Laurie finds inspiration in his great great gran’s story
Earlier this year Lifeblood's Head of Security Compliance, Laurie Joyce, visited Shepparton to stand beside the grave of his 'great great grannie Janet Sprake'. As one of many descendants, Laurie's message to the Barapa Barapa woman was, “I just want to thank you for all you went through and I hope if there is an afterlife, one day I will get to meet you"
Content warning: This article may contain topics that you may find sensitive or distressing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are also advised that the following content contains images of people who have died. If you require support or someone to talk to, you can reach out to Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, who are available 24/7.
By Laurie Joyce
I became interested in family history as a child when on rainy weekend afternoons we'd sit around the kitchen table and ask Mum to tell us about the olden days. I look back through these almost 66-year-old eyes and smile because the 'older times' we were talking about were only 20 years earlier in my Mum's life. Now I am very conscious that 20 years is the blink of an eye.
But it encouraged me to ask questions and in doing so kept healing through Aunties and Uncles a story of “black blood". When I asked my Nana, she said to me, “Don't ask questions you may not like the answer to".
I do not judge her for that comment, but I am incredibly sad that in Australia, that colonial echo from earlier childhoods of the Empire meant she felt she could not openly acknowledge what I now consider to be an incredibly important and amazing part of my family's history.
Undeterred, I went to one of her cousins and said, “Uncle Charlie, what can you tell me about black blood in our family?"
“Laurie", he said, “All I can say is that one day, when I was about four or five, Mum was taking me to meet my grandmother in Shep for the first time."
“We were walking down the street and I looked up and said to Mum, 'Look at that big black woman'. She clipped me over the ear and said, 'Shut up, that's your grandmother!'"
I later found a photo of my Nana, her Mum and her grandmother, who was given the name Janet Sprake.
We then found a newspaper clipping from 1862 which reported the trial of a bloke charged with the rape of a 12-year-old 'half caste girl' called Janet Sprake. The trial documents contained a statement from her adoptive mother that revealed some further information.
Janet had been born at Fiery Creek near Beaufort. Her Mum was said to be a woman of the Wakool tribe which we believe most likely makes her Barapa Barapa. Sadly, when she was three-hours old her mum died and Janet was taken and raised by her adoptive parents Jeanette and Henry Sprake. No knowledge of language, no song lines, no knowledge of her birth family.
That same statement says that her father George Hamilton was “killed by the blacks". We've looked extensively for evidence of that and not found any so perhaps Jeanette believed it to be true or perhaps she was covering another truth. What is true though is that any murder of a white person by blackfellas at the time would have been reported, recorded and probably seen retribution.
Janet eventually married an Irishman, John McCart, moved to Marong near Bendigo, had 11 children and now has hundreds of descendants all very proud of the fact that our ancestors have walked this land for at least 60,000 years.
You know that old question that asks if you could choose one person to spend another hour with who would that be? For me, it would be my Nana and I'd tell her that I did ask the questions and I found answers I am proud of. I'd tell her that all those times we kept going back to the river between Echuca and Koondrook and played in its waters and ate its fish, it was because that country called us unknowingly. It shaped our DNA over thousands of years so it's no wonder we found comfort there. If we didn't hear the song, we felt it reach out to us. And whilst we don't have the full story and our journey continues, I would tell her that all of us are proud that we have uncovered a small slither.
Like Laurie, Lifeblood recognises the guidance those before us have given, to pave the way for us to take the paths we can take today and into the future. In recognition of this important occasion we have teamed up with Archibald Prize-winning Australian artist and musician Blak Douglas to celebrate the 2023 NAIDOC Week theme For Our Elders, recognising the traditional owners of the lands across all Nation and the strength we draw from the knowledge and experience of generations before us.