The National Library has been collecting oral histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure their life stories, and personal insights are recorded for future generations. Ryan Stoker highlights a variety of interviews, social histories and folklore recordings.
Speakers: Margy Burn (M), Ryan Stoker (R)
Location: National Library of Australia
Date: 6 July 2017
M: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the second of our NAIDOC Week presentations here at the National Library. Thank you to those people who were punctual for tolerating a slightly later start. The National Library is a workplace that is really proud of our indigenous colleagues and there’s a great deal of interest from Library staff in showing support and interest in what they have to say but as Stuart and I were just saying when you work in the Library you think oh it’s 12:30, I’d better leave my desk and go to the presentation, you don’t think it at 12:25 so thank you for your patience.
I’m Margie Byrne and I’m the Assistant Director General here at the Library responsible for Reader Services and Australian Collections so the Australian Collections include oral history as one of the very interesting and special parts of the Collection.
I’ll begin as is customary – as has become customary, and we should never remember that things can always change for the better. I will acknowledge that we meet on Aboriginal land and thank traditional custodians and elders past and present for caring for this beautiful country that we all now are privileged to call our home.
This week is NAIDOC Week and NAIDOC Week is a time when Australians come together to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The 2017 NAIDOC theme, Our Languages Matter, showcases the unique and essential role that indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of history, tradition and spirituality through story and song. And one of the important ways in which the Library works to preserve the history, culture, achievements and languages of Australia’s indigenous peoples is through our Oral History and Folklore program. The Library’s Oral History and Folklore program is the largest in the country and a great strength within this collection is recordings made with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and today Ryan Stoker will be sharing with us some of those audio recordings. Ryan joined the Library in 2013 after completing university studies and working in libraries in Sydney, he came to us from UTS, the University of Technology Sydney.
Ryan began his career at the National Library digitising pictures, manuscripts and ephemera and making them available for access online. He’s also worked in a couple of the Special Collections Branches in Oral History and Folklore and also in Pictures and Manuscripts so he’s really worked widely with a range of collection materials and like all Library staff he loves and has a passion for collections so please welcome Ryan.
R: Problem being a bit too tall, you got to adjust the mic. Oh thank you very much for that lovely introduction, Margie, and I also pay my respects and acknowledge that we’re on Ngunnawal land today and pay my respects to elders past and present. I’d also like to point out at this time as well being a collection talk and talking about interviews and showing images in the past that there will be images and voices of people who have passed away.
So good afternoon and welcome to today’s Collection talk. As Margie’s introduced I’m Ryan Stoker, I’m one of the librarians here at the National Library. So to tell you a bit about myself I – my mother’s side, I’m descended from Wiradjuri people from up in the northern part of the central – [Arunna] 4:05 region in New South Wales so around Dubbo along the Macquarie River there and on my father’s side, Anglo Australian. Even though my mother’s side came from Wiradjuri country unfortunately I was born and raised in Sydney and grew up around there and then moved here to Canberra.
So today’s Collection talk is about Oral History and Folklore Collections which I think is quite appropriate and quite relevant to talk about, particularly with this year’s theme of Our Languages Matter for NAIDOC Week. I also hope not to be doing much talking today, rather having a nice relaxing afternoon listening to our oral history collections and I do hope that the selection of interviews today inspires you to explore our oral history collections and possibly as well go out into - back home, record your own oral histories as well.
So to give you a brief overview of our collection the National Library has been collecting oral histories since the early 1950s. Since then our collection has grown to well over 48,000 hours of recordings and we’re reaching up to 50,000 hours of recording soon and we have about 1,300 hours’ worth of recordings each year. The collection’s also very diverse with interviews spanning across eminent Australians, social history, folklore and environmental sounds, either done out in the field or here at the National Library. I thought I’d show this image which you’ve probably seen in the promotional material leading up to the event but it sort of gives you an idea of how far we’ve gone in terms of recording equipment today.
