My Stolen Heritage

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My Stolen Heritage

I was born in Launceston Tasmania in January 1956, the year the Korean War ended, the Olympics came to Melbourne and the Melbourne Demons won the AFL premiership. After Truganini’s death in 1876, Australians were convinced that all the Tasmanian Aborigines had died out and that there were no Aborigines living in Tasmania. We now know that this is not true but, at the time it created an environment that encouraged the belief among some mainland indigenous people that their light-skinned, mixed-blood children could leave as immigrants rather than acknowledge their indigenous heritage.

My paternal grandmother, Laurina Drew was the eldest child of George Drew, a Dhunggutti man from the Macleay River region of NSW, and Laurina Hutson, an English woman believed to have been a slave or convict who came to Sydney from Sydney. Maclay River Settlement. George and Laurina’s relationship was established around 1875, just before the birth of her second child, Ellen.

Laurina Hutson later appears in official records married to George James who was a prominent businessman in Maryborough. Together they had another child, Edward, and later moved to the gold mining town of Mount Morgan. James’s business at Mount Morgan was successful, both daughters married and Edward took over the business after his parents’ deaths.

Young Lorina, my grandmother, coincidentally married a young man who shared her stepfather’s name; George James. Young George was an English immigrant from the Isle of Wight. Between 1892 and 1896 they had three children, Arthur, Lorina and Florence. It is not known when they moved from Mount Morgan to Tasmania, but family oral history suggests that Florence (my grandmother) was only two or three years old.

George and Lorina established a general store in Brisbane Street Launceston and lived above the store until George died in 1950. Laurina’s children had grown up by this point and moved to a small property in Georgetown, as she was affectionately called “Little Nanna”. , at the mouth of the river Tamar. I have vague memories of visiting my younger Nanna from the age of four to six, when she also died. I remember that she was always very particular about covering up if she went out in the sun and was particularly strict with my aunts and uncles if none of them covered up or let us little kids play in the sun.

From my earliest memories, I only felt safe or comfortable in the presence of little Nanna until I started making friends in primary school. Oddly enough, each of those friends had Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage or, their Aboriginal parents had migrated from mainland Australia to escape persecution. My parents openly disapproved of my friendships, and many of them were short-lived.

For many years, until 2005, I felt that something was missing in my life, that my identity did not align with what I felt as a person. In 2005, I had a conversation with an elderly aunt who mentioned “Yellow George” as my grandmother’s father’s name, for the first time. When I pressed him for information, he simply said that “Little Nanna’s father was called Yellow George and lived somewhere in NSW.”

Curiosity got the better of me and I searched the NSW Government Archives for any reference to “Yellow George”. The one and only reference was a text about the Dhunggutti people living in the Maclay River region and described a man of that name who was given 26 acres of land on Pelican Island and who fathered two children.

After 49 years of knowing I was different but not knowing why, I finally stumbled upon a possible explanation. But the Aborigines have no written language and their history is passed down in songs and stories. How on earth am I going to find the answers I so desperately need? I contacted the Kempsey Aboriginal Land Council and as luck would have it, the text I found was the author’s brother, Gary Morris, one of the founders of the Burungen Djugun Aboriginal College and lived in Kempsey.

I contacted Gary and he provided me with a complete oral history of the Drew family from Yellow George’s father to the arrival and subsequent departure of Laurina Hutson. As it turns out, Gary and I are cousins ​​by marriage and his contribution to my growth as a Dhunguti man has been invaluable.

I understand why Laurina and family don’t want to be Aboriginal, yet I feel disappointed and insulted that my family could be ashamed of our heritage. I don’t blame my ancestors for hiding our Dhunggutti heritage, in fact I feel sorry for them because they didn’t get the chance to enjoy the close bond with our extended family or our connection to our land. I visited my ancestral home and walked the land of my Dhunggutti ancestors for centuries. I feel that bond and that closeness but am still incredibly angry at the close-minded bigots whose attitudes and prejudices have robbed me of my heritage and denied me my identity for so long.

Sadly, none of my siblings want to acknowledge their heritage and effectively remove me from their family because of who I really want to be. My tribal family, the people of Dhunggutti, Kamiloroi and Dugun all recognize and accept my Dhunggutti heritage and freely give their love and support in my efforts to learn more about my true culture, not force it on me.

We are finally making some way to right some of the wrongs done to the first Australians but please, I beg everyone, also think about the generations of light-skinned Aboriginal people who have had their identities stolen simply because of the color of their skin.

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