Explore podcast episode 2: Unsettled - Our untold history revealed
Hosted by: Laura McBride
Guests: Aunty Fay Moseley, Uncle Richard Waubin Aken, and Fleur and Laurance Magick Dennis
VO: Welcome to Explore, a podcast from the Australian Museum. It’s a show that takes you inside Australia’s first museum. There are 21.9 million objects and specimens in the Museum’s collection, and each contains a clue from the past and an answer for the future.
Join us on expeditions, in exhibitions and in the lab as we delve into the world of the Australian Museum.
Aunty Fay: He asked who I was, I told him I was Fay and he said that’s I'm your dad
Uncle Richard: Truth must be told in every aspect of life
Winhangagigiladha! Ngunggiladha!: [Language] We are one family
Laura McBride: Yaama Kgurra, my name is Laura McBride, I’m a Wailwan and Kooma woman and Director, First Nations at the Australian Museum.
The Australian Museum acknowledges the Gadigal people as the Custodians of the land on which our Museum stands. We pay our respect to Aboriginal Elders and recognise their continuous connection to Country.
From their earliest days to today, museums, like many government institutions, have been viewed with great suspicion by First Nations peoples, due to the role they played in the colonisation of Australia and the effects this has had on Aboriginal peoples lived experiences.
The Australian Museum was the first museum in the country, founded in 1827. In the early days of amassing its Collections, scientists not only gathered insect and animal specimens; but also collected objects from Aboriginal peoples in ways that would not be seen as acceptable today. For many years, institutions including the Australian Museum would classify and interpret our cultures from their perspectives, many times creating, and perpetuating, negative stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Today, the Australian Museum stands firm in its commitment to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and collaborate with First Nations peoples in the interpretation of Aboriginal history and cultures.
The exhibition Unsettled, which I curated alongside my colleague Dr Mariko Smith, was a leap towards that future. Years in the making, and based upon consultation with First Nations communities around the country, Unsettled was an exercise in truth-telling. First Nations peoples voicing their own stories, and illuminating parts of Australia’s history, and the effects of that history, that may not be as well known to the Australian public. At the Australian Museum we understand that truth-telling can be confronting to some, but the process can be powerful: grief can make way for healing, and healing can unite people who were once divided.
In this episode of Explore, I’d like to share with you three important pieces of the Unsettled exhibition. We will travel back to 1770 to hear the accounts of Kaureg peoples on the arrival of Cook’s tall ship, and return to the present to learn about an Aboriginal teaching, a wish for us to share with each other and care for each other.
But we begin in the recent past, with an account of Aunty Fay Mosely, a Wiradjuri Elder and artist who was taken from her family and home in the Riverina region of NSW when she was just ten years old.
Stolen generations were children removed by the government under the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act that gave the Aborigines Protection Board power to assume full control and custody of the child of any Aboriginal person if a court found the child to be neglected under the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act 1905.
Aunty Fay:… My parents were non-drinkers [...] My father was a rat of Tobruk. He fought for this country to protect its people. But yet they took his children, there were six of us out of nine that were taken the six elders.
Laura McBride: At the time Australian governments and citizens believed they were doing the right thing under a misguided assumption that the lives of First Nations people would be improved if they became part of white society. That living like an Aboriginal person was seen as neglect and that removal from their Aboriginal families would have a positive impacts on their lives.
This narrative the government was selling was the opposite of Aunty Fay’s experience.
Aunty Fay: … My parents were non-drinkers [...] My father was a rat of Tobruk. He fought for this country to protect its people. But yet they took his children, there were six of us out of nine that were taken the six elders.
Laura McBride: Aunty Fay describes one of her paintings from the exhibition, One Way Ticket to Hell. It depicts the day she was kidnapped from her family.
Aunty Fay My mum and dad were actually at work when they took us. We were on our way to school and the welfare came with the police and just took us off the, off the side of the road where we were waiting for the bus…We're told that we were being taken to the circus or the show down to the shop.
Laura McBride: The children were instead taken via train to Central Station in Sydney where they were separated and sent to different institutions or homes, Aunty Faye was taken to Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls.
Depicted within the painting is Aunty Faye’s mother, with a policeman grabbing her arm, pulling her away from her children.
Aunty Fay: Someone went up to the cannery and told my mum that the police and the welfare had had us and she ran down and the police wouldn't allow her to come over and talk to us and explain or ask why they took us.