So we started off with using reel to reel recorders, those intimidating-looking boxes sitting on the top of the shelf there and we moved on to smaller and smaller equipment with the recordings using digital audiotapes and then more recently using electronic recorders that save directly onto hard drives. This being said nearly all of our collection’s now in some form of digital format, around 90% of it and this has been through the addition of born digital content with our latest recorders and also digitising our analogue tapes as well.
Early recordings in our collection came from external sources donated to the Library so similar how pictures and manuscripts are collected and – but however we did begin our interviewing program in 1970, contracting interviewers and occasionally our own staff to conduct interviews either out on the field or in our studios and you would have seen a picture of our studio pop up there a few moments ago. Today a large proportion of our interviews are now collected this way so we’ve gone from collecting donated material to creating our own new interviews and content.
We also have a very flexible access arrangement system which is quite important to point out where access is determined by the interviewees and this gives them the security and freedom to speak freely and frankly in their interviews and I suppose it’s as bit of a disclosure, the interviews that we are listening to today, access has been granted by interviewees for public use.
So the large grey box that you see up there belonged to Hazel de Berg so that’s the grey and red box up there. Hazel de Berg’s collection – recordings form one of the largest parts of the oral history collection and she mainly interviewed artists, writers and other significant figures. Her recording style was quite unique in that she removed herself completely from her recordings, letting the interviewees speak and it makes it sounds like a monologue and we’ll be listening to one of those in a moment.
So the interview that I’d like to share with you is Jack Davis’ interview by Hazel de Berg. So around the same time that Hazel was recording oral histories it was also a period of change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We were coming up to the 1967 referendum and activism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights was sort of reaching a critical moment at that time even though we have been activists and protesting and pursuing rights since quite early from the 1910s all the way through the ‘30s. The most notable association of course during that period was FCAATSI, the Federal Council of the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and also the state bodies here, the Aboriginal Advancement Councils.
So in 1970 Hazel de Berg interviewed poet and playwright, Jack Davis. Jack was born in Perth in 1917 and he was the fourth eldest in a family of 10. When his father died his family moved to the Moree River settlement north of Perth where Jack was planning to train in farmwork. When this didn’t eventuate he left for work to work in the timber mills up north and then became a truck driver for the Metropolitan Water Board in Perth. So when Hazel was interviewing him he had quit from the Water Board and worked with the Aboriginal Advancement Council in the 1960s and he became the West Australian State Secretary in 1969. So we’ll listen to him sharing his thoughts with Hazel about working with the Advancement Council and also a few recollections about his work.
The Aboriginal Advancement Council - that is the group for whom I work now fulltime – wanted somebody to work for them in a fulltime capacity and they thought that I could fit the bill. I think I have, I have worked hard for them, I have suffered a heart attack since I have worked for them, the pressure of work etc – not so much the pressure of work but more the pressure I think of seeing so much degradation, so much misery, so much heartbreak amongst Aborigines and not being able to get anything done constructively or quickly enough to save these people from jail, from all the things which white society do to them.
The danger of the Aboriginal Advancement Council is –
End of recording
R: We’ll just go back, technology. So to put the words into context the interview was conducted a few years after he became the Secretary of the Aboriginal Advancement Council so he’s reflecting on things that he achieved in the Council but also commenting about the amount of work that still needed to be done. And this is also the strength of oral histories, I believe, in which we can capture perspectives and ideas and reflections that may not be readily done so in a diary or a letter or a manuscript.
So you did see a little bit of a preview of that one when we clicked across but to contrast with Jack’s interview I’d like to play a small part of Joe McGuinness’ interview with Lloyd Hollingsworth in the Bringing Them Home oral history project. Joe was part of the stolen generations, being removed from his mother when he was five and he was placed in the Kahlin compound in Darwin and was subsequently released in 1924 to live with his sister. His experience with racist policies at the time sped him to become an activist for the rights of Aboriginal Australians. He was a President of the Federal Council of the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at the time and one of the key figures in bringing forth the 1967 referendum. So the picture here comes from the Canberra Times and we can see Joe there shaking hands with Robert Menzies so this was taken in 28th of September 1963 with the whole FCAATSI delegation and we’ll hear a bit about Joe recounting the meeting with Robert Menzies.
