Daisy Bates

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Daisy Bates was probably the best-known Australian woman of the first half of the C20th, that is, her name was, but very little was known about her – just that she was an old woman who wore C19th dresses and lived in a tent in the Aboriginal community at Ooldea, a rail siding way, way out in the Nullarbor, in western South Australia.

There was a rail siding at Ooldea for the same reason as there were Aborigines – there was a permanent soak, the only fresh water for a very great distance, which the railways commandeered for their steam locomotives.

With this post I will reprise Bates’ biography from my thesis (Lisa, who has already read it, is given leave to stop here). And with my next I will review the collection of articles which, with the unacknowledged assistance of Ernestine Hill, was published as The Passing of the Aborigines (1944). My principal source is Elizabeth Salter’s Daisy Bates (1971).

I own and have read the de Vries ‘biography’ but it is a journalistic nonsense hanging off the revelation of Daisy’s marriage to Breaker Morant. If I met her, I would ask de Vries one question: If Bates had the poor start you make out, then how did she later have the money to buy the lease of a cattle station? The money can only have been the remnants of her inheritance from her father. However, I don’t deny that, throughout her life, Daisy told a great many falsehoods about her antecedents.


Daisy May O’Dwyer (1859-1951) was of the minor Irish (protestant) gentry. Her mother died early (in 1862) and Daisy was mainly brought up by relatives, in particular her Grandmother Hunt, and it was on her grandmother’s property in rural Roscrea where she was mostly in the care of her illiterate and superstitious (and Catholic) nanny that she mixed freely with the rural poor who, in the years after the Great Famine were still living lives not only of intense physical poverty but also of great spiritual richness, that, years later, she said enabled her to emphasize with and share the lives of Australian Aborigines.

She eventually, somehow, received a good education, not staying long at any school but guided by her father in her reading, particularly Dickens, and later touring Europe with the family of Sir Francis Outram, learning grammar, languages and manners with their governess. In 1883 her father died, leaving her a small inheritance, and she, like a great many of her countrymen, chose to emigrate, in her case to Australia, to another friend of her father’s, Bishop Stanton in Townsville, Queensland.

Some time in her first year in Australia she took a position as governess on a station near Charters Towers, where she probably married Edward Henry Murrant (the famous Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant). She may also, the following year, have married Ernest Baglehole a well-born seaman whom she had met on the voyage out, and further, by her own account was also in the same year to have married Phillip Gibbs, who inconveniently died. In any case she subsequently – and probably bigamously – married Jack Bates, a drover, in 1885 and by him, a year later, had a son, Arnold. And that was the end of intimacy, ‘“I had rather a hard time of it with the baby,” she is reported as saying, “and Jack, the best of men, never came near me after that.”’

She and Bates persevered for a number of years, thinking, or hoping, that he would use her money to establish a cattle property suitable to her station, but Bates, an archetypal ‘lone hand’, was, perhaps not surprisingly, happier to be away droving. Daisy would sometimes go with him, travelling throughout the backblocks of eastern Australia and learning the bush skills that stood her in such good stead in later life. But, by 1894 she had had enough. She placed Arnold in a Catholic boarding school and set sail for London.

There, near destitute due to the property crash and bank failures of 1892, Daisy was doubly lucky to be taken up by the philanthropist W.T. Stead, for he not only found her a place in a home for penurious gentlewomen, but gave her a job on his journal Review of Reviews and so introduced her to journalism which was to provide much of her income for the rest of her life. She stayed at the Review for two years, starting off by dusting the library and learning to type and ending as assistant to the (lady) editor of Borderland, a journal of spiritualism. Although the circles she moved in included both spiritualism and women’s emancipation she was impressed by neither.

In 1897 she took another library position in Norfolk where she mixed with the county set and, apparently accepted as a widow, and with introductions from one of her innumerable upper class cousins, she attended weekend house parties, “hunting and shooting” during the day and dancing at night. At least two men she stayed with, Richard Attwater of Ratfin Hall and Carrick O’Bryen Hoare, were sufficiently taken with her to propose marriage, but in 1899 her bank offered to refund her a shilling in the pound (ie. one twentieth of her nominal deposits), Jack wrote to say he and Arnold were in Western Australia looking for a property in the newly opened up North West and Daisy sailed for Perth. Two years later, the property finally purchased, Daisy named it Glen Carrick, in remembrance no doubt of all she had given up.

Although she later claimed to be a correspondent for The Times, the more likely story is that she contacted The Times and offered to write them an account of clashes in WA between settlers and aborigines, which she finally did in 1904. Daisy was certainly interested enough to obtain an introduction to a scientist in London knowledgeable about WA and, through him, an introduction to the elderly Catholic priest and champion of the Aborigines, Dean Martelli who was returning to Perth on the same ship.

In Perth she moved in the upper levels of society, she gave lectures at, and was accepted into the Karrakatta Club, was invited by club members, Perth’s principal matrons, into their homes, attended Government House, and was persuaded by the Premier, John Forrest, of the necessity of recording the languages and customs of the aborigines before they died out.

Meanwhile, Jack’s mentor, Sam McKay of Roy Hill Station in the Pilbara, had found Jack 180,000 acres of leasehold, good cattle country which he would help finance. Daisy sailed north to Cossack (present day Karratha) to meet Jack and made with him a remarkable journey inland by buggy through rugged country to the new ‘Glen Carrick’, at Ethel Creek, near Jigalong, Martu country, then back across the plains to the coast at Carnarvon (a round trip of at least 1,000 kms (map)), writing up her observations for the Journal of Agriculture, including detailed accounts of the local Aborigines.

Her next journey was even more remarkable. Martelli had introduced her to Bishop Gibney who was famous for his struggles on behalf of the Aborigines, and she persuaded Gibney to take him with her to a Trappist mission at Beagle Bay near Broome, 8,000 acres which was meant to be a model farm for the local Aborigine community. Daisy stayed 3 months, helping the Bishop bring the farm up to scratch for renewal of the lease, and her writings of their progress were taken up not only by Australian but by London newspapers.

With no stock and no house on Glen Carrick, Bates took a position as manger on a station, Roebuck Plains, near Broome where Daisy joined him and was able to indulge her new – and lifelong – enthusiasm, documenting and, more importantly, being accepted by, the Aborigines, and becoming an honorary correspondent of the Anthropological Institutions of England and Australia. After a season at Roebuck Plains, the Bates decided to take advantage of high cattle prices in the south by buying and droving 770 head of cattle, to Perth, resting en route at Glen Carrick and leaving enough cattle there to form the basis of their own herd. The West Australian described it as “one of the most arduous trips that any lady has undertaken and … what must be a record in the endurance of the “weaker” sex.” Unfortunately, the 200 head intended for Glen Carrick were lost, and the Bates effectively separated, more or less for good.

For the next couple of years Daisy worked as a journalist, travelling throughout Western Australia. Importantly, in 1904 she wrote to The Times (London) defending pastoralists against charges of exploiting the blacks, cementing her acceptance by officialdom as an authority on all things Aboriginal and in May that year she was appointed by the Registrar General to record the customs and dialects of the Aboriginal population “before they died out”. For a year, she worked from an office compiling reports collected by officials throughout Western Australia, then, taking advantage of some remaining Noongar being encamped at Cannington, a swampy area a few miles south of Perth, she was, reluctantly, permitted by the authorities to camp with them, which she did, in a tent ‘fourteen feet in diameter’, for the next six years (here). During this period, she wrote and rewrote her grammars, corresponded indefatigably with anthropologists interstate and overseas, and published popular articles in the local papers, all the while struggling with the government for ongoing support.

