In 1935, Evelyn Ruth Backo was born in Ingham, Queensland, Australia; she is the granddaughter of a former slave who was kidnapped from the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Early in life Evelyn’s father gave her sound advice about challenging social injustices, he stated “If you don’t think something is right, then challenge it”, and challenge the system is just what she did. Evelyn married a man named Allan Scott who was the first person to introduce her to front line political activism; the seed that Allan planted would soon blossom. In the 1960’s Evelyn would move to Townsville which is a city in Queensland, Australia. While living in Townsville she was able to see indigenous people discriminated against with her own eyes, they faced discrimination in housing, health care, the education system and the employment sector. She witnessed the police abuse its power often by terrorizing the indigenous people. Witnessing these acts led her to becoming acquainted with her future mentor Joe McGuiness and fellow Townsville political activist Eddie Mabo. She worked at the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League; the league was formed in 1957 to address issues of employment, housing, health and education.
One of the issues Evelyn and the league faced was fighting the unjust Aborigines Protection Act, an act the declared aboriginals as minors who needed to be protected by the government, the act also stripped the people of their political rights. In 1967, she helped campaign for the Australian referendum which approved the amendments of sections 51 and 127 of the Australian constitution. The amendments stated that the aboriginals were now considered as a part of the Australian population and the federal parliament could create legislation specifically for the aboriginals. In 1971, she became an active member of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), an organization where she served as the first general-secretary and vice-president. Equipped with a sound strategy, in 1973, the FCAATSI became an organization led by the ingenious people of Australia. She was a member of the National Aboriginal and Islander Council, the first national women’s organization founded in the 1970’s. Evelyn’s activism also extended to protecting her environment; helping to create protection for the Great Barrier Reef and the land she became a member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority during the 1980’s.
In 1977, Evelyn was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal to acknowledge her work towards the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights. She was appointed as the Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in the 1990’s; at that time the challenge was the federal government actively cutting funding for the reconciliation. In 2003, she received the Queensland Greats award for her life-long work of fighting for the rights of aboriginal people. The Australian Catholic University awarded Evelyn an honorary doctorate degree in 2000, and James Cook University awarded her an honorary degree in 2001. Later in 2001 Evelyn was awarded as an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia; the award is an order of chivalry established on February 14, 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, to recognize Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service.
Evelyn was a true fighter for her people and she truly loved to company of her people. She had the ability to rub shoulders with dignitaries from across the world, but still found time to build with the indigenous people the white supremacist tried to destroy. Fishing was known to be one of her favorite activities when she wasn’t fighting for her people. Evelyn Scott died on September 21, 2017 at the age of 81 and her funeral was held as a state funeral; she was the first indigenous women to have a state funeral. Evelyn was determined to create change for the indigenous people of Australia as well as challenging the apartheid the black faced in South Africa. She gave herself to her people so the future of the indigenous people would be a future free of white supremacy. Evelyn Scott, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
In 1812 on Brundy Island in Tasmania the daughter of Chief Mangana was born and her name is Truganini, little did anyone know the history of the Aboriginal Tasmanian people would coincide with Truganini’s life. She would face much tragedy early in life which also continued throughout her life; before she turned eighteen years old her mother was killed by whalers. Later, her fiance was killed while saving her from being abducted, and in 1828 her two sisters were kidnapped and taken to Kangaroo Island and sold as slaves. Before the arrival of Europeans Truganini was immersed in her aboriginal Tasmanian culture and rituals; Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1824, he set bounties on the Tasmanian men women and children. His next move was to befriend the people so he could trap them in extermination camps; the irony of the situation is that Brundy Island was the most peaceful part of Tasmania. In 1830 there were only 100 living Tasmanian’s in the world, Truganini and a fellow Tasmanian named Woorrady were moved to Flinders Island by George Augustus Robinson to protect them from extermination. George Augustus Robinson was known as the “Protector of the Aborigines” but his intentions didn’t help a number of the people. Many of the people died from influenza and other diseases because of poor conditions and close quarters.