Joe: But you know we got <inaudible> 12:22 and Chassie and all over the place, I wasn’t the only one doing it, you know? Kathy Walker and all them, just making it aware and then when the referendum come on well our campaign must have been successful because it was about 92% of the population voted for us. I think the government at the time you know was at oh let them go ahead and they’ve been you know waited long enough and they won’t win it anyhow, you know? And when we got 92% they had a different thought.
Interviewer: That was the Liberal Country Party Government then, wasn’t it?
Interviewer: That was the Liberal Country Party Government then?
Joe: I think Holt was there and I met Mr Menzies and Kath got <inaudible> 13:30. We’ll have a look at it after.
Interviewer: You met Mr Menzies?
Joe: Yeah. Not only me but there was a deputation from all over Australia, you know? I had photos of that and that’d be the one thing you can see if you dig up them photos out of the archives with the blooming whatsit.
Interviewer: Out of the Institute?
Interviewer: Out of the Institute in Canberra?
Joe: The Times, the Canberra Times, you know?
Interviewer: Right, yes.
Joe: Yes. About ’63 or something like that.
Interviewer: How did you find Menzies?
Interviewer: How did you find Menzies?
Joe: Oh alright and listened to us. Sat down with us and Kathy was giving a bit of a speech here and referred to some of the troubles, white man poisoning beer and that. <inaudible> 14:36 when we finished our interview he – oh I’ll go out into the – onto the veranda down and have some light refreshments and he looked at old Kathy Walker and said you can have some fun white man’s poison too if you want to. Kathy said oh you get into trouble, you know?
End of recording
R: So it’s a very personal sort of recount of what – particularly if you do read the article online, this article is available up online on Trove, it’s a very dry report about the meeting and what happened. So in – so probably you could tell the interview was a lot more conversational compared with the early recording with Jack but also it is an opportunity to hear a very raw and personal insight and a very amusing insight too about details that may not be recorded in the newspapers or from personal recounts there, particularly with Kath sort of telling Robert Menzies that he’d get in trouble if – or to provide some context the deputation came from Queensland and of course he would have been jailed at that time for offering alcohol to Aboriginal people so when Kath was mentioning to Menzies that he’d get in trouble with that he could possibly have been arrested up there so particularly with those insights into that.
So an important aspect of our collection is that our interviews are whole of life meaning that we usually conduct these interviews towards the end of a person’s career and you heard that with Joe as well. Naturally being a whole of life interview these recordings can take anywhere up to five hours, even more of recording time.
So to keep in the theme of activism, considering it’s the anniversary of the ’67 referendum and 25 years after Mabo case we’d listen to Pat Turner’s interview with Nikki Henningham. This interview was conducted as part of the Women in Leadership in the Century of Australian Democracy oral history project.
Nikki: By joining government, by helping to implement policy that could be rolled out to help people or did you think yeah your – how did you come upon the idea that the way you could help best would be by working with government?
Pat: Well of course when I first went home and I worked in the Department of the Interior and then in the Department of the Northern Territory when Gough Whitlam was elected and I felt – and then I left because my colleagues were you know happy with me not doing more work for them, I suppose -
Nikki: Yes, that’s what it sounds like.
Pat: Well that’s what it sounded like to me and I felt that they could have done a lot more work with community engagement and not be stuck in the old you know one-on-one counselling, putting a Band-Aid on a problem whereas I was more of a community development activist-type too you know I wanted things to change in the environment.
Nikki: Yeah, you sort of can – it sounds as though in that sort of social work sense you’re actually – you seem to be more interested in the policies that can change things as opposed to that casework –
Pat: Yeah, yeah. And – well the practices that can change this was really what I was more interested in at that stage, doing things differently you know to – and raising awareness so I was a great fan of <inaudible> 18:39 and pedagogy of the oppressed you know and I found that that was illuminating, to take the resources to where the people are and start with where the people were at and you know bilingual, bicultural education you know –
Nikki: It would have been really inspirational.
