For years, Biripi man Jackson Burke ran and hid from his Aboriginal heritage. But a single encounter encouraged him to take an AncestryDNA test and unlock the connection to his ancestors and Country he’d been ignoring.

Please, Don’t Ask Me That

This was it – the big finale.

Timed to perfection, I hammered the final note on my blood-splattered bass guitar as an explosion of white light illuminated the screaming crowd. My guitarist threw a sweaty arm around me, for once not caring that the affection had just made our guitars collide. Astronomically elated would be an understatement for how I felt, surrounded by the people I loved most.

We retreated to the comforts of the green room that sheltered us from the roar of 700-odd Central Coast fans. Rather than celebrate, I decided to sift through our home crowd. After all, I’d happily yarn with anybody that would actually pay to hear my music.


How a DNA Test Helped Me Connect With My Country, Jackson Burke, music, band, friends, smile, music


It wasn’t long before I found myself in front of a girl my age, whose wavy dark hair and friendly smile mirrored my own. She introduced herself as a Darkinjung woman who invited First Nations people to speak to the Aboriginal youth of the coast. Casually, she hit me with the familiar question that always left me feeling uneasy.

‘Who’s your mob?’

Here, I decided to embark on my now four-year journey with my aunty, my mob and AncestryDNA to finally find the answer to the question I’d always run from.

Goodbye, Papua New Guinea

To understand the complications of this question, you first have to understand my family’s complications with their cultural identity. My grandfather was your classic true-blue Aussie man. While adventuring in Papua New Guinea, he fell in love with a woman from a pearl-diving village. Under the backdrop of mountains that pierced the sky and jungles that swallowed the hardiest of explorers, they became a family.

How a DNA Test Helped Me Connect With My Country, Jackson Burke, couple, family

Following PNG’s push for independence in 1975, my grandfather made the tough decision to board a plane with his kids and leave this beautiful land and his beautiful wife, behind.

To put it simply, 1970s Australia was racist. The arrival of a white man and his wild black kids was perceived as a threat to the people of the Central Coast. My grandad was welcomed with open arms, but those same arms kept his kids at a distance. The racist slurs directed at my family for the colour of their skin were relentless. My dad and his siblings found themselves getting into fights with the other kids. Wounds turned into scars that bound my family together into an inseparable tribe.

Ignorance was rife; My family were likened to the Aboriginal Australians, after all, ‘they basically looked the same’.

The surprising truth was that the people were right. My true-blue Aussie grandad was an Aboriginal man. Nobody at the time would have expected this white, larger-than-life man to be the descendant of the Biripi people.

It was a truth that was lost through the terrors of colonisation, buried so deep that it wouldn’t surface for another 40 years.

A Little White Blackfella

Enter your narrator – a young, white boy. Growing up, I’d regale all of my friends in primary school with stories of Papua New Guinea, its jungles and all the adventures that would make any kid’s mouth water with excitement.

I felt as though I’d lived there; the stories had become experiences. You couldn’t find a kid more proud of his roots. 

My little brother and I spent every afternoon exploring the wild bush behind our house and swimming in questionably murky creeks. We learned what berries and flowers we could snack on through spontaneous feasts and emergency bathroom appointments.

Rainy days weren’t a deterrent, but rather an opportunity to smell the trees come to life and witness their breath linger as a mist above their leaves. I’d never have imagined that the hold nature had over my heart was proof that my ancestors were with me.


How a DNA Test Helped Me Connect With My Country, Jackson Burke, brothers, family

But if anything can stamp out cultural pride, it’s school. School became the breeding ground for the racist remarks that would embed themselves deep under my skin and change how I saw myself. It turned out that the students were also professors of anthropology. You could witness my words go in one ear and out the other whenever I shared stories of PNG. Their eyes did all of the work instead.

Here stood a white boy who thought he was Papuan. Despite my curly brown hair and Papuan middle name (which kids loved mispronouncing so that it sounded like a male appendage), I was judged as 100% white Australian. With time, I gave up fighting back and quietly accepted their verdict. Funnily enough, my younger brother was born with a darker complexion and was never questioned on the topic.

I remember in high school constantly being likened to a monkey, ape or gorilla. One boy used to draw my face on these animals during Year 7 art. While my colour apparently disqualified me from my heritage, people could still pick up on the more subtle features that eluded even me.

