How indigenous are you?

For my case see my 2011 post Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection:

…my father’s mother, who had a very sad life. According to stories my father and mother told me it is through Henrietta that the family has some Aboriginal ancestry, as I noted back in 2000-2001:

Now Henrietta has been something of a family secret; one story, told me by my father and mother, says she was the illegitimate offspring of an Aboriginal (or part-Aboriginal) farm worker and a widow. You will note my father was nineteen or twenty when she died. My nephew Warren not long ago met a Tharawal Elder named Les Bursill at a gathering in Canberra; Henrietta was a Bursill (variant “Bursell” on some records). So it is possible they were all descendants of the First Australians… About Warren: my brother married his first wife Aileen, Warren’s mother, in 1955. It turns out she too was of Aboriginal descent. See Warren’s excellent account of that family in A Guringai Family’s Story.

There is no doubt about my sister-in-law’s descent from the family of Sophy Bungaree, that is of the family of Bungaree of considerable fame in early colonial history. But what about the Whitfields and the Bursills? I see that Henrietta’s birth certificate names no father, and if then the story I heard is true – and I am quite sure it is – then of course she wasn’t a Bursill at all, which does rather complicate matters. For the moment then we are all assuming Dharawal, but that father could have come from further afield. It is also worth noting that Les Bursill does not trace his Aboriginal roots through his father, but rather through his mother.

Possibly we’ll never know exactly where Henrietta’s natural father came from. The story about her birth was raised with my maternal grandfather, Roy Hampton Christison, when my mother and father became engaged. As my mother told the story, old Charlie  Bursill came and told grandfather Roy about the “touch of the tarbrush” via Henrietta. I do note that Grenville’s 1872 Post Office Directory lists a MRS Bursill as a farmer in Shellharbour. The story is that she had an Aboriginal assistant working for her, and that he, in 1874, was the actual father of Henrietta. He is said to have (wisely?) disappeared. Grandfather Christison told C Bursill to jump into Lake Illawarra, I believe, and of course the engagement and marriage went ahead in 1935…

Perhaps you saw Andrew Bolt and Linda Burney in the ABC documentary Recognition: Yes or No last Tuesday.


The Guardian reviewer thought it a “cheap spectacle” but I actually found it quite interesting, using that term at times in the show rather as Stephen Fry might. Linda Burney is remarkably intelligent and amazingly patient, while also very likeable, as Andrew Bolt himself remarked towards the end. I found the information about how things are done in New Zealand worth hearing, particularly former NZ Prime Minister Jim Bolger. To quote a piece that appeared in The Monthly in May 2008:

Enter the National leader Jim Bolger, all craggy face and mangle-speak, who swept to power in 1990. Surely he wouldn’t have any truck with this interminable reconciliation business. It was a patronising fake, scorners complained. You don’t help people pull their socks up by pandering to their whingeing and whining about being victims. Maori get enough handouts. Who do they think they are? Do they want to steal the land from hardworking farmers? And now we’re expected to refer to tribes by using the Maori term, iwi. You go to a function in Australia and they start speeches by thanking traditional owners, like saying grace. But in New Zealand a Pakeha is expected to do a whole spiel in Maori. Then carry on in English, then Maori again, then English, a bit more Maori. The national anthem is sung in two parts: a verse in Maori, a verse in English. What next?…

Bolger came from cow-cocky stock in rich-pastured Taranaki, where Maori were more populous than in most agricultural communities. He’d been schooled with Maori, odd-jobbed and socialised with them, taken an interest in their culture and history. Rather than abandon reconciliation he committed his government to cranking it up, by giving more legal muscle to the Waitangi Tribunal. Over the next ten years two major claims were settled, with the Ngai Tahu tribe in the South Island and the Tainui in the north…

Now back to Andrew Bolt, What a strange person! See Why ABC’s ‘Recognition: Yes or No?’ proves Andrew Bolt can’t be beaten. In the program he briefly trotted out one of his pet mantras: I am Indigenous. As he wrote in March 2016:

Anyone born here is indigenous to this land, not least because in most cases they have no other place to call home. This is not just my opinion. It is becoming that of even Noel Pearson, the prominent Aboriginal activist:

“The essence of indigeneity … is that people have a connection with their ancestors whose bones are in the soil. Whose dust is part of the sand,” Mr Pearson said to Kerry O’Brien in the Garland venue. “I had to come to the somewhat uncomfortable conclusion that even Andrew Bolt was becoming Indigenous because the bones of his ancestors are now becoming part of the territory.”

As I once said: I was born in Australia six years before Pearson. If you consider us as individuals I am more indigenous than Pearson. I “came” here before he did. What the University of NSW is preaching, though, is racism. We are to be defined by the race of some of our ancestors, and on that basis given different status and rights to belong.

The context was that monumental beat-up in the Murdoch tabloids about UNSW “rewriting” Australian history. Remember?


See The Daily Telegraph’s cultural amnesia.

At that time [1988] I also met many Aboriginal people, notably Kristina Nehm, and had conversations that thus far in my life I had never had the opportunity to have. In other words I learned that this country had indeed been invaded – from the point of view of those already here, if not strictly speaking by Captain Cook then certainly by those who followed taking up the claim of possession made by planting the Union Jack. If you don’t like the word “invasion” then show me the invitation the Eora issued and I’ll agree with you.

But let me repeat: the UNSW material nowhere says “Captain Cook invaded Australia”.

It is just so silly that the Telegraph trotted out this beat-up as if nothing had happened since 1988 while suppressing the information that the suggestions made in the document are twenty years old and only mildly controversial. If anyone is rewriting the history of Australia and of Indigenous studies it is the Daily Telegraph, not the University of New South Wales.

And I will accept Andrew Bolt is Indigenous only if he also says cane toads, race horses, sheep, deer, cats and rabbits are indigenous to Australia, like kangaroos or wombats, say.

As noted above, I may myself indeed be Indigenous, though I do not assert the claim.

Finally, some fascinating conclusions on the genomic study front:

The most comprehensive genomic study of Indigenous Australians to date has revealed modern humans are all descendants of a single wave of migrants who left Africa around 72,000 years ago.

It confirms modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of the first people to inhabit Australia — a claim that has previously been the subject of debate…

To date, academics have debated whether we all share the same ancestors from a single mass migration event, or that the dispersal took place in distinct waves at different times.

The long history of human occupation of Australia has been cited as evidence that Papuans and Australians stemmed from an earlier migration than the ancestors of Eurasian peoples.

However, taken together, today’s papers use the genetic information of people from 280 diverse populations from largely understudied regions of the world to support the single wave theory…

Co-author Ms Colleen Wall, a senior Aboriginal woman of the Dauwa Kau’bvai nation from the Mary River catchment area in south east Queensland said…

the study was very important to Aboriginal people.

“As a society we already believe that we are the oldest race on Earth, and from my point of view this research goes some way towards proving that,” she said.

Ms Wall said the genetic information could help in properly repatriating Aboriginal remains.

“This information coupled with the technology now used to assist in identifying where our human remains come from exactly, is exciting,” Ms Wall said.

Andrew Bolt has a problem with the term “first people”. He claims it is divisive and racist. What palpable piffle! Recognising a fact – that there was a “first people” already here when the rest of us started coming – is just that: recognising a fact. How else can you put it?

Maybe as NZ’s Jim Bolger did on Tuesday night: “Well, all that land was stolen anyway…”