And on my form, my discharge form the reason for being taken was for being Aboriginal. I was taken from a very, very loving sober family. My nan owned the house, she bought it from a non-Aboriginal guy for £10 and it was quite big, so we lived in there. And then when they took us, they just bulldozed the house down.
It's just so sad that it happened that it had to happen. You know, the land here is big enough to share [00:16:30] You know we were sharing it and yet we were taken off it. We're happy to share, but the wealth of the land. You know, generated a lot of problems for Aboriginals.
Laura McBride: The second painting of Aunty Faye’s featured in the exhibition is about one of the rooms within Cootamundra girls home.
Aunty Fay: Cootamundra was the first hospital and they had two morgues and they knocked one down, but the one that the painting’s about, that was our storeroom.
Laura McBride: Aunty Fay tells us about the punishment room, called the box room.
Aunty Fay: we would get locked in there if we were really naughty and all, I had to stick up for my younger siblings. I was the eldest in there, you know, had a job to do and we'll fix you up from that. So if the box room was full, they would lock us in the morgue. So I was forever in there.
Laura McBride: The painting is one of many harrowing experiences Aunty Fay had during her eight-year stay at the Cootamundra home.
Aunty Fay describes what it was like leaving the home, after the home had supposedly taught her how to assimilate into white society.
Aunty Fay: It was a very scary thing. You know, if you're 18 and you're in Sydney on your own and you're looking for family and no support from any government about what you have to do whilst you're in Sydney, the whole idea of the stolen generation was to bring up, you know, bring us up in a way that was accepted by society. But they didn't. It, it all went wrong. The whole thing. And that's shown through the way, you know, the stolen generation interacted with the wider community.
Aunty Fay: One of the things that I thought, as I said to myself as I grew up and I got married, that what happened to me will never happen to my children [...] I've worked seven days a week to make sure my kids have everything and not to be taken away.
Aunty Fay: I worked in government, I worked in health community health, I worked in juvenile justice, I worked in Department of Department of Community Affairs. That was what it was known then I worked at a land council and I did nursing as well. So I’ve been around the tracks.
Aunty Fay: I couldn't see any improvement in the government departments with regards to services to Aboriginals, so I went home and decided that I would take the paintbrush up again, and my mother used to teach us to draw and paint before we were taken.
Laura McBride: And it’s through painting that Aunty Fay has been able to reshape her story as a Stolen Generation survivor and teach others about her experience.
It wasn’t until later in life that Aunty Fay was able to reconnect with her family.
Aunty Fay: I met dad at my mum's funeral, he asked who I was. I told him I was Fay. He said that I'm your dad. That's the only words we ever said at the age of 56 for my me. And I'll never forget that, that that meeting, you know, because my dad was a very good father he worked all the time. We knew we were never without, and he and mum used to dad used to play the quality of the guitar and banjo, and mum sang and my nan did too in the church. So we grew up with the Christian teachings when we were young and I still hold those dear to my heart today.
Laura McBride: Originally Aunty Fay didn’t want to share these paintings as they were deeply personal parts of her story. But when she heard about the Unsettled exhibition, and knowing the importance of truth-telling, she knew that sharing her story could be a way to teach others about these experiences and help find ways we can heal from this history.
Aunty Fay: It's about healing and but it's also about allowing and inviting non-Aboriginal people to come in and go through it and, you know, contemplate on what they're reading now and how best we can come together in and reconciliation. We’ve tried all sorts of things to get us together.
Aunty Fay: And government has never, ever, ever told the truth about the reasons why we were taken only because we were Aboriginal, but about not acknowledging families who were good families that looked after their children, but taking those all of us away from a culture that loved and cared and shared for each and every one of us and you know, our children.
Aunty Fay: I hope that they do understand that the stolen generation is real. Governments still say that stolen generation didn't happen. That happened. You know, we talk about it. We're here, we're a product of it. And paintings like things and stories like the stolen generation. They're real.
Aunty Fay: And even my grandchildren it's only the last couple of years that I've told them my life about being in the homes and and they're horrified as to what happened to me.
Laura McBride: In Leftenant James Cook’s journal entry on the 22nd August 1770 journal entry, he wrote that he and his crew had landed on an island that he called “Possession Island”, an Island that is not far off the Western Coast of what is now known as Cape York.
