”I live on the lands of the great leader Yellagonga and his Mooro clan, in the Whadjuk country of the Nyoongar Nation, like my old people have since time immemorial.
I am a proud Wardandi, Whadjuk, Ballardong and Ngadju woman, married to a proud Budina man, raising two moorditj kurlangka. I pay my respects to our ancestors, to the spirits of our boodja and to our elders past, present and emerging.
I also acknowledge and pay my respects to my non-Aboriginal family, our elders and ancestors, who came to this place as convicts, free settlers, refugees and political prisoners and sought to make new lives for themselves in this ancient land.
My Australia is one in which we respect and accept each other, with generosity, humility, compassion, and integrity. We acknowledge the entirety of our history, truthfully and courageously- the good, the bad, and the terrible, so as to begin the process of true reconciliation and healing.
My Australia is mature enough to understand that this process will be challenging, painful, maybe even embarrassing at times, but that it is crucial because the way we have done things up until now is not working.
When looking for the best way to start this blog I could find no better words than these. Nicole seems to put them perfectly.
I started writing this blog 6 months ago and have been learning along the way what it is we are taught and what it is that has been hidden.
There have been a few things that I really had no idea had happened and when I found out I had so many feelings.
Firstly, I was confused, thinking I had been taught but I had shamefully let this pass. Then it was anger that we aren’t taught this at all. I felt shame for what had happened in the country I had called home for 28 years.
Most recently I have felt a desire to make sure now I am learning, to help others learn so we can make a change together.
Some of the most heartbreaking facts are what I find are the most important. While this is massively sensitive and not to be taken lightly or to be forced on anybody, here are a few events in history and places to look if you wanted to learn more, and help to be the change.
Welcome to country, Stolen Generation, the 1905 Act, Australia day and its history, Aboriginal representation in parliament, a National Apology, respect when it comes to photography and video, the importance of location and burial of deceased parties, Aboriginal education in Schools, Yagan Square and history, Perth’s untold history, prisons on Rottnest and working together.
Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country
Since I started to hear welcome to Country I had always wondered how or who it had come about. Upon looking into this, its not a recognition but Australia as a nation originally. It was something taken upon the people themself to start doing. That in itself says something.
The first recorded welcome to country occurred in 1976, when entertainers Ernie Dingo and Richard Walley developed a ceremony to welcome a group of Māori artists who were participating in the Perth International Arts Festival.
A Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Elders, or Traditional Owners who have been given permission, to welcome visitors onto their traditional land.
An Acknowledgement of Land (or Acknowledgement of Country) serves the same purpose as a Welcome; to introduce and recognise the land and tradition. Except in the case of an Acknowledgement, you are acknowledging Aboriginal people, traditional custodians and the land, rather than welcoming people to it.
The Stolen generations (plural because it was not just one)
Between 1910-1970, many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government policies. The generations of children removed under these policies became known as the Stolen Generations. The policies of child removal left a legacy of trauma and loss that continues to affect Indigenous communities, families and individuals.
Assimilation was based on the assumption of black inferiority and white superiority, which proposed that Indigenous people should be allowed to “die out” through a process of natural elimination, or, where possible, should be assimilated into the white community.
Children taken from their parents as part of the Stolen Generation were taught to reject their Indigenous heritage, and forced to adopt white culture. Their names were often changed, and they were forbidden to speak their traditional languages. Some children were adopted by white families, and many were placed in institutions where abuse and neglect were common.
The report, Bringing Them Home, acknowledged the social values and standards of the time, but concluded that the policies of child removal breached fundamental human rights. The Keating government commissioned the inquiry into the Stolen Generations, but the Howard government received the report. Howard’s government was skeptical of the report’s findings and largely ignored its recommendations.
The Act assumed that Aboriginal people were a ‘dying race’ in its objective of forced assimilation of future generations.
The Chief Protector had wide-reaching power as legal guardian of all Aboriginal children (under 16 years) whom he decided were illegitimate. He could grant or deny permission for Aboriginal women to marry non-Aboriginal men and could manage the property of Aboriginal people without their consent.[iii] Freedom of movement was also restricted. In the subsequent 1936 Native Administration Act, which continued the objectives of the 1905 Act, there were severe penalties, including imprisonment for cohabitation between Noongars and Europeans. Police had extensive powers of surveillance, which continued for some time.
The segregation reinforced by the Act and the existing attitudes based on race, established an apartheid regime where Aboriginal people in Western Australia were discriminated against in all sorts of ways. Civil rights were denied by the Act. For example: those Noongars who had lost control of their property under the 1905 Act lost their eligibility to vote at State Elections.
