Walt Secord Reflects

October 25, 2011 by J-Wire Staff
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Labor member Walt Secord has addressed the NSW Legislative Council on his long standing association with the Rona Tranby Trust…a co-operative initiative between the Jewish and Aboriginal communities.

The following is the text of his speech:

Walt Secord

“In early September I had the honour of attending the twentieth anniversary of the Rona Tranby Trust. I would like to take this opportunity to note the important contribution the trust makes to diversity and tolerance in New South Wales.

Established through the bequest of Tom and Eva Rona, who were killed in car accident near Taree in September 1987, the trust preserves oral Aboriginal history. As Holocaust survivors the Ronas were not only great social justice advocates they also understood the vital importance of preserving history through first-hand accounts. There is the telling of history and then there is the voice of history itself.

The Ronas felt so strongly about preserving Aboriginal culture that they left instructions in Tom Rona’s will for an Indigenous project. Since then, the Rona Tranby Trust has been overseen by the Ronas’ solicitor, Mr Roland Gridiger.

In 1991 the Rona Tranby Oral History Project—a joint initiative with the Aboriginal Tranby College in Glebe and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies—was established. The Rona Tranby Trust brings together two great cultural traditions: one that is more than 3,000 years old the other that is at least 50,000 years old.

While patterned on the Australian Institute of Holocaust Studies’ Twelfth Hour oral history projects that recorded the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, it also reflected the great tradition of storytelling that is an essential medium of Aboriginal culture.

The twentieth anniversary held at the Sydney Jewish Museum was attended by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Victor Dominello; the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Linda Burney; senior members of Tranby Aboriginal College, including its program manager and lecturer, Darryl French; and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, including its president, Yair Miller, its current chief executive officer, Vic Alhadeff, and its previous chief executive officer, Ms Margaret Gutman.

For the last 20 years Rona Tranby has funded the recording of numerous oral histories that are integral not only to Indigenous culture but also to our national history. Over the years it has supported more than 10 different projects.

In 2006 Rona Tranby preserved the recollections of Aunty Beryl Carmichael. Aunty Beryl is the last fluent speaker of her language and the sole custodian of the last four songs and dances performed in 1946 at the Menindee Mission. Without Rona Tranby, her language and her culture would pass with Aunty Beryl herself.

Rona Tranby has preserved the history of Queensland’s famous Indigenous brass bands, it has captured the stories of the children of the Emerald River Home in the Northern Territory and documented the witness of homeless Aboriginal men at the Mac Silva Centre in Redfern. In assessing the importance of such projects it is important to note that previous efforts to record Aboriginal oral history, particularly such personal and emotional stories, had limited success because they were conducted by non-Aboriginals. With Aboriginal people now recording the testimonies, this has changed.

I was honoured to be invited to the Rona Tranby event. Twenty years before, I was a young journalist who attended the launch of the Rona Tranby Trust and awards. At the time I covered it for the Australian Jewish News and the Koori Mail.

At the time I was moved by the sincerity of those from the Tranby Aboriginal College and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, who took these steps to allow two great cultures to work together. Looking back on the two decades of national debate and gradual steps to reconciliation, we can see that those behind the Rona Tranby Trust were clearly ahead of their time. Indeed, at first blush, members may find this partnership between our Aboriginal and Jewish communities an unusual match.

If so, then I am pleased to note that in mid November the Sydney Jewish Museum intends to mark an historic protest against Nazi German persecution of Jews. It is a protest that remains unique in world history.

While I need not detail to members of this Chamber the significance of the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, members may be interested to hear that the only formal demonstration against Kristallnacht ever recorded anywhere in the world occurred in Australia. On 6 December 1938, 77-year-old Aboriginal leader, William Cooper, marched on the German consulate in Melbourne to protest in the wake of the Kristallnacht.

In December 2010, Yad Vashem, the world centre for Holocaust education and research in Jerusalem, recognised Mr Cooper’s protest as a world first.

While the rest of the world stayed silent, it was Indigenous Australia that stood up at a time when Indigenous people themselves were denied basic human rights. William Cooper spoke up because he knew what it was to be oppressed. Hence, we see how the co-support of these two great ancient cultures was not only understandable but noble and historical. Sadly, both the Aboriginal and Jewish communities have witnessed persecution, expulsions and dispossession.

This heritage they share, but both have survived and the community of New South Wales only stands to be stronger and fairer by knowing their stories.


One Response to “Walt Secord Reflects”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    William Cooper will never be forgotten, by the Jewish community at least, how wonderful for his descendants. Shamefully, legacies are depived in some communities within society today, including religious ones.

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