOR
Remembering my people
I am telling my story in memory of my Aboriginal f...
Learning from
Indigenous Elders
157
History
Keeping the traditions — keeping the
culture strong
As we look back through our shared history and understand
...
162
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
For over a century, dominant belief decreed that
Aborigina...
History
163
Since time immemorial
To understand contemporary Aboriginal Elders’ lives, we
need to go back to the time befo...
164
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
generation. Higher learning depended upon passing
rigorous...
History
165
Since time immemorial
for the land has changed and is now carried out through
their struggle for land justice,...
History
167
1 R Broome, Aboriginal Australians: Black Response to White Domination,
1788–1980, George Allen & Unwin, Sydne...
168
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
4 M Cannon, Black Land, White Land, Minerva, Port Melbourn...
History
175
Invasion: the tide ran red
After the tide ran red, there came a flood of legislation.
For the next century, a ...
History
177
22 Reserves, stations and missions are generally referred to as missions by
Aboriginal people and so this term...
190
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
We had a school with all Koorie students … a
church, a bak...
History
191
49 P Read, The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in NSW
1883 to 1969, Goverment Printer, ...
198
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
they felt they belonged ... They just move
around constant...
History
199
Cultural resistance: holding on to children,
traditions and land
Government regulations meant that Aboriginal ...
200
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
Aboriginal people’s determination to keep their Mother
ton...
History
207
Organised resistance: a movement is born
Aboriginal resistance on missions grew into organised
political actio...
218
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
belongings. The people were threatened with kidnapping
to ...
History
219
81 Aborigines Act 1957, 6. (1), (2).
82 See Aborigines Act 1957, Aborigines Regulations 1958.
83 Victims or Vi...
220
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
exploited as unpaid domestic workers for mission staff.84
...
History
223
The price of assimilation
Until 1966, legislation prevented Aboriginal people
controlling nearly every aspect ...
224
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
later experience of assimilation as her greatest challenge...
History
229
85 Aunty Fay Carter in discussion with project writer, 1999.
86 Aunty Merle Jackomos in conversation with proj...
230
Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History”
In 1957 a National Aboriginal Day of Mourning was held.
Th...
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Aboriginal elder voices

  1. 1. The Indigenous Elders of this land have lived through an extraordinary range of experiences. Since colonisation, they have struggled with strength and determination to ensure the survival of their people, land and culture. They have fought against racism and made Australia a fairer place for everyone. ABORIGINAL ELDERS’ VOICES: STORIES OF THE ‘TIDE OF HISTORY’ is a collection of Victorian Indigenous Elders’life stories and oral histories. The Elders share their stories in an attempt to ensure that both sides of Australia’s history are finally heard. These stories tell of cultural resistance on missions, of defying assimilation laws, of forever moving around to save children from the welfare. They document the development of both fringe and urban communities and work in the Aboriginal rights movement. They clarify the ways in which these experiences have affected the individual authors along with the Indigenous population in general. Also included in the book is a brief history and analysis of the legislation, policies, attitudes and strategies that have affected the lives of the authors and their families since colonisation. This aspect provides an historical perspective, encouraging a deeper understanding of the Elders’stories. Reconciliation can only eventuate with an understanding gained from hearing and including the voices of Indigenous Australians. The time has come to listen...
  2. 2. Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Victorian Indigenous Elders’ life stories & oral histories The Aboriginal Community Elders Service (ACES) & Kate Harvey ACES — Aboriginal Community Elders Service Language Australia Ltd.
  3. 3. Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” VICTORIAN INDIGENOUS ELDERS’ LIFE STORIES & ORAL HISTORIES Aboriginal Community Elders Service, ACES 2003 The National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Harvey, Kate, 1955- . Aboriginal elders’ voices: stories of the “Tide of History”: Victorian Indigenous Elders’ life stories & oral histories. Bibliography. ISBN 0 731126 78 5. 1. Aborigines, Australian. 2. Aborigines, Australian - Legal status, laws, etc. 3. Aborigines, Australian - Land tenure. 4. Australia - Race relations. I. Language Australia. II. Aboriginal Community Elders Service. III. Title. 305.89915 Project Writer: Kate Harvey Aboriginal Elders Reference Group: Fay Carter, Manager, Aboriginal Community Elders Service (ACES) Reg Blow, Aboriginal Community Elders Service (ACES) Artwork: Elders Photography: Maree Clarke Editing and Desktop publishing: Language Australia Ltd Cover Design Gabrielle Markus, Language Australia Ltd Cover Photo Stephanie Tout, Language Australia Ltd Published for the Aboriginal Community Elders Service, Melbourne by Language Australia Ltd ©2003 Copyright on this document as a whole is owned by Aboriginal Community Elders Service (ACES). No parts may be reproduced by any process except with the express written permission of the manager, ACES or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act. ©2002 Artwork: ACES Elders ©2002 Photography: Maree Clarke. Copyright on the individual stories is owned by the authors/story tellers: Olive Jackson Growing Up Running from the Welfare Lola James Respecting our Elders Les Stewart If Your Mother didn’t Tell You, Then Your Grandmother Did! Audrey Critch Don’t Dwell on Trouble Gwen Nelson These are My People Iris Lovett-Gardiner We were All Cousins, More or Less Dianne Phillips Aboriginality is about Culture, not Colour Frances Gallagher Take Up the Opportunities We Struggled to Make Eileen Alberts Home Gwen Garoni We Were Supposed To Forget Our Aboriginality Brian Kennewell-Taylor Not Enough Heart to Say Sorry? Portrait photograph of Iris Lovett-Gardiner courtesy of the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc. Newspaper photograph of Iris Lovett-Gardiner by Heath Missen — courtesy of The Age. Photograph of Kate Harvey courtesy of Richard Walker. Photograph of Lola James courtesy of Pete Smith and ATSIC. Requests and enquiries concerning reproduction should be addressed to: ACES 5 Parkview Ave East Brunswick, 3057 Funded with assistance from the Adult, Community and Further Education Board and the Northern Metropolitan Council of Adult, Community and Further Education.
  4. 4. iii Contents A note about ACES, the title and the cover vi The writing team 1 Aunty Fay Carter, Uncle Reg Blow and Kate Harvey Indigenous Elders: keepers of knowledge; 7 custodians of land and culture Aboriginal lands 11 Maps of land boundaries Missions and reserves 13 Elders’ stories Growing up running from the welfare 17 Aunty Olive Jackson Respecting our Elders 37 Aunty Lola James If your Mother didn’t tell you, then your Grandmother did! 51 Uncle Les Stewart Don’t dwell on trouble 67 Aunty Audrey Critch These are my people 77 Aunty Gwen Nelson
  5. 5. iv Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” We were all cousins, more or less 87 Aunty Iris Lovett-Gardiner Aboriginality is about culture, not colour 93 Aunty Dianne Phillips Take up the opportunities we struggled 107 to make Aunty Frances Gallagher Home 115 Aunty Eileen Alberts We were supposed to forget 125 our Aboriginality Aunty Gwen Garoni Not enough heart to say sorry? 137 Uncle Brian Kennewell-Taylor
  6. 6. v Contents Learning from Indigenous Elders Keeping the traditions — keeping the 157 culture strong Since time immemorial 163 Invasion: the tide ran red 167 The flood of legislation 177 Stolen children 191 Cultural resistance: holding on to children, 199 traditions and land Organised resistance: a movement is born 207 The 1950s: community resistance to 219 race laws The price of assimilation 223 The Aboriginal rights movement 229 After the flood: self-determination 235 Turning the tide 245 Bibliography 251 Appendix: Cultural custodianship: 255 developing an Indigenous methodology
  7. 7. vi A note about ACES, the title and the cover In 1998 and again in 2002, land justice was denied to the Yorta Yorta people on the grounds that their rights had been washed away by the "tide of history". The Aboriginal Elders' stories in this collection tell of standing against the "tide of history" and the flood of legislation. They are stories of survival, of living culture and ongoing connection to land. The image on the cover was painted by the Elders in this book in a community arts project with Aboriginal artist Sharon Hodgson-Riley. The hands are their hands, the turtle, lizard and eagle are their totems, and the colours represent their land. The Aboriginal Community Elders Service (ACES) is located in a bushland setting on the banks of Merri Creek in East Brunswick. It provides a range of services to Aboriginal Elders, including day care, hostel accommodation, a nursing home and a cultural centre. Aboriginal values and respect for Elders are the guiding principles. Aboriginal Elders' role as cultural custodians has always been of central importance. This book was written as one of the many ways that today's Elders continue their role of passing on knowledge to the next generation, now also sharing that with the wider community in the spirit of reconciliation.
  8. 8. 1 The writing team Aunty Fay Carter is an Elder of the Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung people. Following in the footsteps of her Elders, she has been involved in the struggle for rights for her people over the past 30 years. She has held a variety of positions in both government departments and Aboriginal community organisations, always with a commitment to self-determination. Aunty Fay has been involved with ACES from its beginning and worked as manager for the past ten years. She sees these years as very rewarding, allowing her to give something back to the Elders who paved the way through their struggle before her. She sees the Elders' leadership role as one of Aboriginal society's greatest assets and is keen to see that role strengthened today. She has guided this book through all stages from the outset.
  9. 9. 2 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Uncle Reg Blow is from the Tribelang Bunda people of Queensland. Over the past 30 years, he has worked in many ways for the Victorian Aboriginal community and is recognised as an Elder. Since the early years in the development of Aboriginal organisations, he has worked in both paid and unpaid roles and been instrumental in establishing a variety of innovative programs. His life work has ranged from Aboriginal run organisations such as the Aborigines Advancement League to senior local, state and commonwealth government positions. As co-ordinator of Day Care at ACES, he directed all aspects of this book. In particular, he saw an understanding of government legislation as essential background to the Elders' life stories, and envisaged that this book would enable Aboriginal Elders' knowledge to be available as an education resource to all people.
  10. 10. The writing team 3 Kate Harvey is a non-Aboriginal woman who has been involved with the Victorian Aboriginal community for many years. She has worked in various Aboriginal run programs, including the development of the Koorie Women's Studies course at the Institute of Koorie Education at Deakin University. She has been at ACES for a number of years working with Elders as they record their oral histories and Aboriginal knowledge. The process of writing this book with the Elders is outlined in the appendix. As the Mother of an adult Yorta Yorta Wiradjuri daughter, Kate sees Aboriginal cultural values as vital to the future of all Australians.