Pat: It was for me, yeah. And so I just thought all of this stuff was worth you know thing - and it was funny because you know I mean I would get tips from colleagues who were working in other organisations about you know reading more inspiring social action material you know but a lot of it I sought out and we didn’t have the internet and whatever in those days, I can tell you, it was word of mouth or letters or you know –
Nikki: Yeah well that’s what I was – I was trying to get my head around how you would have come up with the idea of actually implementing these practices you know the – and so you’ve explained some of the reading that you were doing but were there – and you mentioned the civil rights you know inspiration through civil rights and I guess – and women’s liberation and so on, were there other people or other books that you were reading that really were sort of nourishing you and giving you that sort of inspiration?
Pat: Well later there were, I was doing a lot of that, I mean I followed the civil rights movement very, very closely as much as I could get any material on. But I also followed you know what Uncle Charlie was doing in Australia in speaking out for Aborigines and so you know it was just a swirl of the need to get things done. There had been the establishment of the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern in Sydney and I saw real benefit in the community-controlled, community-based model because our people just were not getting access to the range of services that the rest of the Australian community took for granted you know there was still in the ‘70s you know blatant racism and discrimination against Aboriginal people accessing services.
You know I mean it wasn’t that long ago that an Aboriginal person, an Aboriginal woman could walk into a dress shop in outback western New South Wales and try on a dress, you know? I mean they were literally frowned upon for even daring to walk into a shop. You know? And see I knew all these stories and how thing – I mean you know I’d go home after the school holidays and whatever, right? And I’d say let’s go in here and have a cappuccino. Oh no, you can’t go in there. I say why not? Oh no, only white people go in there - bugger the bloody people, our money’s just as good as theirs, let’s go. I’d drag them in. You know? I never had – you know why? Because I was Arrente, my grandmother was a very important and highly respected woman, my father was Arrente, I knew who I was and I knew who my people were. So I was absolutely grounded in my identity and this – and we were on Arrente land, you know? So that was my country.
Nikki: Yeah and I mean that –
Pat: Always has been.
End of recording
R: So as you heard in their interview she had a very strong sense of identity and constant source of strength when facing the challenge of changing the Australian Public Service’s way of thinking about the administration of Aboriginal affairs at the time during the 1980s. Pat was a very – Pat Turner was a very influential figure in the public service and very strong activist who – and amongst other things she was a very influential figure in the service, also became the CEO of the National Indigenous Television Service from 2006 to 2010 and also had a brief stint as the Festival Director of the 5th Festival of Pacific Arts in Townsville in Queensland so worked for a very large variety of different roles. And also as she mentioned, also related to Charlie Perkins, another activist and she did – was quite inspired by him, particularly in terms of her activist work. And also you do hear sort of quite a lot of passion in her voice and a very strong sense of feeling which of course you can’t get in written form so it is a good example of sort of that additional sort of information that you can get from an oral history that you wouldn’t otherwise get in written form.
So in addition to these whole of life interviews we also have interviews focusing on certain themes. So as we heard with Pat Turner her interview was part of a project for focusing on women and leadership. We have other interviews covering a whole range of social topics as the following interview which we’ll be hearing which is about indigenous services – indigenous ex-servicemen and women.
Sue: And I’d to fly to Sydney on whatever the date was, 18th of October 1961 or something so the day I joined the army, I joined the army with another Perth girl who was escaping alcoholic parents.
Interviewer: Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal?
Sue: Both non-Aboriginal. And another young non-Aboriginal girl who just wanted a bit of adventure, and twins whose father was a policeman, a sergeant at Collie. Now –
Interviewer: Was the army actively recruiting a lot of women at this stage?
