Last of His Tribe OOdgeroo Noonuccal

The process of discovery can vary according to personal, cultural, social and historical contexts. - Area of Study Rubric for Discovery

This web story presents the personal, cultural, social and historical contexts that apply to Last Of It's Tribe by Oodgeroo Noonuccal and outlines the main discoveries in the text.

Australian Aboriginals - A Cultural Perspectives

Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander belief's revolve around the environment.

Aboriginal's are the traditional owners of Australia. They are legally defined as persons that have descent from an Aboriginal direct line relative who are recognised by their community. The term "Australian Aboriginal" was first used by the British - in actual fact over 600 Aboriginal nations exist that are distinct with their own cultural traditions. In the main, their cultures are distinct, complex and diverse with a rich variety of cultural traditions and customs.

Spiritual and cultural beliefs are often communicated through art.

Most Aboriginal groups have spiritual beliefs with ancestral beings. These differ by nation but most Aboriginal deities are recognisable and tangible as well as being directly connected to the land. Many nations will have a creation being which is passed down by oral and written stories (which are often referred to as dreaming's). The "Rainbow Serpant" dreaming which has been published as a children's story book. Nations also have ancestral being's which are seen to be the direct descendants of people living today. A person may believe that they were descended from a non human object such as a yam. Totem's are also used as part of many Aboriginal's spiritual beliefs to visually depict their spiritual beliefs. Aboriginal's express their beliefs through song's, art, stories and dance.

Aboriginal culture emphasises the environment and family relations. Families live in groupings called hordes which are important for everyday life. A complex oral social and marriage law exists in most nations. This law involves a kinship system as is designed to preserve social classes and status within individual nations. The colonisation and subsequent disruption of traditional Aboriginal life has lessened understanding and use of social law. Stewardship of the land is intrinsic to the culture of most Aboriginal societies as it is essential for their wellbeing. A responsibility exists within these societies, stemming from their spiritual beliefs, to protect the land as well as animals that dwell on it. Most Aboriginals especially those who grow up immersed in their traditional culture are assigned a totem by their elders. Traditionally, totem animals prevent a person from hunting this animal symbolising the protection of the land.

Aboriginal History - The Story Behind Colonisation

The Landing of Captain Cook in 1788 began a period of negative relationships with Aboriginal people.

On the 26th of January 1788 Captain James Cook representing Great Britain laid claim to the whole of the Australian mainland. This act would mark the beginning of a difficult, testing and vexed relationship with Australian Aboriginals. In 1788 it is estimated that 750,000 Aboriginals lived in Australia. Between 1788 and 1900 the population of Aboriginal Australians declined by 90% due to introduced illnesses, land acquisition and violent conflict between settlers and Aboriginal's.

While controversy exists as to precise figures it is an undeniable fact that Aboriginal's were killed or seriously injured by settlers in the 1800's. Disruptions to Aboriginal way of life occured and most Aboriginals become marginalised second class citizens who did not have the right to vote or access government services (including being counted in census figures). The settlement and dispossession of Aboriginal lands had serious consequences for their traditional way of life. European's took a highly negative view to Aboriginal life which they considered to be uncivilised and inadequate.

The Stolen Generations had a substantial impact on Aboriginal culture.

To combat what white Europeans thought was an "inadequate" lifestyle forced removals of children began to take place starting with Victorian Aboriginals in 1869. By 1905 removal policies became widespread. Children were separated from their parents from a young age and abuse, both sexual and physical, was commonplace. The Bringing them Home report estimates that at least 100,000 children were taken away from 1905 to the end of removal's in 1969. The effects of removal were widespread and included the loss of traditional customs and way of life.

In 1957 the Grayden report revealed that malnutrition, poverty and disease was common amongst Aboriginal communities due to state based discriminatory laws. During the 1960's community discourse calling for Aboriginal recognition and citizenship began to occur as education and awareness increased. In 1962 the federal government gave Aboriginal's the right to vote and citizenship was gradually granted by states and territories. After significant campaigning and advocacy a referendum to amend Section 51 and 127 of the Australian Constitution (which allowed discrimination against Aboriginals) was held in 1967 ending the last legal discrimination of Aboriginals. Despite this, discrimination and inequality continued to occur with Aboriginals facing disadvantage in education, health, employment and access to the justice system.

Aboriginal Disadvantage - A Social Perspective

Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in the 20th century faced significant and systemic disadvantage. Between the 1840's and 1970's Aboriginal's were taken by the Queensland government to work on cattle and sheep stations . Records were not kept by the Queensland government as to the extent of the amount of people taken but their mistreatment was extensive. Until 1919 their were no limits on the amount of hours worked and payment was not made. The minimum standards imposed in 1919 were routinely ignored and inspections were scant.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who were employed in other industries including as domestic servants and in manufacturing had little control over their lives. Frequently, employers were able to buy and sell employees as possessions. In other cases restrictions were placed on their movement and consent was needed from employers to make most decisions. Wages were on average a third of what would have been paid to a non Aboriginal employee. Violence and threats were common and while it not to say that all employer's mistreated Aboriginal employees in the significant majority of cases they were disadvantaged against Caucasians.

Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders have experienced and continue to experience extreme poverty.

What money that was paid to Aboriginal's was frequently taken by state governments. The 2006 Stolen Wages report revealed that tens of millions of dollars were taken from Aboriginal wages and maternity benefit payments. These wages were used by state governments to fund programs for Caucasians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders also faced disadvantage in health, social services and education. The dispossession of Aboriginal's in traditional communities had an adverse effect on traditional customs and broke community bonds which promoted social wellbeing. Disadvantage in education continues to this day with 60% of Aboriginal children being behind national standards by Year 1. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders also continue to lack access to health care with a 60% greater likelihood than non Aboriginals of dying from cancer. Aboriginal access to health and education has remained a challenge even after legal recognition in 1967 and this social disadvantage was a significant influence for Last of His Tribe.

