In Black + White: Race, Politics and Changing Australia.
Author: Warren Mundine
Publisher: Neutral Bay: Pantera Press, 2017
Hardback, 512 pages
Note by Irene and James Franklin (*)
The autobiography of leading aboriginal politician, Nyunggai Warren Mundine, is dedicated "To my parents. Their Catholic faith in God and family carried me throughout my life." The early sections on his upbringing give a rare insight into a corner of Australian Catholic history that is rarely explored, indigenous communities in settled areas.
His maternal great-great-grandfather Donovan left County Cork in the early 1800s and settled on the NSW South Coast with a Yuin woman. Their son married a Yuin woman and had thirteen children. One of them, Warren's grandfather John Donovan, married Florrie, a woman of Dharawal and possibly Wiradjuri ancestry. They moved to Nambucca Heads, where John became a sawmiller in charge of white as well as aboriginal workers. He borrowed money to buy a house. In some ways, life was less restricted than during the later regime of the Aborigines Protection Board, which under the 1909 Act had the power to control movement and remove children.
Warren's mother Olive, born in 1919, married his father Roy Mundine, a Bundjalung man from the North Coast. He converted to Catholicism a few years later.
Both sides of Warren's family had self-belief. It was important for them to work and be responsible for the welfare of their families. They borrowed to buy a house, though it was more expensive for them as banks were unwilling to lend to them. As Warren was the ninth of eleven children, money was very short, not to mention space in the house. They insisted on the importance of education. They always voted and a number of people in the family were active in aboriginal causes. He writes "Mum ran our home with discipline and order. When she and Dad got married, my grandmother Nan Donovan's wedding gift was a leather strap." It does not seem to have caused harm or resentment.
The family moved to Western Sydney for better opportunities and Warren went to high school at Marist Brothers, Auburn. At one point in his mid-teens he got into trouble after knocking a man down in a pub and appeared before the Juvenile Court. His headmaster and parish priest wrote letters about his decent, hardworking family and the magistrate said "This is a serious crime. You've obviously got strong support from those who believe in you. I hope you take the opportunities of this and do something better with your life." He did.
Warren's family background guided him to a life as a politician, family man, advisor to Prime Ministers on indigenous affairs, journalist and author. It is a source of his present strong views on the evils of welfare dependency and the need for genuine work opportunities and home ownership in remote communities.
His is a great story for our time. It is very readable and thoroughly recommended.
(*) Irene and James Franklin are ACHS members.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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