In 1910, almost ready to publish her formal study, she was persuaded to join a major expedition by Oxford and Cambridge Universities, under the leadership of A.R. Radcliffe-Brown (later Australia’s first professor of Anthropology at Sydney University) and, inevitably, her ‘amateur’ work was subsumed into his and the opportunity for publication was lost.

In 1912, she applied for the position of Protector of the Aborigines for the Northern Territory, for which she was unsuccessful ‘as the risks involved would be too great for a woman’. Instead, and somewhat inconsistently, she was offered the, unpaid, position of honorary protector for the district of Eucla in South Australia. In November she put her property up for sale and moved to a station near Eucla, initially staying with friends, then camping once more, on the edge of the town, venturing out into the desert for days at a time with Aboriginal companions, on horseback and by camel-drawn buggy, exploring and hunting wild dogs. Already well known throughout the country due to her both own and other journalists’ reports of her activities, she now became famous, and then a ‘legend’. That is, the ‘idea’ of Daisy Bates developed a life of its own.

After the war (WWI) she moved to Ooldea, a fettlers’ camp and water stop for steam trains on the newly completed Trans Australia railway, where she was to stay for the next 16 years, all her money gone, an object of curiosity to passengers, with no hope of official support, but still, determinedly, writing up her observations.

Ernestine Hill, who sought her out in 1932, wrote:

Living unafraid in the great loneliness, chanting in those corroborees it is death for a woman to see, she had become a legend, to her own kind… To the natives, she is an age-old, sexless being who knows his secrets and guesses his thoughts – Dhoogoor of the dream-time. (Hill 1937, p.252)

Following Hill’s visit, and her widely syndicated articles, Daisy began, slowly, to benefit from her renown, she was asked to Canberra to advise the government (her suggestion of a huge reservation for the remaining Blacks with a white administrator from Britain, “an Anglican and a gentleman”, was not taken up), she was awarded a CBE, and some of her papers were sold to state and national libraries. Although she refused all requests to collaborate with ‘real’ anthropologists, in 1934 Hill persuaded Daisy to work with her on the series of articles eventually published as The Passing of the Aborigines.

For four years Daisy worked to prepare her papers, 94 folios in all, for the national library, for the pittance of £2 a week, living in a tent north of Adelaide, and then, 80 years old, half blind with sandy blight, and with the nominal title of Consultant for Native Affairs, she returned to camp life near Ooldea. In 1945 she was admitted to Port Augusta hospital suffering from malnutrition. She struggled for a few more years in Adelaide and Streaky Bay to obtain funding for further publications but in 1948 she was admitted to a convalescent home, and on 18th April 1951 aged 91 or 92 she died.

Miles Franklin and her Sybyllas and Eve Langley’s Steve represent the ‘pure’ form of the Independent Woman, but Daisy Bates with her love affairs, her unsatisfactory marriage, her tremendous feats of endurance in the Bush and, above all, her fierce resolve to forge her own path, represents not only the ‘real’ Independent Woman but surely also one of the finest examples of the Australian Legend, man or woman.

 

References and other reading:
Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines, first pub. 1944
Elizabeth Salter, Daisy Bates,  Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1971
Sussanah de Vries, Desert Queen, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2008
Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness, Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne, 1945
Ventured North by Train and Truck (here)
Fanny Balbuk Yooreel (here)
The Breaker, Kit Denton (here)
The Independent Woman in Australian Literature (here)

Kimberley WA Massacres

The Kimberley is the northernmost region of Western Australia, with an area of 425,000 sq.km, about the same as California, and the population of a small Californian town, 30-40,000 depending on the season, approx. 40% Indigenous (Wikipedia). White settlement began in the 1880s, mostly for cattle grazing, and there were a couple of gold rushes soon after. The climate is tropical, and the terrain, although nowhere greater than 1,000m above sea level, is mountainous, rocky and cut through with gorges, but flattens out to the south where it meets up with the Great Sandy Desert (see for instance my review of Two Sisters, Ngarta and Jukuna).

The Kimberley and the neighbouring northern Northern Territory encompass many distinct Aboriginal languages which are of a different family from those of the rest of Australia, but I think the main WA ones are:

Nyulnyulan – Broome to Derby
Worrorran – Derby to Wyndham
Jarrakan – Wyndham to the NT border and down towards Halls Creek
Bunuban – around Fitzroy Crossing (map)

There’s more again on Kimberley language groups here and more generally, in the Aboriginal Australia page above.

My starting point for this post is Chris Owen’s Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882-1905 (2016) which I made a start on reviewing earlier (here). Under ‘massacres’ in the index Owen lists:

Pinjarra massacre, 1834, in southern WA (previous post here)
Flying Foam massacre, 1868, in the Pilbara (story here)
Fred Marriot massacre, 1886
Big John Durack massacre, 1886
George Barnett massacre, 1888
Goose Hill massacre, 1888
Jail Creek/Turkey Creek Massacre, 1890s
Mistake Creek massacre, 1915 (Guardian here)
Mowla Bluff massacre, 1916
Bedford Downs massacre, 1924
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)

According to Owen these are only the most notorious. The Indigenous population fought back against the encroachments of the white settler, the settlers retaliated disproportionately and often burnt the bodies to conceal the evidence. Graziers in the East Kimberley, who had come from Queensland and the Northern Territory, already had a history of murder to protect their properties. The editor of the Northern Territory Times (18 Aug 1888)* wrote that police in the Kimberley should disregard any laws and “simply admonish them and disperse them in the Queensland fashion” ie. kill them. “It is the only way to make the natives respect the lives and property of white men.”

Fred Marriot, Halls Creek, 1886. Marriot was one of a number of men speared on or around the Halls Creek gold fields at that time. ‘Typically reports would attribute the killing to Aboriginal aggression’ but the reason for Marriot’s death was his abduction of an Aboriginal woman, though there were other reports that he gave the Aborigines poisoned flour (Owen says ‘oral’ reports by which I think he means Aboriginal). As was the case with every spearing, prospectors organised a reprisal party. Police records say one Aborigine was killed. A colonist, GH Lamond said “four blacks were killed and several wounded”. Oral accounts suggest ‘as many as 100 Jaru or Kija’ were killed. [Moola Bulla: In the shadow of the mountain, Kimberley Language Resource Centre, 1996]. This is corroborated by the private correspondence of prospector George Hale:

A number of diggers went out to take revenge. Having bailed up a large number of blacks in a gully who showed fight, they proceeded to slaughter them with repeating rifles. It is certain that a great many were killed, some say at least a hundred. [quoted in The Forrest River Massacres, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1995]

‘Big’ John Durack, Ord River Station, 1886. (Big John was cousin to John Wallace Durack who was brother of Michael Durack who was father to writer Mary and artist Elizabeth Durack). Big John while riding round the Durack station came on a party of Aborigines whom he immediately fired on. He was speared and died. A reprisal party was mounted and the police reported two men ‘who appeared to be the ringleaders’ were shot and killed. However, a local solicitor wrote to the West Australian six years later, “100 or 150 natives were slaughtered in cold blood.” A subsequent note in the police file identified the solicitor’s eyewitness as William Collins, squatter. “He with others … rounded about 120 natives up and shot a large number consisting of men, women and children.” Mary Durack wrote that these reprisals were known as “nigger hunts” and that the silence surrounding them made it impossible to know how many were killed.

