Media release: Tuesday, 13 May 2008
An Aboriginal family, described in 1907 as 'half caste' in the terminology of the day, has left a trail of letters showing how such families were stuck between two worlds in the early 20th century.
Footprints, a book portraying the struggles of Lucy and Percy Pepper, has been published jointly by the National Archives of Australia and Public Record Office Victoria, both of which hold original records of the family's correspondence with bureaucracy over the years.
'These letters provide a different insight into Aboriginal history in Victoria,' said co-author Simon Flagg from the Koorie Records Unit, Public Record Office Victoria, who did most of the research for the book.
'A lot of people are unaware of the different policies that were in place for Aboriginal people in the 20th century. Footprints tells the story of a family battling their way through government policies and the impact of being defined as “half-castes” at the time.
'I was surprised to find as much historical information as I did. This family's story demonstrates that there are unexpected rewards for researchers who broaden their scope when tracking down Aboriginal history. Percy Pepper had served in World War I, had received a soldier settler's block, owned a bike store and written letters to the Premier of Victoria, all of which left a paper trail in archives.'
As well as brief chapter introductions, the book contains transcripts of the letters to, from and about the Pepper Family. Among various aspects of the family's life, the letters show Lucy Pepper's long battle with tuberculosis and her request to live with other family members on a mission. But she was denied this natural wish because 'half-caste' Aboriginal people were excluded from the missions.
'I decided to record Lucy and Percy's story in this format as I didn't feel that summarising their letters in a narrative could do them justice,' said Simon Flagg. 'This allows people to make their own minds up about the history rather than me or anyone else interpreting it.
'I hope the book motivates other Aboriginal people to trace their family history by showing them the sorts of records you can find in the national and state archives. And I'm sure there are people who would like to know more about Aboriginal history in Victoria and what happened on Aboriginal reserves.'
He also believes the book, with its transcripts of original letters, will be an invaluable historical resource for university and school students.
Rita Watkins, a descendent of Percy and Lucy, provided photographs and family stories for the book.
Footprints: The Journey of Lucy and Percy Pepper by Simon Flagg and Dr Sebastian Gurciullo is published by the National Archives of Australia and Public Record Office Victoria, with support from Aboriginal Affairs Victoria through the Stolen Generations Victoria Ltd. It is available at $10.00 from the National Archives shop and Public Record Office Victoria.