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Aunty Jeanie Moran and her incredible journey to find family ties

Joseph Guenzler -

Barada Bana, Yuin and Cammeraygal woman, Aunty Jeanie Moran's quest for family roots began with a simple question at the 2019 Adelaide Museum's Norman Tindale collection.

Asking about her late grandmother, Doreen Barber, opened a door to a past veiled in secrecy.

Ms Barber, a resilient Aboriginal woman, was a victim of the Stolen Generations, snatched from her home by the Opium Act of 1873.

Born by the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton, she was taken to one of Queensland's largest Aboriginal missions and even her mother, Lorna Morgan, echoed the same fate under the Stolen Generation Act.

"It was overwhelming," Aunty Jeanie told National Indigenous Times.

"Coming back from Adelaide was like coming back with the treasure of Egypt, it meant that much to me.

"It was healing for me and my family."

Aunty Jean's mother, Lorna with an image of King Bocoo on the Shannon Family steps discovered in the Shannon Saga Book. (Image: supplied)

In the midst of generational trauma, Aunty Jeanie delved into her family's history, piecing together fragments of identity, culture and land over five years.

However her journey took an unexpected turn when she discovered her lineage traced back to King Bocoo of Saltbush Park, in the Mackay region, home to the Barada Barna People.

Upon visiting the country, after the borders reopened post-COVID-19, she discovered the Shannon family - who have lived on that land for over 150 years - had kept the original breastplate bestowed on her great-great-great grandfather, King Bocoo.

"I was thinking, 'Mum, this is your great-great-grandfather. That's a picture of him. That's the brass plate. He's the king of the tribe because he's initiated by the white fellas as the leader of the tribe,'" she said.

"In 2021 I called Barada Bana and said we'd like to be members, common law holders and they didn't like that.

"But no matter what, my blood is on that land, it's my birth right."

After regaling her epic story to the Shannon family at Saltbush Station, they gave her the framed breastplate which stood in their family throughout all of this time.

She was able to bring the treasured breastplate home via aircraft which travelled with the pilot inside the cockpit, ensuring no damage occurred mid-flight.

King Bocoo's breastplate travelling home in the cockpit. (Image: supplied)

Aunty Jeanie did more research on the local area and soon found out about a Native Title claim that was put forward in partnership with local mining companies and various stakeholders.

This revelation prompted her to delve into the intricacies of Native Title law, seeking to understand its significance for Indigenous communities.

Native Title, she learned, is a legal recognition of Indigenous Australians' rights and interests in land and waters according to their traditional laws and customs. It serves as a means of redressing historical dispossession and recognising Indigenous connections to Country.

However, Aunty Jeanie's inquiries uncovered a troubling omission: King Bocoo's absence from the Barada Barna Native Title.

King Bocoo, second right, pictured on the Shannon Family steps around 150 years ago.

Aunty Jeanie's journey of discovery led her to confront the board of directors, seeking acknowledgment of her family's common law heritage.

In 2023, her persistence paid off as King Bocoo was officially recognised by the state of Australia, Commonwealth Queensland, and included on the BKY (Barada Kabalbarra Yetimarla) Native Title Apical List, affirming his rightful place.

As a result, Aunty Jeanie gained membership in the BKY group due to her direct lineage.

Aunty Jeanie and her mother, Lorna Morgan. (Image: Supplied)

However, she says her investigation uncovered a surprising revelation.

She alleges she has found evidence suggesting that the lineage of George "Saltbush" Budby and his descendants traced back to South Sea Islanders brought to Australia as "indentured servants" in the early 18th century.

She has now embarked on a legal battle in the federal court to address the situation surrounding George "Saltbush" Budby's descendants and their Native Title status, as she sees it.

With a court hearing scheduled for April 26th, 2024, in Meanjin (Brisbane), she is prepared to represent herself, expressing her concerns before the judge.

Aunty Jeanie's determination has paved the way for common law holders and their voices to be heard, reflecting her commitment to justice and fairness.

"I am standing up not only to fight for justice and the rightful owners of that land but to be in that inner circle of decision making," she said.

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