Sue: Yeah, the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps. So I’m still friends with them all, all these years later and I see the twins on ANZAC Day, one marches and one doesn’t. Isn’t that funny? So off we went on this great adventure and Sister Kate reluctantly took me to the airport, I’d never been on a plane, I didn’t even know where Sydney was. And we were all frightened, we had our worldly possessions in our suitcase and we were put on this plane to Sydney by the army and met by the army and then the yelling and jumping around started at Middle Head in Mosman in New South Wales – prime real estate now. And it – I didn’t find it difficult ‘cause I’d been brought up in an institution and you get six weeks when you first join the army, if they liked you or you didn’t like them you can go and no-one was you know to suffer.
And I just found it rather good because the meals weren’t bad, they paid me, they gave me a uniform, the girls were okay, they were just like kids from Sister Kate’s and in the six weeks we were there three or four girls went home because they couldn’t handle it but my mate, Lyn, and I, because we both had office backgrounds, the army asked you where would you like to go? What are these choices? But you don’t actually get a choice, they just send you anyway but it looks nice that you’re asked <inaudible> 26:17. So we got sent to Signals in Victoria which was then called 403 Sig regiment so – you got to stop if you’re asking next questions.
Interviewer: Well I was actually going to ask you can you tell me a bit more about the training? Beca – I’m curious, what sort of training the women received as opposed to training that men would have received.
Sue: Okay so we had six weeks’ training at Middle Head in Mosman in New South Wales, we learnt how to march, we learnt how to salute the goal post because you have to practise saluting. You learnt the army history, military history, you learnt how to spit and polish your shoes, you learnt how to do heavy domestic work – well that wasn’t anything new, I’d already done that. And –
Interviewer: Domestic work for the army like sewing uniforms and –
Sue: No, no, cleaning, cooking, those sort of things but because - and then you learnt all about the facts of life.
Interviewer: So –
End of recording
R: We can play the full interview a bit later if you want to hear all juicy details and this one is up online so if you wanted to hear about the full details you’re more than welcome to do so. So the interview that we did here there was of Sue Gordon talking about her training in the army. She was born in 1944 at Bell’s Station, Western Australia and was separated from her mother when she was four and raised at Sister Kate’s home like she mentioned. When she left school there she joined the Australian Defence Force and worked for the Signals Division between 1961 and 1964. After her career in the army she worked for many administrative regions, most notably in the Pilbara region in Aboriginal Affairs and amongst many things she was also the first Aboriginal person to head a government department and the first Aboriginal magistrate in Western Australia.
So our collection not only records interviews with these eminent Australians but also recording the experience and memories of people who share a particular background or experience. These interviews are about covering significant social trends and conditions in Australia. So one of the most well-known of these projects, particularly with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, is the Bringing Them Home report and that’s the front cover of the report there.
So the project was undertaken in response to the Bringing Them Home report in December 1997 and the project ran from 1998 to 2002 and recorded the experiences and stories of not only people who were affected by the process of child removals but also people involved with it so managers out on the reserves, police officers, social workers. So first the project started off with a pilot of 30 interviews but by the end we recorded more than 330 stories, many of which are now online and they’re also shared through our book, Many Voices. Unfortunately it’s out of print but you may be able to find a copy and it also comes with a little CD where you can listen to the interviews that are featured in the book.
Also in 2008 after the apology to the stolen generations we revisited some of the people that were interviewed in this project and that formed the Bringing Them Home After the Apology project and it mainly focused on people sharing their views of the apology and their opinions of that.
Another project worth mentioning as well which is still ongoing is the Seven Years On project. It began in 1995 and follow the life histories of Aboriginal leaders every seven years. The aim there is to capture the views, opinions, current work and expectations of our elders. And this is still ongoing, we’ve – I had a look on the catalogue yesterday and I did notice that there was one interview that popped up which was recorded this year so it is still ongoing and we’re still keeping in touch with those people and hearing their stories.
We also have other small collections as well focusing on activists for indigenous rights as well as the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and also community leaders in Arnhem Land. And as well there are other recordings also peppered throughout in our folklore recordings of musicians – and we’ll be hearing a few of those at the moment, particularly a few recordings from the Bringing Them Home project as well.