He did not know that one of the traditional names for this island is Tuined, and that it is home to the Kaurareg First Nations people.
But the Kaurareg First Nations people reject Cook’s account. Having received advanced warnings through Signal Fires and communications via messengers from other Aboriginal nations and clans, their warriors were prepared for war should the strangers disembark. The Kaurareg people of Tuined assert that Cook never came ashore, nor did he raise a flag.
Here is Elder Uncle Waubin Richard Aken, appointed Kaurareg tribal historian, telling his peoples’ perspective of this history. He’s in conversation with Trevor Tim from BBM, the first and only Indigenous Radio Station in Cairns.
Richard Aken: My grandfather side, I'm from Moa Island in the Torres Strait. My grandfather was from there and my grandmother from Hamil Island, Kennedy Kauareg. But I grew up on the Kaurareg side more than from my grandfather's side. I know the history Kaurareg more, and I know because of my knowledge of sitting with my elders and of running the first native title claim in Kaurareg country. All areas a while ago.
Trevor Tim: And we're here now to talk about the truth. The days before Captain Cook came the true story of Captain Cook's arrival and what he claim and what he did not claim.
Richard Aken: From Kaurareg point of view, Cook only discovered Australia, but he never he never caused the problem. The problem came in 1788, not 1770. The story need to be taught properly to our society down there in the mainland and to our brothers and sisters. We can't blame Cook. We got to blame the area. That's been the trouble. The destruction and the genocide of our people started in 1788 til today.
Richard Aken: The story is very important to let the white society know that truth must be told in every aspect of life. When new life is born, that life needs to understand the stories before. This is the story of Captain Cook in this journey. As he came up on the East Coast and it's in his journal, it says there he sees smokes. But yet he didn't realise they were inhabits of that area, and at that specific time, he didn't realise that smoke signal were blackfella internet, letting all the clan group from Sydney. The message came from Sydney all the way to the tip. There's a stray ship coming on east side of the coast of Australia. That was our signal.
Trevor Tim: So our people were communicating from the get go. And Captain Cook well terra nullius. Thought there was no one on the on the Big Island or on the islands in the Torres Strait and inhabitants there were.
Richard Aken: Cook came and as he travelled across the East Coast. On the 21st of August 1770, our elders chief called for sacred fire dance, that dance was to prepare for a fight and to fight these unknown things coming. The bonfire was lit and that fire lit to show the brothers and sisters on the mainland. This is a sacred ceremony danced to fight. There's no love and friendship anymore.
Trevor Tim: But the war did not take place.
Richard Aken: Yeah, because why? He never came on the beach. If he did today, we would not have British sovereignty in Australia cause he would have been attacked and he would have been used his head as a significant prize that would roast his head roasted and eat it and put his head on a bed to make the rest of the meat to make it nice and white. And then we will take his head over to Papua New Guinea to trade because it's a classified system, of his pride... Of his intelligence and of his statute.
Richard Aken: You can see in Cook's journal it says, you see 10 of our people standing up on the hills to lead. But one of them, had a weapon that he hadn’t seen on the east coast of Australia and that was a bow and arrow. And we used it as a commodity So he's see that we had commodity. We traded evidence of in evidence, too.
Trevor Tim: Brother Richard, that would have happened if he would have stood step foot on the land, that would have happened.
Richard Aken: If he would have stepped on the land. We would have killed him.
Trevor Tim: So the fact that he wasn't killed shows he didn't step foot on the land.
Richard Aken: Cause the signal never came
Trevor Tim: So for him not to step on the land, you can't claim land if you're not on the land.
Richard Aken: How can you claim sovereignty floating in the water? It's medium. So four days later, you went to Singapore and rewrote the book, so he's taking our claim. One of his witness on of these witnesses is fellow human being the Sir Joseph Banks, because when they took a position that women were, when when they were there, there were no celebration of claiming sovereignty.
Richard Aken: Kaurareg is that it is wrong and this is what I call and make believe in claiming sovereignty is a false pretence without our consent.
Because it is important we that generation coming within 50, 60 years down the track, the unborn generations that are coming, we have to leave something for them.
It's a very powerful. Thank you very much for sharing. Well, Richard, the conversation has started. The truth has started.
Winhangadurinya is a Wiradjuri word meaning deep listening, reflecting, and meditation.
