My Family

Guugu Yimithirr c. 1896

I am a member of the Nugal clan, part of the Guugu Yimithirr tribe whose tribal area extends from the River Annan, south of Cooktown, to Princess Charlotte Bay. My grandfather on my father's side was the last of his brothers and sisters to survive the arrival of the gold miners and settlers, and to remain on his country. His name was Wunbuu, or Charlie, and he was born at the Birth Site on our clan lands at Nugal where I take people on tour.

Both he, and my grandmother, Minnie, worked for white people around Cooktown, but they weren't tied to any property or station. They were still controlled by the Police though, and every night would have to leave town after the curfew to join the 'fringe-dwellers' on the other side of Boundary Street, in an area now known as the Burrgirrku Reserve.

My Dad, Thulu (known as Tulo), was born around 1922. By this time Charlie was working for the Lutheran Mission's cattle operation on an outstation called Spring Hill, not far from where Cooktown Airport is today.

Tulo's older brother and two sisters were already living permanently at the Mission's base at Cape Bedford, some 15 miles north of Cooktown, under the iron discipline of Pastor Schwarz (pictured). But my Dad was able to enjoy the relative freedom of outstation life for his early years, living in a bark hut at Spring Hill with his parents until he was 8 or 9 years old.

Here people hunted and fished, gathered seasonal foods, children played and swam in the creek and occasionally witnessed traditional dances. Away from the suffocating restrictions of the Mission, Charlie was able to share his stories and pass on his cultural knowledge to my Dad.

Then, in the late 1920s, my Dad was rounded up with some of his friends and taken to live in the Mission. Now he could only see his parents occasionally, and he was forbidden to practise or talk about his own culture. Only when Pastor Schwarz was put under house arrest in Brisbane during the Second World War, and the Guugu Yimithirr taken to an Aboriginal Reserve at Woorabinda near Rockhampton, were they able to maintain their culture again for a time.

After the war, the Guugu Yimithirr returned home and my Dad was amongst those who helped to build today's Hope Vale Community. The Church was strongly in control again (and remained so until 1986), but he did what he could to pass on the stories through his paintings, and also in the book Milbi he co-wrote with anthropologist and linguist, John Haviland.

And he started sharing his knowledge with me. I was born in 1957, and when I was old enough my Dad started taking me on hunting trips when we would visit the rock art sites, and he would tell me about my country and my culture, and share the stories in the paintings. This is how I became the Nugal story-keeper, and inherited the responsibility of sharing the knowledge to keep our culture alive.
Picture Gallery: On Tour with Willie

1 comment:

Megan Bayliss said...

Thank God for your Grandfather, your father and now you, Willy. You rock!