  11. 11. 5 "To truly turn the tide, some land must be returned." Aunty Fay Carter, Yorta Yorta Elder, Aboriginal Community Elders Service.
  12. 12. 7 Indigenous Elders: keepers of knowledge; custodians of land and culture Since the British invasion, the Indigenous Elders of this land have lived through an extraordinary range of experiences. They have faced situations that most Australians are unaware of. They have wisdom that comes both from knowledge passed down from their Elders and from the many hardships they have survived. Today’s Indigenous Elders are the living link to the knowledge of their Elders. Stories, values and knowledge imparted to them as children provide access to over 100 years of knowledge and history. Since colonisation they have struggled to ensure the survival of their people and culture. Indigenous people today know that their very existence is due to the strength and determination of their Elders. Today’s Elders are the survivors of two centuries of cultural and racial domination. Through all the hardship, traditions of resilience and courage were established and, despite detention on missions, removal of children, banning of Aboriginal languages and spirituality, enforced Christianisation and European education, south-eastern Indigenous people still maintain their culture and identity — and a sense of humour! Indigenous Elders still continue the traditions of their foremothers and forefathers in south-eastern Australia
  13. 13. 8 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” today. They are the heads of large extended families and kinship networks and central figures in Indigenous communities. They hold the family histories that define each individual’s identity and the land to which they belong. As always in Aboriginal culture, Elders are loved and respected. Improvements in Indigenous people’s lives are due to the struggle and work of today’s Indigenous Elders. They are the ones who fought long and hard to abolish the Aborigines Protection Board and the Aborigines Welfare Board. They worked for the 1967 referendum, which finally gave Indigenous people citizenship rights. They worked at the Aborigines Advancement League and established organisations such as Aboriginal Legal Services and Aboriginal Health Services. They changed laws and paved the way for further social change. They not only had immeasurable effect on Indigenous communities across the land, they also fought against racism generally and made Australia a fairer place for everyone. All this is owed to the Elders’ determination to care for their people, land and culture. This book is a collection of the stories of Indigenous Elders from south-eastern Australia, mainly Victoria. Their stories tell of cultural resistance on missions, of defying assimilation laws, of forever moving around to avoid the welfare stealing the children. They tell of the development of both fringe and urban communities and work in the Aboriginal rights movement. They tell the history of race relations, a story long suppressed but now coming into view. The Elders tell their stories so all Australian people can gain greater understanding of the history of this country,
  14. 14. Indigenous Elders 9 a history that has been hidden from most non-Indigenous Australians. But the book is not only a collection of life stories. It also provides a brief outline of the legislation and policies that have affected the lives of the authors and their families since colonisation. The inclusion of both personal and historical perspectives provide readers with insights into our past, a history that has often been hidden from view. This book, written at a time when the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, continues to refuse to apologise to the Indigenous population for the way they have been treated by white governments since the British invasion, is also an attempt to ensure both sides of Australia’s history are finally heard. Reconciliation can only come through understanding gained from hearing Indigenous voices. The time has come to listen, with open hearts and minds.
  15. 15. 11 NGINTAIT NGARKAT WOTJOBALUK MARDITJALI JAADWA JAARA WURUNDJERI TATUNGALUNG TAUNGURONG NGURELBAN KWATKWAT JEITHI WIRADJURI PANGERANG MINJAMBUTA BUNURONG BRATAUOLUNG BUNGANDITJ JUPAGALK KURUNG GUNDITJMARA KIRRAE Mildura Horsham Bendigo Echucha Cummeragunja Albury Lake Tyers Orbost Shepparton Ballarat Coranderrk Melbourne Swan Hill Hamilton Lake Condah Framlingham LATJILATJI TATITATIWATIWATI KOLAKNGAT KATUBANUT W EMBAW EMBA BARAPARAPA YO RTA YO RTA DUDUROA DJILAMATANG NGARIGO BIDAWAL BRABIRALUNG BRAIAKAULUNG KRAUATUNGALUNG JAITMATHANG JARIJARI WARKAWARKA Aboriginal lands Map of Victoria and some NSW Indigenous nations.
  16. 16. 13 Cummeragunja 1889–1953 (Stn) 188313present (Res) Lake Tyers 1861–present Wallaga Lake 1891–present Town Station Reserve Coranderrk 1863–1924 Acheron 1863–1924 Ramahyuck 1862–1902 MELBOURNE BARRABOOL GEELONG FRANKLINFORD PORT ALBERT GIPPSLAND MONARO WIMMERA WESTERN DISTRICT RIVERINA BACCHUS MARSH COLAC Lake Condah 1867–1918 (Stn) 1861–1951 (Res) Framlingham 1865–1890 (Stn) 1861–present (Res) Moonahcullah 1910–1852 (Stn) 1898–1962 (Res) Maloga 1874–1888 Ebenezer 1858–1904 Warangesda 1880–1926 Darlington Pt c. 1938–present Balranald 1892–1966 Wahgunyah 1891–1937 V i c t o r i a N e w S o u t h W a l e sM URRAY RIVER GOULBURN RIVER LODDONRIVER Missions and reserves Locations of Victorian and some NSW missions and reserves.
  17. 17. Elders’ stories
  18. 18. Story1 17 OLIVE JACKSON Yorta Yorta Wiradjuri Growing up running from the welfare I was born on my Grandfather’s land, the land of the Wiradjuri people at Griffith in NSW in 1930. My Father was Jim Smith and my Mother was Muriel Charles, a Yorta Yorta woman born at Cummeragunja. I have a sister, Blanch, and a brother, Artie Charles, born to my Mother. I’m known as Aunty Ollie. When I was a baby, we lived at the Sandhills at Narrandera, a big Koorie camp on the Murrumbidgee River. We also lived near Griffith at Three Ways, a Koorie camp with houses made from hessian bags for walls and tarpaulins for the roof. I was very young there, so it’s hard to remember, but we lived with all my Grandmother’s people — Aunties and Uncles, the Coombes, the Lyons, all the Wiradjuri people there. But when I was only twelve months old my Mother died, so I never knew her. Over the years I searched and searched for a photo of her, and I finally tracked an old one down. This is all I have of her and it’s very precious to me. Four generations: (left to right) Aunty Ollie's Great Great Grandmother Louisa Briggs, Great Grandmother Elizabeth Briggs, Grandfather Henry Charles, and her Mother, Muriel Charles holding Blanch Charles.
  19. 19. 18 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Living with Gran on the move After Mum died, well Dad ran around wild — you know, he really couldn’t cope for a while. So his Mother, Kitty Smith (nee Lyons), took me and Artie. She was known as Granny Smith. Us kids were in big danger of being stolen by the welfare when Mum died. The government was really stealing a lot of Koorie kids in those days — no one was safe from the kidnapping. With us, they had the excuse that we didn’t have a Mother and so Gran was very worried. Word had got around on the Koorie grapevine that the welfare were watching us. So Gran left her husband, Jim Smith, and took to travelling around as a way to keep us safe from being kidnapped. We had our cousin Jim Boy with us and we lived on the move, never staying anywhere long, always moving on before the welfare caught up to us. Lots of Koories lived like that back then as a way to try to keep their kids from being stolen. It just wasn’t safe for us to have a settled home. We travelled to wherever Gran could find work, and when she’d saved enough we’d move on again. She’d get work as a cook for shearers or doing domestic work in hotels. Hotel jobs were good because she could bring us the left-over food. We had a horse and cart and we camped out, sleeping in a tent and cooking outside over a fire. We’d make damper, and Jim Boy would shoot rabbits and kangaroos. We’d trap possums by putting flour up the bark of a tree trunk and the possum would come along, licking the flour up. We’d hide rabbit traps in the dirt at the bottom of the tree, and in the morning we’d have two or three big fat possums. Possum has a strong eucalyptus taste. Sometimes we’d just cook it under the ashes, and sometimes steam it by wrapping it in wet brown paper
  20. 20. 23 Growing Up Running from the Welfare – OLIVE JACKSON Story1 Uncle Eddie Atkinson, captain of the Cummeragunja football team, who became a pastor and community leader. there was fun there, there was excitement there. And there was Sunday school — I loved Sunday school. Uncle Eddie Atkinson was our minister. He was my Grand Uncle, the brother of my maternal Grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson. Oh, I used to stand at that church door and listen to him giving sermons. He’d have us all up clapping and “Lord” this and “Lord” that. And I’d hang around the church door when they had funerals. I was curious, and I wanted to meet people and see what this church was all about. It was real good times. It was a good place and I was picking up with all my people on my Mother’s side of the family. You could see why Gran brought me back to Cummeragunja — she was a wise old woman. One night when the Elders were sitting talking around the fire outside, telling old Dreamtime stories and all these things, I went away on my own in the bush. My life must have been changing, I was going through a lot. I found like a ring-a-rosie, a circle of young gum saplings, and I laid in the centre of it. Cummeragunja, that was where my family was from, that was my home. I looked up at the sky and I said: My land, my land. This is mine, this is mine. This is my ground. This is my place. This is my country. They can’t take this away! This was my ground on Cummeragunja! Marking my own circle of land, it was like a homecoming for me ... a homecoming it was. Oh, it’s good to talk about old times! When I got up in the morning, that little part I’d marked
  21. 21. 30 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” The Flats. We were married there and we couldn’t afford to have a honeymoon, so we just went to stay at Granny Smith’s place. Well, they stayed up all night singing and kept us awake! Looking out for the Doolagah Violet Harrison, my Mother-in-law, was one of the Elders who kept up the old Koorie beliefs and she had great influence over my kids. She was strict about the kids being home by dark, and if they wouldn’t stop their playing and get inside she’d sing out “There’s a doolagah behind you! He’s got a sugar bag on his back, just ready to pop you in it. Come on, get inside!” The kids would be really frightened and do as they were told real quick. It rubbed off on all my kids — they were all frightened! Nanna Harrison and other Koories have seen the hairy legs of a doolagah in her house in Shepparton. They just saw the legs. They say you can still hear him walking around that house today. They’ve got used to him over the years. Living in the white man’s world After a while Eric and I moved to Healesville where his brother Roy was working at the sawmill. Well, that was a move that would either make us or break us — having to live in the white man’s world! There were Koories living scattered around there, people who had been at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station before they closed it, but mostly we were living amongst Gubbahs — and it was really hard. I had always lived in Koorie communities before and now we had moved into town. My husband was working hard in the sawmill and I kept on having baby upon baby. Oh
