The Canberra Times

18 May 1968

Brungle Aboriginal Station is about 12 acres of land about 60 miles west of Canberra. It is home for some of that racial minority "Australia does not have". John Loizou reports on a piece of God's Own Country.

By John Loizov

" We have no racial minorities within our boundaries to cause us those unending and so far insoluble conditions so acutely suffered by some countries at this time - Sir Garfield Barwick.“There is in fact a racial minority in Australia - Prince Philip."

Quotes from opening speeches at the Duke of Edinburgh's Third Commonwealth Study Conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

To arrive at Brungle about noon on a Saturday is to arrive the morning after payday, and some of the people who live at the settlement like to drink.  

That is not to say all the   people are drunk, but some of   the men are not sober. The men who are not sober come up like phantoms to introduce themselves.

They shake hands many times and tell of how they fought Jack Hassan. Some offer to show how they fought like Jack Hassan.  

Brungle is a settlement for Aborigines between Gundagai and Tumut, about 60 miles due west of Canberra and   about 140 miles by road.    

Set on a barren, green hill   in the foothills of the Australian Alps, Brungle, which has the same name as a nearby hamlet, is five houses and a   dozen humpies on about 12 acres of land.  

The dwellings are on ground officially described as a station but known also as a settlement, reserve or mission.  It is the responsibility of the Aborigines Welfare Board of  NSW.

Minnie Freeman greets my companion David, a Quaker and a regular visitor to Brungle, at the door of her house which is near the gate.  It was built by returned servicemen from Tumut because   her now dead husband was in the Australian Army.

In the sun, outside the house, we meet a few of the people.  A motley lot, they are relatives or friends of Mrs Freeman. To describe them as aboriginal in appearance would be a misnomer. Some are dark with broad flat noses. Others are European. A girl, a young mother, is almost white. She sits with us but does not talk. She looks away.  The others, apparently happy to see David, seem eager to please, but it is only when names are mentioned that the response is anything but vague.  

Have they heard of the annual meeting of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (held in Canberra at Easter)? "No, we   don't get the paper here".  They have not heard of Dr. Coombs.  

They ask their questions.  "Do you know Doug Nicholls?" one man asks. "He's related to my mother". Have we heard of so and so from the North Coast, Queensland, or the Northern Territory?

They are we are told, the type of people who usually go to these conferences. They are sceptical of Charlie Perkins. ("What's he done for us?".)

Fred wanders over to introduce himself; two black girls in bright dresses walk past, one is carrying a small black baby. "She's on her way to the doctor", says Fred, Where? "In Tumut". But why on a Saturday? "Her baby needs a check-up. One died last month". How will she get there. "Hitch a lift most likely". Fred tugs at my sleeve: He is at least middle-aged, I am a young man. "Hey mister", he says, "give her a lift".

A Holden, one of the two or three cars on the settlement and occupied by several young men, goes past and through the gate. The car takes the road to Tumut without the girl.  

With Fred, our guide, we walk across the settlement. Perhaps, he suggests, we would like to meet a friend of his, a good bloke, who makes boomerangs. Fred, we know, is hustling, but we go and see the boomerangs. They are rather sad.

We spend the next hour talking to the people who will talk to us, mostly children and old people. The rest   stay out of our way. We are not invited into any houses.

In 1909 Brungle was of 142 acres and had a population of about 100. Under the supervision of a white man the people ran cattle, sheep and horses; they grew their own vegetables and had their own school.

Today it is not known exactly how many people live on the remaining 12 acres but it is probably about 100, more than 60 are children.

They grow no crops and the only livestock are wandering cows from neighbouring dairy herds. The children go, with white children, to Brungle school. They have wrecked their church.

Many of the people live on their social service cheques, others work with the NSW Forestry Commission or the railways.

Four of the five houses are in the centre of the property and were built more than 25 years ago. The people living in these houses pay either 50c or 75c a week rent. They owe a total of $220 to the Aborigines Welfare Board.

This is how the people or Brungle lost the land which, if not theirs in law, would seem to be in spirit.

In 1890 the Government of NSW put aside three acres for the Aborigines who lived at Brungle or nearby. By 1909 this had been extended to 142 acres.

In 1945 the manager was removed.    

In 1955 the Aborigines Welfare Board apparently decided the land was of no further use. The people on settlement had dwindled to about 42 and they were living in isolation contrary to the policy of assimilation and integration.

Because in all the Australian States, except South Australia, such reserves belong to the government repossession by the Crown Land Department of NSW was simple.

In 1956 this department leased the land to Mr. Edward Quilty who runs a dairy herd of between 40 and 45 cows on about 352 acres. Since then the Aborigines Welfare Board has encouraged the people of Brungle to live in Tumut about 12 miles away.

One family is already living at Gilmore, about five miles from Tumut, and sites for two houses, which will be rented to "suitable" families have been bought in the town. Some, formerly of Brungle, squat in shacks away from Brungle, but not in towns. They include a man who is a foreman with the Forestry Commission.

For many of the people at Brungle their bonds with their land are strong. Most were either born there or are from the South Coast, Griffith, Yass, or Corowa.  

And it seems that after being cared for by government officials for 78 years people are either not yet ready or do   not want to live with white people. Fred Marlow, however, wants to settle in Tumut. At 39 he earns about $40 a week as a forestry worker and lives in one of the houses. I like to live the white fellow's life, he says. "I don't like missions and I never did. I've filled in forms but they tell me it will be a year before I can get a house".

Mr Marlow, who says he has never voted, has been married nine years and has four children. He says he pays about $1 a week rent to his father-in-law but has not got the $100 deposit he apparently needs for a house.

Does he believe anything can be done with Brungle? "It could be a beautiful place", he says. Would he help? "Why should one mail do all the work?" But then Mr. Marlow is from northern NSW; Brungle is his wife's home.

Mrs. Olive Williams, who says she does vote ("We see the politicians about the day before the elections"), and who was born on Brungle, wants to stay. "You get used to the place", she says. "Anyhow the white people in Tumut might not like us living there".

Mr. John French, the Anglican curate at Tumut, lived at Brungle as a boy; he is inclined to agree with Mrs. Williams about the people staying. "Although they are breaking up the mission I think the people will tend to go back", he says "And I feel that some are not ready to shift".

Mr. French's views are echoed by Mr. Steve Murphy, who owns the store at which the aboriginal people do most of their shopping. "They will never go", he says. All agree that something must be done about Brungle.

"It's a shambles", says Mr. French. "They need some sort of help, particularly the mothers. Perhaps like the district nursing service we have in Tumut".

In theory Brungle is in the care of two welfare officers, one male, the other female, who have their headquarters at Griffith. Their schedule includes visits to the settlement once every three weeks. The people say these visits are, in fact, less frequent.

The future of Brungle is unclear. In December last year the NSW Parliament adopted in principle the reports of its Joint Committee on Aborigines Welfare.

The committee decided against the construction of any more houses on aboriginal reserves, or the building of more than two or three houses together for Aborigines. Assimilation, it found, was the best policy.

The committee suggested the abolition of the Aborigines Welfare Board and its replacement by a Director of Aborigines Affairs, but an   appointment has not yet been made.  

Aboriginal affairs' will now be the problem of the Minister for Child and Social Welfare, Mr. Bridges (who is ill) instead of the Chief Secretary.

Meantime, until the new policies are implemented, the people of Brungle will live in squalor; their children will be inflicted with sores and pests; some infants will probably die; and although many men will go to work, others, who are able-bodied, will exist, on charity.