All the fuss—real and concocted—over the citizenship status of members of federal parliament, brought to mind an episode from 21 years ago—trying to prove the nationality of an Aboriginal artist applying for a passport.
Brian Nyinawanga was a singular artist as a painter and sculptor, and came from the “stone country” of central Arnhem Land. There’s no whitefella record of his birth—1937 or 1935 according to various accounts—but it was out bush. Although his family had affinities with relations at the Milingimbi mission and the government post of Maningrida, his birth was never formally registered at either place. Indeed his name never appeared on the Register of Wards— notoriously nick-named the “stud book”—the Native Welfare department’s record of Aboriginal people until the 1970s.