  22. 22. 33 Growing Up Running from the Welfare – OLIVE JACKSON Story1 Working at the Aborigines Advancement League My husband was a sawyer at the timber mill in Healesville. That was the top job — you’ve got to be good to do that. But he injured his back badly and couldn’t work anymore, so he ended up on a pension. Some time later he was killed in a car accident, and I was left alone with nine children who were all still young and at school. That was a very hard time. Eric had been a good husband. He’d taken care of all the bills and lots of the worries, and now I had to do it all alone. My Father passed away at that time too, so I was really battling. The Aborigines Advancement League used to make part- time work available for Koories who needed a hand, and so I got a job working on their newsletter, Smoke Signals. I’d get up early and get all the kids off to school and then get the train down to the League in Northcote. I ran into Aunty Marge Tucker and Aunty Geraldine Briggs there and heard all the stories they told, all about the campaigns they fought. Working at the League was a great support for me at that time of need. I was back with my own people. I don’t want to carry bitterness Looking back on my life, I’ve lived a lot of different ways and battled through hardships that many white people wouldn’t even know about. I always struggled to do the best I could for my children. I made sure they didn’t go through what I did — I wanted it to be better, easier for them. They are all grown now and I’m really proud of their various achievements. I have twenty-eight grandchildren
  23. 23. 34 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” and eight great grandchildren and we all get together often. We are a close family and so I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to Cummera because the family all lives around Melbourne. I wouldn’t want to be too far away, and anyway, they wouldn’t let me either. As I look back over the years, the one thing I always think is that I don’t want to carry bitterness or hatred. If that happens, then how the hell will we go on? When times were really hard and I wondered how I could go on, I’d think “We shall overcome … we’ll see the answers to all these things one day.” All my life I’ve struggled with all the things that happened to us, and now as I get older I’m finally able to accept it more. A lot of good changes are happening. Reconciliation has to happen, somehow, someway. Of course, the Prime Minister refusing to say sorry doesn’t help. The greatest mistake the government ever made was trying to take our culture away, herding us around like cattle and taking us from our land, trying to disconnect us from the spirit of the land. My Father could speak his Wiradjuri language and when I was a child I often heard my Elders speaking Yorta Yorta. Aunty Geraldine Briggs still speaks our Yorta Yorta language, and her grand-daughter Aretha Briggs teaches it at Worawa Aboriginal College in Healesville where my
  24. 24. 35 Growing Up Running from the Welfare – OLIVE JACKSON Story1 grandson Chris Harrison studied. He’s a beautiful dancer. When the boys danced for us Elders and he spoke of the meaning of the dance, I felt so proud! I’m thrilled now to see our culture growing stronger and stronger. the end
  25. 25. 37 Story2 LOLA JAMES Yorta Yorta Respecting our Elders In my story I want to talk about the importance of Elders like my Grandfather, Shadrach James. Grandfather Shadrach was well known amongst our people and a great inspiration to me. Great Grandfather Thomas James My Great Grandfather was Thomas James. He was a Mauritian of Indian descent who spoke Tamil, French and a number of other languages. At the age of twelve, he stowed away on a ship leaving Mauritius and travelled to Australia and later somehow put himself through medical school. In 1881 he was approached by Daniel Matthews, who had set up the Maloga Mission on the Murray River near Echuca a few years earlier. The mission was struggling to survive due to lack of funds and government co-operation, so Matthews had brought a group of Yorta Yorta people to Melbourne to tell of their plight and try to raise money. My Great Grandfather offered his services free of charge — school teacher, minister, doctor, dentist — and they say he was also accomplished in music and art. He went to Maloga, took charge of the school and began his long and close connection with the Yorta Yorta people. Thomas married one of his former students, Ada Cooper, and this meant he was accepted by everyone. The Yorta
  26. 26. 38 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Yorta said “Now he’s ours, now he’s ours.” The children of Thomas and Ada were Shadrach, my Grandfather, and Rebecca, Miriam, Louise, Priscilla, Carey, Garfield and Ivy. Grandma Ada was the daughter of Kitty Cooper, a well known matriarch of the Yorta Yorta at the time of the invasion. Many people today are the descendants of Kitty. Both Kitty and her daughter Ada were well known midwives, and had a lot of traditional women’s knowledge and skills in Koorie medicine. Grandma Ada delivered many white as well as Koorie babies. There was a white doctor who used to go to the mission, but he always called Grandma Ada in to give him a hand. If he had a white Mother to deliver that he was worried about, he’d send a rider to the mission to give Grandma Ada a horse to come and help. I wish I’d known my Great Grandparents and been able to learn from them. They had many skills that would have been invaluable in the early mission days when malnutrition and lack of health care meant our people were really suffering, with very high mortality rates. Grandma Ada died long before Grandpa Thomas, and Grandpa Thomas died in 1942 at the age of 94, the year after I was born. Thomas James taught a generation of human rights campaigners at Cummeragunja: Sir Doug Nicholls, who became the Governor of SA, and Marge Tucker MBE, another famous Yorta Yorta worker. Aunty Marge Tucker told me she remembered when some of the young girls
  27. 27. 39 Respecting our Elders – LOLA JAMES Story2 were stolen from the school at Cummeragunja, and how my Great Grandfather argued with the welfare out in the school yard while he told all the girls to run. There is more about Thomas James and Cummeragunja in Living Aboriginal History of Victoria by Uncle Alick Jackomos2, and I’d recommend that book to anyone interested in reading about Koorie issues from the point of view of the people themselves. Lousy Little Sixpence3, a Koorie made film with Aunty Marge Tucker and Aunty Geraldine Briggs, tells the story of our struggle back then. Thomas James was the brother-in-law of William Cooper, the founder of the Australian Aborigines League, and Thomas’s son Shadrach James worked with Doug Nicholls and Marge Tucker on many campaigns. Knowing Koorie family history The old Koorie tradition of knowing extended genealogies is still going. Koorie women held this knowledge of kin before the invasion, and keeping it up since then is very important to our identity as Indigenous people. I keep up the tradition of teaching family history, and my children will do the same with their children. It’s necessary to help stolen children find their relations when they return to our communities. It’s also important so that we know which land we belong to and have to care for, which land we can finally claim native title to. Whilst I’m talking about native title, as a Yorta Yorta woman, I have to say I am furious that in 1998 we were still told we have no culture or connection to our land! Washed away by the “tide of history” — that’s what that Family portrait: Uncle Thomas James (left), Aunty Ada James (seated right), Aunty Miriam Morgan nee James (top left), Uncle Theo Morgan (top right), Uncle Trevor Morgan (centre). 2 D Fowell and A Jackomos, Living Aboriginal History of Victoria: Stories in the Oral Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; Melbourne,1991. 3 Lousy Little Sixpence, film, Sixpence Productions with assistance from the Australian Film Commission, Chippendale, NSW, 1983. Directed by Alec Morgan.
  28. 28. 50 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Koorie Elders I feel the Elders can teach the young ones a hell of a lot, and respect is one thing that needs to be taught. I’d like to see the Elders programs at ACES linked to programs at ACCA. The Elders could guide the young ones, help them with their families — teach them the ways and beliefs that got them through life. Elders know how to hold a family together, how to maintain Koorie cultural values. They know how to guide their extended family and other community members. All those young Koories who didn’t have a Mother or a Grandmother because they were taken away, they could get a bit of that input from an Elder. The Grandmothers could be the Grandmothers of all the kids, just like in the old days. Grandmothers are very important in Koorie culture. The most important thing is respect. If you want respect, you’ve got to give it out. We need to bring that respect back to the young ones coming up now. Respect was the thing that made Koorie culture strong and fair. The most important thing we were taught was Respect your Elders. the end
  29. 29. 51 Story3 LES STEWART If your Mother didn’t tell you, then your Grandmother did! There’s so many things that I’ve done in me life, I just can’t remember it all. I’m 89 now — that’s a lot of livin’! Now I got too many stories to remember! Well, I’ll tell you a few yarns, ay. When I was a little fella we lived at the La Perouse Mission in Sydney. This is what me Mother and me Grandmother told me. “You was born in Sydney, Son, and your Mother wasn’t allowed to take you home for three months.” She couldn’t handle me, she couldn’t wash me or do anything with me. I must’ve been born premature and it was three months before they got me home. They had me wrapped up inside cotton wool and carried me around in an old size 8 shoe box. All those Uncles and Aunts I don’t remember seeing me Father. He went to the First World War and he never returned back. Then me Mother, Edith Pitman, got married to a Stewart and so they called me Les Stewart. My Grandmother was Margaret Campbell and she’d married a Pitman and had eight or nine kids. All those Pitmans was my Uncles and Aunts. Oh, I remember all them — it was hard! They was very strict with us — you wouldn’t be game to swear or anything. We didn’t even know how to be cheeky. The first thing
  30. 30. 58 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Plenty of learnin’, plenty of yarns I got no education but I done plenty of learnin’. I got plenty of knowledge, don’t you worry, ay. Oh God, I’ve got that many stories that I just can’t remember them all! Well, I’ll see if I can remember a few yarns. Well, you see, Blackfellas are very windy people, ay — full of scary stories. Some of these stories are to keep the kids safe. See, we wouldn’t so much use discipline to keep them in line. No, we’d tell them what to look out for instead, and that usually did the job real well. Koorie kids knew all the stories about spirits and ghosts and all that. If your Mother didn’t tell you when you was goin’ to sleep, then your Grandmother did. The kids wouldn’t forget the rules then — they’d be too bloody scared! A spirit looks after you, sees if you’re all right, that’s what I believe. Don’t be frightened of spirits — they won’t hurt you. But I don’t think we can touch them. Well, I never tried it! (laughing) But if you try to touch them, there’s nothing there. It’s a funny feelin’ all right! But see, we don’t really know what a spirit is, do we? We only hear about spirits, ay. We hear about spirits, but who’s seen a spirit? Well, I can say I’ve seen a spirit — my wife’s spirit.
