• Ernie Dingo undergoes a journey of discovery on DNA Nation (SBS)Source: SBS
As part of SBS's DNA Nation, Ernie Dingo (accompanied by fellow travellers Julia Zemiro and Ian Thorpe) took off on an epic journey of genetic travel to find out where he comes from. Using DNA, Ernie retraces the steps of his ancestors who migrated out of Africa and went on to populate the rest of the world. Here, Ernie describes how he felt at facing this daunting journey.
Ernie Dingo

27 May 2016 - 9:54 AM  UPDATED 27 May 2016 - 9:54 AM

I never really asked my Mother where we originally came from before we settled in the Murchison River area of the Mid West of Western Australia.

I suppose if I did, knowing my mother, she would’ve said something silly like “The Stork” and would laugh about it. But yeah, little does she know, that I’ve seen the storks on our river - they have enough trouble with fish.

So I just naturally accepted that we have always lived on, near, or close to the Murchison River because that is our traditional area of our Language, our Culture and our Lore and that’s where we felt safest.

I secretly romanticised the idea that we came west from the desert area. I love the desert. I love the people of the desert. It takes a special type of resilience to endure that lifestyle.  

Mum’s Dad came from that way: a Martu Man, a Tribal Man, a Lore Man, a very powerful man. Her Mum came from the coastal region around the mouth of the Murchison River area and her mum was taken back into the folds of an Aboriginal man away from the clutches of a White Man.

I know that much about my family’s origin, but not enough about my father. He came from north of where my Grandmother came from, more of a coastal man. I didn’t learn too much about his life, only dribs and drabs: good work ethics; a shearer; a fencer; generally well known and liked - not just for his work, but his personality.

Since this is about my lineage and son to father, to his father and so forth, I suppose I’ll get to know a lot more about him.

It’s around about now that I almost wished I were a girl! Then I could trace my DNA back through my Mum and explore the many hardened splendours of her life.

Boy, I could dream.

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Anyway back to reality, here I was embarking on this adventure to find the answers to some of these very questions, and trace my DNA back, not just through the last few generations, but through thousands of years to their very origin. 

I was given the opportunity to trace my lineage and travel back all the way back to Africa where it all began. So I had better get down to thinking about asking good questions - questions that would make my friends proud that I had even thought of. Questions that my family would be amazed as much as I was hearing come out of my mouth for the first time.

To make it more interesting, there were to be two ‘fellow travellers’ accompanying me, that would make us very distant cousins and a very interesting mix, to see not only who they are, but listen to their stories of how their people first got to Australia and if it was a race from Africa to Australia, history will show that my Mob got here first.

I was asked to ‘spit’ into a funny little test tube, about a thimble full. Now that sounds pretty easy, but after a few spits and only half the required amount needed, all these thoughts came to me of what they will find out: about me, about my family, where we came from, it scared the spit out of me and I barely made the mark.

Eventually, dry-mouthed, I closed the lid, sealing in all that information. As I handed it over, I thought “Well, that’s it … now what?”

They took my spit and said that they would come back to me with all this exciting information and stuff about my family’s migration from Africa to Australia.

You know that look you give people when they say that it’s going to be exciting, that they could learn a lot from what is inside this tiny capsule …and all you could see is spit? Well I had that look about then.

I knew that everyone originated from Africa, in one shape or form, thousands of years ago, but where in Africa?

Why did we leave?

Which way did we come?

Why did we come?

I knew we, (Aboriginal People) have been in Australia for a healthy long time, through Ice Ages and rising seas, but for how long?

How did we get here? And how long have my Yamitji People have been in the Mid West? How come my Wujarri language is different north of us, south of us, but similar to the desert mob? When did other Indigenous mobs come over to settle on the East of Australia, to the North, the Center and the South - even Tasmania?

How did they get all the way to Tasmania? Did they keep the ancient skills they learned when crossing through Indonesia to Australia?

I have just given a half thimble of spit, now look at me, all of a sudden I’VE got a whole lot of questions that I want answers to. I’m glad I didn’t give blood or pee.

So I’m thinking “Pick me, pick me! I want to know -I want to know more!”

“I want to know how I got to be born on Aunty Rita’s wash house floor on Bullardoo Station delivered by my Grandmother on our traditional country. But then I remembered I was to follow my father’s, father’s, father’s line (not my Mum’s) and apparently he was English.

The first time I found out that my father’s bloodline was of English stock all I could say was “Well, there goes the Ashes!” - Not thinking of his father’s, father’s journey.

I became a little hesitant of finding out about my father’s, father’s father - especially about 200 years ago. Did he come out on the First Fleet? Did he come out later as a Ten Pound Pom? Was he a Gold miner? Was he an Engineer who built bridges? Or did he actually pay for his passage to Australia?

I don’t know and if I did know, I wasn’t sure what would I feel.

All sorts of thoughts flashed before me, even a few negatives.

Then I said “Bugger it, I want to know, I know I can’t change the past, but I can learn from it. Pick me, pick me!”

…And they did.


DNA Nation airs Sundays, 8.30pm on SBS.

Watch a sneak peek of the upcoming leg of Ernie's journey for DNA Nation below:


More from DNA Nation
Catch up on DNA Nation: Episode 1
After having their DNA tested, Ian Thorpe, Ernie Dingo and Julia Zemiro set off on an epic journey of genetic time travel to find out where they, and the rest of humankind, come from.
DNA Nation: Meet the famous Australians journeying to uncover their true identities
Ian Thorpe, Julia Zemiro and Ernie Dingo are three high-profile Australians from very different backgrounds who set off on this intrepid journey into their genetic history with the help of high profile human geneticist and series consultant Dr John Mitchell.
DNA Nation: About the show
Ian Thorpe, Ernie Dingo and Julia Zemiro are about to become some of the first people in Australia to use DNA to go on a journey tracing their ancestry back through more than 200,000 years.