By ERWIN CHLANDA and KIERAN FINNANE
A fond memory we have of H. Furber, who sadly passed away last week, aged 69, is of shooting the breeze with him on many a wintry Sunday morning on the sideline of the soccer fields, where our sons, his Declan and our Rainer – then primary school lads, now grown men – played on the same team.
Mr Furber was also a news contact over all of the decades of our publication, always challenging, sometimes prickly, but we salute him as a determined advocate involved in causes, initiatives and organisations he believed in.
Mr Furber (with hat) in 2018 speaking to Councillor Melky, having left a council meeting considering the location of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery (not to be confused with the National Indigenous Cultural Centre).
In recent years, he was particularly active in planning for and promoting a National Indigenous Cultural Centre, a long overdue institution in the country and in our region.
Led by Indigenous people, it would – and hopefully will one day – tell a story about Australia from an Indigenous viewpoint.
It would be a place to hear the sound of Indigenous languages, to learn about culture from ancient times to the present day, to learn about “the true extent of what went on in the post-colonial era” and during the Stolen Generations: “There was no period any sadder,” according to an early video presentation by its all-Indigenous steering committee, which Mr Furber chaired.
The Stolen Generations story was one that shaped Mr Furber’s own, which he told in a documentary called Remembering country, aired on SBS in November, 2000.
He was taken from his Central Arrernte family in 1957, at age four and a half, and placed at a Methodist mission on Croker Island, two kilometres across the sea from Darwin, more than 1500 kilometres from his home in Central Australia.
He couldn’t remember leaving Alice Springs, but could remember arriving at Croker, holding his little sister Trisha’s hand – not understanding why they were there, wondering when they would be leaving. They were immediately separated, but would find each other at play during the day.
When Trisha was taken back to the all-girls cottage at night she would start to cry and couldn’t stop. The only person who could comfort her was her big brother. He was sometimes called to calm her down – until one day Trisha disappeared, as if off the face of the earth. No explanation to her brother.
Some time later the letters from his mother stopped. (She also wrote angry letters to the mission, protesting about her children’s removal). Again, no explanation.
It wasn’t until he received a letter from his older sister Margaret in Central Australia, asking him if he had got over the shock of losing their mother, that he was told she was dead.
These are the bare bones of a heart-breaking story of a boy and girl who lost family and home as a result of the then government policy of removing children of mixed race from their Aboriginal families. Mr Furber did not see or hear from Trisha again until she was 18 years old.
He went on to become a leading voice of the Stolen Generations in the Centre, through the organisation Central Australia Stolen Generation and Families Aboriginal Corporation (now defunct), which ran a link-up service for survivors.
He joined with other survivors from Croker Island for the moving denouement of Bungalow Song, the landmark theatrical production of the 2013 Mbantua Festival, staged in the grounds of the historic buildings of the Old Telegraph Station, where many local children of the Stolen Generations were raised.
Mr Furber (pictured), having spoken of his own family’s experience, read aloud a letter to the Protector of Aborigines, written in 1941 by his grandfather, Frank Furber. It was a moment when the enormity of the wrong of the race-based forced removal policy made itself felt.
“Dear Sir,” Frank Furber wrote, “Myself and my wife, both half-castes, do not want any of our children removed or taken away from us, out of central Australia, their country, to any other place or country.
“It would not be fair to us, the loss of them. And also they would cry and fret and it would be breaking us up for all our lives … We wish to record our protest …”
Frank Furber never got a reply from the so-called Protector, but half a century later Australia started listening to these shameful stories, which survivors would not allow to be swept under the carpet.
One of the legacies suffered by many removed children was the loss of their languages. It was a point Mr Furber made poignantly clear at a NADOC forum on language in 2017. He asked for respect not only for language but for the loss of language. He was tired of being told that if you don’t understand your language, you’ve got no culture.
He spent his political and professional life in strong refutation of such an assertion.
A full obituary for Mr Furber would amount to something of an account of the development of Aboriginal organisations and politics in Central Australia over his adult years.
The matters we have touched on here are the ones that came immediately to mind when we heard the sad news of his passing.
Our deepest condolences to Declan and to all Mr Furber’s family and friends.
Photo at top: Mr Furber (centre) with Owen Cole and Deanella Mack, of the NICC committee.
Last updated 10 November, 9.21pm (minor edits).