George Barnett, a teamster, was speared and died, in July 1888 while working alone north of Halls Creek (Newspaper report). There are various accounts of the punitive expedition that ensued. August Lucanus, a special constable in the expedition wrote in his 1929 memoirs that there “must have been at least 200 blacks … they put up a fight … we dispersed them at last”; A paper down south reported “the party found and dispersed over 600 adult male natives” and some women and children; Colonel Angelo, the government resident at Roebourne at the time, later wrote “it is almost certain that sixty to seventy natives there and then paid the extreme penalty”, and that the murderers were “enraged diggers” (gold miners) ; and Mary Durack claimed the colonists “turned out almost to a man to participate in a massacre that is regarded as one of the most sweeping in local history.”

Note: Colonel Angelo, who tried to end slavery in the Pilbara pearling fleet, was removed from office because he upset the locals (West Australian).

Goose Hill, 1888 is relatively unusual because the police and colonists involved were charged with murder. A party of “six men and three native trackers” pursued, they said, “20 natives” following the spearing of a horse. Most of the Aboriginal people escaped into the swamp along the Ord River, but three were caught up with, two of them shot dead and a third, a boy, having climbed into a tree was seemingly used for target practice and left dead in a fork. As was usual, a minimal statement was filed, but a Police Sergeant Troy investigated further and discovered evidence of the deaths above and at least two others. Owen writes that a newspaper report twenty years later suggested that the death toll may have been as high as 80. Native Assistant Banjo, who was among those charged, made a comprehensive statement, including the detail that all the party were drinking heavily before and during the pursuit. The judge in the Supreme Court made a damning summation for over an hour, but it took the jury just 15 minutes to return ‘not guilty’.

Jail Creek/Turkey Creek, 1890s. Owen speculates that police sometimes found it more expedient to murder prisoners than to walk them for weeks to the nearest justice. Hector Chunda, a Kija and Miriuwung man says,

Some Kartiya [white men] round em up all the blackfella longa bush, put em chains around their necks … Right, all the kartiya get their guns, line em up, every girl and boy, and shoot em down … Whang em all the children on the rocks … chuck em all them dead bodies in the firewood place, put em kerosene and chuck em matches. Burn em up them, finished, they all there. [P. Marshall ed. Raparapa Kularr Martuwarra: Stories from the Fitzroy River Drovers, Magabala, 1988]

I can’t find any other reference to Jail Creek or Turkey Creek.

Mistake Creek, 1915. Mick Rhatigan, a former police constable working at Mistake Creek, near Turkey Creek station (half-way between Halls Creek and Wyndham) killed seven Aboriginal people in reprisal for the killing of a cow. A policeman found two charred bodies near Mistake Creek and five others some distance away. In Keith Willey’s Boss Drover (1971) the unnamed ‘cold heartless bloke’ who killed plenty of Aboriginal people is clearly Rhatigan.

Geegully Creek, Mowla Bluff, 1916. Nyikina Elder John Watson said that a punitive expedition by police and other colonists took place after station manager George Why was assaulted by Mangala people over “a small dispute”. Nyikina Mangala men, women and children were rounded up, ordered to collect firewood, and then shot and their remains burnt. Watson says he was told that three or four hundred were killed and only three escaped. [P. Marshall ed. Raparapa Kularr Martuwarra: Stories from the Fitzroy River Drovers, Magabala, 1988. There’s also a film, Whispering in our Hearts: The Mowla Bluff Massacre, 2002]

Bedford Downs, 1924. Kija Elder Dottie Watby says that after a bullock was killed, Kija and Worla people were forced to cut wood and were then given poisoned damper. Managers and stockmen from adjacent stations, including the notorious Jack Carey, started shooting, finally stacking the bodies with the wood and setting them alight with kerosene. Jack Carey, between 1919 and 1924 is said to have ‘threatened most Aboriginal people he met’; to have shot an Aboriginal man to take his wife, Mary Karraworla; and three stockmen for leaving a gate open. [From Digging Sticks to Writing Sticks: Stories of Kija Women, Catholic Education Office, Perth, 2001]

Forrest River or Oombulgurri massacres, 1926. The conclusion of the Forrest River Royal Commission was that twenty Aboriginals were killed and their bodies burnt in reprisal for the killing of pastoralist Frederick Hay, though one participant said ‘hundreds’ were killed. Police constables James St Jack and Dennis Regan were charged with murder but were never tried, due to “insufficient evidence”. Hay’s killer, Lumbia was tried and convicted. Lumbia had confronted Hay after the pastoralist had raped one or both of his wives, one of whom was a child. Hay flogged Lumbia 20-30 times with his stock whip and was speared as he rode off.

In the 1880s Catholic clergy in the Kimberley were clear that the rapid decline in the Indigenous population was the result of killings rather than illness (I couldn’t locate Owen’s newspaper reference). Almost all the 450 pages of text have references to the unpunished killing of Aboriginal people by white colonists. Black deaths in custody and hugely disproportionate imprisonment rates demonstrate that racism remains endemic in the WA Police Force and in WA society generally.

I hope this “Australia” Day we will all reflect on what misery and injustice our prosperity is built.

 

Chris Owen, Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882 – 1905, UWAP, Perth, 2016

see also:
Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (review)
Pinjarra Massacre, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)

Sturt massacre 1922 (ABC)


*Northern Territory Times (18 Aug 1888) (Trove)
The native question has yet to be
grappled with and settled. The niggers
have not yet grasped the fact that the
Europeans are masters, and cannot be
interfered with by them with impunity.
They have yet to be taught the salutary
lesson that if they do not molest travel-
lers and their property, they will not be
molested. Early in July a teamster
named Barnett, originally from Queens-
land, while travelling on the Kimberley
road, about 140 miles from Wyndham,
was attacked by natives. Unfortunately
he was alone, and had no one to help
him, or report the occurrence. He had
apparently tried to escape, and was
found two days after lying dead beside
his horse, with ”seven spear wounds in
his body”.
On the same day another man who
was riding along the same road, some
distance ahead of Barnett, saw some
freshly cut bushes and brushwood laid
across and near the track; suspecting
some devilry he hurried past, and,
turning to look as he went by, saw six
natives in the act of throwing their
spears. He immediately threw himself
off his horse, but was hardly quick
enough, for one spear struck him in the
left side, making a nasty flesh wound.
He remounted at once, and galloping
off, was soon out off the reach of their
spears. About the same time Mr.
Durack had a valuable horse killed,
and another wounded on the Twelve
Mile plain, twelve miles from Wynd-
ham.
To try and punish the perpetrators,
and put a stop to these outrages, a
party consisting of seven Europeans,
mostly old Queenslanders, and four
black-trackers, has been sent out,
ostensibly to arrest the offenders. It
is to be hoped however, that they will
not trouble to arrest, and bring
them in to the township, but
simply admonish them, and disperse
them Queensland, fashion. It is the
only way to make the natives respect
the lives and property of white men.

In Midland Where the Trains Go By, Dorothy Hewett

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

 

Brona at Brona’s Books puts up a poem every week (I think) and in honour of AWW Gen 3 Week her poem for this week is one of Dorothy Hewett’s. Hewett grew up in Western Australia and Midland is a rail junction on the eastern edge of Perth, at the foot of the Darling escarpment. The highway out of Perth, to the north and to the east, passes over the Midland yards so I look down on them quite often.


178d3c9b3c81ff378159e63c4ba1500a Brona’s Books

In Midland still the trains go by.
The black smoke thunders on the sky.
Still in the grass the lovers lie.
Read on …

 

Every Mother’s Son is Guilty, Chris Owen

Every Mothers Son is Guilty

The most shocking thing about the photo of Kimberley (WA) Aboriginal prisoners on the front cover of this book is that it was produced at the 1905 Western Australian Royal Commission “on the Condition of the Natives” as part of the Police’s defence!

