ANTHONY MARTIN FERNANDO 1864-1947
Australian Aboriginal rights activist and Hyde Park speaker.
Fernando was born in Sydney in 1864, the son of an Aboriginal mother, his ‘guiding star’ from whom he was separated as a child. He claimed to have been brought up in the home of a white family who denied him an education and treated him like a pet. As far as historians can ascertain, Fernando was driven into self-imposed exile in the early 1900s, after being excluded from giving evidence in the trial of white men accused of the murder of Aboriginal people. He believed the only way to secure justice for his people was to go to Europe.
There he confronted the British. He accused the British authorities of turning a blind eye to the systematic extermination of Aborigines by the Australian Government. He complained bitterly about the church mission stations, describing them as ‘murder houses’. In 1928 he continued his crusade by speaking in Hyde Park London, picketing Australia House, writing letters to newspapers and petitioning European powers, including the Pope. He proposed that an Aboriginal state be established in Australia’s north, free from British and Australian interference, under the mandate of a European neutral power.
The British and Australian authorities were horrified, and accused him of being a German spy. Newspaper reports of the time described Fernando: ‘his long grey beard damp with mist, his frail elderly frame wrapped in a large overcoat’. Pinned to his coat were scores of small, white, toy skeletons and he wore a placard proclaiming: ‘This is all Australia has left of my people’.
In January 1929, Fernando was described as a toy hawker. A religious man who could quote tracts of the Bible, he believed that God had entrusted him with a mission to save Aboriginal people from the colonial system that oppressed them. Fernando retired to an old men’s home. He died on 9 January 1949 at Ilford, Essex.
The above was sourced from: Australian Dictionary of Biography Alison Holland, Fiona Paisley, ‘Fernando, Anthony Martin (1864 – 1949)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, Melbourne University Press, 2005, pp 127-128.
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