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Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, senior Wurundjeri elder of the Kulin nation in Victoria, 30 September 2014

HELEN ENNIS: Now it gives me great pleasure to introduce Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy. Joy is a senior Wurundjeri elder of the Kulin nation in Victoria, but she’s also the great great niece of William Barak and she’ll be speaking to us now about that today. Would you please join me in welcoming Joy. [applause]

AUNTY JOY WANDIN MURPHY: I have this wonderful friend, a beautiful young man from Wurundjeri country, Jonathan Jones who’s going to assist me with the powerpoint because I haven’t got a clue how to do this. [laughter] I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people and thanking Susan, who unfortunately had to leave, for the welcome to country and pay my respects to their elders, their ancestors, and of course their communities, past and present.

In doing this, can I say that I am the great-great-niece of William Barak and never expected that I would ever have the honour, ever in my life, of being able to speak about him and to be able to continue his journey through the wonderful works of Andrew Sayers. I want to thank you wholeheartedly for that.

I thought our first image was really important just to say to you that what we are about in our culture and heritage are our identity and belonging. At times with colonisation there was a lot of enforcement about where we should go, what we should do and how we should do it. That feeling impacted on my father and of course much earlier than that in the times of William Barak. When he was asked to leave his place, his traditional lands, and then again on a gazetted reserve of land, he said to them, ‘You’ve got to know your father’s country. Yarra is my father’s country. I’ll never leave my father’s country. There’s no mountains for me on the Murray.’

I think when you do see, if you’ve not already seen them, the drawings of Barak, in particular, it speaks so truly of the life that he lived, that he was able to create and that he was able to leave such a lasting legacy for people like me, my grandchildren and the many more children of Wurundjeri that will come along in time.

It is a time when we talk about who we are and where we come from. After my father had served in World War I - again another unforgettable journey for him - I felt that I needed to have something, and perhaps these words are reflected in my life in some way. When my father told me in his last few days when I said, ‘Please leave me with something.’ He was a man that didn’t speak a great deal about his life, but he said to me, ‘You are who you are. Be proud of who you are, but you are no better than anyone else.’ To have a clear statement about who you are and where you come from is a really fortunate position to be in, because so many of our community have not had that privilege.

I still live in the town where many generations were born before me. As I said, I’m a grandmother, and in fact a great-grandmother twice. I’m just one of those very fortunate people where my father had to buy a block of land for two pounds and sixpence simply because the soldiers’ settlement was offered for purchase for returning soldiers but not so to Aboriginal soldiers. You do have to know your country, you do have to know your identity, and that of course is your belonging.

As I’ve mentioned, Coranderrk is a time that I reflect on today as a very significant time for me. I’m deeply honoured to be here. I want to thank the National Museum of Australia - I want to thank Carol Cooper, Anne Faris, all of you that have put this time together, and particularly to Andrew [Sayers]. Because I feel really important at these times. That might sound a bit strange but never did I dream or aspire to be anything but a mum, like my mum who gave birth to ten children without her own mother present in any form. But to be able to walk this journey and somehow be nurtured along the way has been such an enriching experience for me.

Certainly, Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century gave me yet another window where I needed to explore exactly where I’ve come from. When we talk about friends, and Andrew is another great friend, it is these two great friends of Barak, Mr and Mrs Green, who were managing the Coranderrk reserve. It was probably best said that, without John and Anne Green, there was no way known that Coranderrk would have survived for its 60 years. In 1863 Coranderrk was established under the Aboriginal Protection Act, a land of 4850 acres never to be revoked. However, in less than 60 years that land was reduced to just one half an acre, which was the Coranderrk cemetery.

I just talked about the revoking of that land which was so precious to Barak. He had started on his journey coming down from the Acheron to Healesville where the first Aboriginal reserve area was set aside, but that reserve was very quickly closed within a period of eight months simply because that was about to become a township - a very famous and notable township as it is today. It was said to have been too good an area for the blacks to live in, so he subsequently moved on to this reserved area of land called Coranderrk.

