Letters from the Noongar people will come together in a new project with a goal to uncover a hidden side of indigenous history.
Researchers from Curtin University are set to collate letters from correspondence held by families across Western Australia and fro states archives, dating from the 1860s to the 1960s.
They plan to present the letters together with oral histories and stories by the authors’ descendents, working alongside Noongar advisors.
Curtin University research professor Anna Haebich stated that the letters add to history Noongar voices that have been lost in history, but voices remembered by people in families.
Aboriginal children were taken from their families for decades prior to the 1905 Aborigines Act legalized the practice.
On the other hand, the Act also gave Western Australia’s Chief Protector of Aborigines power over nearly every aspect of an indigenous person’s life as part of a method of segregation.
In a letter to the chief protector by an elderly man dated from about 1911, he requested to be given a pension. Haebich’s understanding is that he never did get it, so they are very powerful letters.
For Elfie Shiosaki, who is an indigenous post-doctoral research fellow at Curtin University, her inclusion in this project is both professional and personal. She is also researching her family history. The Harris’s, her grandmother’s grandparents, were civil rights activists from the early 20th century.
William Harris, who died in 1931 and who had an Aboriginal mother and a Welsh convict father, battled the restrictions of the 1905 Aborigines Act, and created a union of Aboriginal people to push for rights to vote and equality before the law.
Dr Shiosaki stated that she hoped the letters would elevate the voices of Noongar people in history. She said that there are thousands of personal files in existence. They are a record of the states policies as well as how the Aboriginal people during that period sought to negotiate their way through those policies, how they represented their interests and themselves.
Although they are very aware of Western Australia having a dark history with regards to the treatment of Aboriginal people, these types of stories shed light into that history and celebrate those acts of activism.