Discovering your Burramattagal heritage

DISCOVERING FAMILY SECRETS

Jules and Jayne Christian are a mother and daughter from Wagga, NSW.  We interviewed them about their journey in discovering their family's Aboriginal heritage and connection to Parramatta.

 

Jules and Jayne are descendents of Peggy (Margaret) Reed, a Burramattagal girl admitted to the Parramatta Native Institute when she was a young girl in 1820. 

Both mother and daughter have embraced the importance of connecting to country, as a way to pay respect to the trauma of those such as Peggy, who was forced to leave her family and home in the early years of the British colony in NSW.

 

Theirs is a journey of enrichment through weaving, connection, storytelling and truth-telling. We first discovered their story through Jules' article Vessels of Love, published by Garland Magazine. 

Interview conducted at the Parramatta Artist Studios, August 2020, by Dr. Sarah Barns, ESEM Projects. Photography by Joseph Mayers. Commissioned by the City of Parramatta. 

Interview with Jules Christian

Tell us about how you came to discover your Aboriginal heritage?

 

I’ve been doing my family tree for 40 odd years. I traced my line to my ancestor Peggy. That’s name she was given, well it was Margaret, or Number 34 at the Parramatta Native Institute in 1820. She arrived there when she was eight years old. 

 

We were looking back into my family history and working out where we come from, trying to understand our Aboriginal line. I remember going to a family reunion at Sharpe’s creek, when I was in my early 20s. People would come up to us and say: “Do you know your Aboriginal?’”. Everyone was mystified by this Aboriginal line. But when I spoke to my mother, she was a bit perplexed, because her mother never told her. 

 

When I was growing up, we knew we had this Aboriginal line, but it wasn’t something that was ever discussed in the house. So I asked my mother for her permission to go and search, and see where our line actually started from. As much as it ducked and weaved around, whenever I looked for something, I would find it. There was no real hard journey. Things were just there, they would come into my hands or into conversation. 

 

Everything, I believe, is mapped. Our future is mapped. It was my time to find out where we come from, to pass that information on to Jayne. I went to the local Wirajduri community in Wagga, and dear Aunty Isabel Reed, I had conversation with her, she’s Wirajduri, she said check out Canberra, go there to find out more. So I did. I rang and got onto Ronald Briggs, now in Sydney. I had a conversation with him, and he was quite stunned and shocked in a way. 

 

He said to me: ‘Give me the names in your line’. So I said ‘Peggy, Anne, Arthur, Eliza, Mary and me’. He said, can you repeat that again but go the other way? So I went up the line. And he stopped and he was silent and he said: ‘We never knew what happened to that little girl’. And that was my Nan. 

 

How many people are part of the Barramattagal line in Wagga? 

 

Peggy married Johnathon Goldspink in 1832. He was a convict sent here for life. They went to Goulburn, then into the hills, they followed the explorers. Their descendants settled around Yass, Adelong, Tumbarumba. They didn’t travel like they do now, they just settled up around there. 

 

Goldspink is a popular name today, there’s a lot who live up around Tumbarumba, they’ve been there for generations. Peggy had 13 children, they all had lots of children, that makes for a lot of decedents. There’s also cousins in WA. They’re all people who identify as Barramattagal, all over the place, all over Sydney. 

 

It’s been a wonderful journey for me. We always knew we were Aboriginal, but not where we fit in.

 

He [Ronald] gave me a lot of information, which I was thankful for. A lot of our information has been recorded, it’s kept in the museums and the libraries. 

 

Mum’s Nan’s brother, George Percy Perfect, he served as an indigenous soldier. He was knocked back from serving, then when conscription came he did go. 

 

It’s interesting for me and my generation now to look back and see, how did people identify, how did the government identify people. 

 

My Mum was born during the assimilation policy, my Nan was born during the White Australia policy, and its very interesting to see how that impacts on your freedom to identify. So my Nan, she kept her heritage quiet, but her brother, who had no dependents, could identify as an indigenous soldier. 

 

What do you do to connect to your cultural heritage and country today? 

