SH: Who's your mob and where did you grow up?
Whenever I give a Welcome to Country or Cultural Awareness talk, I begin by asking for a show of hands if anyone can tell me the origin of the name of Canberra THEIR national capital.. I generally get one or two very shy responses, because very few Australian's know the origins of the name of their federal capital city. Then when I ask those who do respond what Canberra means, they generally respond "meeting place" – WRONG! All this business about Canberra meaning "meeting place" is a load of colonial contrivance.
Ngambri..the People that Canberra gets its' name from are my mob Stephen. . Ngambri means cleavage, the space between a woman's breasts (..it's a great place) in our language, which is Walgalu,
It's ACT government policy to acknowledge another group of which they say we are a "family sub-group", BUT... although we share a border with the Wallabalooah/Boorowa People who speak Onerwal. we don't speak their language. Ngambri and Ngurmal People speak Walgalu! Our languages are as different as Italian and Austrian, yet Italy & Austria share a boarder.
JJ Moore, the first colonial to arrive in the area in the early1820s, named his property Camberri because he was so inspired by our People. Ngambri People numbered in the thousands on the very place he came to claim, our corroboree grounds. It seems he couldn't get his tongue around the 'Ng' sound. AIATSIS and the National Museum of Australia are located on the site today. I have a copy of a letter JJ Moore wrote in 1826 referring to his property as "Camberri". In 1913 the wife of the Governor Anglicised the name and declared the new capital of Australia to be called "Canberra".
Ngambri People gathered around Blacks' Mountain and Byalagee (Mt Ainslie), the breasts of the spirit woman in our landscape. The hill that Australia's Parliament House now sits on is the womb of our spirit mother, a valued spiritual place in Ngambri Country. When they desecrated that site and dug it up to put Parliament House on it, they found a mound of white ochre, our highly prized trading commodity. Then they constructed a building that looks like two people sitting back to back - to turn your back on someone is the most insulting behaviour in our culture.
Norman B. Tindale caused a lot of confusion about the Ngambri People when he omitted the Walgalu speakers from his very flawed and famous 1974 Aboriginal language groups map that governments conveniently swear by.
Norman Tindale admitted his omission to the SA Museum as below and described our six thousand eight hundred square mile language area, which includes the area known as the ACT as follows:
Walgalu (NSW) - Location: Headwaters of the Murrumbidgee, and Tumut rivers; at Kiandra; south to Tintaldra; northeast to near Queanbeyan. Parkes obtained some details from a Wiradjuri man at Brungle under the name Guramal or Gurmal. These notes also apply in part to the Ngarigo. Both tribes were to him ['guarai], or hostile people. The Walgalu spent their summers in the Bogong Mountains ['Bu:ga:?] southeast of Tumut. This tribe was omitted in error from my 1940 work. Mrs. J. M. Flood has drawn my attention to Howitt's note saying that the Walgalu went as far as Kauwambal on the upper Murray River, which she identifies as between Mount Kosciusko and Mount Cobberas. It can perhaps be assumed that they extended their bogong-gathering forays by following the highlands along the eastern border of Djilama-tang territory.
Co-ordinates 148°40'E x 35°40'S
Area 2,600 sq. m. (6,800 sq. km)
References Howitt, 1883, 1884, 1904; Queanbeyan Police Magistrate in Curr, 1887; Bulmer in Howitt, 1904; Mathews, 1907 (Gr. 6520), 1908 (Gr. 6570), 1909 (Gr. 6441); Tyrrell, 1933; Parkes, 1952 MS; Massola, 1968; Flood, 1973 verb.
Alternative Names Walgadu, Wolgal, Wolgah, Tumut tribe, Tumut River people (['mur:i?] = men), Guramal (of Wiradjuri- 'hostile men'), Gurmal.
This information is reproduced from NB Tindale's Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974). Please be aware that much of the data relating to Aboriginal language group distribution and definition has undergone revision since 1974. Please note also that this catalogue represents Tindale's attempt to depict Aboriginal tribal distribution at the time of European contact.
