3rd Jan, 2019
DNA results suggest we are 3rd cousins.
I’m interested in tracing family ties and ancestors, but we know little about my paternal grandfather’s family. Even in my other family lines, there are many holes we yearn to fill.
Hoping I may be of some assistance in filling gaps you may have in your family tree, too.
It does indeed seem we are distant cousins.
In retirement, one interest I am pursuing is family history, with the goal of writing a biographical text about my ancestors who were nation builders. Indeed, many relatives are still nation builders. The story of their contribution is, I strongly feel, a story that must be told. So I want to cast my research net as widely as possible.
1st Feb, 2019
Yes, yes, yes, Malcolm. So much important history of our people has been lost, and every tiny piece will help make our picture more complete.
I’m sorry I’ve been slow to respond – my work as a lawyer has been particularly demanding in the past few weeks.
Although none of my family lines began there, Melbourne is where I and my family now live. Several times a year, I travel interstate for work. Let’s find an opportunity to meet and share the information we have.
2nd February, 2019
I have thought over your proposal and agree we should meet. Little can be lost in making contact; much might be gained.
On 7th March, I travel to Melbourne from the country for a consultation with my specialist. A cafe close to where I am staying would constitute a suitable meeting place.
Incidentally, I was interested to learn you are a lawyer, a profession I also pursued. Already, shared family traits are emerging.
7th March, 2019
Why, Malcolm, why?
It was you, I know it was. When you entered the cafe and the waiter indicated the table at which I was waiting, your face blanched as if you were being confronted by a ghost. Perhaps you were…?
Did you not expect an indigenous woman to be your relative? Were you shocked?
Was I shocked at the sight of you? To my core. I certainly did not expect a man so white to be the relative I awaited.
When I pursued you and stood on the steps of your club, imploring you to simply speak with me, I felt a ghostly sense of déjà vu.
You looked so trapped.
It would be a lie to say I cannot think why. Sadly, I can too easily imagine why. None of my imagined explanations cast you in a favourable light, though.
20th March, 2019
I wait and I wait, but you do not reply.
Last night, haunted by the ghosts of my ancestors, I tossed and turned. Finally, I resolved to make wise use of my insomnia and google through the night.
It isn’t hard these days, is it, to trace the past of those whose milestones were recorded in English? So much that was once hidden is emerging into the light.
Sketchily, I will sum up what I found about your family – and mine. Our family.
Our direct, shared ancestor came here in 1812 – a surgeon on a vessel bringing convicts to New South Wales. From a middle class English family, he was to receive, courtesy of Governor Macquarie, a large grant of land belonging to some other of my ancestors.
Interestingly, our surgeon’s own father had, some forty-two years before, been a seaman on Captain Cook’s expedition. Did he encounter my ancestors on my mother’s side – the Gweagal people? Truth is stranger than fiction, and I believe he must have.
You see, I have inherited only one strand of stories – passed down through my mother’s blood-line. A people who still tell of the ghosts who came by boat, and with their fire-sticks, pierced the leg of one of our warriors as he attempted to evict the pale trespassers.
So many of our stories have been lost, and it has left in my family an unassuageable grief. I still long to know how we have the same great-grandfather, but not the same great-grandmother. Your great-grandmother is recorded as the lawful wife; mine is not recorded at all.
But I’m alarming you – driving you further from renewing contact.
What concerns me is that your avoidance might be based on unnecessary fears.
True, you are probably wealthy and my immediate family has little monetary wealth.
But I have not made contact to claim money. Perhaps you will be reassured now you have this in writing.
I only wish, for the sakes of my parents, now aged 70, and of my children, to know more of all strands of our lost history.
26th January, 2020
Fearing that it might be dangerous (for both of us) to delve too deeply, I never answered your correspondence.
But it has haunted me, nevertheless.
I am an old man, and I have discovered that I am a coward, too. I professed to wanting to write a family history and I claimed I would tell a ‘warts and all” story. By that, I meant a kind of sanitised reality, where I would, for instance, acknowledge that my great-grandfather was reputed to have a bit of a temper, but all-in-all was a decent sort of cove.
What a fraudster I have been.
Having played important roles in this nation, I wished only to live out my remaining days in a smug satisfaction of looking back and recording the deeds of the ‘great’ family which spawned me.
