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Posted 11 November 2014


In the 1870s the writing was on the wall for the Koori. After a century of incursions by European settlers, it was clear that the Koori way of life was threatened and that drastic measures needed to be taken in order to ensure their survival. While many of the Koori leaders debated between accommodation and all-out war, one of them – one among them learned from the Dreamtime that he needed to travel around the world to the source of the problem - England.

Though he was a distant relative of the leaders of the Wurundjeri clan, Bebejern Wonga was not an important person in the Koori community. He had a history of large ideas and little follow-through. His voice carried little weight. So when he announced to the leaders of his clan that he was going to England to talk directly to Queen Victoria, even his closest friends rolled their eyes and didn’t listen.

For a year and a day Wonga prepared for his trip, gathering supplies and making plans. Within the Wurundjeri, it became a running joke. “Wonga, when are you leaving to see the Queen?” they would ask him. And always he would reply, “Soon.” But surprising everyone, a year and a day after he first said he would, Wonga set out. His clanmates wagered he’d be back in a week. They were wrong.

We have no records that chart Wonga’s journey, so we don’t know exactly how he made it to Melbourne and then on to England. But, improbably, the next record of him is in London, where he somehow managed to get a private audience with Queen Victoria herself! What he said to Her Majesty is not recorded anywhere. And when Wonga returned home, all he would ever say was that he had tea with the Queen, and that she was a reasonable woman.

For the rest of his life, Wonga would tell the story of his tea with the Queen, and that was that. Or so it seemed. Shortly after Wonga’s visit, the British Parliament issued the Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1875 with the Queen’s backing. The Act became the justification for direct British control over Australia and the oppression of the Koori continued. By the time Wonga died in 1903, the fate of his people seemed bleak. And yet, he never wavered in his assertion that Queen Victoria was “reasonable.”

It took a century to discover what Wonga accomplished. Because legal scholars fighting for Koori rights in modern Australia made a remarkable discovery - all their copies of the Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1875 had been altered. And when they consulted the original in the British archives, they discovered a passage that had been removed from their version. This passage stated that the British crown had no authority over the Koori and other indigenous peoples, and that the Koori were sovereign over their own lands. Somehow, Wonga had persuaded Queen Victoria to respect and codify the rights of his people – even if her treacherous subordinates refused to respect her decree.

Koori students, remember this lesson from Bebejern Wonga. You belong to a line full of free spirits, Dreamers and wanderers. Each one of you may be called by your Truth in a different way. What may look insane on the surface may just be another manifestation of that Truth, or hold the key to your Line’s survival. And even if that truth takes a long time to become apparent, trust that it will.

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