Police from Wyndham, a port in the far north, would go out into the bush for weeks at a time arresting Aborigines who they thought were complicit in the killing of cattle. Without warrants, and often without complaints from the station owner concerned –

in a morning raid, where there may or may not have been shooting of people allegedly resisting arrest, known as ‘dispersal’, men, and at times, children as young as ten would be detained, arrested and charged with the criminal offence of cattle killing.

… the accused would be neck chained and chained together at a distance of just 61 cm [2 feet] apart.

Neck chaining was approved by Police Regulations for desperate prisoners, but was in fact not used down south, and was only used in the north for Blacks, where its use was almost universal. Witnesses too would be chained and all would be forced to walk up to 24 kms a day in tropical heat, for distances of up to 400 km to the provincial centres of Broome, Halls Creek and Wyndham (map). Overnight they were left chained, and were further chained around trees. On arrival, they would be chained to bolts in the floors of their gaols. Trial was by a local JP, who could be the offended property owner, or a senior policeman. Typically they were gaoled for three years, with or without whipping, during which time the chains were not removed

The neck chains used at Wyndham weighed 2.4 kgs [5 lb] and the links were so strong they could only be opened with “a hammer and chisel with the prisoner’s head on the blacksmith’s anvil”, a process that would take up to ten minutes.

Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (2016) arose out Owens’ PhD thesis into the history of policing in the Kimberley from 1882, when the first police stations were established, to 1905, which marks the release date of the findings of the Roth Royal Commision. I was alerted to it by blogger Kindness, who commented on another post (I’m sorry, I forgot to note which one). I have the book on intra-library loan, which is a mistake at this time, as I have too much to do for AWW Gen 3 Week to do it justice.

Roth apparently had limited time and resources – as is usual when governments only wish to give the appearance of making an investigation – and his report covers only the years 1901-04.

If he had examined reports from the earlier period he might have discovered a considerable body of evidence describing dubious policing and legal practices, extensive violence towards Aboriginal people and a colonial culture that not only tolerated this violence but one that often encouraged it.

As the cattle (and sheep) barons, in the 1880s, pushed into the West Kimberley from the south, and into the East Kimberley – eg. the Duracks – from the NT and Queensland where they already had a history of widespread murder to protect their properties, the people being displaced began to fight back. Referring to Wyndham in 1894, Premier John Forrest said, “A sort of warfare was going on there between the whites and the blacks.”

… Aboriginal groups were involved in conflict, utilising the enormous semicircle of ranges and hills along the Napier Range from Derby in the West Kimberley to Wyndham in the East Kimberley… Aboriginal people killed more Europeans in acts of resistance on Warwa, Nyikina, Unggarangi and Worowa country in the West and on Kadjerong country in the East than in the area in and around Bunuba country where [famous outlaw] Jandamarra was fighting.

Stories of those times, and particularly Mary Durack’s Kings in Grass Castles (1959),  gloss over the killings of Blacks, though her father admitted elsewhere that following the spearing of Big John Durack in 1886 “a lot of blacks were shot”.

In the Index the author lists 12 massacres, only one of which, Pinjarra, I have previously covered. And I also need to do a post on Jandamarra. I will do my best to get to them all during 2020.

Since I wrote the above, the closure of the Eyre Highway connecting Perth with the eastern states has given me more time than I expected so I have written another (very long) post based mostly on the material in this book, which I will put up after Australian Women Writers Gen3 Week which starts on Sunday.

 

Chris Owen, Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882 – 1905, UWAP, Perth, 2016

Pinjarra Massacre

Pinjarra Massacre Art

My original post on the Pinjarra Massacre of 28 October 1834, sometimes mendaciously called the Battle of Pinjarra, was ‘Following My Review of That Deadman Dance’ on 6 June 2015 (here). I have now updated it to include more material from the time. The image above is a segment of a stunning piece of work, not attributed to any artist that I can see, advertising the Pinjarra Massacre Memorial: Touring Exhibition, May 2015 (here).

For the information of non West Australians, Pinjarra is about 80 km south of Perth and inland of Mandurah and the Peel Estuary. The Bindjareb, the original inhabitants of that region, are one of 14 language groups making up the Noongar nation of south-western WA.

The Pinjarra Massacre was the result of an ambush of the Bindjareb people by a force of 25 armed men led by Governor Stirling. The stated intention was to quell unrest arising from the recent expansion of white settlement. The result was one dead on the British side and at least 20 dead on the Bindjareb side. Chris Owen, author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (review coming) speculates in an article in the Guardian of 18 Nov. 2019 that the Bindjareb death toll may have been as high as 80 (here).

A newspaper report of the time (below) states that Stirling’s party faced 70 men armed with spears who retreated to the river and mostly attempted to hide

Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river. (The Western Australian Journal, Sat. 1 Nov. 1834)

Some ‘battle’! Bindjareb Park (here) memorializes the dead.


The following letter, by Associate Professor Simon Forrest, Curtin University Elder in Residence, appeared in the West Australian of 1 June 2015. As you will see, he is responding to an earlier letter:

“The story of the events on October 28, 1834, near what is now the town of Pinjarra has historically been referred to as the Battle of Pinjarra.

The letter by Alex Munro (21/5) says the modern day reference to the battle as a “massacre” is historically incorrect. The battle, he says, occurred because of an attack on settlers in the Swan River Colony and the burning of the flour mill at South Perth, now the Old Mill.

His letter faithfully keeps to the non-Aboriginal version of events. Any efficient analysis of John Septimus Roe’s journal of the punitive expedition will, together with research around the historical events leading up to the battle or massacre,  question Mr Munro’s viewpoint.

Although the South Perth mill is part of the story, it was not burnt by Noongar, as implied by Mr Munro. The Aboriginal leader, Calyute, and his men did raid the mill to take flour that was normally given to them but because of a not so good season of crops in Guildford, flour was rationed and the first to miss out was the Noongar.

Also contrary to what Mr Munro states as an attack by Noongar on the colony is not so.

Governor James Stirling was certainly concerned about a possible alliance of the local Noongar groups that may have led to an attack on the colony but it never eventuated.

One of his reasons to travel to the Pinjarra area was to try to stop the Bindjareb people (this is where Pinjarra gets its name) joining such an alliance.

The West Australian of the time listed 21 Noongar who were killed, including women and one child. If the conflict at Pinjarra on that fateful day was a battle, a battle normally takes place between armies of warring men, but this was not the case.

Also, if it was a battle,  the armed conflict between the two groups of men may have taken possibly five minutes because Noongar men were only armed with spears.

Roe’s journal states the conflict started at around 8am and the killing of Bindjareb people continued until around 10am. The use of the word “battle” becomes questionable and a word like “massacre”, particularly from a Noongar perspective, challenges the view of the perpetrators.

It is also interesting to note that Stirling endeavoured to keep his expedition secretive. Only he and Roe left Perth on horseback, so Noongar spies would not get information about an armed expedition.

On the way to Peel’s place in modern day Mandurah, Stirling arranged reinforcements to his expedition at points along the way.  When the expedition left Peel’s place the expedition now numbered 24, comprising five civilians (including Roe) and 19 mounted police and soldiers (including Stirling).

On that fateful morning Stirling’s group surrounded the Bindjareb Noongar on three sides.  The initial skirmish that started with one of the two smaller groups of Stirling’s men and the Bindjareb men led to the rest of the Bindjareb retreating in the direction of the Stirling-led larger group hiding behind a hill, as stated in Roe’s journal: “On approaching an abrupt rising ground, the rest of the party halted out of sight”.

