In search of a voice: ‘I’m living proof we are still here’

TRUTH: Thaua man Steven Holmes of Eden has welcomed a Bega Valley Shire Council move to consult with Thaua and Djiringanj traditional owners. Picture: Alasdair McDonald
TRUTH: Thaua man Steven Holmes of Eden has welcomed a Bega Valley Shire Council move to consult with Thaua and Djiringanj traditional owners. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

His ancestors helped create strong links and business opportunities for the likes of Benjamin Boyd, yet Thaua man Steven Holmes says his people are being excluded from conversations on the past, present and future of the Eden region.

Mr Holmes said a lack of proper consultation with traditional owners on language proposed for Bega Valley Shire Council’s tourist welcome signs is yet another example of successive governments “erasing” his people’s voice from the narrative of the region.

There’s things built on top of where my ancestors were born, without any consultation.

Thaua man Steven Holmes

“When they talk about black people in our history, they don’t mention names,” Mr Holmes said.

The 54-year-old said the fact council will now be consulting with traditional owners on a redesign of the signs, following public outrage on social media last week surrounding the proposed use of the Dhurga language, is a positive step forward.

Mr Holmes can trace his ancestry to Budginbro, whose name was sometimes spelled Budgunburra, and also known as Toby, Toby the King, Toby Blue and Chief of Twofold Bay.

An O.W. Brierly sketch of Budgenbro at Twofold Bay. Picture: NSW State Library

An O.W. Brierly sketch of Budgenbro at Twofold Bay. Picture: NSW State Library

“I’m living proof we are still here, and many traditional owners are buried in unmarked graves along the coast,” Mr Holmes said.

Budginbro forged such a close relationship with British marine painter Sir Oswald Brierly, he named his son, born at Boydtown in 1843, after him.

Budginbro shared knowledge of the land and his culture, and in 1842 showed the colonists pathways from the coastline to the escarpment.

Mr Holmes said there is a history of successive governments and land councils failing to consult traditional owners, who once had a strong relationship with colonists.

Budgenbro's son and Steven Holmes' great-great- grandfather, Oswald Brierly: Picture: Supplied

Budgenbro's son and Steven Holmes' great-great- grandfather, Oswald Brierly: Picture: Supplied

“There’s things built on top of where my ancestors were born, without any consultation,” he said.

“People are using our stories without talking to us.

“There’s all our traditional walking tracks, but there’s been no consultation with traditional owners.”

Mr Holmes said while traditional owners of the area have plans for dealing with issues such as unemployment and affordable housing, only Eden Primary School acknowledges his people’s existence in Welcome and Acknowledgments to Country.

“Not long ago welfare were going to take us away, which is why we were hiding in the bush,” Mr Holmes said.

“Mum would have to walk either in front of us or behind us because she was black, and she didn’t want welfare to take us.

“We also have stories of people being pushed off cliffs and blown up down caves.”

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