The Hand on the Wall: 34 years on... - Crocodile Dreaming - CycleBlaze

The Hand on the Wall: 34 years on...

In late 1979, just before I set off overseas on my first cycle-tour I found a wallet with a lot of cash in it under a Canberra cinema seat. 

I phoned the owner; he reclaimed the wallet and expressed his gratitude by saying that under such circumstances he felt compelled to give me a reward of some sort. 

As a token of his gratitude he gave me a handprint produced by blowing white ochre over a hand on card to produce an outline. He said it had been given to him by an Aboriginal elder from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. There was a handwritten note on the back of the print.

"Nice", I thought but really did not take much notice and packed it away with all my stuff in preparation for a long absence travelling. Quite a few years later, I unpacked the handprint and had it framed. It has been on our wall for many years. I relooked at the back of it a couple of days ago. The note from the man is still there and contains some interesting information in the context of this forthcoming tour.

The note has the name of the Aboriginal elder. It is the hand print of Albert Barunga from the Worora people.

The interesting link to this tour is that Albert Barunga was a prominent person from the Derby area which is where we will be finishing this tour.

From here on I quote from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

"Albert Barunga (1910?-1977), Aboriginal community leader, was born probably in 1910 at Kunmunya, near Derby, Western Australia. His father Arai and mother Maudie Kaiimbinya belonged to the Worora tribe, into which Albert was initiated. The family lived as hunter-gatherers. During World War I Arai was accused of murder, arrested and taken away in chains; the charge was found to be false and he was released from prison; he died in 1919. To avoid adoption by his uncle 'Big Charlie', Albert joined Willie Reid, a part-Aboriginal pearler and fisherman, from whom he learned sailing skills and a knowledge of coastal waters. The association ended when Barunga was taken to the Kunmunya Presbyterian Mission.

Because he was too old to attend school, he was taught to ride horses and handle cattle. Following the arrival in 1927 of Rev. J. R. B. Love, Barunga formed a close association with the new missioner and helped to translate the Gospel of St Mark into the Worora language. Albert showed aptitude for learning and became fluent in English. In 1929 he assisted (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith who had been forced to land the Southern Cross on the flats of the Glenelg River estuary. Barunga guided Australian naval vessels on coastal patrols in 1942 and also worked for the Americans in wartime.

After 1945 Kunmunya mission fell into decline. In 1951 the three tribes who lived there decided to move to Wotjulum, near the Cockatoo Island iron-ore mine. Finding this site unsuitable, they shifted five years later to Mowanjum in the vicinity of Derby. Barunga's intended wife Cudiana died shortly after giving birth to their child. On 30 December 1956 he married her sister Barbara Pugjawola at the Presbyterian Mission Church, Mowanjum. With Alan Mungulu, Albert endeavoured to keep the three tribal groups together, and worked to revive and maintain their traditions. 'Whatever he did, he seemed to do well, whether it was riding a horse, spearing a fish, growing tomatoes, sailing a lugger, or telling a story.'

While visiting New Zealand on an adult-education tour in the late 1960s, Barunga was impressed by the evident strength of Maori culture which contrasted with the extensive loss of Aboriginal heritage. In late 1969 he became an enthusiastic member of the Aboriginal Theatre Foundation, established that year to revive traditional dances and crafts; he was later president of its West Kimberley branch. A leading councillor at Mowanjum, he was also active on a range of other State and Federal committees, and emerged as a spokesman for tribal Australia. In 1972 he delivered a paper, 'Sacred Sites and their Protection', to a national seminar organized in Canberra by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Housed in the capital by an anthropologist Professor Derek Freeman, he lobbied ministers for Aboriginal Affairs and advocated 'friendship and harmony between black and white'. He once remarked: 'if everybody asked and talked things over then we could all work together, and live happy together in the world'—words which exemplified the gentle and intelligent temperament for which he was widely esteemed.

Albert Barunga died of a cerebral embolus on 30 August 1977 at Derby and was buried in the local cemetery with the forms of the Uniting Church. His daughter and seven sons survived him."

I cannot recall the name of the man whose wallet I found, and who gave me the print. In all likelihood it was Professor Derek Freeman.

And when we get to Derby, I hope to meet descendants of Albert Barunga.

His story is an inspiring one. More at:

Funny how seemingly insignificant incidents and items become significant when one least expects them to be.

The framed hand-print on our living room wall of Albert Barunga from the Worrorra people of the Kimberley region Western Australia.Given to me in 1979. Recently I rediscovered the note on the back of the print and realised the connection with the forthcoming ride.This tour will finish in Albert's country. His story is an inspiring one.
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