Stirling’s group opened fire as the Bindjareb tried to escape towards the river.

This event has been well researched by Noongar scholars and non-Aboriginal scholars.  I take many people to Pinjarra and follow Stirling’s exact route and talk about the events of the day in a spirit of reconciliation, an acknowledgement of our shared history.

The “Battle of Pinjarra” was certainly not a battle, and it may not have been a massacre. But we know the leader of the Swan River Colony led a secretive, punitive expedition to attack a group of Bindjareb people, living and camping on their land, as they had done for many thousands of years.

The Bindjareb retaliated against Stirling’s punitive force, fighting for their freedom, land, culture and way of life.”


THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 1834.

ENCOUNTER WITH THE NATIVES IN THE PINJARRA DISTRICT, ON THE BANKS OF THE MURRAY.

The report of this successful and decisive encounter with the Natives of the Murray, who have for some time been the terror of the neighbourhood was received with general satisfaction, — an opinion having prevailed that the system of lenity and forbearance hitherto adopted by the Government was not calculated to ensure safety to either the lives or property of the settlers. We have not space to revert to the many atrocities committed by the tribe, upon which at length retribution has fallen ; they are, however, within the recollection of our Readers, having but recently transpired, and will fully justify the severity of the punishment. – A Gentleman, an eye witness, has obligingly favored us with the following narrative of the encounter ; from the respectability of the party, the accuracy of this report may be implicitly relied upon.

The party consisted of His Excellency Sir James Stirling, Mr. Roe, Capt. Meares and his son Seymour, Mr. Peel, Capt. Ellis, Mr. Norcott, with 5 of the Mounted Police (one sick), Mr. Surveyor Smythe, one soldier to lead a pack-horse, Mr. Peel’s servant, Corporals 2, privates 8, of H. M.’s 21st Regt. – to leave at Pinjarra. In number 25.

On the night of the 27th of October, the party bivouacked at a place called by the natives “Jim jam,” about 10 or 11 miles in a direct line E.N.E. from the mouths of the Murray, where is abundance of most luxuriant feed for cattle, at a broad and deep reach of the river flowing to the N.W., and at this time perfectly fresh. After an early breakfast, the whole encampment was in motion at ten minutes before six the next morning, steering south-eastward for ” Pinjärra,” another place of resort for the natives of the district, and situated a little below the first ford across the river, where it was intended to establish a town on a site reserved for the purpose, and to leave half the party, including the military, for the protection of Mr. Peel and such other settlers as that gentleman might induce to resort thither.

Crossing the ford, where the river had an average depth of 2½ feet, and was running about 1½ miles an hour to the north, an easterly course was taken for the purpose of looking at the adjoining country; — but the party had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile over an undulating surface of the richest description, covered with nutritious food for cattle, when the voices of many natives were heard on the left.

This being a neighbourhood much frequented by the native tribe of Kalyute, which had long been in the almost unchecked commission of numerous outrages and atrocious murders on the white people resident in the district, and which had hitherto succeeded in eluding the pursuit of the parties that had been searching for them since their treacherous murder of private Nesbitt of the 21st Regt., and spearing Mr. Barron only a very few weeks ago, the moment was considered propitiously favorable for punishing the perpetrators of such and other diabolical acts of a similar nature, should this prove to be the offending tribe.

For the purpose of ascertaining that point, His Excellency rode forward a couple of hundred yards with Messrs. Peel and Norcott, who were acquainted both with the persons of the natives and with their language, and commenced calling out and talking to them for the purpose of bringing on an interview. Their own noise was, however, so loud and clamorous, that all other sounds appeared lost on them, or as mere echoes. No answer being returned, Capt. Ellis in charge of the Mounted Police, with Mr. Norcott his assistant, and the remaining available men of his party, amounting to three in number, were despatched across the ford again to the left bank where the natives were posted, to bring on the interview required.

The instant the police were observed approaching at about 200 yards distance, the natives, to the number of about 70, started on their feet, the men seized their numerous and recently made spears, and shewed a formidable front; but finding their visitors still approached, they seemed to feel unable to stand a charge and sullenly retreated, gradually quickening their pace until the word “forward” from the leader of the gallant little party brought the horsemen in about half a minute dashing into the midst of them, the same moment having discovered the well known features of some of the most atrocious offenders of the obnoxious tribe. One of these, celebrated for his audacity and outrage, was the first to be recognised, at the distance of 5 or 6 yards from Mr Norcott, who knew him well, and immediately called out “these are the fellows we want, for here’s the old rascal Nöonarr;” on which the savage turned round and cried, with peculiar ferocity and emphasis, “Yes, Nöonarr, me,” and was in the act of hurling his spear at Norcott in token of requital for the recognition, when the latter shot him dead.

The identity of the tribe being now clearly established, and the natives turning to assail their pursuers, the firing continued, and was returned by the former with spears as they retreated to the river. The first shot, and the loud shouts and yells of the natives, were sufficient signal to the party who had halted a quarter of a mile above, who immediately followed Sir James Stirling at full speed and arrived opposite Capt Ellis’s party just as some of the natives had crossed and others were in the river.

It was just the critical moment for them. Five or six rushed up the right bank, but were utterly confounded at meeting a second party of assailants, who immediately drove back those who escaped the firing. Being thus exposed to a cross fire, and having no time to rally their forces, they adopted the alternative of taking to the river, and secreting themselves amongst the roots and branches and holes on its banks, or by immersing themselves with the face only uncovered, and ready with a spear under water to take advantage of any one who approached within reach.

Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river.

The others had either escaped up and down the river, or had secreted themselves too closely to be discovered except in the persons of eight women and some children, who emerged from their hiding-places (where in fact the poor creatures were not concealed) on being assured of personal safety, and were detained prisoners until the termination of the fray. It is however very probable that more men were killed in the river, and floated down with the stream.

Notwithstanding the care which was taken not to injure the women during the skirmish, it cannot appear surprising that one and several children were killed, and one woman amongst the prisoners had received a ball through the thigh. On finding the women were spared, and understanding the orders repeatedly issued to that effect, many of the men cried out they were of the other sex, but evidence to the contrary was too strong to admit the plea. As it appeared by this time that sufficient punishment had been inflicted on this warlike and sanguinary tribe by the destruction of about half its male population, and amongst whom were recognised, on personal examination, 15 very old and desperate offenders, the bugle sounded to cease firing, and the divided party reassembled at the ford, where the baggage had been left in charge of four soldiers, who were also to maintain the post.

Here Capt. Ellis had arrived, badly wounded in the right temple, by a spear at 3 or 4 yards distance, which knocked him off his horse; and P. Heffron, a constable of the Police, had received a bad spear wound above the right elbow. No surgical aid being at hand, it was not without some little difficulty the spear was extracted, and it then proved to be barbed to the distance of five inches from the point.

Having re-crossed the river in good order, with the baggage on three horses, the whole party formed a junction on the left bank, fully expecting the natives would return in stronger force, but in this were disappointed. After a consultation over the prisoners, it was resolved to set them free, for the purpose of fully explaining to the remnant of the tribe the cause of the chastisement which had been inflicted, and to bear a message to the effect that “if they again offered to spear white men or their cattle, or to revenge in any way the punishment which had just been inflicted on them for their numerous murders and outrages, four times the present number of men would proceed amongst them and destroy every man, woman and child.” This was perfectly understood by the captives, and they were glad to depart – even under such an assurance ; – nor did several of their number, who were the widows, mothers and daughters of notorious offenders shot that day, evince any stronger feeling on the occasion than what arose out of their anxiety to keep themselves warm.

