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Artist Profile: Murruppi

Aboriginal Name: Murruppi
English Name: Daniel Murphy. Traditional Tribes: Father – Ngadjonji. Mother –    Djirrbal                                                                                                
Area: Rainforest, North Queensland
Totem: Night Owl
Tribal Totem: White Cockatoo
My mother was a descendant of the Djirrbal tribe, and, my father the Ngadjonji. Both the Djirrbal and Ngadjonji tribes were two of six tribes that make up the Djirrbalngan language area in what is now known as the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland. The other tribes which belong to this language area are the Mamu, Girramay, Jirru and Gulnay. It is believed that Djirrbal was the mother language and the other five tribal languages of the area descended from it over the hundreds or even thousands of years. All six tribes were rainforest hunters and gathers.
Both my mother and father were a part of what is known today as 'the stolen generation'. This is a group of aboriginal people, who, as children were forcibly removed from their natural families by the Australian government, and, placed on government Reserves and Mission Stations around the country, some of which were located thousands of kilometres away from traditional lands. My mother was placed on the Ravenshoe Government Reserve and my father a Lutheran Mission Station in Hopevale. There the culture and language of the ancestors was forbidden and a new culture and language forced to adopt.. My mother and father were also given new English names. These names usually came from the Superintendants of the Missions or Reserves, or, from the white farmers who used aboriginal people as domestics helps and labourers.
The Djirrbal and Ngadjonji people were almost annihilated by the advancing English invasion. In less than a century my people were reduced from around 2,000 to only a handful of full-blood people who still speak the language and know the traditional culture. Our people were treated as less than human by many of the white settlers. Some of the 'old' people of our area would say that the English invaders “Did a lot of bad, bad things, they used to shoot the black people for nothing, just shoot them like a dog. It only became better since World War II. Before the war they didn't think we were any better than a dingo or kangaroo”. One massacre of our people happened at a place they now call Butchers Creek. Some white men came into a camp while the aboriginal men were away hunting and began raping the aboriginal women. When the aboriginal men came back and caught them in the act they were so angry that a big fight broke out. The aboriginal men managed to drive the white men away, but, the white men came back armed with guns and shot and killed everyone except for a pregnant women and her two children who hid in a tree.
I do not know much about my mothers and father’s history and parental lineage, especially my fathers. Only that my father had a half brother whose father was Scottish. My father was also half aboriginal and half something else which I do not know. I think it may have been either an English or Irish man as there were many men of these descents that came to work in the mining and farming industries there at the time. Although my father’s last name was Murphy, I do not know whether it was the name of his natural father, or, whether he obtained the name from one of the farmers he worked for, or, from the Lutheran Mission Station he was raised on. Both my father and his half brother had the same aboriginal mother. Both brothers were born on the banks of the Upper Russel River, which begins on the top of Mount Bartle Frere – the highest mountain in Queensland - (our people called this mountain Churuchinga, which was a sacred mountain to Ngadjonji people), and, meanders its way down to the coast just north of Babinda.
I am also uncertain about my mother’s ancestry as well. Some government records say that both of her parents were aboriginal, but, other family members say that she was three quarters aboriginal and one quarter something else. I do know that she was born on the banks of the Beatrice River located between the townships of Milla Milla and Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tablelands which is in traditional Djirrbal country.
Both my parents were born around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Mother was born in 1912, and, father in 1899 (approximately). Both grew up during the war years (WW1 and WW2), and when many of our people were being annihilated by the English settlers. My mother worked as a domestic for some of the white farmers around Ravenshoe and Herberton after she left the Reserve. I have heard stories that she was treated kindly by these people. (Some white people, thankfully, displayed favourable attitudes toward aboriginal people).
My father left the Lutheran Mission Station (a German originated church) when he was around fourteen. I do not know whether he left voluntarily, or, whether that was the time of the Great Depression and most men had to leave their usual place of residence and travel the country to find work to support themselves and their families if they had one. I do not think that he had too bad a time at the Mission and I have never heard him speak ill of the place. I do, however, remember him speaking well of German people (many of whom were farmers) he encountered during his travels. Before leaving the mission my father was granted an 'Exemption”. All aboriginal people were required to have special Exemption Papers from the Government if they were not 'under the care' of a Reserve, Mission or Farmer. Aboriginal people who did not have these papers were not at liberty to wander around the country unattended. If they did they could be charged with a crime and imprisoned.
After leaving the Mission my father, along with many other men, 'jumped' the train (jumped means took the train ride without paying) from North Queensland to South East Queensland. Many men in those days used to 'jump' trains because it was the era of the Great Depression and many people had no money and were unemployed. Also, there was no such thing as the 'dole' or Social Security payments, and, if they didn't work they starved to death. I remember father telling a story once about how they got caught, and, the policeman locked all of them up overnight, but, let them go the next day without charging them because he knew their circumstances. At sometime here he tried to join the Army, but, was too young (14). Many men joined, or tried to join the Armed Services around then, because, besides being patriotic, the pay was good, and as well, the food, shelter and clothing were free.
Upon arriving in South East Queensland father found work around Brisbane, Beaudesert, Tamborine Mountain, Kyogle, Coffs Harbour, Esk and Toogoolawah. Most of the work he did included clearing land for other people using bullock teams and carts to carry the logs to sawmills and cutting timber with axes and large hand saws (there were no such things as diesel powered trucks and chainsaws back then). I also heard my father talking about a small banana plantation he owned around Coffs Harbour, but, he along with others were wiped out from a flood that occurred in the 1930s. My father seemed to enjoy work. He was always doing something, never idol. Even when retired at seventy he was still digging gardens, mowing other people’s lawns and trying to find work where he could. He died, after pushing his car because it wouldn't start, a day after he had had an operation and was released from hospital. He just had to be on the move. I think that maybe 'work' helped to occupy his mind  enough to drown out the misery of what was happening to he and his people at that time.