Oodgeroo Noonucal - A Personal Perspective

Oodgeroo Noonucal in 1992 (QUT, 2016).

Oodgeroo Noonucal was born on the 3rd of November 1920 (as Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska) in the Aboriginal settlement of North Stradbroke Island. As a young child she was influenced by her father's campaign for better wages and fairer conditions. At the age of 13 Noonucal left school to work as domestic servant in Brisbane. In 1941 she secured a position in the Australian Woman's Army Corps and was promoted to Corporal.

Noonucal was heavily involved in Aboriginal activism including the Tent Embassy movement during the 1960's.

In 1942 Noonucal married Bruce Walker, a close family friend and in 1943 was invalidated from the Women's Corps after losing her hearing as a result of a severe ear infection. After retraining in secretarial and bookkeeping work she became involved with the Communist Party of Australia who did not support the White Australia Policy. She was subsequently forced back into domestic service after divorcing her husband. Noonucal was an vocal political activist acting as the state secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Her frequent deputation meant that she was able to lobby Robert Menzies and Harold Holt for changes to Aboriginal rights and the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal citizenship. Her political work added meaning to her literary contributions.

In the 1950's Noonucal became interested in poetry and her first anthology was published by Jacaranda Press in 1964 under the name "We are Going". While the best selling volume of poetry in Australian history it was decried by critics as "not true poetry" for it's incorporation of heavily political and activist views. Noonucal's unique blend of "propaganda poetry" enabled a generation of oppressed Aboriginal's to express their feelings, values and views. Noonucal's poetry has allowed future generations to rediscover the hardships, struggles and atrocities of previous generations which to a person unaware are intensely meaningful and provocative.

Noonucal's later works were influenced by her commitment to education through the establishment of the Noonucal - Nughie Education and Cultural Centre as well as her kidnap on a British Airways flight in 1974 by terrorists in support of Palestinian liberation. Her work continued to reflect her belief that the celebration of Aboriginality should be promoted to as broad of an audience as possible. In 1970 she was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for her services to poetry which she returned in 1988 as a protest against ongoing Aboriginal discrimination. She was later awarded honorary doctorates from Macquarie, Griffith and Monash universities in Australia and was appointed as a representative to the Australian and Torres Strait Islander Commission. In 1993 Noonucal passed away on Stradbroke Island with her distinctive poetic style becoming a long term legacy.

Last of His Tribe - Discovery

Last of His Tribe aims to capture the loss of Indigenous lands and culture.

Last of His Tribe explores Aboriginal displacement and cultural degradation. The poem also highlights population loss due to a lack of healthcare and colonial violence. Writing poetry is an exploratory act that can lead to oneself making discoveries about their life in a careful and planned manner. Literary work captures the context in which they were written allowing for future generations to make discoveries based on curiosity and wonder. For some this text may present discoveries that are new while for others the text is an opportunity to rediscover a dark chapter in Australia's history that is frequently concealed and forgotten. As an audience the discoveries made in this text are confronting and provocative but they are nessescary in order to recognise that not everyone is as privileged or has the same life circumstances as we have.

The following is a summary of the main discoveries in Last of his Tribe:

  • The concept of change is explored throughout this poem. Quotes such as "change is the law" and "the voices and the laughter, all gone" explain how change can lead to personal discoveries that are confronting and provocative. The blunt and simple nature of the language used in this poem emphasises the deepness of the author's reflective process. Responder's to this text are able to understand the context behind the poem further aiding our understanding and allowing us to make new discoveries from the text.
  • As an audience we discover the forced removal of Aboriginal people and the loss of their culture. "All gone, All gone and you remain alone" highlights the devastating nature of this cultural degradation through repetition. This discovery is confronting and provocative. Noonuccal's personal context influences our ability to discover this through her work.
  • The author's reflection on being "displaced in your own country" is her rediscovering, through writing literature, the pain and suffering she has experienced because of Aboriginal disadvantage. The vivid imagery and simplistic nature of the language used highlight the impact of this reflection on the poet and increase the audience's curiosity and wonder.
  • The significant role of missionary's in Aboriginal cultural degradation becomes apparent. References made to "the Salvation Army home" help the responder understand the significant role that missionary's played. Noonuccal's use of colloquialisms makes the poem authentic and relatable. This discovery is most likely to be made for the first time by the audience.
  • The realisation that Aboriginal nations are distinct is confronting and provocative. The fight seen in "you twice in fierce tribal fights, With wild enemy blacks from over the river" indicates that nations did not often get along. The connotation associated with "black" provokes a powerful image allowing the responder to fully experience the depth of distrust that Noonuccal felt.
Thank you for viewing.


Created with images by esther1721 - "aboriginal art aboriginal painting indigenous painting" • Robin Hutton - "Acorn Archimedes RISC Computer based aboriginal artwork derby western Australia Kimberley geko 1993" • variationblogr - "Whale_Engraving_1" • mertie. - "Great Australian Clock (Queen Victoria Building, Sydney)" • butupa - "Archie Roach's " Took the Children Away " National Sorry Day 2015" • feesable - "#frontierwars ANZAC vigil" • pikous - "Aboriginal Art - Lisa" • twistedFrog - "photographic background aboriginal art art"

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