Monday, 20 October 2008

two heroes - barak & john green

Episode 3 of The First Australians introduced four people who deserve to be remembered, two of whom lived heroically.

The episode told of the displacement of the indigenous people by the white settlement in Melbourne, and how one tribe, the Wurundjeri, led by Simon Wonga and later Barak, chose not to oppose the whites by violence, but rather to seek the independence and prosperity of their people. This necessitated some degree of acceptance of the European takeover and some accommodation with white culture, while still preserving traditional culture.

They sought to be given a grant of land (a small part of what had been their country), and finally settled on land on the Yarra River at Corranderrk. They made a success of farming, and prospered. In all this they were assisted by a Scottish minister, John Green, who supported their independence and treated them with the respect they deserved. His wife, Mary Green, provided education for aboriginal children, a necessary step if they were to survive economically.

Officialdom was initially on their side, recognising the Wurundjeri ownership of Corranderrk, which became an aboriginal mission and reserve, and appointing Green as manager of the station. Unlike other managers of similar stations, he set up governance processes which put the tribal leaders in authority, and the Wurundjeri prospered.

But the Aboriginal Protection Board (which in reality had no such helpful aim!) started to interfere, leading Green, unwisely, to resign in protest - he later withdrew his resignation but the Board wanted him out, so they accepted the resignation anyway. Around this time, Wonga died and Barak took over as leader. He negotiated tirelessly and with integrity and intelligence with a Board that lacked that integrity, many times making the 60 km walk into Melbourne to press his case, to have Green reinstated and Corranderrk to be administered freely by the Wurundjeri. At times he was aided by socialite Anne Bon, who stuck her neck out for the aboriginal people.

Eventually the Board set up a process which removed many of the Wurundjeri people from Corranderrk, and the community collapsed. Barak died an old and somewhat disillusioned man, but not before he documented in paintings his now doomed culture. Corranderrk was sold, but was purchased by the aboriginal people recently.

Green and Barak come out of this history with great credit. They showed courage, humanity, respect for those different to them, and demonstrated that aboriginal-white relations could have been so much more productive and egalitarian if only the white Australians had treated them with respect and recognised their human rights. I'd never heard of Barak or Green before, but they have become two of my heroes.


  1. just seen the 3rd first australians.
    absolutely great and amazing. great to view the history from a different perspective.I am a white australian, 4th generation victorian. It made me think back to what my greatgrandfather and mother were doing in the 1870s and 80s, whilst Barak and Wonga were going through what they were going through.This series should be used for primary education for all australian primary schools.

  2. Agree, it is amazing.

    Might be too much for primary students, but should be shown to say year 7-8 students for sure.


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