Burnum, Burnum

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Also known as Harry Penrith
Australian Aboriginal sportsman, activist, and storyteller

Burnum was born Harry Penrith (he took an Aboriginal name after his great grandfather in 1976) into a nomadic Aboriginal family at Wallaga Lake, New South Wales. When his mother died soon after he was born he was taken by the government to a mission orphanage and school and spent his childhood in care. He went to university - one of the first Aboriginals to do so - and worked for the civil service. He played rugby for Parramatta in the 1950s and 60s.

Unlike many of the other Stolen Generation children (see Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children), he was not bitter about his treatment, but he was nevertheless an activist for Aboriginal rights and a master of publicity stunts. One of his most famous was when he landed at Dover, England in 1988 and claimed the island of Britain for the Aboriginals, turning the claiming of Australia for Britain on its head. He combined a strong sense of his heritage with a political conservatism which made him unpopular with both whites and his own people.


Zinn, Christopher. "Great Warrior of the Timeless Landscape," The Guardian [London], 26 August 1997
Tabakoff, Jenny. "Aboriginal Campaigner Burnum Burnum Dies." Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/daily/content/970819/pageone/pageone5.html
Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Australia, general editors John Arnold and Deirdre Morris. (Port Melbourne: Reed Reference Publishing, 1994)
"Australian Who Identified With America's Blacks Dies." Available at: http://www.tbwt.com/articles/global/global15.htm
Moylan, Judi. "Burnum Burnum to Be Sorely Missed." Available at: http://www.health.gov.au/mediarel/jm18497.htm
The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History, Society and Culture, David Horton, general editor. (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1994)


Australian Aboriginal
20th Century
Civil Rights, Advocacy
Government, Politics, Civil Service, Public Administration
Birth Identity Disputed or Deliberately Concealed
Birth or Infancy
Child Removed from Home by Social Services
Government Policy, Assimilation
Trans-Racial, Trans-Tribal, International or Trans-Cultural Adoption or Fostering
Customary or Traditional Adoption, Informal and Extra-Legal Care
Institutional Care
Parent(s) Died, Disappeared or Became Incapacitated
Tracing Impossible or Birth Family Extinct
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