A Story About Aboriginal Identity

My story begins as a descendant of the original inhabitants of Australia; I am Aboriginal, with a mixture of English and Dutch heritage. During my infant and primary school years until the age of 8 years, I lived with my extended family in a place called “Blackman’s Point”. Like most eastern NSW state localities this too was a massacre site for Aboriginal forefathers and mothers that occurred during the settlement of the coastal town of Port Macquarie in the middle of the 1800’s. “Blackman’s Point” is called “Goolawahl”. (Pronounce as gool-a-wall.) in birripi culture.

The many rivers that flow from the mountains from the west and the Great Diving Range to our coastal sea (Pacific Ocean) in the main have Aboriginal stories about “creation” tied to them. Just as the Western Australian / Northern Territory “Noongar” people and the South Australian “Pitjanjarra” have their “dreamtime” culture and beliefs. So do the NSW, Queensland and Victorian Aboriginal bloodlines.

Australia Aboriginal people in NSW refer to themselves as either ” Goori”,”Boori” or “Murri” and relate this way as opposed to the European version of “Koori”. The kinship we all shared in the 60’s was strong as I remember our rented old farm house at “Blackmans Point” had to endure (just as we did) three major floods being 1963, 1964 and 1966.

Practically the whole entire town of Port Macquarie was under water at some point during those occasions of summer when months of heavy rain falls caused masses of water from the mountains to flow down along the Hastings River (Dhoongang) out to reach the sea only to be pushed back inside by the huge King tides from the Pacific Ocean.

It was during the 1964 flood (biggest on record for Port Macquarie) that our family lost sister Patricia as we both were hospitalised from the onset of double pneumonia. Patricia was one year old, I was 3 years. After the floods of 1966 and up until 1968 our extended families of cousins, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunties, mother,father, grandmothers, grandfathers had to leave the old farm houses (their was two farm houses separated by a bridge over a tributary to the river),they had taken a lot of damage while the floods were raging and no wooden structure could have stood ground like they did any longer when the bridge was washed away, the roads were washed away, the cattle, the sheep, the farmers crops and every other living creature that did not have wings. Luckily Uncle Trevor Rumbel (he was licensed fisherman) had two boats to save us while the Hastings River was pouring in through the front door at 2am in the morning. The front door was elevated 6 feet with wooden stairs down to the creek. (tributary)

My sister Tanya was born in 1966 and Jo-anne was born in 1968, the Vietnam war was on television and little room for all of us kids (their was 13 of us) to fit in front of the one and only black and white television set. We had lots of other swimming, fishing and climbing trees activities to do most of the time. After leaving Port Macquarie and extended family, Dad, Mum, Tanya, Jo-anne and myself moved further north 160 miles or so to the town of Evans Head. Yes, another important Aboriginal place, of the “Bunjalung” people. Evans Head (Goanna Headland) is a mythological site from the “dreamtime”.

Corroboree and cerermonies were conducted on that headland (bora ground) to honour their Goanna spirit totem as well as increase the fish supplies with their Bungalung tribal songs. Evans Head is today as then a fishing town with fishing trawlers and recreational boats moored at the Fish Co-operative along the Evans Head River.

Evans Head had large clay banks (used for ceremonial body painting). After leaving in 1969, we returned back down the coast to Sawtell, which is 10 miles south of Coffs Harbour (pioneer cedar timber mill) with a major jetty built for the ships to transport the rich cedar to England and Europe. Starting 6th grade was in a town called “Woolgoolga”(pop currently 25000) approximately 15 miles north of Coffs Harbour (pop 100,000) on the mid north coast of NSW. Woolgoolga, Sawtell and Coffs Harbour are towns situated in “Gumbaynggir” or “Gumbangar” country. “Woolgoolga is a variation of the Gumbaynggir word for “Weilga” or native plum. My Grandfather William “Goola”(koala) Holten ( 1923 -2002) would tell me that when disputes between tribes of the “Birripi” and neighbouring “Dunghutti”(crow people) occurred it was the Gumbaynggir whom mediated in quarrels. Birripi and Dunghutti people have a long association with the Gumbaynggir. I also learned that the birripi goanna spirit “Booral-men-den-di” (size of Boeing 767)caused sand to be placed high on top of “Yarrahapinni” Mountain (three koala’s rolling down a hill – Gumbaynggir legend) whilst flicking his giant tail into the sandy loam to escape the attacks from the giant “Crows” (Dhungutti). According to “Dreamtime” the Birripi giant goanna spewed fire at the giant crows (Dhungutti) and that is why all crows are black today.

During the European settlement of Port Macquarie as a penal colony in the 1800’s a great battle between European and the combined Birripi, Dhungutti and Gumbaynggir people fought at “Goolawahl”. The story of the battle describes how the Hastings River had turned red with the blood of the fallen.

My mother and sister remain in Woolgoolga and my sister Tanya, Dad and Grandmother have passed away there. After the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed in 1983 which empowered Aboriginal people to claim crown land for its community members in NSW, a lot of great improvements in education, employment and self determination for the Aboriginal people in NSW has eventuated.

In 1993 the High Court of Australia overturned the doctrine of “terra nullius” that Australia was unoccupied when Europeans settled at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). Eddie Mabo elder of the Meriam people claimed common law title to their Murri island off the North Queensland coast and asserted common law rights through the Queensland Federal courts for 10 years that his people had undefeated ownership and occupation of their island and no government of Australia had a better title to it than they.

Eddie Koiki Mabo (1936-1992) passed away before the decision was handed down by the High Court.

In 1997 the Native Title Act 1993 was all but reduced to water with the amendments enacted by the Liberal Government of Australia and then Prime Minister Hon John Howard MP. The so called 10 point “Wik Plan”

(Wik was the name of the Northern Territory, Gulf of Carpentaria tribe) whom were faced with a scheme in order for them to be granted native title they would also have to agree to allow pastoral leases to co-exist with their native title claim in the Gulf of Carpentaria Australia. Also the common law rights of all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people claiming native title were subject to the 10 point Wik Plan.

As planned the “Wik” people:

(whom spoke no English nor could understand a word ) voted ain the affirmative for the proposed amendments to the 1993 Native Title Act to allow pastoral leases over tribal land to co-exist with Native Title owners and for the rest of the Aboriginal race of Australia to prove Native Title in a Federal Court for each application to claim Native Title rights.

I was informed (no names mentioned) that due to the interpreter (government appointed) oversight at the “Wik” conference 1997 it was sometime before the Wik representatives had lowered their hands from the call to vote. Apparently the interpreter had forgot to tell them to stop voting. (tongue in cheek)

Since 1993 ten native title claims have been determined.

As at 2000 561 claimant native title claims have been lodged in Australia.

As at 2000 63 claimant native title claims been lodged for Northern Territory.

I have worked for and a member of Aboriginal Land Council’s since 1992. I was elected Board Member of the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council,September 2009.

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