In Melbourne for the tennis recently, I have stayed over for a few days. Yet I could not rest. After my recent heart attack, I have been instructed to walk, but it wasn’t that which drove me from the comfort of my club into the seering heat. It was a – shall we say – a growing unease with the safe place in the world that has been handed to me and which I have not earned.
Nothing like a graze with death to compel someone to confront dishonesty.
On my walk, I encountered marchers with earnest faces – decent people whose placards further disturbed my safe view of the world. The sheer numbers marching astonished me.
Like you, I have been researching and looking into the past. Like you, our connection has puzzled me…intrigued me…compelled me.
My family, a family of squatters, was granted land that did not belong to us –I see that now. My research also establishes that your grandfather and my grandfather were half-brothers.
We don’t have to be Einsteins to deduce the truth. Your great-grandfather and my great-grandfather were one and the same – our great-grandfather.
From that point, we may never be able to do more than speculate. But the picture that is emerging about our great-grandfather is far more egregious than that of a fair man with the one flaw of “a bit of a temper.”
So, Danielle, I would like to formally welcome you to take your place as a descendant of one of the great old squatter families of Australia – a family that laid down roots here some 250 years ago.
28th January, 2020
“White fellas beat about the bush, don’t they?” When I showed your e-mail to Dad, I expected tears…recriminations…anger. A torrent of raw emotions. Instead, I got just one comment, “Those white fellas beat about the bush.”
That said, thank you for welcoming us to an old family – that of our great-grandfather from which we were, for so long, excluded.
In my turn, I am in a position to offer you a connection with the oldest civilisation in the world. Let me extend a welcome – to country and to people. To the civilisation that had already been here for some 60,000 years when Captain Cook – and our ancestor – came.
On the basis of what you’ve shared, a picture is building. A little of that insatiable hunger for knowledge of lost family is being assuaged.
For my elderly father, we may now be able to find a little more of the people from whom he came, and of the rich culture which he was denied.
Of course, as you say, the picture forming of our great-grandfather is not a pretty one.
Perhaps it explains why, as I stood on the steps of your club, imploring you to simply listen, I felt I had been there before.
For, did you notice, in your attached photo, how alike the steps of our ancestor’s station homestead are to the steps of your club?
Did my great-grandmother, on finding she was pregnant, stand on those steps and beg our great-grandfather not to let the child that was coming be seized from her? It is not hard to imagine how she must have pleaded for her baby.
And it is not hard to see how his guilt must have trumped her terror. Oh the urgency of it all! To wipe away all traces of what he had done! Oh, the complications…the wife, the inheritance. The rape? Although we cannot know the precise circumstances of my grandfather’s conception, we can be certain that his mother’s position was one of powerlessness, and our great-grandfather’s one of power. He held every card whilst she had been dealt none at all.
All that my great-grandmother would have feared did come to pass. We have records of my grandfather in a mission school at the age of five; of him being adopted by a white family at the age of six.
I know too, that my grandfather became a nation-builder, as yours did. Working as a navvy, he helped build many roads around our northern cities.
One story passed down to us is of how, his hands shaking after a day on the jackhammer, he bent to retrieve a cigarette he had dropped, and was arrested for begging.
Perhaps you have some station records in your possession that reference the Indigenous workers?
1st February, 2020
You have humbled me without humiliating me. You are my teacher, my conscience, my seer. I deserve nothing from you but censure, but I have received kindness and welcome.
I am truly humbled.
You have helped me see the past undistorted by a prism of false pride. I’ll still write that book about our ancestors, but it will be a very different, more compelling and more truthful account – not some sanitised edit. For removing my blinkers of arrogance, I could not be more grateful to you. In my old age, you have given me the gift of clear sight.
You mention station records. I do indeed have some – although they make for shocking reading. There is a reference to someone who, I think, may be your great-grandmother. Soon after giving birth, this young woman was ‘accepted’ by a neighbouring station. The same entry refers, horrifyingly, to an exchange of several bags of flour.
It feels unbearable that you should know this; more unbearable if you do not.
If you can forgive me, I would like to ask you for the chance to start over. I have been looking into this treaty you are working so hard towards achieving…a treaty so vital to going forward.
If there is anything, no matter how small or how large, with which my law firm can assist (on a pro-bono basis, of course) please tell me.
There is so little I can do to right the horrific wrongs of the past. But this may be something I can do to contribute to a better future for your people…for our people.
I don’t deserve this chance to contribute, but if I may be of some use to you as we enter a new decade…
Until I hear, dearest Cuz.
1st February, 2020
That would be awesome…