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As pollies descend on Orange, Uncle Bill Allen tells them: "The ghosts are still roaming this land"

April 17, 2023

(L-R) Aunty Helen Riley, Sharon Riley and Uncle Bill Allen. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

The ghosts of Aboriginal people slaughtered in the Central West frontier war of 1824 are still wandering the plains of the Central West - including Orange, Lithgow, Bathurst and Blayney - Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Bill Allen told a federal parliamentary inquiry into the Indigenous Voice held in Orange on Monday.

“The land around here has the bones and the remains of people, and the ghosts of all those people are still roaming this land, and that is something that affects me because it’s a story that has to be told,” he said.

Uncle Bill is a descendant of Windradyne, who led the resistance against the British in 1824.

“On the 14th of August 1824 governor Brisbane declared martial law on everything west of Mount York near Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains,” Uncle Bill said.

“When you talk about martial law to people in Australia it doesn’t mean anything but it was declared on us because it was a way of trying to control us.

“We were considered British subjects when governor Arthur Phillip came in 1788 because that's what the orders were - that they claimed this land and automatically we became British subjects. But we’ve never ever been treated that way with rights.

“There was warfare here in 1824 when the Wiradjuri took on the British Empire and fought against them and had them almost beat, but the British retaliated to bring things back under control.”

Uncle Bill said Wiradjuri weren’t just fighting the authorities but a local militia.

“They also gave muskets and guns to the convicts,” he said. “Basically it was … open slather on blackfellas - go out and kill as many as you can. They wiped out whole family groups in different areas just because they were black, they hadn’t done anything wrong. Nothing.

“It was retaliation [for] the number of white people that were killed. Wiradjuri … targeted those whitefellas that killed Wiradjuri people. It was payback killing. But with the whitefellas in those days - just go out and kill any blacks you come across.”

A Bathurst Elder, Uncle Bill said Bathurst “won’t come to terms” with its history.

The Sydney Gazette in 1824, with the governor's proclamation highlighted. Trove.

“It's about us trying to decolonise everybody, because we need to move away from that. If we were to become a nation that is truly united we have to face up to the atrocities that took place in this country, and that's the thing Australia won't face up to.”

He said that he was the only black student in school classes in Bathurst and that although he was taught “whitefellas moved in and blackfellas moved out”, it wasn’t the truth.

“I'm sitting there listening to them talking about all these pioneers coming over the mountain and thinking, ‘Well, what about my people? Mum and dad said they were here’. So I learnt a different history to what the other kids in the class learnt, but my history didn’t matter when I used to talk about it.”

He said that “in some ways, it still doesn’t matter in Bathurst”.

“Because nobody’s ever asked us before. Because we weren't allowed to speak up. We were put onto missions and reserves and told not to speak our language; and not practise our culture; and not teach our kids how to look for food in the bush, otherwise your kids would be taken.

“That’s why there are stories like Auntie Helen’s [see below] - there are mothers who hid their kids. I know women who did that there in Bathurst back in the 1950s and 60s. Told me what they had to do when they were kids. You had to go run and hide, because the welfare was coming. Man in the black suit with the black car.”

He said “truth telling has to happen as part of all of that, but we need to get that Voice so the truth can come out and once we do that we can do the healing that needs to be done, and walk together.”

On March 30 the House of Representatives and the Senate both agreed to the establishment of the Joint Select Committee on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice Referendum.

The parliamentary committee listens to speakers in Orange City Council chambers. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

There are 13 politicians on the committee, which is chaired by Labor’s Senator Nita Green. They include local MP Andrew Gee. Some flew to Orange from Canberra on Sunday ahead of the inquiry, while others appeared by video link.

Gee, who quit the National Party over its anti-Voice position, told The Orange News Examiner he lobbied for one of the five national hearings to be held in regional NSW.

Although the committee was appointed to inquire more into constitutional technicalities than general views on the Voice, one committee member told The Orange News Examiner it was important to hear on-the-ground experiences from people who may not be on top of the minutiae of constitutional law.

Speakers in the morning session were Orange deputy mayor Gerald Power, councillor Jeff Whitton, Orange Aboriginal Medical Service CEO Jamie Newman, Uluru Youth Dialogue’s Alisha Agland, Annette Steel, Roy Ah-See and Kim Whitely.

Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

In the afternoon session speakers were Mingaan Wiradjuri Aboriginal Corporation’s Aunty Helen Riley and Sharon Riley, and Uncle Bill Allen.

Sharon Riley spoke about the importance of having work opportunities so that young Indigenous people didn't need to leave their families and culture to find work.

She said Indigenous people needed a greater voice in how funding was allocated, and that groups needed security in funding, not just programs that run for a year or two.

Uncle Bill said it was often difficult for Indigenous groups to wade through the bureaucracy and paperwork needed to satisfy government bodies.

Aunty Helen spoke of how Aboriginality in her family had to be hidden in order to fend off the government.

“Nanna disregarded her Aboriginality because welfare was trying to take me … I never got involved in it until later life - we weren’t allowed to talk about it, and nanna didn’t talk about mum or anything like that, my late mother.

“She was frightened of losing us to the welfare. My grandparents were good living people, nanna was a Wiradjuri lady from Gulgong but she kept everything under the table because she didn’t want to lose me and my brother, because she’d lost her daughter. And that has been a big impact on us.”

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