Burnum Burnum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Burnum Burnum
Burnum Burnum.jpg
Born10 January 1936
Died17 August 1997(1997-08-17) (aged 61)
Other namesHarry Penrith (rejected name from christening)
OccupationActivist, actor, author

Burnum Burnum (10 January 1936 – 17 August 1997)[1][2] was an Aboriginal Australian sportsman, activist, actor, and author. He was a Woiworrung and Yorta Yorta man at Wallaga Lake in southern New South Wales. He was originally christened Harry Penrith[3] but took the name of his great grandfather, which means "Great Warrior".

Early life[edit]

Burnam Burnam was one of the stolen generations, taken from his parents when he was barely three months old. Featured on Late Night Live with Phillip Adams in 1999, the story of his early years graphically illustrates the brutality of the assimilation policy in the second part of the twentieth centuryradionational/programs/latenightlive/burnam-burnam. Burnam was raised as an orphan and as a white person. He was called Harry Penrith, and was taught that white was good and black bad. Burnam spent many years in children's homes run by the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, most notably Kinchela Boys Home at Kempsey. The Welfare Board promoted his achievements in rugby league and surf lifesaving at Kempsey in their publication Dawn magazine, and reported that he left Kinchela to become a pioneer Aboriginal employee in the NSW Public Service, working for the Department of Agriculture, where he remained for 13 years. But stolen generation's people like Burnam, though raised 'white' were rejected by white society, leaving them with nothing. In the 1960s he searched for his Aboriginal identity and joined the battle for Aboriginal rights. [4]


Burnum Burnum also played first grade Rugby Union for Parramatta, New South Wales, and both rugby league and cricket.[citation needed]


Burnum Burnum became involved in Australian Indigenous rights activism while attending the University of Tasmania in the late 1960s, he led a successful movement to reclaim the remains of Truganini from the Tasmanian Museum for cremation. He was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1975 to study other Indigenous people.[citation needed]

He may be best remembered for planting the Aboriginal flag on the white cliffs of Dover on the Australian Bicentenary Day of 26 January 1988. This was his satirical way of claiming England, as Arthur Phillip had done to Burnum Burnum's homeland in 1788 when arriving with the First Fleet. A copy of the Burnum Burnum Declaration is on display among the Indigenous carvings and sculptures at the Enchanted Maze (a.k.a. Arthur's Seat Maze), Mornington Peninsula, Melbourne.[citation needed]

The Burnum Burnum Declaration


In 1986, Burnum Burnum played roles in three films. The first was Dark Age, a thriller set in outback and tropical Australia, and which also starred David Gulpillil as Burnum's son. The second was Ground Zero, a thriller containing themes critical of the British and Australian governments' treatment of Indigenous Australians during nuclear weapon testing at Maralinga. The third was a satirical film, Marsupials: The Howling III, in which Burnum's character becomes a werewolf in the form of a Tasmanian tiger.[5]

Burnum appeared as Uncle Albert in the 1992 TV series Boney about an Aboriginal detective.[citation needed]


Burnum stood for election to the Australian Senate, as an independent in New South Wales in the 1983 and 1984 Federal elections. He was also an Australian Democrats' candidate for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in the 1988 North Shore state by-election.[citation needed]

Former Prime Minister John Howard described Burnum Burnum as "a very gracious man and very strongly committed to the welfare of Aboriginal Australians".[citation needed]


In his later life Burnum Burnum lived in Woronora a suburb in the Sutherland Shire, where he was active in the local community. He died from heart disease on 17 August 1997, aged 61. A portrait of Burnum Burnum now hangs in Sutherland Library. In 2005 Jannali Reserve was renamed Burnum Burnum Reserve in his honour.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Encyclopaedia Britannica - Burnum Burnum". britannica.com. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  2. ^ Clyde H. Farnsworth (20 August 1997). "Burnum Burnum, 61, Fighter For Australia's Aborigines". The New York Times. p. D 20. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
  3. ^ "Plan for Aboriginal mines". The Canberra Times. Vol. 55, no. 16, 716. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 3 July 1981. p. 3. Retrieved 11 August 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ Farnsworth, Clyde (20 August 1997). "Burnum Burnum, 61, Fighter For Australia's Aborigines". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 April 2009.
  5. ^ Norst, Marlene. 1999. Burnum Burnum: A Warrior for Peace. Roseville NSW: Simon & Schuster, 1999 / Kangaroo Press.