My father spent many years in South East Queensland. I think from around 1914 to the late 1940s. There he met his first wife, who was a descendant of the Mulunjuli or Bundjalung tribe. They had about six or eight children. When his first wife died, and the children of that marriage had grown up, he moved back to North Queensland to the country of his birth. I possess little information about his first family as my father did not speak to me much about that part of his life. Thankfully, I have recently met some of the descendants of that family and now keep in touch with them from time to time.
Upon arriving back in North Queensland my father and mother met and I was born in 1955. My mother had also gone through a previous relationship and had already had a half a dozen children of her own. We all lived in a small 'humpy' (Australian slang for a makeshift house) just outside the town of Herberton. In those days aboriginal people lived on the fringes of towns because they were not made very welcome in towns. His arrival back to the place of his birthplace in the late 1940s saw much of the place considerably changed. All of the aboriginal people had been removed from their tradition lands, scrub and rainforest had been cleared to make way for farming, and, townships were cropping up in every corner of traditional Ngadjonji and Djirrbal country.
From the time he arrived back until his retirement my father worked mainly in the gold and tin mines, and, timber industry around the Atherton Tablelands. He once had his own tin mining business and truck that he used to cart the tin from his mine to tin buyers. Besides this he also operated a firewood business, but, gave that up because he said it was too much for one man.
The Australian government has had a number of Policies toward Aboriginal people over the last 200 or so years of occupation. Firstly, and unofficially, the policy was that 'Aborigines would eventually die out and the superior white race would take over the land'. Secondly, because aboriginal people were becoming a 'nuisance' to white farmers the Policy was 'Lock all aboriginal people up on Reserves and let them die out there peacefully'. Then, when the Australian government found that the Aborigines weren't going to die out in a hurry they came up with an 'Assimilation Policy' (this policy was in force in the 1950s and 1960s). In this policy aboriginal people would be 'assimilated' into the general population and hopefully disappear forever. Unofficially, it was hoped by the English Colonists that white men from other nationalities (Scottish, Irish, and Continental Europeans) would breed with aboriginal women and thus breed the aboriginal race out of existence.
So called 'change' came in the 1970s under the governments 'Self Determination Policy'. Here, it was believed aboriginal people could determine their own future. Aboriginal communities and individuals were encouraged to form organizations and committees and become self governing. Money and resources were handed to individuals and organizations, and, aboriginal rights guaranteed. However, while this approach was welcomed, with it came many negative and destructive problems.
I was born in the era of the Australian 'Assimilation Policy' (1950s). After my mother and father moved from the fringes of towns and into towns, I went to school at Malanda, Yungaburra and Atherton. After completing High School I was offered, under a government Aboriginal Scheme, a job and further education in Brisbane, located in southern Queensland and the capitol of Queensland. Forty aboriginal boys took this offer. I believe that only two of us completed our trainings, the rest went back home. I completed a trade in Diesel and Heavy Earth Moving, and, the other compatriot in Bricklaying. At present I am married and have been so for 35 years. We have one daughter a son-in-law and two grandsons.
Working as a tradesman for 15 or so years I found myself unfulfilled and unsatisfied with my career and job.  In 1989 I began studying for a Teaching qualification. I completed that qualification in 1993 at the University of Southern Queensland. I taught and tutored for a short time, but, did not feel that the daily classroom was my forte in life, and, I didn't want to spend the rest of my life there. I am not ungrateful for the education, but, I did not want to use it in that type of situation. I also studied Anthropology, Archaeology and Sociology for a couple of years, which I found very interesting, but, did not feel a belonging to those fields.
One day I decided, to sit down and really think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had a wife and daughter to support and, it is the aboriginal side in me to want to provide for and protect my family. While pondering my future I began analysing my life, thought about whom I was, and, what I could do. From this I deduced that because I am of aboriginal descent it is a part of my being to do 'aboriginal things'. But how could I do aboriginal things and still support myself and my family? After a little looking around, I ended up purchasing a couple of boomerangs in  Brisbane City to see what they were like, and, after testing them, discovered that they did not return. I also discovered that most of the boomerangs and artworks were not aboriginal made. From that day I decided that I was going to supply authentic aboriginal art and boomerangs that do return when thrown, to the market.
I then completed a short Business Course in 1997 and registered a business the following year making and selling didgeridoos, boomerangs and my own artwork anywhere I could. This business has supported my little family for the past 13 years and I am happy doing what I do now. As part of the business I sometimes visit schools and colleges and give talks on Australian Aboriginal Culture which both the students and I enjoy immensely. I also have these talks with international students who study in Australia, and, as much as they are happy to receive what I have to say I am more than happy to give. This website is an extension of my personal goals of wanting to bring the true Australian Aboriginal Culture and History to whoever may want to listen.
My art is part traditional part contemporary. I have deliberately veered away from the traditional in an attempt to make aboriginal art more palatable to the wider community. I use acrylic paints rather than the ochres now because they are more durable, and, there are more colours to choose from. Sometimes I do paint in ochres but I have to tell people that the painting may fall apart one day. Ochre paint is crushed soft rock mixed together with water and egg white or honey. After time it usually cracks or turns to powder. Regardless, however, of the medium I use, my paintings are always based on a story about the Dreamtime, about hunting and gathering, or, about my country.
Djirrbal/Ngadjonji Tribe
Rainforest Area. North Queensland. Australia.


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