ROMANI SINTI COMMUNITY
ORGANISATION OF QUEENSLAND


Events & ARTICLES
Nth Queensland Historical Museum's exhibit of Romanies rolls in Nth Queensland History.

The Anti-stereotyping Romani exhibit in the North Queensland museum portrays the parts Romanies played in local history including jobs they did, things to do with our culture and history, the Romani holocaust, articles, maps, captions, pictures on big boards, our flag, our national athem Djelem Djelem, also music in Romani chib will be available to listen to plus a glass cabinet displaying Romani ornaments.
Many thanks to Professor Marcel Courthaide for helping with material. Also a thanks to Professor Ian Hancock and Lecturer Ronald Lee for helping with information. And thank you to the museum director, Mr. Sim, who made the exhibit possible and put it out there for the public to see and Professor Wegner for setting up the display which was co-ordinated by Yvonne and Dave Slee.

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Romanies in Australian history
Article by Adam Bruin

In the Romnichal dialect, Botany Bay was referred to as Bitcheno padlengresky tem, or 'Transported Fellows Country'.
Whilst historians confirm that there were at least 3 Romani's transported as convicts on the First Fleet, it has been suggested with confidence that more than 50 of the first convicts were Romanichal.  The deportation to Australia was part of the discrimination against British Romani people due to the transportation laws of the 18th century.

James Squire (1754 -16 May 1822) was one of these transported fellows. Acknowledged as the first brewer in Australia, Squire's story is a classic example of 'from shame to fame' and testament to the egalitarian nature of the Australian identity.  Squire was convicted of stealing farm animals in Britain and sentenced to seven years transportation on the First Fleet. 

After becoming a free man Squire demonstrated his ingenuity quickly, acquiring a significant block of land, establishing a farm and brewery and even serving as a local constable (mainly in order to chase thieves off his own property).
Squire formed a close friendship with another key player in the early days of the colony, Woollarawarre Bennelong (1764 -3 January 1813).  Bennelong had previously attempted to advocate for a mutually beneficial relationship between the Eora (the Indigenous people of the Sydney area) and the British.  To this end he befriended Governor Arthur Phillip and travelled to Britain to learn the language and customs of the new visitors.

Unfortunately for Bennelong, after his short term, Phillip returned to Britain and Bennelong became regarded as an outcast by both the British and Eora.
It was during this period that Bennelong and Squire formed a strong friendship. Bennelong's sister married another Romani man, Henry Lavello/Lovell.  Lavello, Bennelong's sister and their son were repatriated to Britain around 1796.  These Lavello's then married into James Squire's mother's family. 

Bennelong was buried on Squire's property. The funeral of James Squire was the biggest the colony had held and local press praised him for the contributions he had made to the colony.  Two generations later, Squire's grandson James Squire Farnell (25 June 1825 - 21 August 1888) became the first Australian born Premier of the colony.
Woollarawarre Bennelong
Squire's grandson James Farnell
James Squire's signature
Click on the picture to look at this informative presentation
Identity, diversity and racism in Australian Classrooms - A Romani Perspective

Despite the hailed success of the Australian government's multicultural policy framework in ensuring the preservation of all cultures in Australian society, the Romani community in Australia remains largely undocumented and unrecognized as an ethnic group.  As the only Asian culture to have developed in Europe, the Romani people embody a fusion of European and Asian traditions into a single identity that in itself is worthy of exploration in order to facilitate young people's understanding of diversity and identity in the global community.  The promotion of active global citizenship in a multi-cultural society may be enhanced by investigations into the issues of racism, prejudice and discrimination faced by the Roma diaspora in the European community, both historically and in the contemporary context.  Whilst a proper examination of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust would appear absolutely necessary, an examination of Gypsies in the media may also benefit students as they become aware of how the perpetuation of myths and stereotypes influence the wider community's perception of ethnic minorities.

In the study commissioned by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) research revealed an underlying racism among young Australians linked to the perception of who does and does not belong. The study indicated that racism was more prevalent in schools that had higher Indigenous, migrant or refugee populations and that teachers may also be unintentional perpetrators of racist behaviour in Australian schools.  Despite this growing understanding that cultural diversity is a demographic fact in Australia, prejudices towards certain ethnic groups continue to be acceptable in general society.  It is thus the responsibility of educators to challenge the prejudices held by the broader community by examining the factors that contribute to racial and cultural stereotyping.  Despite the Australian shift to multiculturalism, the Romani community in Australia is yet to reap the benefits of the promotion of cultural diversity in schools.  Partially due to a non-disclosure of their ethnic identity upon arrival in Australia, due to the attitude towards Roma in the migrants' country of origin, the Roma in Australia do not generally appear in statistics and are essentially hidden.

