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The union of the black and white Hagan clans

By Stephen Hagan - posted Wednesday, 10 February 2010

In June 2009 I received an email from an unknown source who commenced his message with “I hope you don’t mind this intrusion. I am writing to you from Kuala Lumpur where I live with my young family, one of whom is called Sam Hagan Barton.”

I’ve received numerous enquiries over the years from white people who claim to have the same spelling of the Hagan surname. Most, I’ve gathered by their lack of follow-up emails or phone calls, were more interested in confirming that there weren’t any dark secrets in their family’s background - no Aboriginal skeletons in the closet rather than a bona fide link.

I could, with a trace of irony, appreciate the palpable relief of the enquirers on finding out they’re not related to me as I’ve managed to inadvertently acquire a degree of infamy after 10 years of exhaustive legal battles to remove the word “Nigger” from a demeaning public epitaph E.S. “Nigger” Brown Stand in my hometown of Toowoomba. If I was in their shoes, and beholding to the same level of bigotry, I wouldn’t want to be related to the perennial subject of workplace and dining room derision for the better part of a decade.


As I continued to read the email I was struck by the sincerity of the writer in his endeavour to make the familial correlation. The message continued, “He was named after my grandfather, Joseph Hagan who was from Birdsville.”

The mere mention of the name Joseph Hagan had a recognisable ring to it as that was the same name as my great grandfather. I know little of Joseph Hagan except that he was born in 1863 in South Australia and that his father James Hagan was born in 1827 in Ireland. The only reason I know this much about Joseph Hagan is that it was gained from information passed onto my father last year as part of findings of an anthropologist’s genealogy report on my Kullilli tribe.

As I read deeper into the email the common line, “… to find out whether we might be related,” took on a whole new meaning on this topic. But it also became apparent that publicity surrounding the sporting prowess of my nephew Joel Hagan: youngest footballer at 13 to sign a contract with the Broncos Rugby League Club, state representative in athletics, rugby league and AFL and boarder at the prestigious Nudgee College in Brisbane, that somehow reached the writer in Malaysia, was the principal motivating factor for his email.

His comments “Sam is heading off to Nudgee as a boarder next year” undoubtedly gave the urgency of seeking lineage closure on this matter. Better to know up front, I suppose, than to have Sam and Joel, with contrasting complexions, second guessing in the school yard on their uncommon surname - or in Sam’s case, his middle name.

His closing remarks “another co-incidence. I spent 3 years in Colombo working in the media,” had me even more curious about the writer. He obviously had done some research on me, most probably, I thought, by reading my biography that linked my ties to Sri Lanka when I was a diplomat in the early 1980s.

Before responding to the email I did a quick Google search on the writer, John Barton, and discovered he was a former high profile television current affairs host of Today Tonight on Channel 9 in the 1980s. My search located him in Malaysia where he operates a very successful media and sports business, including successfully managing the Beijing Olympics entire media coverage in his capacity as Director of Sport - Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union.


I responded to John’s email informing him that I've had numerous calls over the years from non-Indigenous people with connections to the Hagan surname. I told him I'd be interested to hear from him if he had links to the same Joseph Hagan whose father James and mother Margaret Sharpe were born in Ireland. He had a sister Catherine. More importantly to me, Joseph had a son Albert to Trella, a traditional Kullilli land owner at Yalpunda on the New South Wales and Queensland border in 1895. Albert was my paternal grandfather. Joseph later married Blanche Gaden and had 13 children.

A day later I received a response from John saying “Joseph Hagan was my grandfather. My mother, Monica Hagan, was the last of his 13 children, born in Adelaide in 1925. Her mother was Blanche.”

In a later email John told me his mother Monica had followed my “Nigger” Brown case over the years and wondered if we were related, adding that Hagan is not a common name. He said she tried through other family members to make contact with me but nothing eventuated.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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