Collection AA338 Norman Barnett Tindale. Published by the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM ARCHIVES on the South Australian Museum website, 2000. Updated 1 November 2011 http://archives.samuseum.sa.gov.au/tindaletribes/walgalu.htm
Belmore in Sydney is where I was born, on Christmas Eve 1955, the second son of five children. My sister Lisa followed two years later, as it says on her birth certificate. The reason I say that is because my birth record was destroyed when the hospital I was born in burned down. There is a rumor around that I was born in England because I have a Certificate of Declaratory in lieu of a Birth Certificate. Let me assure you that my Mother has never left Australia and would never go to England if you paid her. Paul was my parents first born. There are two more brothers, Mark being the youngest.
We grew up not knowing our Aboriginal heritage. Mum didn't identify as Aboriginal, neither did her mother (Adelaide McClelland) who was taken from her mother (Florence Ellen Lowe) at the Brungle Mission with her six siblings prior to WW1. They were put into St Joseph's & St John's Catholic orphanages in Goulburn where they had the Aboriginal beaten out of them. Florence died within weeks of her children being taken away, such was her grief. The girls were then sent to La Perouse in Sydney. One of their brothers was never seen again, the remaining six siblings formed pact never to reveal their Aboriginal background for fear of their children being taken from them and created a story about their great great grandmother being an island princess..
SH: So when did you learn about your Ngambri Background?
In 1989, I was working as an independent publicist for small theatre in Sydney and was asked to consider touring the play "Massacre at Myall Creek" by John Summons. I had recently formed a relationship and was introducing my new partner to my family and my young nice Kelly was showing Elizabeth the family photo album. Elizabeth pointed to a photograph and asked, "Who's the Aboriginal Woman?" I said, "That's Auntie Vi" and the page was duly turned and nothing more was said until we returned to our accommodation and she questioned me, "Who's Auntie Vi?" she said. "That's my grandmother's sister" I responded. "But she's Aboriginal!" she exclaimed. She checked with the Director General for Aboriginal Affairs in NSW, who was assisted us to get the Myall Creek story on the school syllabus and he checked out my background, called me and said "Your Island Princess comes from Canberra way". "Australia's a blood big island" was my response.
The AIATSIS Family History unit confirmed the history and truth has and continues to unfold. We have connected with over four hundred Ngambri relations scattered around Australia and have a nine generation undisrupted matriarchal lineage going back to the Ngambri woman who was given to James Ainslie in 1825 by the neighbouring Wallabalooah/Boorowa People, who had stolen her from Ngambri Country. Ija was told to take Ainslie away, back to her country on the limestone plains. They thought Ainslie was the 'spirit' of a dead black fella because he was white and he had all these little clouds on legs (sheep) and a convict crew. We call her Ija which means mother in Walgalu as Ija is only referred to as Ainslie's lubra in the history books. Imagine how she would have felt being given to a 'spirit'? Put yourself in her shoes for a minute. How would you feel? They headed off...one roll in the sack and she knew he was just another bloke. They had a daughter a year later, Ju.nin.mingo is her name, which means born by the grass tree in Walgalu. The rest is history that has been recorded and kept simply because James Ainslie was in the country for ten years...never mind the tens of thousands of years of my Aboriginal ancestry.
SH: What can you tell me about your early life – interest, hobbies?
My father, Jim Mortimer, is a respected motor engineer. When I was a very little fella, about 3 years of age, he had a Neptune service station on Woodville Rd Villawood in western Sydney. Dad would have been about 25 I suppose. Neptune had cardboard masks that little boys prized then. The masks fitted on with a bit of elastic and when you put them on you thought you could frighten people into thinking you were the bearded Neptune. Dad took me to work with him one day, I guess Mum needed a break given my little sisters' arrival and I remember watching the driveway staff serving petrol. I though that looked like a great thing to do, so the next car that came in, I went out to serve petrol, grabbed the hose and pulled the trigger and hosed down the customer and his car. When Dad realized what was going on he raced out, called my name and I turned around with the hose and doused him with petrol too. In those days, people smoked, it was fortunate for me no one was smoking at the time. That was the beginning of my work experience. We lived at Westmead. Dad sold that business and rented a workshop in Toongabbie then bought a freehold Shell Service Station with a house next door soon after. It was more a workshop than a petrol station on the Great Western Highway, Pendle Hill which was just a two lane road then and a small community of Maltese poultry farmers. He sold the Westmead house and we moved to Pendle Hill.
