Even though Griffith celebrates its 100th birthday this year, people have lived in the area for a long time. The Wiradjuri people called the area from Hay to Bathurst and Gilgandra to Deniliquin home for thousands of years. However, until Dr Stan Grant came along, the history, language and culture was in danger of being lost to history.
Dr Grant’s grandmother was born on a mission near Darlington Point. His grandfather, Budyaan, also known as Wilfred Johnson, spoke seven languages, but was considered uneducated by the Europeans who knew him. Budyaan took his family to Condobolin, where Stan was born in 1940.
At the age of six, Stan’s family took part in “the last great walkabout” from Condobolin to Griffith. They walked, rode bicycles and horses, before arriving at Frog’s Hollow 10 days later. They set up camp in The Pines near Tharbogang, and later moved around the area before settling in Yenda.
There were four families Dr Grant could remember, although he was sure there were more: the Goolagongs, Simpsons, Grants and Johnsons.
At 11, Stan lived in a house with electric lights for the first time. His father was enterprising and took contracts for harvest, in turn employing other Koori men to work for him. In general, he said, the relationship between black and white was pretty good in those days. George Seton had the store at Bilbul and helped the family out when times were tough.
Budyaan was sometimes go out rabbit trapping with Stan and his father. Many hours were spent in the bush, passing along the stories and language. It was the beginning of his love for the language and heritage which would one day lead to some great work.
At school, though, racism was “in your face”. Stan would get racial taunts thrown at him and in turn he threw punches back. The headmaster pulled him aside and said while there was no law against racism, there was a law against assault.
“It was ignorance, not hatred,” Dr Grant said.
“And I met their ignorance with intolerance.
“I learned quickly that you can’t solve your problems with violence.”
Stan left the area and went to Canberra where he worked for several years before returning to Griffith. While he worked as a timber machinist at Area Builders he realised his hands wouldn’t always be enough to provide a living. He returned to Canberra and sought out further education.
Along with Dr John Rudder, Stan reconstructed the Wiradjuri language from old records, writings and his own memories of Budyaan. He was awarded an honorary doctorate for his work by Charles Sturt University, where he later established a course in Wiradjuri heritage, language and culture. Dr Grant wrote 20 books and two Wiradjuri dictionaries.
Dr Grant was also named a member of the Order of Australia.
Looking back on his life, he reflected on change. As a child, he loved to hear Italian men singing while they worked on roofs and he never imagined there would be a Wiradjuri woman in the state government, let alone a black president in the United States.
“Every generation changes, my grandfather, my father, me, my son and so on,” he said.
“We take the past with us but we don’t forget it.
“It’s important to learn from the past to make a better future.”
Dr Grant’s four-month-old great-granddaughter will grow up in a world wildly different from his, but thanks to his legacy she will know the story and the language of her people.