The Winhangadurinya space within Unsettled gave visitors the opportunity, at the end of their journey through the exhibition, to spend some time in the cultural practice of deep listening and to reflect upon the exhibition and topics addressed within it.
The Winhangadurinya space tells a story of rebirthing our future by learning about Aboriginal laws and responsibilities. These includeTaking Care of and honouring ourselves and our Ancestors, Protecting our Country and Caring for each other, sharing with Each Other.
We finish today’s podcast by sharing the Care for Each Other! Share with Each Other! Story within Winhangadurinya. I hope you enjoy it.
[Winhangagigiladha! Ngunggiladha! (Care for Each Other! Share with Each Other!) plays]
Laura McBride: The Winhangadurinya space at the Australian Museum was designed by Fleur and Laurance Magick Dennis in partnership with Elders, cultural knowledge holders and community members.
Thank you for joining me today on the Explore podcast. In the next episode, we take a look at landscapes, and discover the relationship between climate change and First Nations knowledges.
If you missed it, you can now experience the Unsettled exhibition online – take a 360-degree virtual tour by going to australian.museum/unsettled
I’m Laura McBride, yaluu.
VO: This episode was produced by Alice Gage and Cassandra Steeth. It was edited by Bernadette Phuong Nam Nguyen (Foong Nam Ween) and mixed by Weronika Razna. Our music was written and performed by Freya Berkout.
This nation's natural history museums, like many institutions that played a role in colonisation, have been viewed with great suspicion by First Nations Peoples.
Today, the Australian Museum stands firm in its commitment to acknowledge the wrongs of the past. Part of that process is truth-telling. In this episode, Laura McBride – Wailwan and Kooma woman, and Director, First Nations, at the Australian Museum – shares three important pieces from the AM’s award-winning exhibition, Unsettled.
We hear from Aunty Fay Moseley, a Wiradjuri Elder who was taken from her family when she was ten years old; we travel back to 1770 to hear the accounts of Kaurareg Peoples on the arrival of Cook’s tall ship; and we return to the present to learn an Aboriginal teaching of caring for one another and sharing with one another.
Discover the Explore podcast series.
About the guests
Elder Waubin Richard Aken
Elder Waubin Richard Aken is a Traditional Owner of the island of Tuined and appointed Tribal Historian for Kaurareg First Nations people. He works with elders of the Kaurareg lands and waters to strengthen alliances with the wider Cape York community.
Richard was involved in the re-establishment of the Horn Island community through a Native Title Claim of the Kaurareg nation and actively participates in the maintenance of his people’s unique culture.
Fleur and Laurance Magick Dennis
Milan Dhiiyaan means “One Family or One Mob”. We are referring to all of us, all of humanity, as one family on mother earth. Milan Dhiiyaan provides Aboriginal cultural immersion experiences for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of our Australian and global community.
Milan Dhiiyaan is led by Wiradjuri/Wailwaan songwoman and senior cultural educator Nyimirr (Fleur Magick Dennis) and Wailwaan/Yuin songman and senior cultural educator Millmullian (Laurance Magick Dennis).
Aunty Fay Moseley
Aunty Fay Moseley is a strong Wiradjuri woman, Elder, artist and advocate for the Stolen Generations, working hard to support other stolen children in re-connecting with their families and cultures, and having their stories heard.
Aunty Fay Mosely was stolen from her family and home in the Riverina region of NSW when she was just ten years old. She was robbed of her family and a bright future for no reason other than being Aboriginal. Despite this, Aunty Fay has worked hard in her life to overcome her experiences as much as possible. She resisted domestic service and eventually became a nurse instead, dedicating her life to helping others.
Laura McBride is a Wailwan and Kooma woman and Director, First Nations at the Australian Museum. In this role, Laura leads the First Nations strategic direction and operations, as well as managing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Pasifika collections.
Laura’s vision for the AM centres on prioritising and amplifying First Nations voices so that Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Pacific communities represent themselves and their cultures within the Museum.
Laura’s projects at the AM include the development of Garrigarrang: Sea Country and the award-winning GADI exhibition. She conducted ground-breaking First Nations community consultation through The 2020 Project that informed the First Nations-led exhibition Unsettled, which she co-curated, that opened at the AM in May 2021.
Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts (University of Sydney) with a double Major in Psychology and Australian Indigenous Studies, and a Master of Aboriginal Education (University of Technology Sydney).