Ice skating and ice hockey was the first sport I played. Mum was a champion figure skater and Dad was at the top of his league in ice hockey. Skating is a tough sport and hard on the knees. It was a long way to drive for 6am starts at Prince Alfred Park near Redfern from Pendle Hill every Sunday morning and in the evenings during the week for practice, so they gave skating away when I was about nine and we bought a small 12 foot long boat. It wasn't too comfortable for Mum and at that point, with four children and another on the way, Dad found our first small cabin cruiser that we kept on the marina at Cabarita on the Parramatta River. That was the beginning of a long association with boating and fishing. Dad then built a larger boat from scratch out of steel in the workshop. We then joined the Ku-ring-gai Motor Yacht Club and moored our boat there at Coal & Candle Creek near the Hawkesbury River. We progressed up to a larger fiberglass boat that we fitted out ourselves, followed by another larger boat built of timber. Boating was a family lifestyle and a great social interest. It was a privileged life and the opportunity to meet and socialize with some of Australia's most influential business people.
SH: What memories do you have of your primary school days?
Hilltop Road Public School was where I started out from Kindergarten to 4th grade. We used to walk to school and back from Westmead to Hilltop, which was quite a distance. We would amuse ourselves by running sticks along fences as we walked. Paul and I had bikes that we used to ride the minute we arrived home from school with our friends. We had great neighbours in the quiet cul-de-sac we lived in, everyone looked out for one another. We used to build billy carts with ball bearing wheels Dad would bring home from work for us. They were fun..needless to say we had the usual lot of bumps and scratched as a result. In 4th Grade I had a teacher named Mr Cole who took a shine to me. He used to get me to run down to the corner shop sometimes to pick up his lunch order. One day he asked me to buy some sliced devon and gave me a one pound note. A teacher's pay was probably about three pounds ten shillings a week then. So one pound was a lot of money. I went to the shop and bought a pounds worth of sliced devon, returned it to the staff room and wondered why he hit the roof. I didn't understand that he wanted a pound (.5kg) of devon rather than a pounds worth! Not long after that incident, we moved to Pendle Hill and I changed schools to Pendle Hill Public where I completed years four, five and six before progressing to Greystanes High School. Pendle Hill Public School is where I met an Aboriginal person for the first time, Shirley Elderidge who was in 5th and 6th class with me. Shirley was brilliant at soft ball. Shirley could out bat any of the guys in the school and was a real achiever in class.
SH: What was your work history?
At seven o'clock every morning before school from the age of twelve, I would put overalls over my school uniform and go into the workshop to open up for the day, turn on the lights and the air compressor, make sure the bell hose was put out on the driveway, open the big old roller shutters, park any cars that were in the lube bay, take out the oil bottle racks, fill up and polish the oil bottles, fill the radiator water containers, count the float. Serve any customers who came in early to check their cars in and arrange a lift to work for them with one of the workshop crew if they needed it, hand out the daily job cards to the mechanics then get out of the overalls and go to school, either on my bike or the 8.20 school bus to Greystanes High School. At the end of the day, I went and had a snack, put my overalls back on and waited on the driveway or counter until closing time at six o'clock, then took everything back in that I had put out. That was Monday to Friday. Saturday was only a half day then we would have the afternoon to catch up with friends. Sunday we had a friend, Uncle Keith, to look after the driveway service. I would open up and hang out with him until I had something better to do. He taught me how to thoroughly was a car. Something we did together on most Sundays until the business just wasn't worthwhile staying open on a Sunday and that meant we could go down to the boat and go fishing Saturday afternoon and stay onboard until Sunday night. We had a great time, Lisa always caught all the weird fish!