The severe but well-merited chastisement which had thus been inflicted, upon this troublesome people, who had rendered themselves equally the bullies of all the tribes around and the dread of the settler, made it very evident that the post which it had been in contemplation to establish on the very spot could not with, common prudence be thought of until a little time should develop the consequences likely to arise from the encounter.

Under these circumstances, and as Capt. Ellis was displaying alarming symptoms of torpor and delirium, accompanied by great weakness and continued flow of blood from his wound, it was considered desirable to return to Mr. Peel’s establishment at the mouth of the Murray Estuary with as little delay as possible. The party accordingly started at ten o’clock on their return, came out on the shore of the estuary at the distance of ten miles west, and in ten miles more arrived at Mr. Peel’s station at 4 o’clock on the same afternoon, by fording the several mouths of the Murray, about which the traces of natives were both numerous and very recent.

Captain Ellis was supported in his saddle during greatest part of the homeward journey by a man riding on either side of him, and became quite delirious. Having been copiously bled by Corporal Malone of the 21st, surgical assistance was sent for express from Fremantle, and at 4 o’clock next morning, when His Excellency and the Surveyor-General mounted on their return to Perth, both the wounded men were doing very well.

Thus terminates, for the present, an affair which is calculated to produce very beneficial effects on a complete nest of hornets, which had rendered themselves the pest of the surrounding country, and whose murders of Mackenzie, Budge, Wood, Nesbitt and some others, besides their almost successful attempts on the lives of Jenkins, Barron, Layman, &c, have thus fallen heavily on their own heads, – leaving as the only subject of regret that Kalyute and some other similar characters were, according to the accounts of the women, absent in another part of the country; being most probably in the vicinity of the settlement, where so many traces had been observed.

It would be an act of injustice to close this short narrative of the proceedings of the day without testifying to the efficient services and manly bearing of the handful of Police who commenced the attack, led on as they were in so able and spirited a manner by Capt Ellis and Mr.Norcott ; nor can less be said of the detachment of H. M.’s 21st Regt. and the Civilians who were present on the occasion, – all of whom, being fully impressed with the justice and necessity of the measure, contributed their utmost to achieve the result. It were presumptuous to do more than merely allude to the personal conduct of His Excellency Sir James Stirling throughout the whole business, whose promptness and decision in carrying into effect what his energetic mind as rapidly conceived, led to his rendering this affair of an hour as complete and masterly a manoeuvre on a small scale as could well be accomplished.

The Natives of the Perth district and the neighbourhood of the Swan, who have for the last few days visited us, doubt the account of the numbers killed, but generally evince a satisfaction that the atrocities of the Murray tribe, to which they have all been exposed, have met with this merited chastisement. Their expressions of gratification are, however, mingled with suspicion of our good intentions towards them ; and their commendation of the act is not unfrequently followed by the inquiry ‘Now, now, white man Swan River man babin’ (friend ),


THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1834.
On Wednesday last, Captain Daniell of H. M.
21st Regt, returned to head-quarters with a portion
of the detachment stationed at the Murray, ac-
companied by Mr. Norcott, Superintendent of
police, and two of the Mounted Police, as it has
not been considered necessary to retain so large a
force at that station any longer. A constant patrol
has been kept up in the neighbourhood of the
settlement at Peel Town since the affair with the
Natives at Pinjarra, and several parties have con-
tinued to scour the country in various directions ;
the only party, however, which traversed the
country in the immediate vicinity of the scene of
action was directed by Captain Daniell, accom-
panied by Lieutenant Armstrong of the 21st Regt.,
Mr. Norcott, and Mr. Peel, notwithstanding the
unfavorable state of the weather which, it may be
remembered, we had during the past and previous
week.
On arriving at Pinjarra, they found that the
bodies of the natives who were killed, were all
decently interred, in one spot there being three
graves of large dimensions, about twelve feet each
in length, supposed to contain the members of
separate families, and at a short distance from
them were the graves of thirteen men. The party
was unable to reach the quarter where the heavi-
est firing took place, owing to the brooks being
much swollen, from the incessant rains; but it
was generally believed, that in this spot, also,
there were several graves,—and but one opinion
prevails, that, during the night after the encounter,
the natives returned and buried their dead, in the
manner we have described.
Captain Daniell’s party bivouacked within 400
yards of the scene of action, and returned to their
quarters, at Peel Town, after a three day’s march,
without crossing any recent traces of the natives.
The vicinity of the Canning River, it is thought,
will be visited by the remnant of this obnoxious
tribe ; and, indeed, a rumour has reached us, com-
ing, we believe, from the natives of the Swan
tribes, that Galute, the villain who has been the
subject of frequent notice in our columns, has
speared two natives of their tribe, in consequence
of the death of one of his women, who happened
to receive a fatal shot in the affray.

see also:
Nov. 2019: Massacre Map updated to include WA (here)
My posts:
The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)
Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here)
also in WA:
Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here)
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)

Milk and Honey, Elizabeth Jolley

Brona’s AusReadingMonth Bingo, November 2019 – [WA]

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I am flummoxed  by this book, Jolley’s third, which doesn’t feel like an Elizabeth Jolley at all and in fact reminds me quite a lot of Janette Turner Hospital’s (20 years later) Orpheus Lost (review) – the music, the weird family isolated in a house in the country, the locked up family member.

The protagonists in this novel are Austrians, or of Austrian descent, migrants to an unnamed and relatively un-Australian country, to escape the Nazis. I can’t claim any expertise re Jolley, but I have found those of her books that I have read relatively ‘local’, deriving from her living in Perth and owning a little farm in the hills. Milk and Honey (1984) is not like that at all. The atmosphere of the novel is European Gothic and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been started or at least conceived before she left England (in 1959 when she was 34).

Skip-reading Brian Dibble’s biography of Jolley, Doing Life, I see that in the 1960s Jolley was “revising old novels”, including The Prince of a Fellow which became Milk and Honey, and selling door to door –

Jolley felt that, whether selling to the ladies of the Tuart Club or to the women of Swanbourne, Watkins work was essentially awful, but she knew how such work brought her in contact with the sort of people and the kind of experiences she wrote about best. (Dibble, 2008, p.152)

Jacob, the central character in Milk and Honey is a musician, a cellist, and his love interest Madge is a violinist, but Madge is supported by her door-to-door salesman husband, who ends up taking Jacob on as a trainee/assistant, and the products – soaps and bath crystals and so on – that they sell, or more often don’t, are pretty much the products Jolley was flogging for Watkins.

The story is narrated by Jacob, who seems barely aware of what is happening around him. His mother dead, his vintner father sends him as a teenaged boy to live with the ageing Heimbachs, Leopold and his sisters Heloise and Rosa, to go to school, which he doesn’t for very long, and to study music. Leopold has two children, Waldemer who is simple, and Louise, 3 or 4 years older than Jacob. The Heimbachs had left a prosperous life in Austria, escaping first to Switzerland and then on. Leopold’s wife and the children’s mother had been abandoned, without comment, because she was Jewish.

Jacob’s father dies. His uncle and aunt sell the vineyards to property developers and Jacob is wealthy, though much of his money, that which isn’t siphoned off by his uncle and aunt, is kept in trunks at the Heimbach’s. Because Jacob is so unaware, the novel has an unreal quality, and much of what is happening around and to him we have to infer.

Jacob’s principal interest is to have sex with Madge, an older woman in the provincial orchestra in which Jacob plays. All the novel revolves around him finding ways to get away with her for an hour or a day.