Truganini would help George Augustus Robinson create a settlement for her people at Port Phillip in 1838. Around 1840 Truganini and other Tasmanians would begin to fight back against the European terrorist posing as civilized settlers. Their band were able to kill two whalers at Watson’s Hut and they also injured other settlers in the fight. Truganini and her band were labeled as outlaws and hunted to be convicted for their “crimes.” They were eventually captured, tried and hung for their actions; Trugnini suffered a gunshot wound to her head but survived the ordeal. Her wound was treated by Dr. Hugh Anderson and she was then sent to trial for her role in the killing of the European settlers. The trial was held in Melbourne, Australia where she was convicted and sent back to live on Flinders Island with other Tasmanians. In 1856 Truganini and her fellow remaining Tasmanian’s were forced to move from Flinders Island to Oyster Cove; by 1861 there were only 14 living Tasmanian’s in Oyster Cove, all of which were adults. Truganini was eventually moved to a settlement in Melbourne, Australia were she would have a child from John Shugnow. The couple had to hide their child because Truganini and other Tasmanian’s were still being exterminated.
Eventually Truganini was captured and exiled from her people, her daughter went to live with the family of John Shugnow of the Kulin Nation. Truganini was the last survivor of the group forced to move to Oyster Cove. She would die years later and be buried at the former Female Factory at Cascades, a small division of Hobart. Truganini knew her death was near and requested that it be a respectful and peaceful one, she did not want her remains to be put on display in museums when she died. Her wishes were kept for two years until her bones were exhumed and placed on display by the Royal Society of Tasmania. Truganini was not the last of the living full-blooded Tasmanian’s but she became the most famous. She was known for her traditional Aboriginal necklace and bracelet which was returned to Tasmania in 1997. Stories like this one and others are often hidden from us and intentionally left out of our history books. We must start asking ourselves why stories similar Truganini’s are kept hidden for so long, but most of all we must find these stories and expose them to the world. Truganini was a brave woman who faced every type of hardship one can think of, but she never turned her back on her people or abandoned her tradition. Truganini, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Jandamarra was born in the early 1870’s sometime between 1870 and 1873, to the Bunuba Tribe in the Kimberley district of Western Australia. As a young boy Jandamarra was well known for his ability to ride horses, sheer sheep and shoot firearms. He learned these skills while living amongst William Lukin and other European settlers. He spoke English fluently and was well liked by all who knew him. William Lukin gave him the nickname “Pigeon” because of his frail features and graceful movements. At the age of 15 Jandamarra left Lunik and the other’s occupying Lennard River to return to his homeland.
After returning to his home he was initiated into the traditional ways of the Bunuba people and mastered the skill of hunting. In 1889, Jandamarra and Ellemarra his tribesmen were arrested and charged with killing sheep. The charges against them were dropped after they agreed to take care of the police horses. Jandamarra was unaware that this decision would lead to trouble in his future. He took excellent care of the horses and became popular at the local Derby because of his skills. Jandamarra was exiled from his tribe for violating sacred law; he then left to live in Lillimooloora station.
He began forming a relationship with a man named Bill Richardson who was a stockman. Jandamarra was unaware that this relationship would become tragic for his people. Richardson joined the police force and naturally recruited Jandamarra as a tracker for the force. Constable Richardson, an Aboriginal named “Captain” and Jandamarra formed a successful tracking trio. This was the first time the Europeans used Aboriginals to track their own people. Once again Jandamarra was gaining fame from the white man; this time his fame was gained from oppressing his own people. He once went as far as saving Constable Richardson from an attack by a fellow Aboriginal.
One night as Constable Richardson slept Jandamarra shot and killed him, he then released 16 Aboriginals who Richardson captured. The men formed and militia and quickly began fighting back against oppression. Their first victory was against a stock party which they killed its members and seized their weapons. Using the skills he gained over the years, Jandamarra planned a strategy to recapture their land from the white men. The police force learned of the uprising and ordered their men to fight back; they retaliated by killing many Aboriginals. In 1894, a militia of 50 Aboriginal Warriors fought fearlessly against the whites at Windjina Gorge. During the battle Ellemarra was killed while Jandamarra was severely wounded.
He only just escaped the battle and sought refuge in the caves of the land; the Bunuba people believed he held supernatural powers because he escaped death. After two years of hiding in the caves Jandamarra raided the Lillimooloora police station; the raid surprised the police because everyone thought he was dead. The raid was unsuccessful because most of the Aboriginal warriors were deceased or arrested. In 1897 Jandamarra led his last raid; he invaded the Oscar Range homestead but was stopped by the police. Jandamarra managed to escape again temporally; he was tracked and killed by a fellow Aboriginal Minko Mick. The Bunuba eventually lost their land to the whites within a two year period and were rendered homeless. Jandamarra made some bad choices which affected his people negatively; but ultimately he understood that his people were more important to him than the affection of the white man. He found the courage the led the fight against the oppression of his people. He gave his people hope that they could defeat the white man and live in peace. Jandamarra, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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