It was uncovered through my mother's extensive research, into our family tree. As she was part of the Forgotten Australians (institutional care for children, due to families, living in poverty) she was now, allowed access to government records, kept about her family.
After quite a long and involved search on her part, she finally received confirmation of what she suspected all along. Her grandmother, was an Indigenous Australian. The people she had worked with tracking down records, said it was the most complete and longest running family tree, they had on record, of Aboriginal descent in Australia, to date.
Mayor of Geelong (J C King) 1922-1923
Why was it so hard to find all this information, when the other part of my family tree, couldn't be more English? My great grandfather, was the Mayor of Geelong, in Victoria (Joseph Charles King) for example. The reason why we knew nothing about the diversity of our family tree, is because when Australian government was new, it was also in the process of occupying an existing culture.
In forming our nation's identity, early on, policies took into consideration English descent alone. The new White Australia policy, demonstrated just this, by applying restrictions on immigrants. Indigenous populations, didn't even factor into the White Australia policy - as their work simply wasn't recognised as requiring pay, like immigrant workers were.
Many Indigenous worked for food and board only, others were given government rations as they lived out their natural lives on reserves and missions, having been evicted from their lands. These government rations were starting to show tooth decay, and skeletal deformities in their young, for the first time in their history. As research had been conducted on their pristine health, before and after, government rations were applied.
These new illnesses showing up in their children, was attributed to the Aboriginal lifestyle and perceived neglect. Which brought about other restrictive policy on their culture. What we now term as the Stolen Generation, were acts passed in various levels of government, which allowed children of mixed heritage to be legally removed from their Aboriginal family, either by State, Federal or church missions, and placed into institutional care.
Some tried to speak out, like the father of my great grandfather (J C King) who was a missionary. He wrote a letter, asking to allow the aboriginal people to maintain their own autonomy from government. Noting, how it was important to maintaining their culture, and survival in general.
All these policies of a new nation however, became my invisible family story. It became both my connection and my disconnection to the land and its people. We never knew my grandfather was part of the Stolen Generation, or that my great grandmother, was Indigenous. Not for nearly 40 years of my life and 60 years of my mothers. Because they were never told in stories, or put on display as proud photographs of where we came from. Instead, they were locked away in dusty government archives, waiting for one determined lady - to put all the pieces back together.
The only reason I can write about this story now, is because of my mother's desire to connect the pieces together. A quality more telling of our Indigenous roots, than our English ones. Because Indigenous culture, without exception, connected the individual to family - to the landscape and to the animals. Everything was connected on a far greater scale, than just the one point of view. My English roots however, only ever told one story. Their own.
I cannot be that singular point of view any more. When you learn a part of your family, was hidden in the shadow of the other side of your family, the question naturally arises - well, who are you? The land I'm connected to, helped to answer that one.
Thankfully, others have also started the process of changing the conversation, for our nation, too. The former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, in 2008, gave a formal apology to the Stolen Generation - and then, to the Forgotten Australians. Note; this applies to two generations of my family, even though both had little understanding at the time, why they were apart from their families. But the ball is rolling towards acknowledgement and change now.
Wouldn't it be great if it ended there? But surely there's another apology, our nation needs to make, in great earnest. The way we form our government policy needs to reflect this also. For the great disconnect for all of us (Australians, and the rest of the world) is the disconnect with the landscape, and the diversity of life we all share it with. How can we talk about "our' food and "our" people, when we don't even acknowledge the land as anything but a trophy to hang our list of accomplishments on? We fight over it, draw our boundaries through it, but we never recognise with great reverence, how lucky we are to have it, or that anyone before us, has preserved it with great intellect and patience.
Mending the rifts of the past with each other, is important for our nation. But the land has always been part of our story too, and its time to see it as something other than, what we conquered and grew wealthy upon. It needs our recognition, to see it as part of our family again. Allowing it to be what it is, without diminishing it, to our singular point of view any more.
All the pieces, connect. Without them, we'll always have this question mark, hanging over our heads. How can we reverse a process of conquest, and start telling a different story though?
Well, there are some already leading the charge, but more about that, in part 3.