Headstone

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  • Published 20120605
  • ISBN: 9781921922534
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

AT THE TIME of his death, in 1883, Wambeetch Puyuun was the only Liwira Gunditj still living on his country in the Western District of Victoria. In its obituary, the Camperdown Chronicle reported: ‘As the last remnant of his race in this locality has passed away in “Camperdown George”, it has been suggested to commemorate the circumstances by raising a tablet to his memory in the cemetery.’ Perhaps not surprisingly, nothing came of this suggestion, at least not until Wambeetch Puyuun’s friend James Dawson, the local Protector of Aborigines, returned to the district following two years’ absence in his native Scotland. Dawson immediately set about raising funds for just such a memorial, but without much success, and the obelisk that now stands in the Camperdown Cemetery was erected largely at Dawson’s own expense. One of those Western District squatters who Dawson approached for a donation famously responded with the words: ‘I decline to assist in erecting a monument to a race of men we have robbed of their country.’

Such cynical sentiments seem to have prevailed throughout the later-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Apart from the grave of Thomas Mitchell’s guide Yuranigh, with its combination of Aboriginal carved trees and European inscribed marble, the tombstone of Indigenous cricketer Johnny Mullagh Unaarrimin at Harrow, William Ricketts’ eccentric sculpture park at Mt Dandenong and Dawson’s tribute, I cannot think of any significant monuments to Aboriginal Australians erected prior to the 1988 Aboriginal Memorial in the National Gallery of Australia, with its Bicentennial two hundred log coffins, or the slightly later installation outside the Museum of Sydney by Fiona Foley and Janet Laurence, Edge of the Trees (1995).

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