‘Our identity is our history and our future’: a brief account of the Miller family and Yarilena

Rhian Miller, AIME Associate Designer

 

I’m a proud Wirangu, Narranga and Wongatha woman.

The NAIDOC 2020 theme “Always Was, Always Will Be” to me is about celebrating all of us, as human beings coming together to learn, share and celebrate the oldest continuing culture on the planet and for us all, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to embrace the true history of this country – a history which dates back thousands of generations. 

This year, to celebrate my family's heritage I wanted to share a brief history of the Miller family and the establishment of Yarilena, the homelands I was fortunate enough to be raised on.

The passage below was published in Our identity is our history and our future’  by Neva L. Wilson in 2003. 

Yari and Lena Miller (my poppa’s grandparents) moved to the Koonibba Mission in 1931, to increase their own opportunities and to get better schooling for their children. Yari was a respected and responsible contractor and leading hand at the mission, supervising up to 20 men. He was allocated a two-roomed house, which he furnished and extended. The family size increased and the children grew into adults with children of their own coming. Eventually overcrowding and restricted opportunities made the family decide to move to Ceduna in 1942. 

Yari and Lena were the first Aboriginal family to move into Ceduna, and their experiences were difficult. The Ceduna school refused to accept the children until 1952, arguing that a school was provided at Koonibba Mission for Aborigines, and that if one family was accepted the school would be “swamped by an influx” of Aboriginal children. 

From their original house in town, Yari and Lena moved to the outskirts of Ceduna. While living there they were subject to the jurisdiction of the Aborigines Protection Board, and dependent on a range of exemptions. The board (Ceduna Council) responded to constant pressure from the local community to move the Millers away from white housing.

No facilities at all were provided in Ceduna for Aborigines, so the Miller’s house was used by the Aboriginal community as accommodation and a meeting point for people passing through. The inevitable overcrowding and disturbances put great pressure on the Miller family and led to constant harassment from the authorities. 

After the end of World War II, Yari and Lena were allocated land in Section 197, even further out of town. They eventually moved there in about 1953, with two of their sons, Herbert and Gordan. Yari took the lease with the intention of sharing the land with his brother, Bill, and sister, Gertrude. The land, now Yarilena but then called Duckpond, was mostly sand dunes and tidal swamp land, thought to be valueless. 

The lifestyle of the Millers as they grew up at Duckpond was hard, with continuing poverty and discrimination. Fourteen children grew up in a very small house (My Grandfather was one of those 14). They carted water by hand from a well Yari dug in the sand hills, and went hungry when money and bush tucker were short. But there were many advantages. The harassment by authorities decreased, and the families were able to live on their land without constant supervision and complaints against them.

 

“Always Was, Always Will Be” has encouraged me to learn about my family history so I can keep our culture, stories and traditions alive for the future generations to come.

Growing up in Yarilena I had no idea about the history of the homelands and the struggle associated with its establishment. I’m incredibly humbled to have been able to learn about my family's identity during NAIDOC this year, to be able to reflect on our resilience and what it means to truly know who we are and where we come from. 


     

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