It prospered for those 60 years under the great leadership of Ngurungaeta, the head man before Barak and his uncle, and then bestowed on his son. And then from Simon Wonga, Barak’s cousin, to Barak himself. Barak was able to find his place here. He’d been able to establish a relationship not only with the many people that came to Coranderrk, and at some time there were 300 people from Victoria and New South Wales, but it was more about his connection to country and of course, his drawings.

His art clearly depicts where he comes from and what he’s so proud of. The land itself, whilst much of that has been developed, is still there. The spirit of the land exists, but quite clearly there is an existence of the mountains, the mountains you’re still able to see when you enter the township of Healesville. I’m very pleased to say that on the mountain just on your left [image shown] - with the closure of the Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve in 1923 or in fact it was a few years earlier than that when one of my Dad’s, Aunty Mary, had married this Scottish man, Ted Smith, and they decided they would leave before they were removed once more - they built a beautiful little hut on there in that time. The Melbourne water works, when they took that area over, called it a national treasure. In fact that little hut has only just fallen down of its own accord in the last ten years.

We are on about preserving culture and sustaining culture through colonisation - a very major upheaval in people’s life. I’ve just spoken about what we can still see today but it isn’t the importance. Again, Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century, those depictions and the story that Andrew has written really clearly shows that where there’s strength there’s a way, and where there’s resilience and resistance of which Barak played such a really strong part where he led deputations to parliament. But he also managed to bridge two worlds not only through his voice as a storyteller, not only as an artist, as a musician but also as a singer of corroborrees, a singer of Nangis, where he was able to really treat people with what would be a real thrill for them.

If you look clearly at his works, and some of the works that you’ve seen just recently shown by Tim [Bonyhady], is that to me it tells the story of what he cared about - that what was given and is given to each and every one is this great land. It’s country. It’s country that needs to be cared for. It’s country that needs to be nurtured, and today it’s country that still needs to be shared.

Barak for me has been very much an inspiration. I’ve tried to put pencil to paper, but doesn’t work for me. Perhaps I’ve inherited a little bit of his great gift in a way of story-telling - at least I hope so.

The man himself. It’s a shame when you think about your family, and how famous they’ve become, and again Andrew was very instrumental in our becoming famous because we were so ignored. Our people were first of all classed as relics in the Relics Preservation Act. I used to get really angry about that. I used to think, ‘No, I am a relic. I’m a part of a relic and I’m very proud to be.’ And then we were moved to the flora and fauna legislation, and I said, ‘I don’t want to be called an animal. I don’t want to be referred to as a flower or that beautiful plant.’ I’m very proud today. As you grow older, I think you realise and accept that these things are fundamentals, they’re basics, and that’s exactly what our culture is about.

That’s why there’s been the sustainability proven of thousands and thousands of years’ existence. But when you become famous, it’s usually after you have left your place, and for me that’s such a sad thing. But Barak will always live on, because we have these wonderful lasting legacies of his artworks; we have this opportunity to explore him further today; and we will always have this wonderful book by Andrew Sayer that we’ll be able to read. I’ve read this many times and I’ve put it away. Actually, I think I loaned my copy to a friend or someone who didn’t return it.

As it would happen, Perry and I met up again recently, and I said, ‘I wonder if Andrew has got another copy. I’d love one,’ and Andrew came along and he said, ‘I just happen to have a box under my bed.’ So I am very fortunate. This is mine, and no one else will get it. Of course he’s written on it for me, and I hold that very dear to my heart.

I think for me he’s a diplomat that Barak has been described as. Certainly he brought two worlds together in his time with Anne Bon, that beautiful woman who had lost her husband and her child and knowing Barak’s grievances as well. When we think about being diplomatic, sometimes when I have a burning feeling in my gut and I really want to say how I feel, I remember that in his bridging of two worlds he must have suffered enormous pain. I get this huge lump in my stomach; I almost want to spit it out. But then I remember that cultural upheaval and him trying to retain his culture, but also move our community forward just to have a place in this society today, to have an acceptance of where we come from and that we will be still here in many years to come.