  31. 31. 65 If your Mother didn’t tell you, then your Grandmother did! – LES STEWART Story3 just lookin’ away from the foot of the bed and then she went out the door. I knew straight away “That’s me missus!” It’s a funny feeling, ay! Three times she come back over the years, but I’ve never seen her since. She’s been dead about ten years now. That’s what makes me believe in spirits — that was my wife’s spirit. Koorie people see things all right! the end
  32. 32. 67 Story4 AUDREY CRITCH Kurnai Wotjoballuk Don’t dwell on trouble My Mother was Alice Pepper and I think she grew up at Lake Tyers Mission in East Gippsland. She married Bill Atkins and we lived at the mission when I was little. I had an older sister Pat and a younger brother John. Then when I was about three my parents split up and my Father, who was white, brought us to Melbourne to live with his elderly parents in Little Hanover Street, Fitzroy. When I was about eight, John and I were put in the Melbourne Orphanage at Middle Brighton until we were sixteen and old enough to go to work. Finding my Mother During my childhood I didn’t realise I was Koorie, as our Father and Grandparents never told us. I suppose we’d been taken from our Mother too young to realise. I had no memories of my Mother. We actually grew up thinking we didn’t have a Mother. We never seen any Koories around Fitzroy as kids, maybe because the Grandparents kept us away from them — I don’t know. They were English and looking back now, I wonder whether we were deliberately kept away from our culture and people. In some ways, it was the same as being taken away by the welfare. Away from their culture and people: Aunty Audrey, John and Pat with Nan and Pop Atkins.
  33. 33. 68 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” After we left the orphanage we were able to find Mum, but I can’t remember how. It turned out she was living in Fitzroy too. We discovered we had younger brothers and sisters, Percy, Betty, Vincent and Val. We met all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins — all the Pepper family from Lake Tyers mission. There were Mum’s sisters, Aunty Dora Green, Aunty Gwen Hudson and Aunty Lena Fitzclarence. There was Aunty Allie Connelly and her daughter Alice Young, my cousin. Aunty Maude Pepper was married to Mum’s brother Sam. I met Uncle Phillip Pepper, Mum’s brother and his kids, Eileen and Jumbo, who live in Gippsland still. Uncle Phillip Pepper became an author in his later life. When we met all the relations we realised we were Koorie, but I don’t remember that being any issue. I know it can be a difficult time for Koories who’ve been taken away from their people — it can be really confusing to come to terms with a completely different identity. Often institutions and foster homes drummed into kids’ heads that Aboriginal people were inferior and that made them feel ashamed to associate. Somehow all that didn’t seem to affect me — it just didn’t worry me. I got on fine with Mum. They say I am very much like her, both in looks and personality. She could be a stubborn old devil, same as I can be.
  34. 34. 69 Don’t dwell on trouble – AUDREY CRITCH A good feeling at The Flats on the riverbank As a young woman, I went to live in Shepparton and Mooroopna for a while and worked picking peas, beans, tomatoes and fruit, and then came back to Fitzroy. After I was married, we moved back to Mooroopna and lived on the Goulburn River banks in a tin and bag hut at a Koorie camp called The Flats. Gubbahs may have seen these Koorie communities as eyesores, but I liked it there. There was a good feeling, good friends and I got to know a lot of people. Iris Lovett-Gardiner, Gloria Nelson, all the Atkinsons and Fay Carter, Ollie Jackson, Aunty Cissy McGuiness, Myrtle Muir — we were all there together back then, and many of us are still together at ACES now. We had to pull the water for cooking, washing and bathing up from the river in a bucket on a pulley. I cooked over an open fire and done the washing in a kero tin and bath tub. In the winter when the river rose and The Flats flooded, everyone had to move over the highway to another Koorie camp at Daish’s Paddock until the water went down. Then we would all move back again. That was the hardest time living there. There was mud everywhere then and you’d just have to clean up. The huts were cold in winter but the newspaper lining we put on the inside walls made them warmer. We’d keep a fire going and I bathed my children in a tub in front of the fire in winter. Just keep going We came back to Melbourne after about three years and lived in Fitzroy with Mum until we got a house in Broadmeadows. I had six children, some named after my brothers and sisters, and now I have fourteen grandchildren and ten great grandchildren. I lost my husband when my youngest daughter was twelve years Aunty Audrey (right), with her sister, Pat and brother, Percy. Aunty Audrey with her first two children in Fitzroy. Story4
  35. 35. 74 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Aunty Alice was the NAIDOC Elder of the Year in 1999, the United Nations Year of Older Persons, when Aboriginal people chose “Respect Our Elders” as our theme. I’m still learning about my culture and all the things that happened to my people since our land was taken over. There’s so much to learn — so much that was kept from us. I always made sure that my kids understood their Aboriginality, that it wasn’t denied to them as it was to me as a child, and it’s the same with all the grandkids. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.
  36. 36. 75 Don’t dwell on trouble – AUDREY CRITCH Because she is my Mother There is this lady I know who is not a model and not a heavy weight wrestler but she is somewhere in between. This lady I will call Audrey is a geriatric past her prime but not ready for the boiler yet. This lady Audrey can be happy one minute and the next a sook. Upset her and she won’t talk. This lady Audrey loves her cigarettes and beer even though she isn’t to do either. And if this lady Audrey likes you, she’ll always help you. So you see, this lady Audrey is like the weather, changeable. But I love this lady because she is my Mother of forty-one years. Kelly, 1994. the end Story4
  37. 37. 77 Story5 GWEN NELSON These are my people My name is Gwendoline Nelson, nee Wilkie and I was born in 1922 in Adelaide. My Mother was Lilly Newton, an Aboriginal woman born at Strathalbyn and my Father was George Wilkie, a white man born in Scotland. Mum was a nurse in a hospital in Adelaide when she met Dad. He’d been in the First World War and was all smashed up — his arms were broken, he’d had a terrible time. They married and our family lived at Renmark, SA. I had five brothers and sisters. There were twin boys, George and Bob, two sisters, Jean and Loretta, and Carol, a relation whose Mother had died so my Mother took her in. I was the youngest. Dad was a train driver and worked the line from Melbourne to Adelaide. Tragedy hit our family when I was five when Dad was killed in a train accident. My Mum was left with us children to raise alone and she had to go out and work to keep us for ten shillings a week. To help out, us kids used to go out collecting eggs for two shillings. We’d give my Mother two shillings, each of us, to keep the place going and she’d give us some change.
  38. 38. 78 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” I grew up moving around Mum later married a white man called Jack. My Step- father wasn’t a very nice type of fella — he always used to get drunk. None of us children liked him — he used to beat us all. Then one day when I got big enough I beat him back. I broke his nose and arm, and he was walking around like a sick cod fish! We lived in the bush when my Mother married Jack, moving around in a buggy and setting up camp where he could get work. Jack had six children of his own, so now Mum had twelve kids to raise. Jack did farm work: milking cows, shearing and dipping sheep, stock work, whatever was needed. We didn’t always have an income and in between Mum would just have to manage the best she could to keep the family going. She was a very capable woman. We moved every couple of months when Jack’s work ran out. We travelled around in a horse and cart and lived in tents. We had a wooden floor which we carried with us so we’d have a dry floor if it rained. We slept on stretcher camp beds and had an outside fire where my Mother cooked in a camp oven and made damper and cooked potatoes and apples in the coals. When we moved, we couldn’t all fit in the buggy, so half of us kids would run behind. Well, we’d run for miles. I was little and I’d get tired, but the others would go right on — they loved it. One time we went up to Moree in NSW to work on a farm. We’d get up at four o’clock in the morning to look for little baby lambs and bring the babies and Mothers in because crows would pick out their eyes. We’d be up before dawn every morning. I’ve done a lot of hard work.
  39. 39. 85 These are my people – GWEN NELSON Some people didn’t like us getting married because I am Aboriginal and Gordon is white. They said it wouldn’t work. They didn’t know what to do or say! But I’ve got a mind of my own and I say what I think. They said we’d only be married a few months, and that was 39 years ago. These are my people My husband and I are at a white home for the aged at the moment, and over there they don’t like me because I’m an Aborigine. I can feel it. I got sick of this so I up and I told them straight. I can look back on my life and see all the things that they wouldn’t see — the many achievements of mine, all the different experiences I’ve had. There are things they just wouldn’t understand, and I’m getting too old to have to battle prejudice. Now Gordon and I are moving to ACES and I’m very happy to come here. These are my people. Sadly, Aunty Gwen passed away not long after she recorded her story. We made sure it went into the book because that was what she wanted. She was very keen to record her life and was the first to tell her story for the project. Her husband, Gordon, and her dog have stayed at ACES with the friends they made through Aunty Gwen. the end Story5
  40. 40. 87 Story6 IRIS LOVETT-GARDINER, AM Gundit-jmara We were all cousins, more or less In 1999 I got my Masters of Science for work recording the history of my birthplace, Lake Condah mission. I also wrote Lady of the Lake: Aunty Iris’s Story7 and made a video to go with it. But my greatest achievement was my work in establishing ACES, the Aboriginal Community Elders Service. Elders are highly respected in our culture — they are the keepers of our knowledge. ACES was created for people to come and spend the rest of their days in. It’s a true caring place. As I always say, you know those old ones, it’s a part of their Dreamtime. The Dreamtime is all through our lives, and before and past our lives on Mother Earth. The last part of life is a particular Dreaming time. The Elders at ACES, their faces are calm, their faces show their Dreaming. They’re living in their Dreamtime. They can 7 I Lovett-Gardiner, Lady of the Lake: Aunty Iris’s Story, Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, 1997. A newspaper clipping from The Age showing Aunty Iris, with Wendy Brabham, after her graduation ceremony.
  41. 41. 88 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” just sit and dream about what they have done, all the journeys and all the stories … they can dream about life and live in their own memories. These are some of my childhood memories. Springtime at Lake Condah Spring time was a lovely time at the mission. All the wildflowers came out in the bush, harbingers of spring, greenhood orchids, chocolate flowers, egg and bacon, early nancy … they were all there. Fresh green grass lent a mantle of colour to our Mother Earth. At the mission there were daffodils, jonquils, snowdrops and crocuses. Down at the old orchard, the fruits trees were covered with beautiful blossom and the bees humming around made music. It was a joy to lay on the grass under the trees and listen to the humming. A lovely spring day! We used the fruit of the apple, pear and quince trees for apple pie and quince dumplings, which we loved. There was an abundance of blackberries too, so blackberry pie was always welcome when Granny Tina Foster could afford to make it. The church had a Harvest Festival and people brought whatever they could afford to be blessed and later sold. Fruit from the orchard was always brought to the altar to be blessed, especially when we children brought it. The old swimming hole Summertime was a great time for swimming in the Darlot Creek that ran along the bottom of Lake Condah Mission. As children, we were always looking for summer to come. We knew hot days were always swimming days. Aunty Jessie Taylor and Aunty Nora Nobby Lovett kept an eye on us swimming and we were not to go near the river without them.