I left school in 4th form (Year 10) after my School Certificate and worked full time in the family business running the spare parts department. I had completed one year of a three year part time course at Granville Technical College (TAFE) in business management and automotive replacement parts by then, which I completed in the next ten months by attending two nights per week to get it over with. We moved house to Northmead that year and I had my drivers license and my own car. Dad sold the business and retired that year, he was fourty two! He worked on the philosophy of "If your business interferes with your boating, give up your business".
Fortunately, an offer to work for Crown Lift Trucks came my way and I started with them as a go'fer..you know, go'fer this and go'fer that. They put me into a new Falcon ute and I would travel between Admin, sales, service etc with the internal mail, making sure the boss's car was fueled up and through the car wash. They saw some potential in me and made me a sales trainee. After a while, they elevated my position to management trainee, a world first in Crown and I spent my time getting to know all elements of the business. Sales, production planning, purchasing, Accounts, EDP (Electronic Data Processing was a big deal) and service, then they sent me to live in Melbourne to get familiar with a branch office operation. Crown is a smart company and way ahead of its' time in appointing agents in Indonesia, Sinagpore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong, where I was posted to assist the development of Crown's South East Asia dealer network. Initially I lived in Singapore, then I moved to Kuala Lumpur. When this posting finished, I returned to Sydney and was appointed to the position of National Training Manager and I was sent to the USA World Head Office in Ohio, where I met staff from the UK, Ireland, Germany and US Dealerships for formal training and Chicago to familiarise with a dealer operation. Upon returning I spent my time establishing a training facility in the Smithfield manufacturing plant and travelling between branches training sales staff in the technical aspects of demonstrating equipment and assessing the suitability of various models to their applications in the field.
It was a heady time at Crown, business was booming, they were sponsoring the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard, advertising on television and radio..remember that jungle "There is nothing like a Crown..for picking it up and putting it down" written by my cousin Lorenzo Toppano and his mother Peggy Mortimer. Then a severe downturn in the Australian economy with over twenty percent unemployment made my position redundant! Crown gave me the choice of staying on in Sydney sales or a lucrative payout after ten years service.
I took the payout and set up business with my cousin producing jingles in Sydney, Hong Kong and L.A. Travelling a lot! That was all great, the family was all together living in a beautiful house on a five acre estate in Dural and kept a large cruiser at the yacht club. Then Lorenzo won the Chile Song Festival in South America, became number one recording artist in every Spanish speaking country in the world and too busy to write jingles..the business was a fizzer. The family became dysfunctional as families do and we sold up everything a bought a farm near Bundaberg, Queensland. That was a disaster.
I returned to Sydney to pick up the threads and worked back stage for my auntie and uncle at the Manly Music Loft at night, then found work selling conveyor belting during the day. A part time bar job came up at a theatre in French's Forest where I me my partner/wife and we started publicising, producing and promoting plays and theatrical events. We quickly built a very successful and enjoyable business publicising and producing over six hundred plays in seventeen years during which we tour managed the 'Massacre at Myall Creek' play when my Aboriginal focus took over. The play inspired me to attain a diploma in Film Production from Macquarie University because I wanted to get the story to a broad audience in the interest of progressing understanding of Aboriginal issues.
We moved to Canberra where now I actively participate in Aboriginal and Indigenous pursuits after having undertaking a lot of personal development, a certificate in neuro linguistic programming, Landmark Curriculum for Living, Feldenkrais and now a Cert IV Workplace Training and Assessment.
In the summer of 2009/10, I co-produced my first feature film with Alan Lock, called 'Vulnerable' which has enjoyed film festival success in the USA. We are presently negotiating a release in Australia. Check out www.vulnerablethemovie.com on the web. You can see a preview and the list of festival credits there. It's a contemporary drama about two young couples that literally meet head on.
