Indigenous biographies redress ‘cult of forgetfulness’ in Australian history

A new project led by The Australian National University (ANU) will help address hundreds of years of silence on Indigenous Australians who have helped shape the nation and its history.

That includes Turandurey, an Aboriginal woman carrying her four-year-old daughter on her shoulders who was instrumental to the colonial expedition exploring the confluence of the Darling and Murray rivers in 1836.

While many would know the name of Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General who led the expedition from Sydney, few would have heard of Turandurey, a young Aboriginal mother who took on the task of guiding Mitchell’s party to fresh water and food sources when older aboriginal men refused. 

The story of Turandurey and her daughter, Ballandella, are among 25 new biographies of notable Indigenous figures in Australian history researched, documented and published by the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) at ANU. 

Turandurey’s talent for expressive communication and translation was noted by Mitchell, who watched her communicate with other Indigenous groups as well take on the role of intermediary and translator between two individuals forbidden by custom to interact directly. 

Turandurey’s biography says: “Mitchell considered his ‘party fortunate in having met with such an interpreter’.”

Indigenous historian, Dr Shino Konishi from the University of Western Australia is leading the project to create 200 new Indigenous biographies for the ADB. 

She says the work redresses the “great Australian silence” in the writing of Australian history – a phrase coined by esteemed Australian anthropologist Bill Stanner, an appointee to ANU in 1949. 

“Stanner identified this absence of the Indigenous contribution to Australia’s history. This was reflected in the ADB’s first volumes which contained just eight Indigenous biographies in its 1966 and ’67 volumes,” Dr Konishi said.

“We’re aiming to re-populate today’s ADB with Indigenous biographies so they number 400 for a stand-alone Indigenous volume of the ADB. 

“There are very few written accounts of Aboriginal women acting as guides during the colonial era, but we know it did happen. 

“Usually, there are only passing references to the Aboriginal guides, so Turandurey’s biography was an important one to publish as it brings some balance to the ADB’s representation of women as well as Indigenous people.” 

Other new biographies include Aboriginal women who were revered in local communities as matriarchs and knowledge holders, but were marginalised in the ADB like Boandik woman Annie Brice, who defended her and others’ rights and Palawa woman Woretemoeteryenner, also known as Mrs Briggs, and afforded a status not usually given to Aboriginal women who bore children to colonial men.

The impact of frontier violence is also illustrated through the life stories of police officer and Gamilaraay man John Bungarie, as well as Yugara father and son, Old Moppy and Multuggerah who led resistance in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley.

Twentieth-century individuals include Ngarrindjeri community leader and soldier Roland Wenzel Carter, who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and spent two years in a German prisoner of war camp, and rugby league player and resident at the Gully in the Blue Mountains, Walter ‘Jacky’ Brooks

 

FOR INTERVIEW: 
Dr Malcolm Allbrook
 
Managing Editor, National Centre of Biography 
ANU Research School of Social Science  
College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: +61 2 6125 4455
M: +61 418 926 985  
E:  malcolm.allbrook@anu.edu.au

Dr Shino Konishi 
University of Western Australia   
M:  +61 410 151 356 
E:  shino.konishi@uwa.edu.au 

 
To arrange interviews, contact Jane Faure-Brac on +61 459  852 243 or the ANU Media Team on +61 2 6125 7979 or at media@anu.edu.au
 

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