  42. 42. 91 We were all cousins, more or less – IRIS LOVETT GARDINER Then cousins were taken away The time of childhood was great for us all. Brothers and sisters and cousins, playing, always playing, all together on the mission. Extended families kept us together. Then cousins were taken away. By the welfare. Put in institutions. Our world collapsed. We felt such pain. Torn from loved ones. We were just little children, we couldn’t understand. It was like death in the family. So much pain, so much grieving. We thought we were safe within the family. All those Aunts and Uncles, surely we were safe? But that didn’t work in the white man’s law. Stolen children didn’t come back. Our childhoods passed without them. Story6
  43. 43. 92 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” With only our grief for them. And their grief for us. Then nearly grown up, still yearning, they looked for family. Happy reunions, but we’d missed so much. Missed growing up together, missed a part of childhood. These things bring memories that last forever. the end
  44. 44. 93 Story7 DIANNE PHILLIPS Gundit-jmara Aboriginality is about culture, not colour My Mother was a Gundit-jmara woman from Lake Condah Mission. Her name was Mary Phillips (nee King) but she was always known as Possie. Mum had a tough childhood. There was often not enough to eat and she had a three mile walk to school with no shoes, and it’s really cold down there. All the Koorie families at the mission would hunt for bush tucker to keep themselves alive, ‘cause if you relied on the rations they gave us, well you just starved. We got kangaroo, rabbits, eels, whatever — and we’d share it with the other families. Koories always do that — we had to stick together to survive back then, but we’ve always shared because that’s one of our traditions and we still do it today. Eels are a favourite food. The Gundit- jmara had all the fish traps around there before the invasion when our people used to do fish farming. There was a semi-permanent village with stone houses and hundreds of people living there sometimes. Eels have a real rich meat. They’re very oily, very greasy, so you cover them with flour and fry them so the rich stuff Sticking together: Aunty Alice Lovett and Aunty Dianne’s Mother, Mary Phillips (nee King).
  45. 45. 104 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” green if you like, as long as you treat me right, I’ll treat you right. I’ve often given Gubbahs a hand too — I’m not prejudiced, it doesn’t matter to me what colour people are. That’s my life philosophy. What’s wrong with saying sorry? I’ll like to see all this racism and misunderstanding cleared up in my lifetime, but that won’t happen. It’ll still be going on and on and on … But there have been enormous changes too, improvements which Koories have made themselves, when we compare it to the times when my Mother was a hungry child. My Mother, Mary Phillips, was once chosen as NAIDOC9 Elder of the Year. She always talked about our culture and the importance of passing it down. I’ve done that with my daughter and she does it with her daughters. This is very important to keep Aboriginal culture alive. The government tried to get rid of our culture and we’ve turned that right around since the seventies. Native Title is very important to keeping our culture and connection to our land, but we have to consider others’ concerns in 9 NAIDOC — National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee.
  46. 46. 105 Aboriginality is about culture, not colour – DIANNE PHILLIPS that too. We aren’t asking for all our land back, just the bits that are significant to us, like the missions and sacred sites. On one hand, we can’t go around blaming people for the past, but on the other hand, they have to understand what we’ve been put through. Time heals, and the Prime Minister should help us all get over it by saying sorry. A lot of people, including white people, will feel better then. I know a lot of Gubbahs do support Koories and they want to hear that one word too. Then it will be better on both sides. It’s important for reconciliation — you can’t have reconciliation without saying sorry for all the wrongs done. the end Elder of the Year: Aunty Dianne’s Mother, Mary King with her NAIDOC award. Story7
  47. 47. 107 Story8 FRANCES GALLAGHER Gundit-jmara Take up the opportunities we struggled to make My Mother was Ella Violet Winters but I don’t know where she was born. You see, she was stolen from her family and raised by a white woman. As a child she didn’t know who her people were or even that she had brothers and sisters. Eventually she found them but I don’t know how. As a little child I didn’t know I was Aboriginal. My Mother was still unsure of her identity and so I didn’t understand mine. The Elders didn’t like the mission managers We moved to Framlingham Mission near Warrnambool when I was three and then I met all my Aboriginal relations, including my Grandmother, Ella Winters. My Mother didn’t stay at Framlingham and I lived with her sister who raised me and her own eight children. My Aunt was very strict and always kept a close eye on us. It was school then home, and no wandering around allowed. The Elders didn’t get on so well with the mission manager because they didn’t like to be told what to do. Elders hardly ever seemed to discuss cultural things in front of us — the mission system had drummed that out of them. Aunty Ella Violet Winters, Aunty Frances’s Mother.
  48. 48. 108 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” The women would weave baskets but they didn’t teach us. Unfortunately I never heard the Elders speak our language, thanks to the mission system. The Elders weren’t able to teach us much about our culture at all, and what I know now I’ve learnt myself since. When I was about sixteen I moved to Hamilton where my Mother lived and I started work in the flax mills. The flax grew around Hamilton and I worked in the paddocks doing what’s called retting. After the tractors had cut the flax, we had to lay it out to dry for three weeks and then come along with a big stick and turn it over for the other side to dry for another three weeks. Then the tractors would bale it and take it to the factory, where it’d be put through a machine and it’d come out like fibre — like silk, beautiful. I also worked in the factory on the machines, and I had another job in a fish cafe. It was like we had escaped from somewhere You could feel the racism around towns back then. You could always feel it, you always knew. I’d just walk away, try to ignore it and get on with your life. You know within yourself that you are born here; Australia is your home and as an Indigenous person you have every right to be here. You try to rise above the level of people who make racist remarks.
  49. 49. 111 Take up the opportunities we struggled to make – FRANCES GALLAGHER teenagers. That’s named after Aunty Marge Tucker who did so much work for our people. Eleanor Harding ran that place — she was another person who worked very hard for the Aboriginal community. I also worked at Elizabeth Hoffman House, the Aboriginal Women’s Refuge. It was pretty hard going, raising my eight kids alone and then managing another mob of families at work, especially with all the stresses that go with refuge work. I’ve been involved with the Aboriginal Community Elders Service since the beginning when we were fighting to get the funding, and my poem on the following pages is about our demonstration in Canberra in 1992. I’m currently on the Board of Directors at ACES, a very important place to care for our Elders. I enjoyed working in Aboriginal organisations where we can do things our way, according to our culture and our beliefs. Our community is much stronger now that we manage our own affairs and the next generation will have opportunities we never had. I feel education is the key to their future — they have to take up the opportunities we struggled to make for them. When I saw the refugees from Kosovo on the TV, my heart went out to them. Aboriginal people understand what they’re going through because we’ve experienced the same terrible things — thrown from our land, ethnic cleansing, it’s all the same. I wrote to them to welcome them to our land as an Indigenous Elder, and here’s the letter: (left to right) Aunties Rose Donker, Ollie Jackson, Frances, Iris Lovett-Gardiner and Sissy Smith at ACES in the 1990s. Story8
  50. 50. 112 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” To The People Of Kosovo, I would just like to convey this message to all of you: “A Big Welcome to Australia” I watched your suffering and tears and the pain and agony of it all on TV every night. I prayed to God to help stop this terrible onslaught in your country. Now you are all free — freedom at last in Aussie land, and I hope it happens soon in your country. As an Aboriginal person I would just like to say something about the way I see it and feel it, and I hope it makes you feel much better. As your plane touched down on Aussie land, I felt a great joy, for Mother Earth will hold you close to her bosom and keep you safe. The Spirits of our Ancestors will watch over and guide you to a safe journey home in the near future. My prayers and thoughts are with you. Frances Gallagher, Elder of the Gundit-jmara P.S. Take the children to see the animals in the zoo.
  51. 51. 113 Take up the opportunities we struggled to make – FRANCES GALLAGHER For our Elders Caring Place Up there in Canberra, our demonstration strong, I could see our people’s needs, a caring place for our Elders, their journey nearly done. I heard the people’s chant, a cry from us all, a cry for understanding, for our Elders’ place of peace. I saw their fighting spirits, young and old alike, sitting in the shade of the parliament trees, holding flags and banners flying in the breeze, sending out messages, calling out their needs. Suddenly a hawk flew by and young faces they lit up, enthusiasm stirred. Old faces, tired, showed a glimmer of hope. Travelling back to Melbourne, wide open spaces as far as the eye could see. Suddenly I saw spirits, walking tall and free. Then white men on horseback riding through the trees, mad on a wild rampage shooting and killing with glee. Story8
  52. 52. 114 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Our people lay dying, their blood running red, staining the green green grass, marking the colour of our flag. How can their spirits be rested? How can they find some peace? Maybe their spirits can join us as our Elders make a place. All our fighters together from the past and from today. All our Elders together, returning to our land. One spirit again, Together in the Dreaming. the end
  53. 53. 115 Story9 EILEEN ALBERTS Buanditj Home I’m going home! Where? I’m going home! But where? Just home. No place in particular. Just home. From anywhere, home. These few words describe my feelings of home. Heywood, the Old Place, Lake Condah. Just home. After being away for any time, just touching on home will appease my soul. To know that I belong to this land and to touch it, even for the shortest time, is enough.
  54. 54. 116 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Growing up at Little Dunmore, the Old Place, was an experience I wish my children had enjoyed. Little Dunmore, some 12 miles east of Heywood. A small parcel of land given to my people when they were moved off the mission. This land was exchanged for land closer to the road, the original block too swampy. Uncle Billy Carter, my Grandmother’s brother, rebuilt an old weatherboard house and extended it to meet the growing demands of the family. I recall my bedroom windows were the windscreens of several cars. I remember there was a front room, the lounge, a kitchen, 6 bedrooms, a small back porch, a big shed and a wash house. The shed was converted to bedrooms depending on needs at the time. My strongest memory of the back porch is Nan and Pop hanging honeycomb from the roof to catch the honey in a basin beneath. Two large pine trees guarded our home. Bats and possums had their homes in the pines, and under the shelter of these trees so much of our lives took place.