So getting back to Margie’s introduction and our theme this year of Our Languages Matter I’d like to share with you three small snippets from three very separate interviews in our collection where our language is spoken. So the other thing with oral history is that it is one of our oldest forms of sharing knowledge and sharing language and particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people it is very important in terms of sharing culture, language, songs. So – and of course this is why we’re celebrating NAIDOC Week this year with the theme of Our Languages Matter. So if you attended Shannon’s talk earlier in the week, Shannon covered our manuscripts collections and the many language materials that we do have in that particular collection.
Whilst language lists, notes inscribed in a diary or otherwise provide a good starting block for reintroducing language and learning about language you do lose the ability of understanding how words sound either through them not being listed phonetically or through European interpretations of it. So having oral histories where people are speaking language is I believe definitely quite important, particular that it’s from people who may not be using it every day but do use the language and definitely have an opportunity to hear how things are pronounced. So definitely I might be preaching to the converted there.
So similar to manuscripts as I mentioned these tend to be sort of peppered throughout the different interviews. The three interviews that I will be showing, one’s from the Bringing Them Home After the Apology project and one from the Bringing Them Home oral history project, and another one from Rob Willis’ folklore collection which forms another big part of our collections here at the Library.
So the first one I thought I’d start off with is with Roy Barker and he was interviewed by Rob Willis. So in this snippet Roy shares some songs with Rob in his language. Unfortunately the catalogue doesn’t specifically specify what language it is but he was living out at Brewarrina and Lightning Ridge at the time so it’s possibly Kamilaroi but if any of you are a linguist expert in the audience here definitely if you can pick it up and you do know the language, do let us know, it would be great to update the catalogue record with that and identify what language it is.
Roy: Brethren, this is what applied to the endangered songs that were sung in my view.
Rob: Did Janet Matthews record any of those from your dad, do you know?
Roy: I’m not too sure, he did sing some songs, yeah, he recorded a few Aboriginal songs.
Rob: Must go back and visit those tapes –
Roy: Yeah, no, he did, yeah and he translates the tape of those songs into English which are very good and I’m not too sure how many songs he sang but you know we picked up a few of the songs that these guys used to sing.
Rob: Did you?
Roy: Mm, yeah. And – but you know just spasmodically I suppose if that’s the word, that – forget some of the words and you know he knew the tunes and things like that but –
Rob: Could you give us one of those or it wouldn’t be appropriate?
Roy: Well one goes [recites song words]. And the words in English, if you see [Boogana] 35:13 – that’s the tribal name of the girl - tell her that I love her. And so that was one that we knew you know a little bit of and the tune was pretty good. [sings]. It certainly had a tune to those songs, oh yeah and things like that. And I’ll have to you know try and record one myself somewhere on my own, be able to fill it out –
Rob: Please, yeah.
Roy: - and you know you’re not too sure of the words and things like that and – but we knew a few words that picked up sentences you know from these –
End of recording
R: So Roy Barker was an elder in the Koori community in far western New South Wales. As mentioned he was raised on Brewarrina Mission and he now lives in Lightning Ridge. He’s established himself as well as a maker of traditional indigenous weapons and conducts a tourist complex out there sharing culture and in the interview with Rob, language as well and songs.
The next one I’d like to share is also with Rob Willis, Harold Cole and that’s in Rob Willis’ folklore collection. So Harold talks in Wiradjuri and he also shares with Rob his opinions on the loss of language and a few words that have been retained and he speaks to them in Wiradjuri and provides language translation too.
Harold: I think we had a role to play in the loss of it too, I think, Rob, I think somewhere down the line you know it just – it faded out, I mean we – I think even some of us can sit back and you know knew some of the words you know but not to be able to do full sentences or have a conversation in our language and I think that’s basically what we would love to be able to do, is to sit down and have a full conversation in our own you know our own language. But we’ve maintained certain words you know we’ve got our own words for the police, for white people –
Rob: Could I ask you what that was?