The diaspora that calls itself Romani, with a global number of about 12 million, is known by many other names. The term Gypsy and its variants such as Gitano, etc., mostly stem from the confusion of the geographic origins of the ethnic group as coming from Egypt, whilst other terms such as Tsigani, Cigani, etc., have developed from the Byzantium Greek word for ‘untouchable/don't touch' Although the term Gypsy is easily recognised, few are aware of Romani. 

The Romani people are the longest enduring diaspora of refugees in our written history, forcibly removed and enslaved from India 1000 years ago.  Originally taken into military slavery by Mahmoud Ghazni of Persia, the people who were to become the Rom already came from a diverse linguistic and cultural background.  The lingua franca, Rajput (a military language based in Sanskrit) provided the foundation for a language that would continue to evolve as the people migrated into Europe.  The descendants of these original Indian people eventually found themselves in Anatolia and it was here that the Romani cultural identity developed into a distinct ethnicity.  Throughout the thousand years of migration, the Indian roots of the language and culture have been maintained, as the practices of host nations have been absorbed and incorporated into what may now be called Romani culture.  As outsiders, the Romani people have always endured persecution and it was not until their emancipation by the newly formed nation of Romania in the late 19th century that the Roma were freed from slavery in some Balkan territories.  Various anti-Roma laws existed through the different European territories, restricting their movements, removing their children, expulsion and racially based capital punishment. The worst of these atrocities culminated in the Roma Holocaust or Porajmos under the Nazi regime, where the genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial mania, with the same premeditation, with the same wish for the systematic and total extermination as the genocide of the Jews.  Complete families from the very young to the very old were systematically murdered within the entire sphere of influence of the National Socialists.

Whilst much has been done in the international community to condemn the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during the 20th Century, little progress has been made with regards to the general attitude of the international community towards Romanies.  The general ignorance of the validity of this European ethnic minority continues to fuel race based violence and policies developed to deal with the gypsy problem.  This lack of progress is made obvious by reflecting on Dillmann's 1899 Zigeunerbuch, a treatise that informed the German Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Nuisance where Romanies are referred to as a pest against which society must unflaggingly defend itself, and special instructions were issued to the police by the Prussian government to combat the Gypsy nuisance.  These headlines are not dissimilar to ones that are found in contemporary media reports to this day.  Whilst the 2013 story of Maria, the blue eyed blonde angel eventually drew positive attention from Australian media with regards to responding to some of the myths and stereotypes constructed about Gypsies, this was largely due to the activism of one individual, Yvonne Slee. The fact remains that the pervasiveness of Gypsiness is so widespread and misunderstood that a thorough investigation into the history, culture, community myths and media representations of this ethnic group would assist the true promotion of cultural pluralism in Australia.

From a social justice perspective it is necessary to include at least some Romani material in the Australian curriculum. As a teacher, I first encountered the lack of cultural awareness of Romani people in the innocent ignorance of a 9-year-old boy whose understanding was that Gypsies were mythical beings who read fortunes, of the same ilk as pixies and elves. After my initial shock and offense I began to have informal discussions with students about who Gypsies are. With the introduction of the book The Shack that Dad Built, into Queensland schools in 2012, students were introduced to a visiting Gypsy family. Taking this opportunity I developed a series of lessons to promote a positive and as accurate as possible depiction of the Romani people for my students, including an analysis of cultural stereotyping.  I was fortunate to have a student in class recently arrived from the U.K.  The boy's opinion of Gypsies had clearly been shaped by the prejudices of his parents and this was a good opportunity to highlight the stereotypes prevalent outside of Australia.

The education pack published by Show Racism the Red Card, is a UK teaching resource that challenges the negative stereotypes and racism towards Gypsy, Roma and Travellers.  Whilst the situation for Romanies in Australia is of a different context, the activities outlined in the pack could well be used when introducing Romani perspectives into the classroom and are particularly suited to the Year 10 classroom, as an investigation into the Holocaust as part of the history curriculum.  Elsewhere in the Australian curriculum, year 6 students investigate the reasons for migration to Australia during the 20th century and now, where this content would also be suitable, given the number of Roma and Sinti people who migrated in the post-war period.  The activities in the pack highlight pre-existing prejudices; stereotypes; Diversity in Romani communities; Contributions to society; racially motivated attacks; Media myths and the Holocaust.