  55. 55. 123 Home – EILEEN ALBERTS In the mornings, it was a basin wash outside the back door, and cold tank water to rinse your hair. I hated Jack Frost mornings! The cold water made your teeth ache as we cleaned them with charcoal instead of toothpaste. I remember going to sleep at night with the smell of bread baking and all the sounds of the night. The frogs in the swamp, the night birds calling, owls hooting as they flew about their business, kangaroos thumping through the bush, the sounds of the fox as it hunted, the sheep and cows as they settled for the night, bats as they flew out of the pine trees, possums jumping from the pines onto the roof of the Old Place. These are just a few of my memories of home, the Old Place, Little Dunmore. No matter what you call it, it was and still is HOME. the end Story9
  56. 56. 125 Story10 GWEN GARONI Taungurong We were supposed to forget our Aboriginality For most of my life I was pretty much unaware of my Aboriginality. I knew my Great Grandfather was an Aboriginal man, but I didn’t give it much thought. Then over the years various members of the extended family have been researching our past and putting the picture back together. Much of the family history had been lost so we used museum research to add to the picture made up of memories. For me it is important to reconnect with my Koorie forebears, for our family’s Koorie identity was all but lost. I realised we were one of the fair skinned families that the assimilation policies were aimed at, expecting us to forget our Aboriginality and become white. I’m getting on now and I need to know the real story for myself. I feel far more connected to my Koorie heritage now and I’m keen that this is passed on to my grandchildren and great grandchildren. Anyway, here’s the story we’ve unearthed so far … Going back to my Great Grandfather, John Franklin My Great Grandfather was called John Franklin. I don’t know his Koorie name. He was found by a drover wandering in the bush near Healesville when he was 3 or 4 years old. This would have been in the 1840s, not long after the invasion. It’s believed that he was separated
  57. 57. 132 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” to do a bit of farming, but he was refused. That seemed so unfair — Coranderrk meant so much to the Koories from there, but they gave it all to white returned soldiers. It wasn’t until 1991 that Koories gained a very significant but tiny piece of land — the Coranderrk Cemetery — half an acre returned to the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Council. We visited there recently with ACES, and I’m glad we at least have that. Too busy roaming around the bush My Grandfather was the third born to John and Harriet Franklin, and he was also named John. He married a white woman named Isobel Cox. My Father, John William, was born in 1904 in a tent at Muddy Creek, as Yea was called back then. He married a white woman, Hazel Moran, and I was born in Melbourne. My Father was a farm labourer and later worked at Fowlers and Vacola and other dried fruit places around Mildura. We grew up moving around a great deal. As kids we were seen but not heard. We were never allowed around when Aunts and Uncles came to visit, but were sent to the backyard to play. We didn’t seem to have time to talk to our Elders as we were too busy roaming around the bush. Us kids would gather wild flowers and birds’ eggs and sometimes raid orchards for cherries, apples or peaches. I just remember running wild. We sometimes went to Phillip Island in a horse and cart and we’d get mutton birds, fish and rabbits and collect shells. It’s interesting that we ate mutton bird, because that’s an old Koorie food
  58. 58. 133 We were supposed to forget our Aboriginality – GWEN GARONI and I don’t think white people ate them. We spent a lot of time playing in the bush, making Tarzan swings up in the trees, digging mud slides in the hills and sliding down. We went mushrooming and yabbying, and we’d light a fire and cook the yabbies and throw potatoes in the coals and have a lovely feed. We went hop and grape picking and we hated it, preferring to swim in the river — it didn’t matter if it was in flood or not. I was never a real good pupil at school — I preferred to play sports and I won most of the running races. After school I had to bring our cow home and milk her and gather the morning wood for the fire and feed the chooks. I left school when I was thirteen and got a job digging thistles from paddocks on a farm. I had a few other jobs and then I met my late husband. We had three children, John, Lynette and Michael, who I’m very proud of. John was named after my Father, and so on going back to Great Grandfather John Franklin. Assimilation couldn’t obliterate our Koorie heritage Looking back now, I wonder whether we moved around a lot when I was a kid because Dad may have been copping prejudice. Maybe he just moved the family on and said nothing to us kids, protecting us from any idea that we were seen as second class citizens because people knew he had Koorie blood. The family’s Aboriginality was never discussed. As kids, we never thought to worry about something like the colour of our skin — we were much more concerned with play! So I grew up quite unaware of our Aboriginality. Aunty Gwen’s Great Grandfather, John William Franklin. Aunty Gwen with her children by the river. Story10
  59. 59. 136 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” interested in their Koorie history and heritage and will make their own choices as to how they identify. A strong connection to our land White people today often assume that I’m white because I’m fair skinned, but I know I’m Koorie. I have my family history, with my Father and Grandfather both being named John Franklin after my Great Grandfather, the first Koorie John Franklin, son of Mary Ligomunning. I can trace my family roots right back to the land around the Yea, the country where my ancestors were once the owners. I feel differently about that land to how white people whose families have been there for just a few generations, for I know my connection goes back over thousands of generations, thousands and thousands of years. Learning with our Elders I attend ACES Day Care Club which I enjoy very much. I love to meet all the Koorie community members who come. I have learnt a lot from them and hope to learn more. There’s so much to learn about Koorie culture and history that I’ve missed out on. And I see how Koories look after our sick Elders and Day Care people, how the tradition of caring for each other still goes on today. I’m on the ACES Board of Directors and I’m very proud to be a part of the Koorie community. the end
  60. 60. 137 Story11 BRIAN KENNEWELL-TAYLOR Not enough heart to say sorry? When I was growing up it was a time of great uncertainty for Aboriginal children. The government stole as many Koorie children as they could, particularly fairer skinned kids like I was. They had a policy that we should not be allowed to grow up within Koorie communities but were to be raised as whites. This policy changed the course of my life. Although I was not taken by the welfare, the steps my Grandmother took to try to protect me from them had drastic effects. I wasn’t stolen, but the policies got me anyway My Grandmother was caring for me and my sister when we were young while our Mother, Violet, worked away on sheep stations in NSW. There was little work around for Koorie women and Mum had to take whatever she could get, which often took her far from home. Earlier we had lived with Mum and her boyfriend out in the bush, about sixty miles from anyone else. We lived in tents and moved camp every couple of weeks. He cut wood for a living and as the wood ran out, we moved on to the next spot to work. There was no school out there — there was no one at all. The welfare came to see us and threatened Mum about us going to school. So she promised she would find us board in town and get us into school. We then stayed with various families, but we’d just get Uncle Brian’s Grandmother, Daisy and his Mother, Violet.
  61. 61. 152 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” cousin through Link Up, but he wanted nothing to do with us Koories. I don’t think he was ever told he had Aboriginal in him. I get hurt when people question me as to whether I have a right to call myself Aboriginal because I’m not dark skinned. This happens all the time, and it makes you feel that you always have to justify yourself — just as we always had to because we were seen as inferior. The government wants you to prove your Aboriginality, and the trouble I’ve had to go through to do it! It is precisely because I am Aboriginal that I was put through all this in my childhood! You cop it both ways — treated really badly because you’re Black, and then told you’re not Black enough! My sister struggled with people denying her Aboriginality right up until her death, but at her funeral there were hundreds of Koories. This is an important issue for reconciliation. Our Aboriginality and what we’ve been through must be understood for reconciliation to happen. Now as I hear so many stories of other Koories taken away from their families, I can understand their feelings. I’ve been there too, and I still ask myself, “Why me?” I am finding out about thousands of other people who went through the same thing. Such great suffering was caused, lifelong pain that is impossible to understand unless you have experienced some similar tragedy … a pain that always seems to stay with you. So now I take a day at a time and make the most of the life that I have left.
  62. 62. 153 Not enough heart to say sorry? – BRIAN TAYLOR Remembering my people I am telling my story in memory of my Aboriginal family who are no longer with me. They’re all gone now — my Grandmother who struggled so hard for us, who tried to keep us near her, my Mother who ran from the welfare and lost her children anyway, and my stolen sister Esma. When I go to Mildura, I return to the river and walk along the banks where we used to live … and I feel that my Aboriginal family are with me in spirit. A part of me never left that place on the riverbank. I thank God for giving me a wonderful Aboriginal family, and precious good memories amongst the sad ones. I sit under the big old red gums and listen to the birds and remember the old days. And I can still hear the words my Grandmother would say when us kids’d get upset about the way we were treated. We’d say we hated this or we hated that. And Nan would always say “There is no such word as ‘hate’ in this world”. And I think, well, there is another word, a word the Prime Minister just doesn’t have enough heart to say … … Sorry. the end Uncle Brian has struggled with people questioning his Aboriginality. Story11
  63. 63. Learning from Indigenous Elders
  64. 64. 157 History Keeping the traditions — keeping the culture strong As we look back through our shared history and understand more about the legislation and living conditions that Indigenous people have survived, we can see the stories of the Elders with a new perspective. As Uncle Reg Blow says, this collection illustrates the ways Aboriginal people held on to their culture against the flood of legislation designed to suppress it. Strong living cultural themes run through the Elder’s stories. The stories tell of the importance of keeping traditions, of keeping culture strong, of holding on to land, of respecting Elders, of being together and maintaining kinship. But the stories also tell of the fear and pain of losing children to welfare and of the sadness, dislocation and disempowerment caused by the repressive race laws. Oral traditions continue in many forms, all ensuring that culture is passed on. Whether it be telling the children about spirits and doolagahs as Uncle Les Stewart and Aunty Ollie Jackson mention, or teaching them the history of the invasion as Aunty Dianne Phillips’s Elders did, or the importance of handing down political history and genealogical knowledge as stressed by Aunty Lola James … the tradition of cultural maintenance through
  65. 65. 162 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” For over a century, dominant belief decreed that Aboriginal people needed to be controlled and changed. Assimilation became so basic to the national mindset that it was taken for granted by most people — that is, by people who did not live under such laws. Current legislation repeats some of the mistakes of our past, still denying rights by imposing outside definitions onto Aboriginal people and culture. In 1998 and 2002 the Yorta Yorta people were denied rights to their land under native title legislation. This landmark case effects all Indigenous people who faced the most severe genocide — that is, all Aboriginal people from Victoria, Tasmania and many other groups across the country. Land justice was denied on the grounds that Aboriginal culture and rights had been washed away by the ”tide of history”. As Aunty Lola James says, this decision continues the attempted cultural genocide of previous legislation. In looking at Aboriginal Elders’ lives and the knowledge they hold, we come to see how terms like the ”tide of history” can white-wash the truth of our shared past. From an Aboriginal perspective, the “tide of history” represents the time when the land was stained with blood, symbolised by the red in the Aboriginal flag. After the massacres came a flood of legislation which continued the genocide. The following section of this book provides a brief history of the policies, legislation and government strategies that shaped the lives of the authors and their families. This section also outlines the struggle of Aboriginal people to take control of their lives, to gain personal and political freedom and to establish and run their own community services. This struggle for Aboriginal rights not only shaped the lives of those whose stories are in this book, but also positively affected the whole Australian community.
