Reaching Through Time by Shauna Bostock

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Shauna Bostock, a former Primary School teacher, through curiosity about her family, researched and completed a PhD in Aboriginal history. This book is the story of her personal research. Unlike other previous works with a similar purpose, Reaching Through Time is written from the perspective of an Aboriginal historian who has researched her own ancestors. In many ways this has given her access to information that other historians have been denied. With proof of her relationship to certain individuals, she was able to gain a better understanding of race relations in Australia’s early colonial history, especially the managed reserve system in NSW. She gained access to questionable practices within this organisation, but only as it impacted her family members. It was to her advantage that these individuals often stood up to the board which they called the ‘Destruction Board’ (171). There was much written about her individual ancestors but also written by them. She was even able to access relevant ASIO files. This evidence has been presented in her thesis.

She used a photographic analogy to describe her research of the period of the Aboriginal Protection Board. Having zoomed in on individuals she then zoomed out to capture the macrocosmic bureaucracy of the authority which in 1940 became the Aborigine Welfare Board (174).

Written with the purpose of counteracting the wide-spread lack of knowledge about Aboriginal history, she focussed in on the area in the Tweed River Valley, NSW, as this is where most of her relatives lived in the shadow of Wollumbin (Mt. Warning). This story shows how research can bring a deeper understanding and healing of the wounds in our history.

The author was able to construct a comprehensive family tree from her research which she has presented in the book.  This is a very personal book written in the first person with bold headings and indented evidence breaking up the text.  She uses newspaper articles to capture exact words of Aboriginal people in history as a means of ensuring their thoughts and voices are heard in the present (173), while meticulously acknowledging each source of her information. The book has ten chapters, sixteen pages of black and white photos on shiny white paper and provides a chronological history.

During the research process she learned that if you venture into community records you may be lucky enough to stumble upon more information than you first expected to find. Sometimes after years of searching, you finally find a piece of archival evidence that authenticates a story that you wholeheartedly believed in but could not personally prove; other times some stories brought about deep introspection and reflection overturning original ideas.

Her research covers five generations of her family history and their experiences with the encroachment of white settlement. She discovered that there were several inter-racial liaisons. One family line originated from a ‘full-blood’ Indigenous couple and two other lines came from a white Australian man and an Aboriginal woman while the other was from an Aboriginal man and a white woman.

Her non-indigenous great-great- grandfather belonged to a couple of generations of slave traders. He was convicted and sent to Australia as a convict before becoming a wealthy landowner who managed to hide his earlier experiences. It is from him that the family name of Bostock became part of her history.

There have been many other authors and film makers in her family. The Aboriginal Theatre was a gathering place for Aboriginal groups in 1971. This was a way to get their stories on the street.

Some uncles were known activists in 1970s, either through the arts or working tirelessly for many organisations that supported Aboriginal advancement. This was at a time when there was a fear of Aboriginal people being influenced by communism. Her family members were Aboriginal people who experienced prejudice, oppression, racism and decided to come together in solidarity to fight for equality (262). Reaching Through Time also records many of the respectful relationships and friendships between the two groups wanting to live on the same land.

Many films and books written by Aboriginal people are mentioned in this publication. One in particular was a film or documentary called Lousy Little Sixpence based on interviews of five elderly Aboriginal women who were part of the stolen generation. This film did much to bring the issue to public attention (275).

Her own father, George Bostock, lived in the shadow of his more outgoing relatives until he turned sixty when he became a playwright and actor. This book is filled with stories of her family’s experiences from colonisation through to her father’s thespian adventures.

The Epilogue explains many Aboriginal beliefs as she talks with her Uncle Lewis a language and law keeper and recognised by many as a knowledge holder.

This is an interesting personal journey through early Australian history from a different, previously silenced perspective. It is confronting at times but provides a more balanced and realistic account of those earlier years than has been presented as Australian history previously. This truth telling should help modern Australians to move on and embrace all of our multiculturalism.

This is a family history with so much more which will be of relevance to all Australians.

Reaching Through Time


by Shauna Bostock

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76106-798-3

$34.99; 352pp


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