Migration Memories
Lightning Ridge perspectives


June and Roy Barker: An Indigenous perspective



Aboriginal culture – it’s not all lost

Lightning Ridge is in Yuwaalaraay country. An event that stands out in local Aboriginal history is the forced removal of Yuwaalaraay people living at nearby Angledool, to Brewarrina mission. This story of loss of connection to country as a result of colonisation was an important part of Aunty June and Uncle Roy Barker’s migration story. So too was the experience of coming to Lightning Ridge for opal mining. 

june and roy
June and Roy Barker.  Photograph: Jenni Brammall, 2007.
  display view
  The Barker's story on display in Lightning Ridge.
Photograph: Ursula Frederick


Mapping the personal, the local and historical

june's map
  June Barker, The Rivers are the Boundaries, 2006.  Photograph: Ursula Frederick.

June created a map of Aboriginal country around what is
now Lightning Ridge to show the local environment from an Aboriginal perspective. Her map refers to a tribal way of life in which personal lives were deeply interconnected with place and culture. Historical events changed this way of life dramatically but signs of it remain in the landscape.

photos of landscape
Detail from June and Roy Barker, panel two, Migration Memories: Lightning Ridge. Design: Iona Walsh.











The local

Some Aboriginal people went to Lightning Ridge for opal in the 1930s and a number of families arrived in the 1950s and 60s. Since then, town amenities and work in Aboriginal enterprises have also been an attraction. But while many of the Aboriginal people who live in Lightning Ridge now are newcomers to the town, the environment of Lightning Ridge is marked with the signs of a much older Aboriginal presence.

coolamon scar
Details from June and Roy Barker, panel two, Migration Memories: Lightning Ridge. Design: Iona Walsh.


The personal in historical context

old photo
Detail from June and Roy Barker, panel one, Migration Memories: Lightning Ridge. Design: Iona Walsh.  


June and Roy are not from Yuwaalaraay country but they grew up on Brewarrina Mission and learned many things from the Yuwaalaraay people who had been forced to live there. Because of this, and their wider knowledge and experience, they play an important role as custodians of Aboriginal culture and history at Lightning Ridge. At their Goondee (Keeping Place) they have displays of artefacts and photographs which they use to educate visitors about traditional Aboriginal life and what happened to them as a result of colonisation. Roy is a skilled maker of traditional artefacts and June is an acclaimed storyteller.






Looking back on the project

…by doing this I know that it won’t be all lost… I knew at the end that it was going to be something positive. It was a long process… I just couldn’t grasp what you were doing and it seemed a bit empty… I couldn’t see what was in it, but I thought, now I’ll hang in here with this one, because I knew that the material you had, even from the other ones that you were doing, that it was good, and I knew that what we were talking about would come altogether.

old photo from mission
  Children at Brewarrinna mission about 1930s. Photograph: Jimmy Barker. Courtesy Roy Barker.


When I first asked June and Roy if they would like to be involved I wasn’t sure how they would react to offering an Indigenous perspective to an exhibition about Australian migration history. They were very positive and interested and put up with me testing out all sorts of possible directions with them, but the story of forcibly moving the people from their mission at Angledool to the Brewarrina mission was always the main issue. In the frame of migration history, it was possible to see it as a forced migration, and I think June and Roy found this an interesting concept.