Harold: The police, what do we call them? There’s a couple of – the gunyons, we call them the gunyons. Some parts of the Wiradjuri country call them burrabadowan. What else we got? Of course there’s the word for whitefella, is the gubba, yeah, the gubba –
Rob: That’s quite common –
Harold: Yeah, right across, yeah.
Rob: Yeah, right across.
Harold: For women, what are they? Malags, malags. Kids, boroys. Yeah, what else have we got? Yeah, a lot of the words. Dogs, miriga.
Harold: Yeah, telling lies, boora, yeah.
Rob: It’s an interesting one, I’ve copped that from a couple of them, they’re describing certain people. It’s sort of been a bit of a storyteller sometime –
Harold: Yeah, oh yeah, we got a lot of storytellers in our midst, yeah, tell a lot of booras, yeah. Or yamil, yamil, lie, that’s the same thing, yamil. Yeah, someone wants to say anything and you say yamil, it means oh, you’re telling lies, yeah. Yeah you know don’t yamil, don’t lie, same thing, yeah. Boora, telling boora, yeah.
Rob: And some of those words like in your –
Harold: A lot of the words –
Rob: - general conversation so that there was a – like a language within that area.
Rob: I mean there’d be a lot of things that you could say that the whitefella wouldn’t –
Harold: You wouldn’t understand, yeah, that’s right, there is and - yeah, you need to be careful, though because you can do that. There’s nothing more irritating than – even today and we sit down and say in the middle of Sydney and you – you know say some of the Asians are talking in their language and you don’t know whether they’re sitting there talking about you or what, they’re saying anything about you but the same thing can be said for some of our people sitting there talking about that so – yeah, you need to be careful, I think, it’s got to do with respect but I mean the day –
Rob: Yeah but still it’s –
Harold: - days –
Rob: it’s important and that some of this unique culture.
Harold: It would be terrific to resurrect it, to able to resurrect the language.
Rob: Even segments of it, yeah.
Harold: Segments of it and even when you get back to a situation where we can sit down among ourselves and have a decent conversation in our own language and that would be terrific and I know that in a lot of parts of the country they’re doing that. And as I mentioned to you before there, Rob, good friend of mine, Greg McKellar, out at Bourke has sort of started a campaign in resurrecting the language.
Rob: What’s – is that a Wiradjuri –
Harold: No, no, Bourke –
Rob: I was going to say it’s a little bit far.
Harold: It’s a bit too far out. It’s showing my ignorance now, not knowing what that region is –
Rob: No, it’s alright, I’ve got –
Harold: And he’s developed it in such a way now that they can actually go in and teach it in schools and broadcast it across the indigenous radio network that they’ve got in Bourke so –
Rob: I think Stan Grant’s been coming up –
Harold: I think Stan’s done a lot of work, lot of work in the Wiradjuri region and his brother, poor old Cecil passed –
Rob: Oh yeah.
Harold: - Cecil Grant has passed on. He actually come from [Konda] 41:08 and he was instrumental in you know getting Stan to go and do a lot of that and Stan’s done some terrific work. And as I understand it Stan’s doing a pretty good job out in the regions.
Rob: Yeah, he’s doing the schools here.
Harold: And that –
Rob: That’s another reason I got onto this project.
Harold: And that’s terrific to see, and Stan’s doing a terrific job.
Rob: I rang him and he was most encouraging –
Harold: He’s doing a good job, Stan.
Rob: - what was going on. Talking about religion I won’t –
End of recording
R: Sorry, I’m having a bit of trouble with technology today. But Harold was also one of the residents of the Murray, an indigenous [settlement] 41:53 near Condobolin in New South Wales, and it was one of the last self-managed reserves in New South Wales. And Rob had a particularly small project and focusing on residents from the area during that time and Harold was one of those people who was interviewed in there.