 

With the disconnection to country, the weaving helps me. It just came to me…I’d just retired, I saw an advert about an exhibition, which was closing that day. I saw all this beautiful weaving, I had such a yearning to do it. I found a local weaving group called ‘Hands On Weavers’, they sat me down with Aunty Joyce, a master weaver. 

 

I was so privileged to sit down and have a yarn with her, she’s a Neamber [??] woman living in Wagga. Wagga was classed as a resettlement area, where people come and resettle. I did a BA at CSU, then studied Indigenous Studies at Deakin, all after I retired. I learned so much, starting to talk more about my story. The weaving, I look at it as a connection to country. I value that connection, because I’m disconnected. 

 

In my mind I’m always thinking: what would Peggy have done? 

 

I remember my Nan, with tears in her eyes saying to me, you should do something with your life. I didn’t know the story behind what she had felt. She was born in 1891, Peggy died in 1898. So that creates a sense of disconnection among her children, passed down. 

 

Jayne: Peggy was only eight when she was taken from her family. Peggy was a God fearing domestic seamstress, she was respected in the white world, but that came as a cost to her. 

 

So that’s been the colonisation, but now decolonisation, of our family line.  

 

Jules: That’s where the weaving brings it together. For me when I weave, I connect. It’s a connection you have. Anyone can weave. Anyone can knit. But this connection you have with the fibre, the different pieces you create, they create themselves, you’re just a vessel that allows it to be created. Each time you do your weaving, you’re weaving part of your story, part of your energy. 

 

How have you learned this? 

 

Through talking to mob, through talking with different Aunties. 

Interview Jayne Christian

 

How do you pass your knowledge on?

 

The things I’m drawn to are things that I’ve felt were missing throughout my life.  When I started weaving, I’d gone through uni, I’d done a bit of travel, and I was at home with mum, thinking how do I get a job? 

Mum said come up to the Aunties and do some weaving, and I felt like I just needed to get a job, I thought I haven’t got time for that.  As it was, until I sat down and learned to muster some patience, nothing really fell into place for me. 

 

So that’s how I started weaving. It was also during that time that I was involved in a Sister Speak program, going in to Tomorra (?) public school, and having conversations with the Aboriginal girls, and having conversations about how they identified when they were in the care system. 

Their families had told them stories, they knew what their totem was, so you knew where they were from, so you’d helped to reinforce that in them, you’d help them to join the dots. That was really worthwhile. For me going through school, I knew I was Aboriginal but not that I was Darug, it would have meant a lot to know where I was from. 

The piece with the Emu feathers was really important to me. It wasn’t just about weaving with stitch, it was about the materials I collected, learning from Aunty Clare Bates, who’s a master weaver, lives down in Wentworth on the Murray River, she took me to collect the grass, and then I was boiling up sap from the trees up there, and I collected the emu feathers from an Emu but I did so respectfully, from a deceased Emu…

 

So it was all these things, the person who you’re weaving with, the person who showed you where the grass is, the tree you got it from, I also included my own hair, it was really symbolic of all these connections and this time in my life. It all takes time. A lot of time. It’s up on my wall now, and it makes me smile because it reminds me of all those beautiful places out there. 

 

So I went from thinking I was too good to weave, I didn’t have the patience to weave, to really getting the connections to weaving. 

 

Earlier this year I was involved in a workshop with Jonthan Jones. Someone asked me, ‘should I use this colour?’. I said you’re already breaking the rules. It used to be that anything that fostered a connection between Aboriginal people and their mob was generally prohibited. Whether language, cultural practice, family association. These were the things you weren’t allowed to do. 

 

This is the era of truth telling. We’re finally in a generation, in a world, in an age, when it can happen, but it needs to happen, so we can all keep moving forward. I didn’t expect the weaving to be a vehicle for this, but it certainly has been. 

 

Truth telling takes place in so many forms. It’s important for other people trying to find their way, that we help thing. It’s not a money thing. It’s a struggle to make connections, to go up to an Aunty or Uncle, to start talking. What we do is we sit and have conversations, we do one on ones, we do social media, for people who are lost. We try to facilitate these connections. 

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