Lee, Dawn A

Stories of white pioneering families are commonplace. But how often are we presented with a Koori family story that stretches back through the generations to contact? That Daughter of Two Worlds performs such a feat is remarkable enough, but author Dawn Lee goes even further – way beyond the bounds of the often mundane and parochial genre of family history.  An extraordinary untold story, Daughter of Two Worlds begins with a tragic affair between the wife of the founder of Melbourne, Eliza Batman, and Batman’s right hand man and a pillar of the early Wesleyan church, William Willoughby.

As a child, Dawn Lee was fascinated by the family legend that her great grandfather was a mysterious white English lord, who somehow met her great grandmother, Susannah, a full tribal Gunditjmara woman, living in the lava caves of Budj Bim (Mt Eccles) in the wilds of western Victoria.

The truth – when Dawn went in search of it – proved even more improbable.

Within these pages is a true Australian story of Batman’s vengeful spirit, ensuing tragedy, murder and the disappearance of Eliza’s second husband, William Willoughby, into western Victoria with the Chief Protector of Victoria’s Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson.

Tracking through the archives for over 15 years, Dawn uncovered many, many secrets and brought to life what really happened in the collision of cultures when one side of her family, the ngmadjidj or white ghosts, came into contact with the other side, the Gunditjmara or the original Aboriginal people inhabiting south western Victoria.

From the union of William and Susannah, Daughter of Two Worlds follows their children’s forced internment in Lake Condah Mission near Budj Bim, then their ultimate expulsion as ‘half-castes’ and relocation from country to city. While the brutal arbitrariness of the ngmadjidj to those they conquered seems unbearable, what is truly remarkable about Dawn’s family and many of the incarcerated Aboriginal people, was their ability to retain their dignity and ultimately triumph in the face of such inhumanity.

Daughter of Two Worlds is further enlivened by photos from Dawn Lee’s collection. One of the most comprehensive records of any Victorian Aboriginal family, the photos, together with Dawn’s simple and sincere words, give back to us all a slice from the other side of history.

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Em Press Publishing, July 2022.  Originally commissioned by Aboriginal Affairs Victoria in 2001.   82 pages, paperback, more than 150 images.