More than a story: Family History webinar series

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

It was the 1920 abduction and enslavement of Kath Apma Travis Penangke’s 11-year-old grandmother from Alice Springs by anthropologist, Dr Herbert Basedow and Professor Haskins’ discovery of her great grandmother's diaries which bought these two women together.

Handwritten family history tree showing five plus generations
Family History Tree

Third generation Stolen Generation survivor, Ms Travis Penangke and University of Newcastle’s Professor Victoria Haskins met when Ms Penangke drove from Melbourne to access her adoption files at the State Records Office in Adelaide.

She was put in touch with Victoria whose research on the complex history of Aboriginal domestic service and relationships had been triggered by her great grandmother's diaries.

Victoria's research into her own family history led her to investigate the girls who had been brought down from Central Australia to Adelaide to work as domestic servants.

When she came across a letter from an Aboriginal man demanding that his daughter be returned to him, she knew it was significant.

“This is from a traditional Aboriginal man in Central Australia asserting that he needed his daughter back home writing to a very powerful anthropologist.”

The letter intrigued Victoria and despite it being tangential to her research, she felt compelled to mention it to Senior Aboriginal Access Officer, Andrew Wilson, who helped her find more files that had either been lost or were difficult to recover.

Over the course of five years, Victoria pieced together Kath’s grandmother’s story.

She knew that the abducted woman had children, but she was unsure if they had survived or had had children themselves.

Victoria said the Andrew, “Please if any family is looking for their family history, just let them know I’ve got this research.”

“I couldn’t believe that anybody else would know about Nan’s story when I didn’t and nor did our family,” Kath said.

When Kath called, Victoria emailed through the files to her and, as Kath sifted through them, she knew she had a story to tell.

“I wanted to honour Nan’s voice, I wanted to honour my mother’s voice, I wanted to honour my own voice where our voices hadn’t been heard before.”

Kath went to university to complete her research and, as a result, is part of a movement re-authoring the archives of First Nations ancestors and their multi-generational history of child removal.

Kath's and Victoria's journeys of discovery feature in the first of a four-part webinar series centred on how family history guides and informs research and creative work.

Hosted by Dr Naomi Parry from the University of Tasmania, Family History 2021: More than a Story brings together historians, writers and artists to illuminate the academic and cultural value of family history research.

Among the topics discussed in this first webisode are how family history pulls people together in unexpected ways, the colonised space of archives, how to untwist, reclaim and re-author First Nation stories and the layering of these stories over Country.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.