Aborigines and Heroes
These are eight Australian and Tasmanian Aboriginals that have made a lasting impression on me with their determination to pursue reconciliation of Aborigines and whites through government, first contact interactions, sports, music, fine arts, writing, and acting.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Fine Artist
b. 1910 - d. 1996
Emily Kame Kngwarreye was born in Alhalkere and grew up in an isolated desert town among the Aborigines. In the late 1980s she began to paint on canvas and contained the rest of her life. Previously, she had mastered batik and had worked as a livestock hand
As an artist, she worked in her remote region of Central Australia, very hot and dusty, surrounded by camp dogs. She often painted their paw prints in her works. She quickly became a Senior in the Utopian Art Movement, Utopia being her community that produced many Aboriginal artists.
Emily had only a crude studio, under a piece of corrugated steel or a lean-to of tree branches. Self-taught and a primitive style painter, she had been compared to the great masters of fine arts. She painted from her experience and her own particular Dreamtime. In 1993 she won the prestigious Australian Artists Creative fellowship.
When asked to describe her mystic-looking pieces, she said that they were "everything." The style is adapted from sand and body painting used for ceremonies.
The Utopian Art Movement
- Aboriginal Paintings from the Central Desert
Anmatyerre and Alyawarre living in the Utopia region are the first inhabitants of Australia, living there for likely over 40,000 years.
Neville Bonner - Statesman
b. 1922 - d. 1999
Although Mr. Neville Bonner completed only one year of formal education, he was elected Senator to the Federal Parliament of Australia for Queensland in 1971 and served through 1983. In this position, he strove tirelessly for reconciliation between Aboriginals and other Australians.
In 1979, Senator Bonner became one of three Australians of the Year.
Bonner worked for social reforms and civil rights as soon as he was able to do so. He had lived 16 years on the Palm Island Aboriginal Reserve as an adult. Earlier he lived under a shrub with his mother at his grandparents house and had left as a teenager that was looking for a better life after the female heads died. In the era in which he was born, Aborigines legally had to be out of the city by sunset and back on the reserve and this was repressive.
Aborigines could not vote legally until 1967 and had not been counted in the national census up until that time.
Mr. Bonner crossed the Parliament floor and voted against his own party 23 times for the greater good of the people and finally became an Independent. After serving in congress, he became a board member of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His written works include Black Power in Australia; Equal World, Equal Share; and For the Love of Children.
Ernie Dingo - Actor
Bron in 1956, this gentleman is form the Oondamooroo tribe in Australia, Ernie Dingo's grandfather was called Dingo Jim, because his occupation was dingo hunter. The whole family decided to take Dingo as their family name.
Dingo began a professional career in the Middar Aboriginal Dance Theatre in 1978 and in television, including comedy, beginning in 1985. He is the Recipient of the Banff Television Festival special prize and the Australian Film Institute Award for 1990.
Mr. Dingo was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1990 for his work.
Ernie Dingo's Major Films:
- Tudawali, 1985;
- The Fringe Dwellers, 1986;
- Crocodile Dundee 2, 1988 (as Charlie);
- State of Shock, 1989;
- Until the End of the World, 1991;
- Blackfellas, 1993;
- Mr. Electric, 1993; and
- Bran Nue Dae, 2010.
Cathy Freeman - Athlete
b. 1973 as Catherine Astrid Salome Freeman
Track star Cathy Freeman's grandfather, Frank Fisher, had been a rugby player. This set a precedent for sports competition that she pursued with vigor and determination. She was a winner on and off the track, pursuing her dream even though she was plagued by prejudice for her Aboriginal heritage. Cathy had been jeered in school when she won track events against white participants. When She worked for the postal service, some people refused to let her serve them, because of her race. This was the 1980s, but sounds like 1950s America. However, Freeman persevered.
Despite these racially-based atrocities, Freeman pursued track and field and made the Australian Olympic Team. She went on to win the 2000 Sydney Olympics Gold Medal in the 400m track event. Thus, not only did an Aborigine light the Olympic Torch, an Aborigine won a Gold Medal for Australia.
Previously, she won the 100m at the 1990 Commonwealth Games at about age 17 and the 200m at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. In the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games in 1996, she garnered Silver in the 400m. Cathy won two World Championships for the 400m in 1997 and in 1999. She ran again for Australia in the Commonwealth Games in 2002, winning with her team in the 4 x 400 relay and retired in 2003 around the age of 30.
In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Cathy ran in a blue body suit with shoes in the official Aboriginal colors as a statement. Previously, in the 1994 Commonwealth Games, she took a victory lap, carrying the Aboriginal flag over her shoulder first and later adding the Australian flag. Audience reaction was most positive and she received 5000+ faxes of praise, one from the Australian Prime, Minister Paul Keating.
Freeman next ran a victory lap with the Aboriginal flag at the 1997 World Championships. In the following year, 1998, she was named Australian of the Year. At the 1999 World Championships, she took her victory lap with the Australian flag.