This taken from a piece on ‘Sharing Noongar Culture: https://www.noongarculture.org.au/impacts-of-law-post-1905/
Australia Day , Foundation Day, Invasion Day, Australian Natives’ Association Day, Survival Day, Anniversary Days; the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip a whole lot of violence and murder.
Between 1606 and 1770 more than 50 European ships made landfall on Australian soil, which was then inhabited solely by Indigenous people. Navigator and astronomer Captain James Cook claimed the whole of the east coast of Australia for Great Britain on 22 August 1770, naming eastern Australia ‘New South Wales’.
1770: More than 500 Indigenous groups inhabit the Australian continent – about 750,000 people.
1770; Captain Cook declares Australia terra nullius – nobody’s land.
1778; The First Fleet anchors in Sydney Cove on January 26.
1800s – The Indigenous population is diminishing: mass shootings, people driven off cliffs, food laced with arsenic, frontier wars and the introduction of disease.
1900: It’s estimated the Indigenous population has been reduced by 90%.
1901: Australia officially becomes its own nation. Parliament introduces the White Australia Policy.
1901: Indigenous people are referenced twice in the Constitution: to state they won’t be counted in the census and that they need “special laws”.
1910-1970: Many Indigenous children are forcibly taken from their families.
1930: The Australian Natives Association (white Australian men) campaigns to make the Monday closest to January 26 a public holiday for Australia Day.
1938: A ‘Day of Mourning and Protest’ is organised as Sydney celebrates 150 years of colonisation.
1965: Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA) organises a bus tour of outback NSW, uncovering racism in rural communities.
1967: 90% of Australians vote “Yes” to amend two parts of the Constitution that exclude Indigenous people.
1972: The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is established on the lawns of Parliament House.
1971: The Aboriginal flag becomes widely adopted.
1984: Australians cease to be British subjects. Advance Australia Fair replaces God Save the Queen.
1988: First Fleet is re-enacted for the bicentennial in Sydney. This is labelled as offensive and has not been allowed since.
Australians march together in Sydney to celebrate the survival of Indigenous people and culture.
1994; The first national Australia Day public holiday.
2017: Certain local councils try to change the date of their citizenship ceremonies. They are forced by the government to change them back. Some are even stripped of their rights to hold citizenship ceremonies.
We have gone up and down, to be honest with no consistency. It is like people think we are still deciding whether aboriginal people did exist here before us and should be acknowledged instead of realising there is really no question. They simply were and it needs to be changed.
The Boundary. Prohibited areas for Aboriginal People in 1927-1954
Aboriginals were to be prohibited in the city of Perth, had to gain permission to work in the city, get into the city during the allocated hours and out before the curfew to avoid being imprisoned.
There is still a large presence of Aboriginal services and people in East Perth due to it being the closest they were allowed to be housed so they could meet the laws of the prohibited areas in the city.
It has been recent news to me that there was a prison on Rottnest. Again, this may have been something my many years of alcohol use and lack of engagement in my schooling, but in my understanding, when we went to Rottnest for school camp, I would be almost certain we didn’t go into detail about the horrific history on this island.
There was not only a prison built on the island, There were unmarked graves of at least 373 Aboriginal men. It’s the largest number of deaths in custody sites in Australia and the largest known burial ground of Aboriginal people.
4,000 men and boys from all across Western Australia imprisoned in the Aboriginal-only Rottnest Island Prison between 1838 and 1931.
How did this come about and why was the prison built? Why were so many men being convicted?
“They cleared the land and blocked all the freshwater springs that ran through the city. This meant all the medicinal plants, all of the traditional vegetation and animals were all gone. Our whole hunting ground was gone within three years of settlement.”
With a rapidly dwindling food supply, Noongar men started shooting any animal they saw — a sheep, a chicken, a cow — not understanding the white law that animals can belong to people. To them, animals belonged to the land.
The consequences of this misunderstanding were harsh. Aboriginal people started being arrested for theft, for trespassing, and it didn’t take long for the prisons to fill up.
Who is Yagan and what is the significance?
Yagan was an Indigenous Australian warrior from the Noongar people. He played a key part in early resistance to British colonial settlement and rule in the area surrounding what is now Perth, Western Australia.
In June 1832, Yagan speared William Gaze who was labouring along the Canning River. Yagan may not have intended to kill Gaze and his death may have been in part due to other factors. [ix] Nevertheless, Yagan was declared an outlaw, a bounty of twenty pounds placed on his head.
Yagan’s head was removed and placed in the wedge of a smoking tree in order to preserve it. The head was eventually taken to England and was on display at the Royal Institute in Liverpool until 1964 when it was eventually buried in Everton cemetery.
164 years after it was sent to England, In 1990 a request by the Western Australian Nyoongah community was put to the British Government to exhume the head. Permission was finally granted.
Yagan was considered a warrior by his people.