Meanwhile, Jacob retaliates to be being teased by Waldemar by punching him, and Waldemar falls down, dead it seems, of heart failure, though it later turns out he has been hidden in the attic where he is cared for by his aunts and (a little too lovingly) by his sister. Louise and Jacob become engaged and subsequently married without any intention on Jacob’s part.

Was I waking? was I dreaming? Of course I remembered I was supposed to marry Louise. It had been arranged that day I became the owner of my father’s land.

I was a bird in a snake’s eye. I had never thought it could be avoided. If I thought anything, it was, ‘Not Yet. Not Yet.’

This afternoon I had been on the point of merging into Madge but now I was married. To Louise.

The wedding night is a fiasco, they subsequently sleep separately, but Jacob is gradually made aware that Louise is pregnant.

The climax builds as Jacob uses his money to attempt to find a way to spend more time with Madge while continuing to live within the constraints imposed by the Heimbachs. Leopold dies. It becomes increasingly obvious that Heloise and Rosa know about Madge.

There’s a fire, foreshadowed from the beginning, when the novel opens with Jacob and Louise living in poverty with their daughter. Louise working in a factory, Jacob working with Norman, Madge’s husband.

As Dibble writes, “There is no end in sight to this tangled web of dependency and deception in the name of love.” But did I like it? Not really.

 


The barbarians are inside the gates. UWA Press, Australia’s second oldest university press, is to cease publishing. Yes, the state (Labor) government continues for now to support Fremantle Press formerly Fremantle Arts Centre Press, but for how long.

Jess White wrote today on Facebook: “This is absolutely dreadful news: The University of Western Australia has decided to shut the doors on @uwapublishing (my publisher!). This press is run by the wonderful, vibrant Terri-Ann White who is a smart & savvy businesswoman, & who produces beautiful books. As well as this, who will publish WA’s stories now??” and links to a story in The Australian (which I will leave you to find, or not, for yourselves).


 

Elizabeth Jolley, Milk and Honey, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 1984

Brian Dibble, Doing Life, UWAP, Perth, 2008

More Elizabeth Jolley reviews, including mine, on ANZLitLovers’ Elizabeth Jolley page here

Hollow Earth, John Kinsella

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At the risk of losing my (self-allocated) reputation for not reading poetry, John Kinsella  – seen once before in these pages, here: False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella – is a Western Australian poet/writer I have been meaning to pay more attention to for some time. He was born in Perth, in 1963; his mother was a poet and his father a mining engineer and later a farm manager. From his writing – I should read Auto (2001), his collection of autobiographical pieces – he seems to have lived in Kalgoorlie and, later Mullewa from whence he attended high school in Geraldton. According to Wikipedia Kinsella is now a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge and the author of more than 30 works including 3 novels, now four.

Hollow Earth (2019) is the science fiction novel you might expect from a poet – shades of the centre in Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork. The protagonist, Manfred, a young man, finds ways into a world beneath the surface, Hollow Earth, with humanoid inhabitants, green tinged, of indeterminate or maybe fluid gender, at the same technological level as us on the surface, but keeping largely to themselves. Lives with them for a while before persuading his two friends/lovers Ari and Zest to come with him to the surface where they engage in a drug-laced odyssey (or Aeneid if you know your Virgil which of course I don’t).

The future intrudes from time to time and we see ahead to a Hollow Earth reduced to a colony run by a Big Australian mining company which might as well go flat out now the Earth is f****d anyway.

Looking to the future, when refugees from the surface began filtering through before the final push and consolidation of the Big Miners (and the internment camp for Hollow Earthers and ‘aberrant’ surface dwellers they created), driven from Ireland where they were refugees from conflict in the Middle East… Zest and Ari, who had some influence on their local life enhancement committee, asked Manfred if he’d act as liaison officer to help house and clothe the new arrivals. No, that can’t be correct – this happened after, long after Manfred was in Hollow Earth. But narratives loop, surely, and who can say which ends we’re working with? It’s possible, really, isn’t it?

This narrative loops, for sure! Manfred as a boy digging in the sand (all WA is sand); Manfred in Ireland while his mother searches for extraterrestials; Manfred, Ari and Zest in Ireland, in Perth, in bed, on drugs. Short chapters, a sentence, one, two, three pages. Some poetry, some text, some incomprehensible, some random.

Manfred declared the poet C.J. Brennan [Australian poet Christopher Brennan (1870-1932)] to be a fantasy writer of the ilk of Tolkien. And as he described the world the poet had created, barely analogous to our own, he was laughed off the stage and the door was closed forever on his academic career. But Lilith in succubus scrubs remained to haunt him, to jar his gender aphasia into distressed shadow shapes …

To Sydney where Brennan’s own academic career ended in drunkenness and poverty; to Kimba, South Australia, where a proposed nuclear waste dump closes a portal to Hollow Earth.

They never really get inside the land they describe. Sure, they scape it, these colonial novelists and poets who think they’re decolonising the text, but they skate over the top and appropriate a few sentiments and observations made by others whose land it is …

Back to boyhood, or stories of his boyhood for Zest and Ari, it’s hard to tell; a dangerous father, a frightened mother, an absent father: “three phone calls in three years, then silence”; addiction, rehab, London.

Years pass. Living on the profits of Ari dealing. Hello World, a freudian typo from my one Europe trip, remains closed to them. In Cowtown, USA Zest forms the intention of becoming pregnant and in the intention is the deed. A child will see the way back.

You make it sound like a Messiah, Zest. No, I’m not saying that. Not at all – the baby will be of both worlds, that is all. Axis mundi.

Then Ireland, waiting for the volcano, his original ingress, to open, Manfred picks rocks. Haven’t all the rocks in all the fields in Ireland been picked yet? Ari goes clean. Druggy mates from Freo, clean now too, are living in the desert out from Kal. “Come and join us”. A truckie intervenes.

I read ahead: they will call me eel and monkey, without a thought to the thousands, the tens of thousands of roos and emus and wombats, even camels that have died on my bullbar. And bulls. And cows… You’d think a long-haul truckie with a beer gut wouldn’t care or wouldn’t know. But I have loved trucks since I was a child … We are kin. I was distracted. I was driving fast. I saw the eagle and heard the crows. I wanted to get back to my beginnings.

From there the story peters out. Loved it. Read it.

 

John Kinsella, Hollow Earth, Transit Lounge, Melbourne, 2019. Cover image, Stephen Kinsella.

see also:
Cristopher Brennan Poems (1913) here

When the Pelican Laughed, Alice Nannup

ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Literature Week

When the Pelican Laughed

Sue/Whispering Gums mentioned recently that she was thinking about writing about “As told to’s” and whether that is/was/might once have been an appropriate way to publish Indigenous stories. It certainly works for non-writing sports people.

Readers my age might recall from their schooldays I, the Aboriginal by Douglas Lockwood, as told to him by Alawa (Roper River, NT) man, Waipuldanya, aka Phillip Roberts. When I reviewed it (here) four years ago I expected to find it surrounded by a great deal of dismissive commentary, but in fact it seems to be regarded as a quite faithful account, although expressed in Lockwood’s fluent journalese.

The story around When the Pelican Laughed is slightly different in that it is more recent, 1992 rather than 1962, Marsh and Kinnane were working on an oral history project about Aboriginal women forced to work as servants, and Alice Nannup knew Kinnane’s (Indigenous) grandmother. But there is another, much greater difference, and that is that the words are all Alice’s.

‘You, Wari, you’re lucky to be with us, because you nearly got drowned one time.’ This is a story my mother told me about when I was very young. She told it to me in language.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that it is important that oral histories be collected, but the author credited should be the teller not the writer. In this case all three are credited.

