Jan James: My Path To Connecting Aboriginal People

Jan James, an extraordinary human being, R.I.P

On May 31st this year, I (and many others) lost a very special friend. I wrote a blog about this beautiful person entitled An Extraordinary Human Being: Jan James R.I.P. I know I am not the only person who considers Jan to be extraordinary.

‘Jan James was a genealogist, historian, counsellor and writer who over a period of nearly 40 years had assembled an unrivalled collection of Aboriginal records and photographs.  Her collection consisted of genealogies of 20,000 Western Australian Aboriginal families and included over 8,000 photos of individuals. Jan had written 14 books, including ‘Forever Warriors’, which contained biographical details and in most cases photographs of all Western Australian Aboriginal servicemen in all conflicts. She had been actively involved in helping Aboriginal families in counselling and justice processes for many years. In 2000, Jan was made an Honorary Noongar Elder and received an Aboriginal name, Kabarli, which means “Grandmother”. She was only the second white woman to officially be given this honour, the first being Daisy Bates.’

Jan initially helped my close friend Michael Liu and I trace the ancestry of Revel Cooper when we were working together on a project about Carrolup artist Revel Cooper. Three years ago, Mike, Cathy Coomer (niece of Revel) and I visited Jan in Northam with the intention of Mike filming Jan in conversation. Mike edited a number of film clips, one of which involving Jan and Cathy was posted on my earlier blog.

Jan’s  has helped connect many Aboriginal families who had previously been split apart by government policies that resulted in thousands of Aboriginal children being taken away from their parents (the so-called Stolen Generations).

In the blog film clip below, she describes her path to connecting Aboriginal people. She says at the end of the clip:

‘I’ve had the most remarkable experiences being able to reunite dislocated families. Dislocated by the 1905 Act, you know, where the kids were taken away if they were part-Aboriginal, and part-white. I don’t know who decided that it was better to raise you white rather than Aboriginal. I don’t know.

I think I’ve learned so much from the Aboriginal people, the wonderful loyalty and love and honesty shown to one another. That is what I’ve learned. It’s a remarkable thing.’

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