In the documentary, Our African Roots, author/journalist Santilla Chingaipe brings to life the stories and details of Australia’s Black African history. While everyone knows of the First Fleet, they may not be aware that there were at least ten men of African descent who arrived onboard in 1788.
This documentary, part of SBS’s Australia Uncovered series, highlights just a few people in our history who were of African heritage and how they have contributed to Australia’s history.
John Randall, John Caesar, William Blue, John Joseph, Fanny Finch, William Davies, and Ernest Toshack are a few people from Australia’s history who helped shape the country today. They are all of African descent and while many of us would not have heard the names before, this documentary highlights the struggles and accomplishments which they achieved in our history.
John Randall’s ability to hunt with a rifle set him apart from the local indigenous community. He could then be viewed as someone coming from being oppressed to being an oppressor. Slave and convict labour was very profitable, but in Australia, almost immediately, convicts began to resist. Our first convict bush ranger wasn’t Ned Kelly but John Caesar in 1789, but he wasn’t as highly celebrated as Ned Kelly simply because of his race. William (Billy) Blue is credited with creating the first licensed ferry service. Governor Lachlan Macquarie was friends with Billy and saw him as the ideal type of reformed convict.
The Eureka Rebellion in 1854 is a well-known event in Australian history. John Joseph allegedly fatally wounded the British officer who was leading the offensive. He was arrested and charged for high treason in Victoria’s Supreme Court but found not guilty. Fanny Finch was a single mother of four and the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election, on the 22nd of January, 1856. She was able to do this due to a loophole in the suffrage law which stated that any rate paying person was able to vote. The loophole was closed in 1865 when “persons” became “men”.
In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act passed into law, which marked the beginning of the White Australia policy. At a 1916 conscription rally, Billy Hughes says to go and fight for White Australia in France. While the enlistment laws stated that the person must be of European descent, because of high losses at war, race was ignored when people were enlisting. This is where William Davies goes to fight in Gallipoli. Ernest Toshack was a cricketer during 1946-48 and was part of the ‘Invincible’ team with Don Bradman, nicknamed “The Black Prince”.
Due to the White Australia policy, most of our non-white history is not shared with Australians, and this documentary keeps these historical figures alive in an entertaining way, with the potential by-product of allowing us to escape our racial past and to progress towards a truer multicultural society with a shared history for all.