I am an Australian woman of mixed decent. I have always known my Aboriginal heritage. Although I didn’t grow up with culture at home, from a young age I have been an active and proud member of my Indigenous community. I have my extended family, friends and their families to thank for sharing cultural knowledge and values with me. I am the youngest of five children; I have three sisters and one brother and not all of them feel a connection to their Aboriginal heritage as I do. They simply say they are Australian. For me, being Aboriginal is an important part of my identity.
I like to describe myself as a modern day Murri. Murri is a urban word meaning Aboriginal from Queensland. This may seem an anomalous term because Queensland, as a region, never existed before white settlement but it is a contemporary label that my community has embraced. There were once over one hundred different Aboriginal nations in Queensland. Each nation had different languages and/or dialects and maintained stories from their particular country or land. Over time old boundaries have been destroyed by deforestation and development and government policies have physically and spiritually dispossessed Aboriginal people from their land. I proudly identify as a Murri because my Aboriginal ancestors are from Queensland.My great grandfather, Roy, was born at Nanango, in the South Burnett region of Queensland in 1901. Daisy, my great grandmother, was born on Boomarra Station, north of Cloncurry, in 1900. Each had their young lives affected by state removal orders. The Queensland Government removed Roy, aged 13, from Taabinga Station near Nanango to Purga Mission near Ipswich in the south-east of the state in 1914. He was enrolled at the Mission school in 1914 and later sent out to work when he was 16-years-old. At the age of 20, Daisy was removed from the Hillcoat’s family home at Teneriffe in Brisbane and taken to Purga Mission. Roy and Daisy met there and were married in 1924, at the Purga Mission Salvation Army Church. Roy, Daisy and my grandmother Gwen, aged 13 months, left Purga Mission after Roy gained his exemption certificate on the 25 March 1926.
The Chief Protector granted exemption certificates to select ‘half-casts’ who demonstrated the capacity to survive in mainstream society. This certificate allowed integration, however, it did not permit holders to demonstrate culture in any form; which meant language, traditional knowledge, stories and connections to country, were lost. It also prohibited any interaction with their Aboriginal extended family and friends. There were police monitoring of exemptees to ensure the conditions of the certificate were obeyed as the exemption certificate could be revoked by the state at any time.
I am grateful to my aunty, Judi Wickes, as she has researched our family history and furthered my learning and understanding of how history has impacted my cultural identity. You can read her thesis ‘Never really heard of it’: the certificate of exemption and lost identity’ online at http://epress.anu.edu.au/aborig_history/indigenous_biog/mobile_devices/ch06s03.html