Eddie Mabo (June 1936 – Jan 1992)
Eddie Mabo was an Indigenous Australian man from the Torres Strait Islands known for his role in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and for his role in a landmark decision of the High Court Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) which characterised Australian law with regard to land and title.
The Mabo decision was a turning point for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights because it acknowledged their unique connection with the land. It also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993
Aboriginal Education in Schools:
There are over 500 mobs around Australian with over 500 different dialects. Some words used in Perth, Western Australia:
Wandjoo Wandjoo/Wandju Wandju: Welcome
- Corroboree: an Australian Aboriginal dance ceremony which may take the form of a sacred ritual or an informal gathering.
Koort; Heart, hearts, two hearts together
Wadjamup/Wedjamup/Wadjemup; Rottnest Island (now known as)
You can find a list of the different tribes to help you understand how someone identifies with family or where they come from:
What is the belief and understanding of photography and videography?
It’s common practice that when there is a member of the community that has deceased, the person’s name is changed due to cultural beliefs and the images of that person are suppressed. This may be just for a period of time, some cases could vary between six-to-12 months, but liaising with the community is paramount.
If names or images are to be used, written permission should be obtained from the person’s family and/or community.
It is a belief in Perth, Western Australia that when a person becomes deceased, their spirit will rest in the local Moodjar tree (the beautiful Christmas trees with orange flowers) until the next bloom. This could be months or a year. It is then believed that after this bloom their spirit will lay to rest in Wadjemup (Rottnest) and then further to the Western horizon.
If their name is spoken, their image is shown it is the belief that they will not be able to set free to rest.
A National Apology
On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.
TheNational Apology was a historic acknowledgement of the wrongs done to the Stolen. Generations. It was a significant step towards building a respectful new relationship between. Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The Australian Constitution
Australian Aboriginal people have been in Australia for at least 60,000 years (Torres Strait Islanders at least 2500 years).
Western Australia is one of the most ancient lands on the planet. That’s a lot of history to explore – from 3.5 billion-year-old living fossils to more than 40,000 years of Aboriginal history and four centuries of European influence.
It is only in the past 500 years there has been European contact with Australia and the Torres Strait so, when I was referring to Australia as a ‘young country’ I couldn’t have been more wrong. we aren’t young and we aren’t free.
So what are we talking about when we say to our fellow humans around the world, that we are a young country??!! The land has been around for thousands of years and so have the people and we still swan around singing songs of youth and fellowship when we are essentially a country born and living in ignorance.
Did you know Australia has a constitution?
Do you know what a constitution is?
It is ‘a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organisation is acknowledged to be governed. I just learned that.
Did you know that, currently, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are still not recognised or specifically mentioned in the Australian Constitution, however, the Constitution still contains references (in Sections 25 and 51) that allow the Commonwealth or State governments to discriminate against people on the basis of race …
It means the people who were here, on this land, when it was colonised have not been acknowledged that they even existed or exist today, that the land was terra nullius (‘no one’s land’), and it just doesn’t sit well in my mind. Im so intrigued at how that makes you feel?
What we know about ‘our country’ this country……
When asked how old Australia is, the common answer and one I would find myself saying is about 200 years old. I was taught that in school so why not? The Commonwealth of Australia came into existence on January 1st, 1901, so we are near to 119 years old.
Neville Bonner was the first Aboriginal person to sit in Federal Parliament as a Senator for Queensland from 1971 until 1983. Neville Bonner was born on Ukerbagh Island in the Tweed River in New South Wales. He was a member of the Liberal Party. Aden Ridgeway was the second Aboriginal person to sit in Federal Parliament as a Senator for New South Wales from 1999 until 2005 and was a member of the Australian Democrats. On 24 August 2010, Kenneth George Wyatt became the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives when he narrowly won the West Australian seat of Hasluck for the Liberal Party. Wyatt had held a position in indigenous health and education agencies for many years before his election. In his maiden speech, Wyatt received a standing ovation. During his speech, he said ‘It is with deep and mixed emotion that I, as an Aboriginal man with Noongar, Yamitji and Wongi heritage, stand before you and the members of the House of Representatives as an equal’.1
I realise now that I can no longer claim ignorance, I can no longer say I didn’t and don’t know because now I do, and so do you.
The negative effects of colonisation continue to have a very real impact on the lives of many Indigenous Australians in the form of intergenerational trauma, generational poverty, health disparity, disconnection from culture, the disappearance of language, family separation, social discrimination and more.
Remember you are not trying to win, you are trying to start a discussion.
Without having the discussion we are doing ourselves a disservice. Divided we will stand still, but together we can make a change.
You can hear my discussion with Nicole Casley on iTunes at The Talking Stick Podcast or Podbean:
Other useful information: