Nine-year-old Shauna Bostock was happy as Larry when she and her sister were photographed with 1960s film and television star Yvonne De Carlo for The Sydney Morning Herald in 1973, but their excitement was short-lived.
“Yvonne was a big star and we were thrilled to be photographed with her. We were dressed in our best clothes and shared the shoot with four other Aboriginal children,’’ she recalls.
But when the paper was published, Shauna and her sister weren’t in the photograph. The editor had chosen another image with the other children.
“While we were disappointed my mother was outraged.”
“She thought the photographer chose the other children because they reinforced the stereotype of Aborigines as being down-trodden poor people.”
Years later, as Shauna recounts in a Griffith Review article to be published in May, her recollection of this event would be drastically revised.
“Delving into the memories of my mother and sister raised questions about my own perceptions of the past, and I was able to release the burden of sadness I held for so long,’’ says Shauna who will complete her honours degree with the School of Humanities this year.
Her interest in her family history began in 2008 when a woman who shared the same surname was researching her own family history and found a photograph of Shauna’s uncle online.
Thelma Bostock saw that he was an Aboriginal man with the Bostock name, wondered if he was descended from one of her ancestors and subsequently made contact with him.
“We always knew our non-Aboriginal ancestor was Augustus John Bostock (1855-1927), but now we were to learn with Thelma’s help that his grandfather was a slave trader called Robert Bostock,’’ Shauna said.
“When slave trading was abolished the British government arrested him and sentenced him to be transported to Australia for 14 years.”
Not long after his arrival, he was able to secure a pardon signed by NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie.
Emboldened by this new information, Shauna was inspired to fill the gaps in her own research.
As part of her honours degree Shauna is researching Aboriginal missions, in particular, the Box Ridge Mission in NSW where all four of her grandparents lived in the early part of the 20th Century.
She says memory is an unreliable creature. “Before researching my family history, I had always assumed the lives of my grandparents and other Aborigines on missions were sad and miserable, governed as they were by white oppressors, but I discovered evidence that forced me to abandon that assumption”.
A visit to the archives at Mitchell Library last year unearthed valuable documents belonging to two missionaries (mother and daughter) who were affiliated with the United Aborigines Mission. Shauna found far from being oppressed her grandmother had established friendships with them and they had kept in contact with her for many years after she had left the mission.
“This tangible evidence of an obvious affection between these two very different women clearly contradicted my previous ideas,’’ she said.
Shauna says her family history is too vast to be contained in an honours dissertation so she wants to expand her research into PhD and write a book that can be used as an academic resource.
“Writing and researching real, flesh and blood Aboriginal people from the past helps provide an Aboriginal perspective of our collective history.
“There are many wonderful stories of survival and resilience that illustrate a strength of character that we can all be proud of. I see my research as a way to empower Aboriginal people.”
A long way indeed from the two little girls photographed all those years ago.