Presently I am working on a thirteen part documentary series on Indigenous grasslands. I have also work-shopped the Myall Creek feature film concept with two Hollywood screenwriters who work with Jodie Foster and they really like the piece, so I am writing the screenplay with the assistance of Alan Lock and research by Paul Hodgkinson. It's a cracker story that will captivate an international audience and really deliver a punch.
SH: Did you experience much racism as a teenager? If so – what form did it take?
Racism was not something I really had much of an awareness or experience with growing up. My fathers sister married an Italian guy named Enzo from Broken Hill...a brilliant concert accordionist! Most of the people I mixed with in the area were migrants of some sort, particularly the Maltese. The people we socialised with didn't give the subject a mention. Mind you, people always had difficulty guessing my 'ethnic' background. Generally they would guess Italian or Greek.
Since identifying and speaking out about Ngambri Country, discrimination is something I certainly experience these days, particularly from the ACT Government.
SH: Why do you think native title is such a divisive issue within the Indigenous community?
The core issue with Native Title is that most Aboriginal People have been hoodwinked by so called "experts" (drips under pressure) into confining their thinking to the Federal Government's Native Title Act and don't seem to have their head around the fact that WE already have Native Title - Common Law Native Title. We do not have to apply to anyone to make a Native Title Claim under the Native Title Act. There are great Aboriginal Lawyers and consultants around the likes of George Villaflor who Aboriginal People can trust to give the right guidance on Native Title. The Government's Native title Act, like ILUA's (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) are not worth the paper they are written on! We don't need 'yarraman' (Walgalu for white fellas) telling us where we do or don't belong.
Here's a case in point: As a Ngambri Aboriginal Elder and Common Law Native Title owner of the land on which the Commonwealth Seat of Government is placed, under s125 of the Constitution, I applied to the ACT Supreme Court for an interlocutory injunction to stop the development of a new suburb by the ACT's Land Development Authority to be known as Lawson in Belconnen and appeared before Justice John Burns.
I raised three serious questions of law;
1) I was not treated equally by law under The ACT Human Rights Act (ACT) and suffered direct racial discrimination under s10 of RDA (Cth) as neither the Land Development Authority or the ACT Government have a mechanism to deal with Native Title under the Act or Common Law Native Title.
2) The High Court of Australia Mabo Decision (Mabo 2) 1992
3) s109 of the Constitution
Senior council representing the Land Development Authority (Mr Erskine) chose to ignore my first serious question of law and went on to question my sighting Mabo 2, saying that fee simple (freehold) extinguishes Native Title in the ACT and that the land acquired to establish the Seat of Government under the 1915 Land Acquisitions Act was freehold. Then he stated that s109 of the Constitution has no relevance to the ACT.
My response was to say that if the LDA and the ACT Government had a mechanism in place to deal with Native Title under the Act or Common Law Native Title, they would not have needed Senior Council to represent them in the Court and they would have sighted the High Court of Australia Fejo Case (1998) the famous freehold case in the NT and as they don't have a mechanism in place for dealing with Native Title they are discriminating against me. The land acquired to establish the Seat of Government was Crown Land, Granted Land or Grant of Sale. The land grants and grants of sale were all conditional and the conditions were seldom met, therefore the sale of those properties was a fraud on the New South Wales Crown.
S109 of the Constitution clearly does have relevance to the ACT and the High Court of Australia Wudjal Case is all about s109 of the Constitution and the ACT.
Justice Burns asked me if I was going to make a Native Title claim under the Native Title Act, to which I replied "No..I already have Native Title, Common Law Native Title".
It's been ten weeks this Friday and there has been nothing more mentioned about my application for an Interlocutory Injunction.
If, like me, you can read, get your head around Common Law Native Title!
SH: What do you do outside of work?
Focus on quality outcomes for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island People in Indigenous Agriculture and the Arts through the organization I Chair called The AARK Ag-Arts Residence Kenmore Limited.
