by Anne E Stewart

Story Summary

Anne knew nothing of the history of the First Nations people of Australia until she set on her path as a storyteller. Her journey to respect and understanding began at an exhibition by an aboriginal artist and charismatic storyteller, Berak Barak.

Discussion Questions

  1. What year did Captain Cook claim Australia for King George III of Britain?
  2. John Batman bought the land around Melbourne, Victoria in 1835 off the Wurrundjeri tribe. Why was this sale deemed invalid?
  3. What were some of the sale items that Batman traded for the land?
  4. What was the name of the reserve permanently given to the aboriginal people in 1884?
  5. Does Australia have a treaty with its First Nation people?
  6. What did Barak feature in some of his paintings?

Resources

  • To read more about Barak and see some of his images: https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/william-barak/william-barak-king-of-the-yarra
  • Learn about the Victorian government’s work on Treaty: https://w.www.vic.gov.au/aboriginalvictoria/treaty.html
  • More about treaty and self-determination in Australia: https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/selfdetermination/would-a-treaty-help-aboriginal-self-determination

Themes

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Identity
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript
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Hello. My name’s Anne Stewart and I’m from Daylesford in regional Victoria, Australia.

In 2020, Australia has planned a series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain Cook sailed along the east coast of Australia. At school, we learned that in 1770 he “discovered” Australia and reported back to King George III that the land was “Terra Nullius”, empty, no man’s land. We also learned that, in 1835, John Batman arrived in the region near Melbourne and he claimed, he would claim the area for himself. We also learned that he tried to create a treaty with the Wurundjeri people and he wanted to buy the land.

Now I began storytelling in 1977, but it wasn’t until many years later that I started to look for First Nation stories which I could share. And it was then that I heard about a man called Beruk Barak. It was actually at an exhibition of his paintings. He had tried to depict what it was like to be a Wurundjeri man. And as I read through the brochures, I learned that he wanted to relate the stories for all people to have further on. So, now, I was curious, and I started to do the research and I wanted to find out his story. And this is some of the things I found out about him.

In 1824, Barak was born at Bushy Creek under the shade of a gum tree. He was the last child of six children of Bebejan and Tooterrie. And as he lay there gurgling in his mother’s arms, little did they know of the changes that were ahead.

Now Barak would be a Ngurungaeta or a headman like his father before him, but that was because he was forced into the situation. Things had changed for the young boy. Now, he was twelve. When Barak arrived many years before, he had sat around with the elders of his tribe and he’d listened of stories of the white fellows that had landed way up in the north. And they had traded a steel axe down along the trade lines along with the stories. He was so proud of his father that they had this steel axe. He listened to the stories of the land and its people and he learned how to live as a young Wurundjeri boy. He learned to live close to nature and he knew the Bunjil, creator of all. He was a happy bright little boy and he loved the stories.

Now. in August when the wattle was in blossom, it would fall onto the slow-flowing Yarra River. And when the blossom fell on the river, eels would come to eat. So that meant tribes would gather around to have corroboree and celebrate. And he loved to join and meet all of his cousins and his families. But more and more, the talk turned to the white people that were arriving. He had watched with his father as sailing boats came into Port Phillip Bay. He saw the whalers and the sealers and he knew that some of his cousins had been stolen away to be wives to these men.

But it was when John Batman arrived that things were to change forever. He would not come and go like the other white man. In fact, he said famously, John Batman, “This looks like a place for a village.”

Barak was not happy. That was his favorite campsite by the river, but he was there when Batman tried to buy the land and he watched when he brought out all his trade items. Why, he brought out 40 tomahawks. In his childhood, his father’s had been so special because it was the only one. But, now, there were 40. Why, there were other trade items as well: blankets, scissors, beads and five tons of flours. Well, it was an exciting time for the young boy and he and his friends gathered around.

He watched as Batman brought out a sheet of paper and he made the Chiefs put their mark on the piece of paper. This was called a treaty. Well, Barak did not understand what it was. He thought of all these things were gifts and it wasn’t till many years later that he understood what had happened. For a few trinkets and baubles, John Batman thought he had bought the land around Melbourne, the now capital city of the state of Victoria.

Well, after the town of Melbourne was established, the Wurundjeri people were moved on. And they were moved on to places far away. Barak didn’t like it. Some places were too cold. Some places there was no good bush tucker, food to eat. In some places, he could just feel these evil spirits around him.

Well, the wars started. And many of the Wurundjeri were to die. And so, too, did they die of illness, disease and sadness. Once again, the Wurundjeri people were moved. The numbers were slowly dwindling. And Barak watched his Uncle go to the governor and say, “The Wurundjeri people, we don’t want to move anymore. We want land that is ours and we want you to sign a piece of paper that says, “This land belongs to the Wurundjeri people.”

And, so, it was decided that the Wurundjeri people could have a small parcel of land in the old northeast of their traditional lands. It was a two-day walk from Melbourne but there they settled. Once again, they built houses. Once again, they planted crops. And life was happy for them there until in 1875. It was decided they wanted to move the Wurundjeri people again. Rich owners, landowners had their eye on that parcel of land.

But Barak said, “No.” All of his cousins had died. His Uncles had died and now he was the Chief. So, he went to the governor and he said, “We will not move. The Wurundjeri people need to live on the land of their father. This is the land of my father. There are no mountains for me on the Murray River. We will not go.”

And, so, it was argued. And they had commission after commission. Ten took place until, finally, it was agreed, many years later, that a small parcel of land would belong to the Wurundjeri people forever. And they called it Coranderrk the name for the small Christmas Bush that grew about.

Well, Barak was happy there, but he could see that his tribe were passing and so he took up painting. He wanted to depict all the life and law of his family so that people would remember the way of the Wurundjeri people. He painted ceremonies, corroborees, tall men standing in their possum skin cloaks clapping their boomerangs together, women with possum skins rolled up beating the rhythm that the men would dance to. He also wanted to paint the animals. He loved the native flora and fauna and he depicted Emus, Eagles, Niyakidna, his totem.

And I read, when I saw the exhibition, that when the white fellows arrived and bought their cows and sheep, they dirtied the waters, they’d torn down the trees. He was worried too for the native flora and fauna. Did you know that Aboriginal people were not considered citizens of Australia until 1967? Before that, they were regarded under the Flora and Fauna Act. They were not even considered humans.

While I often think of that proud old Wurundjeri man and I wondered what he’d feel about today. In all that time, Wurundjeri people have still not ceded sovereignty to the white nations. But, in all that time, there has still not been a treaty. That old Barak was at the first treaty, but still nothing.

Well, in 2018, the Victorian government has passed an act to try and progress the state of treaty. Slowly, we move forward. I hope to walk alongside. And I hope that my voice can help the story be told of how it’s so essential that we walk towards treaty. I want justice for the First Nations people.

I say, “It’s time for a treaty.”