It reminds me that there has to be a balance. Andrew says in his book: ‘Through a devastating cultural upheaval the drawings allowed the artist to achieve a cultural space, a kind of balance, which allowed them to act creatively.’ Particularly for me and for Barak, that certainly was the story with him and where I have been able to imagine quite deeply and creatively the pain, the frustration and yet that determination, that will, that power, that stamina and, most of all, that courage to be proud of who he was as an Aboriginal man. What he fought for and what he left. I will always be very proud to be who I am today and to tell my story to anyone of my great-great uncle William Barak.

Life is what we are given and life is somewhat difficult. Again, through the pain and struggle of Barak, he managed to keep this immersion of a black and white together, he managed to keep his cultural values intact. It wasn’t until the time where he was faced with such a dilemma that you would had thought he could have been repaid in some way. His son David at 14 years of age took ill, and he was not offered any transport or given any consideration about how this child might be properly treated. So Barak carried him from Coranderrk all the way to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. When he got there, he was told that he had to leave his son and that he couldn’t stay with him. He went to his friend Anne Bon who lived in the suburbs. He’d no sooner been at Anne’s when, unbeknownst to him, his son had passed on his own.

For a man who’s given so much to our community, to our people across this great continent and in fact extended across to our neighbouring islands; a man today that is so honoured with his work in museums, universities, everywhere you go; a man where his works were bought and taken overseas to show off to the world; and a man where his work, his time, his energy, his passion, his identity, his belonging has been now returned back to this country to be recorded as one of the Aboriginal artists of the nineteenth century – this man was not even given a hand in any way to help him spend the last few days with his son, nor transport him to an appropriate place for treatment.

That makes me really sad. These are the times when I wish that I was there. This is the time where I wish that Barak can see all of what’s happening today, that we do have people now who put out their hands to support us, who are very meaningful in what they do and who have some passion about our culture, and most of all people that have been in my journey value our culture and have a deep appreciation for who we are. That two-way world that Barak managed to bring together we hope will continue to continue for many years.

We move on to a really important time, and the significance of Anne Bon [bell rings for a minute left]. This headstone is now in the Coranderrk Aboriginal Cemetery. I’ll have to tell this story very quickly: Anne Bon lost her husband and her son up in the Eildon Township, and they created what is now the Eildon Weir, so she knew that this beautiful headstone that she had erected to them would be under water. At a similar time Barak had passed, so she decided that she would have the headstone pulled up and brought down. The original inscription has been taken off of her husband and son, and now it’s been given to the memory of Barak.

It had a little journey get to where it should belong today, but it’s now safely in the Coranderrk Aboriginal Cemetery. Barak passed when the wattles bloom again. He knew - it was the passing of his father at that time - that he too would take ill and that he would pass. He had an injury to his hand and it wasn’t healing. He asked when his good friends might be back and he said, ‘Too late. I’ll be gone by then.’ But he also asked for the red sap from the tree and wasn’t able to get it, but he passed when the wattles bloom again. A full credit to the late Shirley Wiencke for her beautiful book When the wattles bloom again, which, if you haven’t read it, get a copy because it’s a great read.

Now we get on to the drawings. I won’t be able to go through them, but we tried to do a little timeline. As I said, Jonathan was my number one support with this powerpoint presentation. It’s just showing you a timeline, and of course these paintings are in the Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century, and how he so neatly described each and every piece of ceremony: the description of the two fires, which I call ‘the table of decision’; the calling of the head man in the centre directing the ceremony; the animals present; the way in which the stance of the dancers show that strength of dance; and of course the women clapping on their possum skins.

I’d just like to finish by saying that it’s such an honour to be here today. I feel extremely privileged. What Andrew has given to me through the Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century is the gift of being proud to speak your own language, and that was quoted in Andrew’s book on many occasions. Somehow, somewhere, there’ll be a time in my life where I don’t feel inferior. Still today at the back of my heart I have a little tapping that kind of says that I know who I am, but does anybody out there really know who I am? Thank you very much. [applause]

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This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.

The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy. Some older pages on the Museum website contain images and terms now considered outdated and inappropriate. They are a reflection of the time when the material was created and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Museum.

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Date published: 01 January 2018

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