Indigenous Agriculture is an untapped business. Restoration of the 488 million hectares of degraded indigenous grasslands on our continent is a passion. Restoration of our indigenous perennial grasslands and soil health, will forge a multi-billion dollar enterprise around food security with Indigenous plant species such as yams, weeping rice grass, wattle, cordaceps (native truffles), quondong, bauple (macadamia) nuts etc.
Our indigenous grassland plants have been totally overlooked by colonials in the interest of decimating not just the ORIGINAL People, but all things indigenous, as they were advised to do by the United Nations in 1947.
In 1947, the UN General Assembly set out three possible alternatives for Australia's future development:
1. Recognise the Indigenous People
2. Make a treaty with the Indigenous People
3. Continue to alter the environment in every aspect.
The Australian government has chosen to adopt the third option and has been pursuing it ever since. The ACT Government embraces it.
Out of that adversity though there is infinite opportunity and so much to be inspired by that is indigenous to our lands.
SH: What do you do to relax away from the office that's not work related?
It would be easy to put everything I do into the work category - it's a fine line. Savoring a quality Irish whiskey and a meal with friends, reading, cooking, sharing stories with friends theatre and travelling, when I get the time and money, attending Art exhibitions can be cause for inspired conversation. Sometimes I get away from it all and indulge in a Bryce Courtenay novel, he's such a great writer.
SH: Who were your role models?
My parents Jim & Lesley are the greatest role models a son could want. Both in the 80th year celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this November, they still live and work together five and a half days per week and in all my fifty seven years I can honestly say I have never heard them argue. They are extraordinary people.
Graham Innes AM Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner would have to be the most impressive and inspiring person I have had the pleasure to meet outside of my immediate circle.
Bonita Mabo - our beautiful Honorary Patron of The AARK has never let anything faze her. How easy would it have been for her to shrug her shoulders and give up on the Mabo case when her husband Koiki passed away?
As leaders for their Indigenous People, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed – former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela for never giving up on their indigenous cause.
SH: What things could politicians do better?
Implement Real Democracy - Eliminate councils and state governments in favour of a gender balanced group of people taken at random from the broad community (like a body corporate) and seated for a fixed term of five years as a government that represents the interests of every day people rather than big business, unions, churches and other financial institutions.
Stand aside and make way for the Republic of United Aboriginal Nations with leaders from each Aboriginal Nation to elect our Aboriginal President.
SH: What is your advice to young Indigenous kids doing it tough at school or in life generally?
Don't be frightened to get out of your comfort zone – it's the only way to grow. Take action!
Follow your instinct.
YOU know right from wrong, do the right thing by yourself and you will be doing the right thing for others without trying.
Go to the Elders and tell them how you feel and ask them what they would do if they were you.
Do things that challenge you and don't be timid about taking on BIG projects as there's as much work in a small project as there is in a big one.
SH: What are your future plans?
Looking after Ngambri Country!
Short term planning is ten generations ahead – Long term is 1,000 generations. People look at me funny when I make that statement and wonder how that can be done.
It's simple; Look at what colonial occupation has destroyed on our continent in ten generations. So what if it takes ten generation to put some of it back together! Ten percent regeneration of the degraded indigenous grasslands of our continent will take more carbon out of the atmosphere than has been put up there since the industrial revolution. The great cathedral builders of Europe never saw the foundations of those awe inspiring structures off the ground, yet they had the vision.
To plan a thousand generations ahead is as simple as putting the seed of one of our indigenous perennial grasses such as kangaroo grass, wallaby grass or microlaena into the soil, as they will grow to create microscopic plant stones that remain in the topsoil for up to 20,000 years as carbon. That's 1,000 generations.
Canberra has the largest ecological footprint of any capital city in the world. The colonial degradation of the landscape in the last one hundred years, has caused an ecological disaster eleven times the area the ACT consumes.
Canberra's 2013 centenary celebration can commence by stopping further degradation! That is worth celebrating!