  66. 66. History 163 Since time immemorial To understand contemporary Aboriginal Elders’ lives, we need to go back to the time before the invasion and look at the roles of Elders then. For over 100,000 years before the British invasion, Australia was governed by councils of Elders. Aboriginal society was egalitarian and peaceful, based on values such as respect and sharing. Strong spiritual beliefs covered every aspect of daily life and these beliefs were the basis of Aboriginal law. Elders upheld the law with great care and dedication. They presided over ceremonies, imparted wisdom, practised medicine, organised trade, settled disputes and gave advice. Elders were the keepers of knowledge and respected as the highest cultural authorities. Clan Elders who demonstrated wisdom, fairness and extensive knowledge of law, spirituality or medicine were often recognised as authorities beyond their extended family network. They were held in great respect by neighbouring clans and beyond. These prominent Elders earnt their place through years of higher learning and responsibilities to their people and communities. In the Indigenous education system, formal education began with initiation and continued throughout life for both men and women. Elders spent a lifetime learning about and enacting the spiritual laws, and they were responsible for passing this knowledge on to the next
  67. 67. 164 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” generation. Higher learning depended upon passing rigorous testing. Memorisation and understanding of complex philosophical, religious and social principles and practices had to be demonstrated before being admitted to the next level of study, which gave greater spiritual responsibilities. Knowledge was given only to those who had custodianship rights according to the law. Sacred knowledge was very carefully protected by laws of secrecy. It was passed on under guidelines so strict that violation might be punished by death or exile. Aboriginal methods of recording culture through song, dance, art works and oral traditions were highly effective. They maintained Aboriginal culture over so many millennia that today it is recognised as the oldest living culture in the world. The land holds the law, the spirituality and the history of the people. This is why land is still so important to Indigenous people. The spirits of the ancestors live on in the land and the landscape represents spirituality and history. Natural features such as rivers, mountains and valleys tell the stories of their creation by ancestral spirits. Before the British invasion, the land held the very meaning of life. It provided Aboriginal people with everything they needed in both spiritual and practical terms. In return, Aboriginal law decreed the land must be cared for and respected. Many Aboriginal people today continue to honour these beliefs. One of the most important roles of today’s Elders is their responsibilities to land. Because most of the land in south eastern Australia was stolen, Elders’ role in caring
  68. 68. History 165 Since time immemorial for the land has changed and is now carried out through their struggle for land justice, as they work to regain some of their homelands for their people.
  69. 69. History 167 1 R Broome, Aboriginal Australians: Black Response to White Domination, 1788–1980, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1982, pp. 42–43, 56; MF Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria 1835 – 86, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1979, pp. 36–37, 47–49. 2 For a map of massacre sites, see Koorie, Koorie Cultural Heritage Trust in association with the Museum of Victoria, Creative Solutions, North Melbourne, 1991. 3 Christie, op. cit., p. 49. Invasion: the tide ran red Genocide and resistance The British invasion had a devastating effect on Aboriginal people and culture. Introduced diseases such as small pox wiped out large populations, often spreading ahead of the white take-over and shattering Indigenous communities before the invaders arrived. Then massacres and wholesale sexual violence were used to finish “clearing the land”.1 The theft of land meant that Aboriginal people were robbed of the means of survival and left to starve. Just taking one sheep from squatters often led to what was commonly called “teaching the blacks a lesson.” Across the frontier, whole clans were rounded up and massacred.2 “Black hunts” were backed by the government through the Border Police, a military unit set up to control violence on the frontier but which became notorious for abuse of Aboriginal people.3 Last century the “Black hunts” were so relentless that the rivers ran red with blood. But while the “tide of history” may have run red, it did not wash away Aboriginal culture.
  70. 70. 168 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” 4 M Cannon, Black Land, White Land, Minerva, Port Melbourne, 1993, p. 139. 5 H Reynolds, Frontier: Aborigines, Settlers and Land, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1987, p. 55. One story: The Yorta Yorta For a closer look at the invasion, the experience of the Yorta Yorta people from the Murray River tells the story of events that occurred across the state. In 1998 the Yorta Yorta were denied land justice on the grounds that the “tide of history” had supposedly washed away their culture and rights. Their story reveals a great deal about the strength of Aboriginal relationship to land and how current legislation continues the mistakes of our past. Edward Curr was one of the first whites to take over Yorta Yorta country. A wealthy Scottish aristocrat, Curr had many years experience on the frontier as the manager of the Van Diemen’s Land Company.4 He argued that Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance was so determined that colonists would have to either give up or “they must undertake a war of extermination”.5 This attitude was common at the time, and genocide in Tasmania was so severe that nearly the whole Indigenous population was wiped out. Curr later moved to Melbourne, taking land on the Yarra River where the Collingwood Children’s Farm now stands. In 1841, expanding his already wealthy estate, he claimed large areas of fertile Yorta Yorta country, and set up the Moira Station near the beautiful Moira Lakes. In 1842 he called in the Border Police, complaining that sheep had been taken and wanting military force to back up his theft of land. Troopers seized a Yorta Yorta man, chained him up with bullock chains and tried to force him to tell where the alleged sheep thieves were. The methods used
  71. 71. History 175 Invasion: the tide ran red After the tide ran red, there came a flood of legislation. For the next century, a series of race laws emerged, aimed at bringing about racial and cultural genocide. However, Indigenous people continued their struggle with protests and various forms of cultural resistance. Their determination to keep their land and culture remained, and later developed into the Aboriginal rights movement that still stands strong today.
  72. 72. History 177 22 Reserves, stations and missions are generally referred to as missions by Aboriginal people and so this term is used here. Government policy established stations run by managers and staff, funded missions run by missionaries and set aside reserves for Aboriginal camps. 23 Broome, op. cit., p. 56. The flood of legislation Surviving under the race laws During the 1860s, the Victorian government established the Aborigines Protection Board and tried to detain the few Aboriginal survivors on missions or reserves.22 This was said to be for Aboriginal “protection”, although it was clearly far too late to protect the majority of people who had already been killed. The real aims of the missions and reserves were to control the survivors, enforce the adoption of white culture, and protect the purity of the white race. Aboriginal women and children faced widespread sexual violence from the colonisers, but the government was more concerned that the white race not be “tainted” by the birth of mixed race children23 than with trying to prevent sexual abuse. Victorian missions or reserves were set up at Coranderrk near Healesville, Lake Condah near Portland, Framlingham near Warrnambool, Ebenezer at Lake Hindmarsh in the Wimmera, and Rumahyuck and Lake Tyers in Gippsland. In NSW, Maloga on the Murray River and Warangesda on the Murrumbidgee were established by missionaries in 1874 and 1880. The NSW Board stopped funding the Maloga mission in 1888 and replaced it with a government
  73. 73. 190 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” We had a school with all Koorie students … a church, a baker, a butcher, an Aboriginal nurse.” (p 22) During the Depression of the 1930s, the men were ordered to go out and find work, but there was none. Funds were cut back and what had been a strong Aboriginal community was further dismantled by the government. As with Coranderrk, this was partly due to the Yorta Yorta people challenging injustice, which they were now able to do through the new Aboriginal political organisations. Legalised dispossession Legislation brought about dispossession, herding Aboriginal people off their own lands in an attempt to disperse them into the wider community. This forced removal of Indigenous people from their land should be remembered today, when some white people argue that Aboriginal people have “lost” their connection to their land, implying that they gave it up voluntarily.
  74. 74. History 191 49 P Read, The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in NSW 1883 to 1969, Goverment Printer, Sydney, 1982, p. 2. Stolen children As Aunty Gwen Garoni points out, kidnapping began with the invasion, when white people sometimes kept Aboriginal children as sort of pets or curios and unpaid labour. As previously mentioned, in Victoria the 1869 Aborigines Protection Act in effect legalised kidnapping. Similar legislation in other states meant that the stealing of Indigenous children continued all over Australia for more than a century, and kidnapping became the government’s main method of forcing assimilation. Countless children, particularly those with fairer skin, were taken from their families to be raised “white”. It was planned that children raised white would marry white and have whiter children. Over the generations this would “breed the race white” and solve the so-called “Aboriginal problem” by getting rid of the Aboriginal race. As historian Peter Read notes, this was attempted genocide: “Genocide does not simply mean the extermination of people by violence but may include any means at all. At the height of the policy of separating Aboriginal people from their parents the Aborigines Welfare Board meant to do just that.” 49
  75. 75. 198 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” they felt they belonged ... They just move around constantly, just like they were moved around by the welfare when they were kids. Then they lose their families through drink and lose everything. Their whole lives seem to be a series of losses and grief.” (pp 100–101) She makes an important point about understanding our history: “When you see a drunk Koorie, instead of judging them, stop and think for a moment ... There’s often a whole big story and if you knew it, you’d change from seeing them in terms of stereotypes and start to understand their struggle.” (p 101) Commenting on the stealing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, the report Bringing Them Home found that “forcible removals … amount to genocide“ .58 58 ibid., <http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/hreoc/ stolen/stolen23.html>
  76. 76. History 199 Cultural resistance: holding on to children, traditions and land Government regulations meant that Aboriginal people could not openly teach children their culture or languages, but they resisted these controls and secretly passed on their heritage. Cultural resistance took various forms and experiences varied from place to place. Elders passed on their connection to land, secretly taught about spirituality, strongly promoted Indigenous values such as sharing and respect, continued to eat bush foods, and educated their children in Australian history, telling of the invasion and all that followed. Today we need to understand that both cultural maintenance and cultural loss occurred at the same time. Overall, south eastern Indigenous people succeeded in holding on to far more culture than tends to be recognised. The Elders’ stories in this collection exemplify the tradition of holding on to culture and handing down this knowledge to future generations. Many Aboriginal people remember their Elders speaking their languages. Aunty Ollie Jackson recalls her Father “could speak his Wiradjuri language and when I was a child I often heard my Elders speaking Yorta Yorta.” (p 34) Given that Indigenous languages were effectively banned in Victoria from around the 1860s, the fact that they were still often spoken in the 1940s–50s demonstrates
  77. 77. 200 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” Aboriginal people’s determination to keep their Mother tongues. Some languages are still alive today. As Aunty Ollie Jackson notes, Aunty Geraldine Briggs59 can still speak the Yorta Yorta language as well as some Wemba Wemba and her grand-daughter teaches Yorta Yorta at Wowora College. “If your Mother didn’t tell you, then your Grandmother did” Uncle Les Stewart’s comment above refers to the Aboriginal stories women told their children. Storytelling has always been a form of cultural education and Aboriginal people have always been expected to become skilled story-tellers. With colonisation, women often formed the front line of defence against cultural genocide, their stories telling the children of their culture, kin and land. Women’s stories also created a protective barrier against the racism of the outside world, a world which hurt their children so much. This tradition continues very strongly in Aboriginal families today. As Uncle Les remembers: “My Grandmother lived with us and she taught us all the old ways and told us all the old Koorie stories. They’d always tell us kids all the stories when we was goin’ to sleep ... I got no education but I done plenty of learnin’. I got plenty of knowledge, don’t you worry, ay.” (pp 52–58) 59 A prominent Yorta Yorta Elder, sister of Margaret Tucker.
