Please join us on Friday 12th May at 10.30am for an interesting chat with author John Heath and our Leanne.
John Heath is a senior Birrpai Goori with extensive experience in Australian Indigenous education, community development, community action research, and historical research.
His research regarding the Thomas Dick Birrpai Photographic Collection (TDBPC) has resulted in media and conference presentations, as well as exhibitions, including documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel (2017). John’s publication Birrpai: Beyond the Lens of Thomas Dick was a feature of his daughter Ngioka Bunda-Heath’s choreographed work Birrpai at the Yirramboi Festival in Melbourne 2021. Ngioka’s production subsequently won the Melbourne Green Room Dance (Best Ensemble) Award 2022.
Resultant from his work regarding the TDBPC, John instigated the Family Stakeholders Group and developed the Protocol Guidelines for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people working with the Thoas Dick Photographic Collection.
Along with the Australian Museum, he is currently developing a documentary regarding the TDBPC; whilst continuing to research and write Birrpai history. This follows the November 2021 publication of Healing the Spirit, which he co-authored with fellow Birrpai senior knowledge holder Bob Davis.
John completed his PhD (UNE 2019) with his familial history thesis, The Seventh Generation which is the basis of Goori-Bugg Dreaming.
With reflection on the “Law of the Seven Generations” Goori-Bugg Dreaming is an Indigenous narrative of the history of aspects of the invasion/colonisation of the lands of the Birrpai and Worimi peoples of the mid north coast of New South Wales, Australia.
Part I is set in the period 1824 to 1879, amid open hostilities and the upheaval caused by the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo.), that continued on through the establishment of the Aboriginal Protection Board.
Part II follows the policies and legacies of these and subsequent institutions, highlighted by segregation, assimilation, self-determination and moves towards reconciliation.
The narrative is based on the lives and experiences of a family dynasty that now extends internationally, but commenced with a Birrpai Goori woman and an English convict assigned to the AACo. Port Stephens Estate. It follows their seven generations of descendants up till the present, highlighting “everyday acts of survival, resistance, and resilience, as forces like family, culture, and love, defy the aim and rule of the structural processes of colonialism, past and present”.
Goori-Bugg Dreaming is an ethnographic work based largely on non-Indigenous historical records, which are somewhat uniquely viewed through the Indigenous eyes of a 5th Generation descendant, and enhanced through the input of other descendants, ranging from 4th to 7th Generation. It highlights the reverberation along family lines of the challenging colonial experiences of the Goori and convict ancestors, and the resilience displayed by themselves and successive generations, who despite these challenges, have risen to make substantive contributions to the wider Australian and in some cases International community. Along their way they have collected notoriety, Australian Services Medals, World Boxing Titles, Olympic Medals, an OAM, several PhD’s and perhaps most significantly, respect within their communities, for continual involvement in the fight for justice for First Nations Peoples.
Effectively anchoring the structural in the personal, it has wide appeal, including highlighting impacts of colonialism on intimate lives and the stark contrast with the more common, brutal, relationships between Aboriginal women and settler/convict men that were based on force or coercion. Goori-Bugg Dreaming extends colonial intimacies literature, by considering both the specific historical context for their relationship, and how history has shaped the lives of their descendants with diverse relationships to culture and inheritance.
More than a Family History, Goori-Bugg Dreaming is a philosophical work that provides a basis for reflection on what could have been, and what can be, if we deeply consider the lives of our ancestors and the lives of our descendants to follow.
Photo credit: Abram Powell (c) Australian Museum