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5 July 2020 // Burnum Burnum
Burnum Burnum (10 January 1936 – 18 August 1997) was a Woiworrung and Yorta Yorta activist, actor, sportsperson and author. He was born under a sacred gum tree at Mosquito Point on Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Reserve in New South Wales, in 1936. He later took the name of his great great grandfather, Burnum Burnum (meaning ‘Great Warrior) of the Wurundjeri people.
A child of the Stolen Generation, Harry was taken from his parents at the age of three months and placed in the United Aborigines Mission Home at Bomaderry before going to Kinchela Boys’ Home. Under the assimilation policy he was raised to believe he was white.
In the 1960's he began searching for his Aboriginal identity. He ran an Indigenous social tennis club based at Surry Hills, NSW and joined the battle for Aboriginal rights including being part of the historic establishment of the Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972. On the 26th January 1988, the year of the Australian Bicentennial, Burnum Burnum travelled to England and claimed the country on behalf of Aboriginal people. In planting his flag on the White Cliffs of Dover, he read out a declaration.
The Burnum Burnum Declaration England, 26th January, 1988
I, Burnum Burnum, being a nobleman of ancient Australia do hereby take posession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal people. In claiming this colonial outpost, we wish no harm to you natives, but assure you that we are here to bring you good manners, refinement and an opportunity to make a Koompartoo - ‘a fresh start’.
Henceforth, an Aboriginal face shall appear on your coins and stamps to signify our sovereignty over this domain. For the more advanced, bring the complex language of the Pitjantjajara; we will teach you how to have a spiritual relationship with the Earth and show you how to get bush tucker.
We do not intend to souvenir, pickle and preserve the heads of your 2000 of your people, nor to publicly display the skeletal remains of your Royal Highness, as was done to our Queen Truganninni for 80 years. Neither do we intend to poison your water holes, lace your flour with strychnine or introduce you to highly toxic drugs.
Based on our 50,000 year heritage, we acknowledge the need to preserve the Caucasian race as of interest to antiquity, although we may be inclined to conduct experiments by measuring the size of your skulls for levels of intelligence. We pledge not to sterilise your women, nor to separate your children from their families.
We give an absolute undertaking that you shall not be placed onto the mentality of government handouts for the next five generations but you will enjoy the full benefits of Aboriginal equality. At the end of two hundred years, we will make a treaty to validate occupation by peaceful means and not by conquest.
Finally, we solemnly promise not to make a quarry of England and export your valuable minerals back to the old country Australia, and we vow never to destroy three-quarters of your trees, but to encourage Earth Repair Action to unite people, communities, religions and nations in a common, productive, peaceful purpose.
Upon conclusion of the declaration Burnum Burnum says: It’s too cold here, I want to go home."
Burnum Burnum died of cardiovascular disease in Woronora, NSW in 1997.