At the time, I didn’t see it as bullying. They were just weird comparisons that left me confused. I couldn’t connect the dots. By 13, my cultural pride was long gone, completely stripped away by years of people telling me what I was and what I was not. I became the person they saw me as and like my father, pushed down any connections I felt to my culture. I wasn’t even bitter. It’d just become a fact.

However, any blackfella alive will tell you, skin colour has nothing to do with Aboriginality.

AncestryDNA & My Story

Let’s return to me as a 24-year-old, struggling to answer this Darkinjung woman’s question. Who was my mob? It was a question that I’d been asked a lot. The longer I grew my hair, the more it seemed to follow me. Despite its frequency, it was always met with the same awkward mumbling of an answer. To me, my lack of a response represented a shameful gap between myself and my people.

But something inside of me changed that night. I felt a hunger that would only be satisfied once I could confidently answer this woman’s question. Not knowing where to turn, I asked my Aunty Di, the unofficial keeper of our family’s buried history.

Aunty Di introduced me to the incredible world that Ancestry had to offer. With her guidance, I created a family tree (which at this point looked more like a sapling) of my closest relatives. As we researched our family history and began to delve into records, Ancestry populated my sapling with little green leaves known as ‘hints’ about possible other records containing information about my relatives. Soon my plant was transformed into a beautifully extensive family tree.

Now stretched across my computer screen lay what was once shrouded in mystery. With new knowledge at my fingertips, I could see my connections to the Biripi people for the first time.

I was blown away. I’d known Biripi / Port Macquarie as where you stop on long car trips for Ricardo’s Tomatoes. I’d fished from her waters and surfed at her beaches while on tour with my band. I’d white-knuckled my steering wheel while inching down Barrington Tops. Biripi had played a significant role in my life, I’d just never realised how significant until now. Biripi Country was my home.


How a DNA Test Helped Me Connect With My Country, Jackson Burke, friends, river, Darkinjung Country

Years of being told that I had no connections to our First Nations people had well and truly beaten me down. Wanting further closure, I decided to order an AncestryDNA kit. The process was as simple as adding my saliva to a test tube and mailing it via the pre-paid postage box included with the kit. Once my sample had been analysed, AncestryDNA’s ‘Thrulines’ and ‘DNA Story’ added the final touches to my flourishing family tree.

Now, it should be noted that DNA does not decide who is and who is not Aboriginal. That’s a destructive, colonial way of thinking. What the AncestryDNA test did, however, was gift me the key that unlocked the secrets not only behind my Aboriginality but my whole ‘DNA Story’. I finally had the answers.

Biripi Boy

AncestryDNA kickstarted my journey with identity. Four years later, I’ve become an active member of Aboriginal communities, trying to connect with and support my people. I love working with Aboriginal youth, so much so that I became the Aboriginal Education Officer at my school. The role even lets me visit places such as Brewarrina to spend time with the Ngemba youth, aunties, and uncles. 

How a DNA Test Helped Me Connect With My Country, Jackson Burke, Brewarrina fish traps, NAIDOC week, group, people, river

I immerse myself in nature whenever I can, finally having the words to describe my relationship with the world around me. Luckily, Darkinjung Country has abundant beaches, waterfalls, and bushland.

My connection with Biripi is growing every day. I try to visit Country whenever I have the chance.

At times, I’m anxious about reconnecting. I’m afraid that like my school experience, the community won’t accept me. However, that hasn’t stopped me from asking around and trying to build relationships with my people. I cannot wait to learn everything about my culture, whether it be Gathang (our language), our dance, or our totems.

In some ways, my story doesn’t solely belong to me. It’s a common narrative among my people and therefore, shared by my First Nations family. It’s our story, literally binding and stitching us together over the wounds of a colonised country. 


How a DNA Test Helped Me Connect With My Country, Jackson Burke, father, son, bush walk


Each step I take, I lean into my people and slowly shed the skin of guilt that has threatened to poison the very pride that runs through my blood. I’m not perfect. I still don’t have all of the answers. Maybe I never will. But one day, I hope to be recognised as a proud Biripi man that can guide those who have also felt stuck between the seemingly binary worlds and navigate the beautiful between.

Many thanks to Ancestry for helping me solidify my family tree and start me on the journey to self-discovery.