Aboriginal and Jewish communities celebrate 20 year project

September 21, 2011 by Henry Benjamin
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The Rona Tranby Trust, a project linking Jewish and Aboriginal communities, has celebrated the 20th anniversary of its work archiving oral Aboriginal history.

Following the deaths of Jewish immigrants Tom and Eva Rona  in a car accident near Taree in 1987, solicitor Roland Gridiger found himself in search of a project for the betterment of the Aboriginal community as set down in the deceased couple’s will. The Ronas, Holocaust survivors, had been social activists who wanted to make a connection between the two communities.

Gridiger settled on a join initiative with  the Aboriginal Tranby College and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies which would see Jewish volunteers working together with the Aboriginal community to archive Aboriginal oral history.

Di Ritch

Margaret Gutman

Di Ritch was with the project from its beginning and told J-Wire: “A few of us went to the College in the beginning to train the students in how to use the equipment. I did some if the early interviews and I particularly recall one with a woman called Sylvia Scott. She had set up a home for Aboriginal men who had come to live in the city and who had developed an alcohol problem.She was a very compassionate woman and she loved to talk about those things the Jewish and Aboriginal communities had in common. I brought her to the Jewish Museum and she would walk through the Holocaust section with tears in her eyes saying ‘look what happened’. I took her out to Jewish schools and she was looking at the children and became choked up. I asked her later what happened and she said to me quietly ‘Hitler would have killed them’… and this I believe was the intention of the Rona family…to be able to have a connection between the two communities. She died earlier this year, but she stayed connected to the Jewish community all her life.”The Rona Tranby.

Ritch went on to say that by creating this project it became a continuing connection rather than a on-off contribution. They have oral traditions as we do.

Margaret Gutman was CEO of the Board of Deputies when the Trust was launched. She told J-Wire: “Roland Gridiger asked me if I had any idea how to put the Rona’s wishes into practice. I had a leaning towards social history and I had been recording the stories of Holocaust survivors. I knew Aboriginals did not like to be photographed but I thought an oral project would work. They are good story tellers and so much has not been preserved for future generations. The time has come for the proper attitude to the conservation of the material and I hope the Jewish Museum will keep archived copies.”

Gutman said that the Ronas had been involved with multiculturalism. She said that the communities submit ideas for projects which are ultimately selected by Roland Gridiger , Tranby College and the NSWJBD.

She spoke about similarities between the Aboriginal and  Jewish communities. Gutman said: “They like to laugh. They meet adversity and they like to tell stories. They are very clannish…every is an AUnty or an Uncle…it represents a closeness that Jewish people share.

Tranby College is based in the inner city suburb of Glebe in Sydney. Aboriginal students learn about their culture and non-indigenous students learn about Aboriginal history.




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