  78. 78. History 207 Organised resistance: a movement is born Aboriginal resistance on missions grew into organised political action in the 1930s. William Cooper, a Yorta Yorta man from Cummeragunja, established the Australian Aborigines League in Melbourne in 1932.60 He was joined by others from Cummeragunja, such as Doug Nicholls, Margaret Tucker, Shadrach James, Kaleb Morgan, and Eric and William Onus, and also Ebenezer Lovett from Lake Condah Mission.61 As Aunty Lola James says, the Cummeragunja activists had all been students of her Great Grandfather, Thomas James, who was William Cooper’s brother-in-law. Thomas James gave them a far better education than was usually provided on missions and is said to have brought forth a generation of activists.62 Aunty Fay Carter recalls her family stories: “Great Grandfather Thomas James had what he called a Scholar’s Hut which he used to encourage his students to extend their education. Lots of people who benefited from this extra encouragement later became 60 Markus, op. cit. and Victims or Victors?: The Story of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League, Hyland House, South Yarra, Vic., 1985, tell the story of Cooper's work and the Aboriginal rights movement. 61 Victims or Victors? ibid., p. 27. 62 D Fowell and A Jackomos, Living Aboriginal History of Victoria: Stories in the Oral Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK; Melbourne, 1991, p. 178.
  79. 79. 218 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” belongings. The people were threatened with kidnapping to force them to move into town, and then left living in tents for over a year. Daryl Tonkin remembers how demoralised they became when forced to live scattered amongst whites, away from their people. The Victorian Aborigines Act 1959 provided dwellings for Aboriginal people on Board land and under Board control. No longer were Aboriginal people to enjoy the freedom of their own independent communities. The Yorta Yorta were moved to the Rumbalara Aboriginal Reserve on the banks of the Goulburn River, out of sight of the general public. The government provided two-room houses made from cement. Aunty Lola James recalls that “they were like public toilet blocks and about as comfortable to live in, but smaller.” (p 42) Once again the government was trying to control Aboriginal people. Aunty Betty Lovett (nee Jackson) says they were treated like prisoners, only allowed visitors until 5pm and then all relations had to leave.80 Aunts and Uncles would have to hide in the bushes and sneak in to visit, while police often cruised by and harassed the community. 80 Fowell and Jackomos, op. cit., p. 186.
  80. 80. History 219 81 Aborigines Act 1957, 6. (1), (2). 82 See Aborigines Act 1957, Aborigines Regulations 1958. 83 Victims or Victors?, op. cit., p. 29. The 1950s: community resistance to race laws The Victorian Aborigines Act 1957 promoted “assimilation into the general community” for “any person of aboriginal descent”. It gave the Board the powers to “do all acts and things necessary to implement its function”.81 The 1957 Act continued to hold the people at Lake Tyers under the legal status of prisoners. Regulations in 1958 stated “Every aborigine on a reserve shall obey the instructions of the manager of such reserve”.82 Legislation empowered managers to license those allowed to live on reserves, to maintain discipline, to evict anyone who disobeyed regulations or instructions, and to order the removal of anyone unauthorised to stay or visit. People labelled as “trouble-makers” were expelled and the police were used to back up managers’ orders. Those who failed to comply with regulations could be found guilty and fined by the manager without the right to defence.83 People lived in poverty, so no doubt a lot ended up in debt to the Board! It was unlawful to disobey the manager’s orders and the people were forced to work as he directed for under award rates to earn rations, and were
  81. 81. 220 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” exploited as unpaid domestic workers for mission staff.84 Refusal meant cutting food rations or expulsion, in effect making strikes illegal. If someone left without permission, their permit could be cancelled and they could be forbidden re-entry. Permission to stay could be revoked at any time, often causing families to be split up. Outlaws of the race laws Aunty Frances Gallagher comments on the devastating effects of this extreme control and paternalism. As she says, when they left the mission: “It was like we had escaped ... Mission life didn’t prepare us for the outside world, and it was like coming out of an institution. We didn’t know nothing and we had to start life over and learn everything. It was very difficult ... Coming from the mission, you never even thought about the future, you had no future. There was no work around for Aboriginal people. Adjusting to the outside world was bedlam! Everything was so different and we were so lacking in education. They kept us ignorant on the mission.” (p 109) The government had tried to institutionalise Aboriginal people and enforce dependency, while racist propaganda often undermined their self-esteem. Legislation continued to disempower Aboriginal people and lock them into the roles of children. On missions they were given few, if any, opportunities to take control of their own lives. In the outside world they were often criticised as being hopeless and lazy, and racist arguments were used to argue that Aboriginal people were incapable 84 ibid., p. 29.
  82. 82. History 223 The price of assimilation Until 1966, legislation prevented Aboriginal people controlling nearly every aspect of their lives and pushed for their assimilation into the general community. Almost every extended family lost children and everyone lived with the “white is right” mentality forced upon them. Maintaining culture, identity and pride was an ongoing struggle — but a struggle never abandoned. Aboriginal children were forced into the white education system. Racism and alienation meant their identity and esteem were constantly under attack. Aunty Ollie Jackson’s experience of mainstream schooling in the 1930s remained common for Aboriginal students for many years to come: “I hadn’t had much schooling at all before ... the white kids made fun of me, made me feel really different — that was when I found out I was Aboriginal! Before then I’d never made a distinction between people. I’d spent most of my life with Koories and been protected from the idea that we were looked down upon. The white kids teased me ... and called me names. Anyway, I got sick of the taunts and eventually belted one boy up, and he never called me names any more.“ (p 27) Despite surviving a difficult early life and having great strength of character, Aunty Ollie Jackson describes her
  83. 83. 224 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” later experience of assimilation as her greatest challenge: “Well, that was a move that would either make us or break us — having to live in the white man’s world! ... it was really hard ... I had always lived in Koorie communities before and now we had moved into town ... I missed all the help I would’ve got from my own people ... everyone cared for everyone else, Aunties and sisters and cousins all helped out. But not with white people — you’re on your own! ... you’ve got to carry that burden all alone. It was like surviving in another time and another place! Living in the white man’s world — I really missed my people then! ... the kids had problems sometimes with the white kids beating them up and of course my kids, being Koorie, were always blamed. I’d been through all this myself as a kid and I’d hoped it’d be different for my children.” (pp 30–32) Uncle Brian Kennewell-Taylor describes the terrible loneliness he suffered as an isolated child: “school days were filled with white children taunting me with remarks such as ‘nigger’ and the infamous ‘Abo’ word. I had stones thrown at me and was bashed up by the older boys. That’s one of the things you lose when they take you from your Koorie family — the support of people who love you and know what it’s like for a little child to live with racism. Your Koorie family can teach you how to best cope with all the put-downs ... But I faced all this torment alone.” (p 145)
  84. 84. History 229 85 Aunty Fay Carter in discussion with project writer, 1999. 86 Aunty Merle Jackomos in conversation with project writer, 2000; Victims or Victors?, op. cit., p. 53. The Aboriginal rights movement Aboriginal people have always had strong leaders. People like Jack Patten, Shady James, Margaret Tucker, Doug Nicholls and Geraldine Briggs, to name just a few. Aunty Fay Carter recalls the work of Shady James who, in the 1950s, supported the people living in fringe camps like The Flats. “Uncle Shady James was my Great Uncle and I used to visit him every lunchtime from school. He was always doing something for someone and the whole Koorie community really depended on him. His lounge room was like a waiting room, full of people wanting to see him, the kitchen was his office and he worked at the big kitchen table. People would be getting help writing or reading letters, dealing with court appearances, campaigning for better living conditions, writing protest letters.”85 During the 1950s the work of community leaders and activists gained momentum and in 1957 the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League (AAL) was established. Initially Doug Nicholls was the only Aboriginal member, but others who worked in the Australian Aborigines League, people such as Margaret Tucker and her sister Geraldine Briggs, William and Eric Onus and Merle Jackomos soon joined.86
  85. 85. 230 Aboriginal Elders’ Voices: Stories of the “Tide of History” In 1957 a National Aboriginal Day of Mourning was held. This was based on the National Aborigines Day held in 1938 which had been organised by William Cooper and Doug Nicholls. This developed into today’s NAIDOC Week; a week when Aboriginal communities across the country hold cultural events and celebrate survival, showcasing achievements made against the odds. In 1958 the AAL established the Federal Council of Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA). This created a national voice for Indigenous issues, campaigning for civil rights and exposing injustice. FCAA became the Federal Council of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in 1964.87 FCAATSI and members of the AAL campaigned nationally for Indigenous rights which eventually led to the 1967 referendum, when 90% of Australians voted to give Indigenous people citizenship at last. Victims or Victors: The Story of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League outlines the work of the AAL, documenting the FCAATSI days through to the Black Power times led by Bruce McGuiness, son of Aunty Cissy McGuiness from Cummeragunja. Continuing the fight for land In 1960, Doug Nicholls and the AAL worked with Cummeragunja people to campaign for land rights. They wanted to redevelop the mission into the self-sufficient community it had once been. Cummeragunja had been virtually dismantled in 1953 and all but 200 acres leased to white farmers. The AAL pushed for the Yorta Yorta’s right to stay on their land, requesting that 1,700 acres be 87 Victims or Victors?, op. cit., p. 57.

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