Cathy carried the Olympic Flame into the Stadium during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics and lit the Cauldron. She did this despite some mild protests globally from those prejudiced against Aboriginal Peoples. Freeman's successful delivery of the flame into the stadium and to its final repository in the Olympic Cauldron marked the beginning of a new respect for Aborigines in Australia.
Mandawuy Yunupingu - Singer and Principal
Lead Singer for the popular band Yothu Yindi since 1985 when he founded the group. The band combines Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members with success and harmony. Yothu Yindi is a kinship term representing mother and child.
Mandawuy Yunupingu was the very first Australian Aboriginal to become a school principal. He was named Australian of the Year in 2007 for his efforts to reconcile Aboriginals and whites, and performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Racism is a disease in society. We're all equal. I don't care what their colour is, or religion. Just as long as they're human beings they're my buddies.— Mandawuy Yunupingu
b. 1920 - d. 1993
Oodgeroo Noonuccal used the English name Kath Walker until 1988, when she had become a successful poet, author, painter and political activist. She became an advcate for Aboriginals.
In 1964, Oodgeroo Noonuccal published her first book of poems as "Kath Walker", calling it We Are Going. An accomplishment worthy of recognition by any woman in the turbulent 1960s and the fight for human rights and civil rights globally, Oodgeroo Noonuccal had become the first Aboriginal woman to ever be published anywhere.
I’m for all humankind, not colour gibes;
I’m international, and never mind tribes.— Oodganoo Noonuccal in "All One Race"
Evonne Goolagong - Tennis Star at WimbledonClick thumbnail to view full-size
Goolagong was born in 1951 in Griffith, New South Wales into a family that was good at sports. At age 5, her first tennis racket was made from wood from a fruit crate. She stated at age 10 that she was going to win Wimbledon as an adult and she did - twice.
- Australian of the Year 1971
- Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year 1971
- Member of the British Empire 1972
- International Tennis Hall of Fame 1988
As an Aborigine, Goolagong was not permitted to play on tennis courts in Australia. However, someone at a court saw her staring watching games the bushes and invited her in. She was immediately discovered by two tennis coaches as she began playing well that day. Moving to Sydney, she lived and worked with her coach, Victor Edwards, in order to become a champion.
Evonne won a total of 7 Grand Slams: The Australian Open in 1974, 1975, 1976,and 1977, the French Open in 1971, and Wimbledon singles twice (1971,1980); along with other competitions, and retired after 13 years in 1983. All of her trophies are in the National Museum of Australia, Canberra in a special exhibit.
Queen Truganini of Tasmania
Truganina (or Truganini) lived form 1803 through 1876. This Tasmanian was from the Bruny Island tribe south of Hobart. From 1803, the year she was born, until 1830, whites slaughtered 5,000 Black Tasmanian Aborigines and left only 75 remaining. Then she was an aide to the explorer G. A. Robinson, known as the Protector of Aborigines. She helped him to make peaceful contact with the Tasmanians from 1830-1835.
Soon afterward, Truganina traveled with Robinson to Port Phillip to accompany him as he accepted the office of Protector in 1838. After this, she lived in Flinders Island, Oyster Bay, and Hobart, where she died in 1876.
Truganina is rumored to have had five husbands and have outlived them all, indicating a matrilineal society in which heritage is traced through the female line (similar to tracing DNA through female lines).
In the 20thcentury, anthropologists considered Truganina to be the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal alive. However, there was discovered at least one other, per Richard Overell, Monash University, Fanny Cochrane Smith, who lived from 1834-1905.
However, data in the 21st century account for a total of 10,000 Tasmanian Aborigines descended from full-blood women from the Wybalenna people and others. Additional reports of 150,000 Tasmanians include descendants from mixed marriages, according to DNA testing.
Some scientists have believed that Tasmanians were first inhabitants of Australia.
The Tasmanian Aborigines sometimes confuse anthropologists, because they are/were different from Australian Aboriginals and certainly different from New Zealand Maoris and Papua New Guinea Natives.
The Tasmanians, now seemingly extinct in the 21st century, varied in appearance significantly from the mainland Australian Aboriginals. In fact, Tasmanians were thought to be more closely related to the Melanesians.
Considering several other human migration theories, the African group that journeyed across South Australia apparently did not cross the water to Tasmania and their genetic markers have not appeared on that island nation thus far.
Some scientists have believed that Tasmanians were first inhabitants of Australia that were forced off their land by peoples invading from the north. These northern tribes or nations were either descendants of Africans that migrated southeast across India to Oceana or they may have been southern Indian Dravidians, or an intermix of the two peoples and cultures.
During the era in which a land bridge connected Tasmania and Australia, the first Tasmanians, whatever their descent truly was, may have retreated from attacking invader peoples and gone for refuge to Tasmania.
Who the original Tasmanians were is still not fully known.
Questions & Answers
© 2008 Patty Inglish