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Burnum Burnum and Guboo Ted Thomas
, 1984

by Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned (sheet: 60.8 cm x 51.0 cm, image: 44.0 cm x 32.5 cm)

Burnum Burnum (1936–1997), Woiworung-Yorta Yorta activist, storyteller and writer, was taken from his family as an infant and as Harry Penrith spent his childhood at mission homes in Bomaderry and Kempsey. In the ensuing years he played rugby for NSW, studied law at the University of Tasmania, won a Churchill Scholarship, ran for the Senate and worked as a manager of Aboriginal hostels. In 1976 he changed his name to honour his grandfather, artist Tommy McRae, and to attest to his Aboriginality. The same year he was involved in the ceremonial dispersal of the remains of Trukanini. During the bicentenary celebrations he ‘landed’ at Dover in England and erected the Aboriginal flag, offering the British a negotiated peace. Guboo or Gubbo Ted Thomas (1909–2002) was a tribal elder of the Yuin nation and grew up on the Wallaga Lake reserve near Narooma. Aged nine, he accompanied his father and other elders on a walk of several hundred kilometres from Mallacoota to the Hawkesbury River, learning about the sacred sites for which he was later responsible. He became active in the land rights movement in the 1970s, working with the Aboriginal Studies Council to document significant sites on the NSW south coast and subsequently campaigning for their protection. Through his books and stories he strove to educate people to respect the earth, appreciate Aboriginal culture and live in harmony.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2004
Accession number: 2004.43