Everybody, I’d like you to meet Marcus Stewart. Marcus is an Aboriginal man, although, absent the ochre, he may not look like one to you and me. But this is no Bruce Pascoe, I do assure you. For starters, Marcus has not ripped off millions of dollars from Australian consumers and taxpayers by peddling a demonstrably false history. But that’s not the significant difference. Marcus can genuinely claim at least one (possibly more) Aboriginal ancestor(s).
He is a proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation and co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. He is certainly entitled to claim his birthright, the bequest left to the descendants of all Aboriginal people – the invaluable gift (at least in the currency of modern day Australia) of victimhood.
However, for such a prominent First Nations figure there is surprisingly little publicly available knowledge about Marcus. From the Leadership Great South Coast Inc website, we learn that:
Marcus has experience working in the child protection system in out of home care and family therapy. Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Marcus was the Chief Executive Officer of the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations – An advocacy peak body for Traditional Owners in Victoria.
In pursuing a greater knowledge of business and management, Marcus successfully graduated from the Melbourne Business School’s MURRA Indigenous Business Program in 2017.
In addition to having studied Developmental Psychiatry at Melbourne University (2004-2006), Marcus undertook post graduate studies in Family Therapy at La Trobe University.
Renowned for his leadership skills, Marcus is proud to continue the journey towards Treaty in Victoria.
He is married to Labor Senator Jana Stewart, who was chosen to replace Senator Kimberley Kitching after her untimely death.
Marcus has decided not to recontest election to his reserved seat on the Victorian First People’s Assembly in order to devote all his energies to campaigning for the Voice. I except he feels the hard work has already been done at State level, the Assembly having negotiated with the Victorian government a way forward to a treaty at State level:
The Assembly will push for better representation and political power for First Peoples. The ideas we’re discussing include having a number of seats in the Victorian Parliament that members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community vote for, and establishing a permanent representative body with meaningful decision-making powers – a “Blak Parliament” of sorts.
The Assembly has negotiated for the Government to give up some of its power by agreeing to establish an independent Treaty Authority that sits outside of the usual government bureaucracy. This independent ‘umpire’ will be grounded in our culture, lore and law, and will facilitate negotiations and help resolve any disputes that arise.
The journey to Treaty mustn’t be constrained by colonial concepts, and we need an independent ‘umpire’ that our people can have confidence in. That’s why the agreement we secured is to establish a Treaty Authority that is completely independent from government – it won’t report to a Minister and its funding will be insulated from the usual political cycles.
The Authority will be led by First Peoples and grounded in our culture, lore and law.
An independent panel – to be agreed to by the Assembly and the Government – will appoint the Members of the Treaty Authority following a public call for nominations. All Members will be First Peoples.
“This is about stepping outside of the colonial system. We’ve said to government, if you’re serious about Treaty, you’ll do it our way, and to their credit, that’s what they’re doing. This is decolonisation in action.” – Marcus Stewart, Assembly Co-Chair.
‘You’ll do it our way’. Sounds rather more like a surrender document than a treaty – something Macarthur might have said to the Japanese Foreign Minister aboard the USS Missouri in 1945.
You can see Marcus atop this page in the attire of a proud Nira Bulluk warrior. And here he is in colonialist garb.
No doubt Marcus feels his work is well and truly done now that all that is left to do is to itemise the exhaustive list of demands. Oh, and, of course, orchestrate a smoking ceremony and welcome to country for the formal signing, and choreograph the obsequious virtue signalling that Victorian MPs of all political persuasion will submit themselves to on this historic occasion.
But, I’m sorry to tell you, Marcus is hiding a shameful family secret related to that long distant Aboriginal forbear. No, it was not a hapless Aboriginal woman raped or manipulated by a brutal white invader. That would have allowed Marcus to safely repudiate his white heritage – as ‘Senator’ Lidia Thorpe has conveniently done.
No, Marcus’s original Aboriginal ancestor was his great great grandfather, John Franklin. And, if Aboriginal history since colonization involved a long and continued series of colonial wars, as claimed by historian Henry Reynolds, then John Franklin was something of a Petain – a collaborator – rather than a hero of the resistance as his great great grandson no doubt imagines himself to be.
John Franklin didn’t have a traditional Nira Bulluk name, not one that we know of anyway. He was orphaned at the age of about four or five and taken into care by a settler family in the Yea region of Victoria. There is debate about whether he was born in 1837 or 1847, although the latter seems more likely.
The following is a very potted version of his story based on research by Meg Dillon and presented at a Franklin family reunion in 2013. It’s quite long but bear with me because it is a fascinating and, I think, rather uplifting tale:
He was a Sugarloaf Creek man born of Aboriginal parents who came from Victoria and belonged to the Taungurung nation. His local clan was the Nira Buluk or creek dwelling people. John Franklin had confirmed some of this information. His marriage certificate states his parents were unknown but were natives of Victoria. He also noted his birthplace as Broadford. His death certificate, reported by his son Herbert Stuart, also confirmed that his parents were unknown.