The innocent ignorance of the 9 year old boy, who grouped Gypsies with mythical creatures, is part of another phenomenon related to the term Gypsy in the way that it is understood and used by white Australians, as a form of counterfeit ethnicity.  In this way, Gypsy music, Gypsy Holidays, Gypsy Horses and Gypsy travelers continue to rob and belittle the Romani cultural identity.  Thus it is a perception that being Gypsy is a lifestyle choice with no attachment to any particular ethnicity.  Whilst this obviously demonstrates a lack of understanding of Romani culture, the misuse of the term Gypsy can also be frustrating for Romanies who fail to have their culture acknowledged or understood in Australia. 

Australian students in year 10 investigate the Holocaust as part of their study of World War 2.  To properly put the Holocaust into its full perspective, it is necessary to acknowledge the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. As part of the nazi party's national euthanizing, three populations were targeted - the disabled, diseased and those in comas unlikely to recover. Romanies and Jews fell into the second category, their disease being their race and genetics. The exact figures of how many Sinti and Roma people were murdered during the Holocaust are difficult to determine. This is partly due to the fact that Sinti and Roma were rarely included in national census data in the countries where they were made victim. For this reason, pre- and post-war data cannot fully determine the number of deaths, as it was used for the Jewish Holocaust.
        
The figures displayed by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum of 250,000 Romani deaths is considered an underestimation and it is argued that the figure was in excess of one million deaths, and proportionately more than half of the European Romani population. Both the sheer number of deaths and fact that Sinti and Roma people were the only other group targeted for extermination based on racial grounds justifies a full inclusion in the content covered in WW2 studies in Australian classrooms. It is a sad fact that the United Nations did nothing to assist Romanies during or following the Holocaust and nor, sadly, were Romanies mentioned anywhere in the documentation of the US War Refugee Board.  Given that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is the main source of information for Holocaust studies in Australian classrooms, these discrepancies would also benefit student's assessment of the usefulness and bias in historical source documents, thus enhancing their skills in historical enquiry.

In order for children to appreciate Australia's cultural diversity a broader re-education of the public's perception of Romanies is required. Whilst clearly at a government level more needs to be done in order to document and recognize this ethnic group in official statistics, much can be done at a classroom level to explore the function of cultural stereotyping towards Roma people and their misrepresentation in the media and community perceptions. Through acknowledging the Romani Holocaust, students will develop a deeper understanding and breadth of knowledge of this period in history and the extent of racial theory at the time. As an example of how myths and stereotypes are perpetuated by media and entertainment, influencing community perceptions of ethnic minorities, the linguistic Gypsy problem remains one requiring positive engagement with.

Adam Bruin
A visit from the Channel 7 helicopter to Yvonne Slee's children's school.
Yvonne's son, Ben is on the left at the front of the line.
President of Romani Sinti
Organisation, Yvonne Slee
pictured here with Channel 7
news anchorman, Bill McDonald
Yvonne's daughter, Eve
Romanies participate in G20 summit by helping make the city of Brisbane a colorful sight with their handy crafts. The leaders from all over the world will soon visit Brisbane for the G20 summit and it is hoped that they'll see it and feel welcome and think of Romanies in their countries and include them as Yvonne Slee thinks most Romanies are only too happy to join in with the wider community and work together. 
Yvonne Slee and family were invited to the Stitch the Street G20 Cultural Celebration in Brisbane City ahead of the G20 Summit. Decorative craftwork has been hung around trees and lamp posts, including the Romani flag, which Yvonne and daughter Eve made. It was nice to be included and we had a nice afternoon.
The Rromani language - an Asset for Education and Diversity Exhibit held in the Council of Europe Headquarters in Strasbourg, France.
Held in the main hall, the exhibit had over 2,000 visitors (and since the entrance is off limits to the general public, the visitors were all ambassadors, MPs and high ranking civil servants)
Exhibit organiser - Marcel Courthiade. Photos by Marcel Courthiade
The Spring edition 2016 of the Japanese publication, IMADR (International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism) featured a 2 page article by Prof Martin Kaneko on Romanies in Australia. He wrote about Romani Activists such as Yvonne Slee and her endeavours to edcuate the Australian media and public about Romani history, culture and stereotypes.