So finally the last one I’d like to share with you in terms of languages is Rita Boxer who’s interviewed by David Gate in the Bringing Them Home oral history project. Rita was also one of – part of the stolen generations, being removed with her younger brother and sister to the [Kanibla] 42:26 Lutheran Mission in South Australia. She shares with David some words in Goodooga – sorry, I might have mispronounced that – and David also speaks back to her in Pitjantjatjara. And also sort of I suppose in terms of the effects of stolen generations being removed Rita does share some thoughts about culture and sort of that interruption between her mother teaching her about her culture and language.
David: Just resuming the interview with Auntie Rita, Auntie Rita, did you – your language, did you know any of your language and what was it?
Rita: Goodooga, yeah.
David: And you could speak this?
Rita: Not much. Long time ago we used to. You know when kids talk the language.
David: And you learnt it from –
Rita: Mum. Pulya.
Rita: Pulya means good, pulya, good.
David: In Pitjantjatjara too, muta pulya, muta pulya.
Rita: I don’t know Pitjantjatjara. [Speaks in language].
David: That’s good. What about any of your mother’s culture? Anything – did she pass on to you?
Rita: Nothing. Nothing at all. I often sit and think about them things to myself and talk.
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So there’s three very different interviews there and across a wide range there. But also as you heard, even though despite language being lost and culture being lost particularly with Harold talking with Rob there is a huge push and – to sort of reintroduce languages back into communities and teach that language back to younger generations and bring that back into communities and – and not just for Aboriginal people but also for non-Aboriginal people as well.
So I do hope today’s collection talk does inspire you to go downstairs to our Special Collections Reading Room and listen to some of our oral histories there or also go home and listen to them online. As I mentioned with Sue Gordon’s interview I do note a few people wanted to hear a few more details about that one. These are all available online or you can request them if you’re a registered member of the Library.
For those of you that like to undertake your own recordings there are a number of places you can go to contact and learn more about undertaking your own oral histories. One of them up on the board is the Oral History Australia which provides great advice on how to conduct oral histories, they also provide details on courses offered at Australian universities and vocational training centres.
To lastly to bring today’s full circle I’ll sort of end where we started with Jack Davis and he has some wise words to part – particularly in regards to the last recordings we heard.
Jack: I have a feeling, I think, a great feeling for Aboriginal culture and when we’re talking in terms of Aboriginal culture I’m talking in terms of Aboriginal song, Aboriginal rhythm which is really Aboriginal poetry because the Aborigines did have poetry in the prose form, their dances, the skills which many are fast losing right throughout the land and I have a feeling that if we don’t do something about this we can lose all of it. Tapes are useless, I think these must be handed down and must be learnt in schools, that white kids and Aboriginal kids must participate in the dances and in the songing and in the miming so that it can be carried on. Now this is done in New Zealand. In fact in New Zealand you can get a thesis just by learning a Maori language but white authority in Australia has degraded the Aborigine to such an extent that he has told him that to be a blackfella is the lowest thing on earth and you must forget your own language. And this is exactly what has happened in a lot of cases in Australia and what organisations such as mine and the Federal Council for Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders is we want to save what we can of what culture is left and see that it is carried on and taught into schools where it can be learnt, studied, understood by white and black children in Australia.
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R: And to provide context again that recording was done back in the 1970s and fortunately we do have a lot of places, communities and lands councils that are focusing on their own languages in their own areas and also national groups as well such as First Languages Australia. The group here works on various projects to reintroduce and promote first languages back into our local communities and I definitely encourage you to pop on their website and have a check of what projects are doing. And also if you’ve come from interstate or even here in Canberra you can have a check on the map there and check to see if there’s a local project going on in your area and getting involved in that.
So with that that concludes today’s talk and thank you very much for coming out and definitely if you did have any questions feel free to come up to the front and we can have a chat and – definitely. But of course have a listen to our oral history interviews in the Library, they are fantastic and wonderful resources, definitely so I hope you have a wonderful rest of NAIDOC Week and do hope to see you at next coming events around the area here. Thank you.
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