By his own admission and by his immediate family’s understanding he was an orphan who had no memory of his parents, as such he must have been separated from them at a very early age.
It is relatively certain that he was fostered by local Scottish settlers. In the early 1840s they would have been Presbyterian and worshiped at the nearest church, which was St Georges Presbyterian Church in Kilmore. On a Kilmore hospital record from 1868, John Franklin identified himself as Presbyterian. He was also married in the St Georges Presbyterian church manse in 1874, something he would probably do if he was a congregation member.
Oral evidence … from elderly residents of Yea suggests there was a very strong and early connection between the child John Franklin and the successful land owner Donald Ferguson of Flowerdale Station, located on the King Parrot Creek in the heart of Nira Buluk territory.
When Ferguson bought the Flowerdale lease in 1857, he was 37 years old and John Franklin was a grown young man around 20 years. It is clear from the collected local stories that he worked for Ferguson at Flowerdale for some time, but we don’t know when this started or for how long. We can assume that after 1857 he worked at Flowerdale for Ferguson for some time, and that locals noticed the affection that Ferguson had for him. He appeared to be treated more like family than just a paid farm hand.
In 1874 both John Franklin and Harriet Tull were working as general servants at Doogalook Estate, which was then owned by the pastoral company Goldsborough and Co. Harriet Tull was 21 years old, born in Williamstown, near Melbourne, and with English parents. It was at Doogalook that the couple met and decided to marry. They were married in the St. George’s Presbyterian manse at Kilmore.
As a married man with a growing family, John and Harriet would have initially occupied a simple married man’s hut or cottage. These were often split log two room huts with an outside kitchen. Some had tamped dirt floors. They would most likely have been employed as a married couple with Harriet having extra duties in cooking or doing the laundry for the family of the leaseholders. By the 1870s the more prosperous leaseholders were building permanent coach houses, shearing sheds and workers quarters that were symbols of their acquired wealth. Four roomed weatherboard or brick cottages for married workers started to replace the rough crude accommodation of earlier days. Life would have been hard for both of them. When their first child Hannah was born in 1876 John was working as a boundary rider, a job he held during his employment there.
With three children born it was time to work harder to provide a more secure life for them. His opportunity came when the Land Act was amended in 1878 making it easier for small farmers to apply for a lease of Crown Land. In 1879 he applied for a selector’s lease of 80 acres at Glenmore about seven miles up the road from Kalutha Creek … It was unusual for an Aboriginal to be granted a lease and the Yea Council had to lobby hard on his behalf to support his application.
To keep his lease John had to fence the land securely, build a residence and cultivate the land. He also had to pay 2 shillings rent per acre annually [£8 for eighty acres] which could be converted to purchase the land. Despite initial difficulties, by late 1879 John gained his lease and on George Edward’s birth certificate in 1882 John listed his occupation as farmer at Glenmore on the Yea River.
It wasn’t easy for Franklin to meet his lease obligations with an ever growing family. He got quite a lot of fencing done and built a four room split log house with a bark rook for his family, but between 1879 and 1885 John frequently could not meet the rent payments on the lease and letters remain on file that he wrote to the Lands Office in Seymour seeking an extension of time to meet the payment. By 1885 the Lands Office was considering cancelling his lease, but they sent the bailiff, a local policeman from Yea, to inspect the property to see if John had met his other obligations including fencing and building a house. The bailiff found that Franklin had made improvements to the value of £123. These included a 64 chain chock and log fence, a 30 chain post and rail fence and 85 chain brush fence much in need of repair. A four-room slab and bark house had been built, value £30 as well as a fowl house, a pig sty a dam and a well. Three acres had been prepared for the cultivation of potatoes but this was not successful as the land was poor. Franklin said he took on other work to supplement their income including shearing, fruit picking and harvesting. The bailiff signed the required document saying that Franklin had complied with the conditions of the lease and was a “bonefide holder” as he and his family had resided for the 5 ½ years on the property.
The size of Franklin’s farm was increased in 1892 when Franklin applied for and was granted a further 145 acres on Karaman [sic] Creek situated north of Mr E. Underwood’s property and had to insert several trespass notices to take possession of it.28 He later sold this block in 1897 to the Macleishes. Newspaper records in the 1890s describe the size of his two holdings at Caraman Creek as 240 acres. The Colonial bank held a mortgage over the 80 acre block in the 1890s and a Mrs Isabella Halpin also appeared to have held a mortgage against his property. He continued to have trouble finding the annual rental for the lease of the second block throughout the 1890s.
