Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Burnum Burnum – a warrior for peace

Marlene J Norst
Kangaroo Press 1999 ISBN-13: 9780864179784

Burnum Burnum is probably most famous for planting the Aboriginal flag beneath the white cliffs of Dover on January 26, 1988 – the year of white Australia’s Bicentenary. The declaration began:

I, Burnum Burnum of the Wurundjeri Tribe, do hereby take possession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal Crown of Australia.

Although comical to many, the statement commented strongly and clearly (for those who didn’t already ‘get it’) on the way in which Aboriginal land had been claimed under the doctrine of terra nullius and how it’s First Peoples continued to be colonised.

The author of what is now known as the Burnum Burnum Declaration was born Harry Penrith under a sacred gum tree at Mosquito Point on Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Reserve in New South Wales, in 1936. He later took the name of his great great grandfather, Burnum Burnum (meaning ‘Great Warrior) of the Wurundjeri people.

A child of the Stolen Generation, Harry was taken from his parents at the age of three months and placed in the United Aborigines Mission Home at Bomaderry before going to Kinchela Boys’ Home. Under the assimilation policy he was raised to believe he was white. In the 1960's he began searching for his Aboriginal identity and joined the battle for Aboriginal rights including being part of the historic establishment of the Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972.

In short, Burnum Burnum was a sportsman, storyteller and internationally recognised advancer of Aboriginal rights and his story, as told by Marlene J Norst was first released in 1999. It has just been re-launched as part of a fund-raising activity for the Sydney Indigenous Tennis Program (SITP). Lua Penrith de Burgh, founder and coordinator of the SITP, is a former junior athletics star herself, AND is the daughter of Burnum Burnum. After she re-read her father's biography she was amazed to see that in the 1960s Harry Penrith ran an Indigenous social tennis club based at Surry Hills. Now the SITP aims to provide employment opportunities for Indigenous youth and adults through gaining an internationally recognised qualification as a tennis coach. The program will provide free tennis lessons for Indigenous children residing in Redfern in 2010.

I understand the re-launch of the book in October was a huge success and raised $500 for the tennis program. Fundraising continues though, so if you haven’t got a copy of Burnum Burnum: a warrior for peace then you can get one through The Good Book Store in Belrose or email Lua to purchase a copy: To donate to the tennis program generally you can do so via the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern.

And here’s a wonderful link between sports and literature! I love it!


linda may said...

Hi just looking up Burnum Burmuns name. He was a friend of my Dad and they played cricket together . He and his family lived up the road from us in Wagga, the year was probably 1965? I knew him as Uncle Harry.

Phil Sharrock said...

yes we lived wagga too and my dad rex sharrock was a friend of harry. He and his family would come for meals and vice a versa....mud 60/s