The fight for identity

This is the remarkable story of my great-grandparents, Goolam Badoola and Marium Martin.

Goolam was born around 1860 to a poor Muslim family in Baluchistan, then under British rule, and now part of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was raised there and worked with camels from a young age.  The British sought cameleers to work in Australia and in the 1870s, at around eighteen, Goolam arrived at Port Augusta, South Australia, with several camels and very little English.

For several years he worked as a cameleer transporting supplies to the Western Australian goldfields, but made a name for himself when in 1900, severe flooding isolated Meekatharra and surrounding areas and townships. With residents facing certain death due to a lack of supplies being able to reach them, broken communication lines and famine, Goolam used his camels and saved more than 600 people by transporting them to safety and providing food and shelter.

As a reward, which was extremely rare at the time, the WA Government granted him citizenship and landholdings near Mount Magnet, 350km east of Geraldton.  Goolam owned and ran a sheep station near Mount Magnet, named Bulgabardoo.

Here he met his future wife, Marium.  Marium’s father was a Malay Muslim who worked on the station.  Her mother was a Wongi/Yamatji Aboriginal from the Badimaya clan.  They were married in December, 1917, in a Perth mosque and celebrated with Aboriginal ceremonies in Geraldton.

However, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, A. O. Neville, deemed the marriage illegal because it had taken place in a mosque, and secondly, was between an Aboriginal and a non-Aboriginal.  He determined Marium be removed from her husband and taken to an Aboriginal settlement.

In a 1918 letter written by Marium to the warden, she argues her marriage was legal because a type of dowry required under Islamic custom had been provided. Nevertheless, she was fearful the Aborigines Department would take her away from a good husband:

Dear Sir, I’m writing you a few lines and I hope you will take a great interest in it because I’m a poor unfortunate girl, and the Aboriginal department is trying to put me away from my good home.

Goolam and Marium eventually had four children: three boys and a girl.  The threat to take Marium now extended to include her children who were under constant threat of being forcibly removed, and she would hide them in boxes when the authorities arrived at the property.  My grandfather said his parents were very frightened:

Because at that time they were taking children away, and my father was afraid they were going to take me away and take me out of school and take my big brother away.

When Marium died in 1930, the Chief Protector then threatened to remove the children under the Aboriginal Protection Act, effectively becoming part of the stolen generation. Goolam, having already experienced a struggle to marry an Aboriginal woman, had the foresight to prevent his children being taken and organised for a nephew to transport them – my grandfather, his sister Nora, and two brothers, Mirdoz and Namroz – to the province of Baluchistan in British India.  My grandfather was twelve years old when he arrived in Baluchistan.

For several years, Aunty Nora fought to be allowed back into Australia … the country of her birth.  She had to fight for Australian citizenship … for the country of her birth.  Citizenship was eventually granted and she arrived to her homeland in 2000 where she stayed until her death in 2005. She had eight children and fifty grandchildren in Baluchistan, yet the Australian government did not allow any of them to visit her.

Towards the end of her life in 2005, her youngest daughter, Khan Zadi, was denied Australian citizenship let alone a visa to visit her mother, Nora, because of a an age limit requirement under immigration law and fears she may overstay her visa.  Aunty Nora wanted to be surrounded by her family just one more time before she passed away. She died without this wish being fulfilled; she has moved on, but is not at peace.  Her daughter was eventually granted a visa but its timing meant she could only attend the funeral.

One Indigenous family’s fight for recognition as Australians has been a long one and is indicative of the fight of all Indigenous peoples.  In a submission to the Indigenous Constitutional Forum, the Badoola Family stated their case:

“We have been long striving since the 1960s through to today, crossing many barriers in the Citizenship Acts. All the Acts use the word “Australian”. We feel legislative changes should be made to include “Aboriginal”/”Indigenous” as citizen by birth right, no matter where they were born. We are aboriginal people of indigenous parents. We and our children were born overseas.  The Citizenship Act is for migrant people. We do not consider our self as migrants, and as such seek your help to differentiate between the two.” 
In 1958, Goolam Badoola passed away.  Succeeding generations have settled in Western Australia, Victoria and other parts of the world. Goolam and Marium’s sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and great grandsons and great granddaughters are fully recognised and welcomed by the Aboriginal community.

There are now over one hundred descendants of Goolam and Marium living in Australia.  We are proud Yamatji people.  We are proud Baluchis.  We are proud Muslims.  And we are proud Australians.

By Ifzah Rind

Ifzah Rind

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