Franklin was always a hard worker eager to increase his income. The 1890s were a period of economic depression in Victoria when a financial crash in Argentina caused a following depression across the world. Financial speculation had run out of control internationally in the 1880s and European banks that had poured speculative money into Argentina and other colonies went bankrupt. In Australia, businesses and the farming community suddenly found that overseas credit had dried up. Many businesses were bankrupted and real estate values plummeted causing both city land and farms to be sold cheaply. Franklin tried a number of jobs to stay solvent. He agisted cattle on his land. In 1892 he went gold mining on the Yea River [Muddy Creek] but abandoned the claim as it was inundated by water. For a time he tried dairying on the Glenburn block as the coming of the railway to Yea enabled milk and cream to be sent by train to Melbourne. He was able to produce high quality product with 4.1% butterfat and get seven shillings and six pence per gallon for his milk. Between 1891 and 1895 Franklin also tendered for and obtained a number of contracts from the Shire for road making or bridge repairs and also appeared to work as a carter picking up and delivering parcels from the Yea Railway Station until 190035. It was during this difficult period in 1897 that Franklin sold the farm block on Karaman Creek that he had bought in 1892.There is even some evidence that either he or his son [John Charles Franklin] worked periodically as a drover during these difficult years.
But more changes were to occur when he and Harriet moved into Yea in 1905,bought a house at 84 Marshbank Street and Harriet opened a tea shop. This period of their life in Yea township in the early 1900s opened up new possibilities for both John and Harriet as the whole family became involved in many community activities. John had time to join the International Order of Oddfellows, Anglesey Lodge and by 1907 was an office bearer, enjoying smoke nights and suppers at the Council Chambers with his fellow “brothers”. He remained a member of this male fraternity at least until 1919 and possibly beyond.
Throughout the war years [1914-1918] like other Yea residents, both John and Harriet contributed to local appeals to assist soldiers overseas and those who returned after the war. Harriet donated a case of pineapples to be auctioned for the Belgian Relief Fund in 1915; John subscribed to the Yea Red Cross in 1916 and donated a further 10/6 to the War Effort. In 1919 they donated a guinea to the Campfire Concert organised by the YMCA to raise funds for incapacitated returning soldiers. Financially things seemed to be easier for the Franklins perhaps because of the success of Harriet’s tea shop and also because farm produce was in high demand and fetching high prices as the war progressed. Harriet purchased a one acre block of land in Yea township in 1916 and later her cookery skills were celebrated at the local Yea Agricultural Show when she won first prize of 2/6d for her sausage rolls.
The Franklins melded fairly seamlessly into life in the small town of Yea, although later generations told of petty acts of discrimination that the Franklin children sometimes experienced. [T]hree of Franklin’s boys played in the local football team for Yea in 1914 and two sons, Leslie (right) and Walter Franklin (left), enlisted and fought in the First World War.
Like other local families they celebrated many weddings during this period as their children found partners and started to move away from their family home in Yea. This period marks the start of this second generations move to Melbourne. In 1914 Herbert married Mable Underwood in Kensington. In 1915 Charles married Maggie O’Brien in Richmond and the same year William Henry married Eliza Harris in South Melbourne. It appears that the Franklins continued to keep in touch with former local Aboriginal people who lived at Coranderrk, as in 1916 Walter Lance married Lily Patterson at Coranderrk.
On 20th October 1921, John Franklin died aged 84 at his home in Marshbank Street, Yea. He was suffering from cancer of the oesophagus and heart failure. It was said in his Obituary that he died playing cards at his home, having won the previous two rounds and that he was a “most known resident of Yea” who had resided there since a boy. A large number of people attended his funeral attesting to the much greater prize that he had won over his lifetime: the respect and love of a great many people in his local community.
My thanks go to genealogical researcher Jan Holland, who exposed Pascoe as a fake Aborigine, for bringing this story to my attention.
Certainly, the story of John Franklin was atypical. And I do not present it as any form of mitigation for the undoubted wrongs that were committed against many Aboriginal people. But maybe there were more John Franklins out there than we have been led to believe? And more communities like Yea? Maybe colonial Australia wasn’t quite the scorched earth wasteland that Senator Thorpe so loves to hate?
Yes, there were Aboriginal victims of colonization, but John Franklin wasn’t among them. So, it ill behoves his descendants to claim that coveted status. Marcus Stewart is perfectly justified in working towards improving the lot of genuinely disadvantaged Aboriginal people, but perhaps he could do it without the fancy dress – which I doubt his great great grandfather ever wore – and the demands for a separate and divisive blak parliament. A concept totally alien to ‘culture, lore and law’.
It’s a pity we don’t have a photograph of John Franklin. We could have put it on the new $5 note.