WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised this article may contain images and references to the deceased.
Great moments in Blakistory #2 July 2010
Anthony Martin Fernando
Anthony Martin (6 April 1864-1949), Aboriginal activist and toymaker, was born in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, son of an Aboriginal woman, of the Dharug people. It is said he may have also been descended from John Martin, an African-American convict in the First Fleet who had children with Dharug women. Separated from his clan as a child, Anthony worked as an engine driver in Sydney. By the time he returned to his people, his mother had died. In 1887 he witnessed the murder of an Aboriginal by two White men, but was refused the opportunity to give evidence; the murderers were acquitted.
Disgusted with Australia, he set off on a self imposed exile in 1890 to publicise the Aboriginal cause overseas. In the following decades he travelled through Asia to Europe, working as a welder, toymaker, jewellery-maker, trader and servant. He lived for a time in Italy adopting the name Fernando. By 1910 he was in Austria. British authorities repeatedly denied his claims to be a British subject. Interned in Austria during World War I, in June 1916, stating that he had been born in Australia, he requested prison relief through the consul for the United States of America in Vienna. The British Foreign Office, describing him as ‘a negro’, referred the matter to the Australian government, which found no evidence of his birth, and his appeal was rejected.
After the war Fernando settled in Milan, Italy, where he worked in an engineering workshop. According to surveillance reports, he attempted to present a private petition to the Pope, interviewed members of the League of Nations in Geneva and protested in a German newspaper against Australian injustice towards Aborigines. Returning to Italy, he was arrested for distributing pamphlets declaring that the British race was exterminating his people. In 1923 he was deported to Britain. By 1928, after travelling Europe he was back in London where he continued his crusade by picketing Australia House, ‘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’. He died on 9 January 1949 at Ilford, Essex.
Contact: MS Sam Cook
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