This book also brings up another much more important issue and one that Australians have nearly always swept under the carpet and that is, whether Aborigines were slaves. In The Great Australian Loneliness (1940) Ernestine Hill writes of pearling at Cossack (near Roebourne, south of Port Hedland and 1500 km north of Perth WA):

Nearly all the pearlers employed aboriginal divers… A bag of flour and a stick of tobacco bought a human life… From hundreds of miles inland the blacks were brought, men who had never seen the sea and now were to live and die in it. A dark sentence of history tells that when they refused to come voluntarily they were lassoed from horse-back, and dragged.

There was a form of agreement to be signed in Cossack… With a clumsy cross the natives signed their death warrants. Few of them lived longer than two years.

Alice Nannup, who was born in 1911, tells of her own position as a 19 year old on Ida Valley station 7 hours drive (maybe 200 km) from Leonora, itself a remote desert town 240 km north of Kalgoorlie in WA’s eastern goldfields (map).

Thinking back, I’d say Beeginup and Ida Valley were the two places where I was the most flat out. It was really terrible. All of us – Jess, Mary and myself – were just worked and worked. I was supposed to get five shillings a week there but they never paid me. They never paid any of us [and wherever she worked she almost never had days off].

This was on a ‘society’ property. “People would come from stations all around there, and the Bunning girls and Nellie Manford used to come up from Perth to have these big parties and play tennis.” Those were big names when I first came to Perth. Whether they still are I don’t know, though the companies bearing those names have been subsumed into others.

Alice was born on a station in WA’s north west, “Abydos Station, out from Port Hedland”. Her father was a small-scale cattleman, Tom Bassett though Alice didn’t find this out until after she had been removed to Perth as an 11 year old. Alice’s mother mostly worked for Bassett, though she moved around a bit.

My mother’s name was Ngulyi, that’s her Aborigine name… She was born on Pilbara Station, which is between Roebourne and Marble Bar and she belonged to the Yindjibarndi tribe. My mother spoke five languages as well as English – Nyamal, Palyku, Kariyarra, Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi. I spoke Kariyarra and Ngarluma the most, and, of course, English.

These languages belong to the Ngayarda group, around and inland of Roebourne, bordered to the south by the Yamaji, and to the east by the Martu, the northernmost of the Western Desert peoples (I learn as I go, so I hope I have this right. See a previous post (here)).

Wari (Alice) lived a quite happy life, an ordinary bush life with lots of cousins, at a time when all her people were station hands, until her mother was tricked into allowing a White family to take her south “to be educated” where they delivered her into the hands of the Chief Protector and she was held at Moore River, not educated at all, but made to work until she could be sent out into ‘service’.

Bassett came down and attempted to recover her, but he was soon thwarted from even visiting, and she never saw him or her mother again. This is where the question of slavery comes in. Of course Aborigines under the 1905 Act were not owned by individuals and so could not be bought and sold, but they were effectively ‘owned’ by the State. They had no freedom of movement; they had to work where they were told; if they were paid, it was a derisory amount, half of which was paid into an account held by the Chief Protector and which they could sometimes beg to be allowed to spend (on necessaries); and by Alice’s account they worked tremendously long hours, seven days a week. Late in her life, Alice discovers she had been the sole beneficiary of Basset’s will – £400 – but the money had been paid into an Aboriginal Affairs account, was lost, and they had made no attempt to tell of his death or of the earlier deaths of her mother and sister.

Alice mostly worked as a servant on farms, which involved both inside and outside work. The farms of course were all down south. The Chief Protector made sure that northerners only worked in the south and southerners only worked up north, to reduce the possibility of abscondment. Alice did in fact walk off Ida Valley and once picked up was able to resist any attempt to return her.

[A policeman] told us that Mr Neville had said we should go back to the station, and we should never have run away because it was dangerous. So we told the policeman how we were treated and that, and he said, ‘Well, I can’t force you, so you’ll have to come into Leonora.’

Here they found work until they were able to return to Perth. Alice knew Neville from having been a maid in his house, so she got him to give her a pass to go and work with a previous employer, but after only a few months, Neville wrote to her saying that Will, her boyfriend had the chance of a married position so she should return to Moore River, which was the only place he would allow Aborigines to be officially married.

They found work around Meekatharra but eventually settled at Geraldton, on the coast and began raising a large family through the Depression and WWII in a series of camps, shanties, reserves, and all too infrequently, reasonable houses, experiencing all the while both casual and official racism. Eventually she and Will split, I think Alice was a pretty forthright woman, and although she continues to live and eventually retire in Geraldton she is contacted by relatives in Roebourne and is able to reconnect and make peace with her past.

Towards the end of the book she is able to say,

… I had thirteen kids, they had forty children between them, and their kids have had forty six. So altogether that makes ninety nine. I have another great grandchild due in 1992 which will make it one hundred – and maybe I’ll get a telegram from the Queen.

Alice Nannup was a sober and abstemious woman. Originally C of E, she moved on when a South African vicar began discriminating against the Blacks in his congregation, and found a home with the Seventh Day Adventists. And if she didn’t get the material rewards she deserved for her tremendous hard work, she ended up secure in her culture and with an enviable network of family and friends.

 

Alice Nannup, Lauren Marsh, Stephen Kinnane, When the Pelican Laughed, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Perth, 1992. Cover painting by Michael Francas (taken from a photo of Alice but with a background clearly of the country inland of Roebourne).

see also: My review of The Fringe Dwellers by Nene Gare (here), which is set in Geraldton. Gare’s husband worked in Aboriginal Housing, so Nannup knew him and was friends also with another Aboriginal woman working with Nene Gare on the book.

 

“It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”

ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Literature Week

"It's Still in My Heart, This is My Country": The Single Noongar Claim History

“It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”* (2009) is subtitled The Single Noongar Claim History – the Noongar people being the original occupants and custodians of south-west Western Australia. The authors credited are South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, and John Host** with Chris Owen. It is basically the case put up to The Federal Court (Australia’s second highest court), Justice Murray Wilcox presiding, in 2005, to prove the Noongars’ claim to native title over the Perth metropolitan area.

To do this Host demonstrates that the Noongars, who can be divided into 14 regions with their own dialects, are one people with an ongoing, uninterrupted cultural life, and that the indigenous people forced out of Perth by white settlement continued their cultural practices within Noongar communities on the outskirts, and maintained their contact with important sites within Perth. These are the main elements to satisfy the Native Title Act (1993) shamefully introduced by Paul Keating to limit the ambit of claims after Mabo, and further tightened by John Howard in 1998 after Wik.

Because the Perth people had been so decimated by occupation and direct government action (eg. “Battle” of Pinjarra), not to mention laws which for many years in the C20th banned Aborigines from being in towns, it was necessary to prove that the Noongar were one people – hence ‘Single Noongar Claim’ – not a number of distinct tribes, and that, as was so often claimed, they had not lost their connection with Perth and the Swan River or, as was often claimed, died out. Indigenous people with European blood continued, and continue to lead Indigenous lives.

The SWALSC won their claim, but in 2007 the state (Labor) and Commonwealth (Liberal) governments appealed, successfully, on the basis that the claimants had not shown continuous occupation of the Perth area “explicitly”. An agreement was finally reached and registered in 2018 (here, includes map).

Host, an historian, describes his task as ‘histriography’, a critical summary of writings about the history of the Noongars. What is known about them prior to white settlement is ‘pre-history’.

Map South East Asia and Australia during the last Ice Age. Courtesy Wikimedia

I think we all know that at one time you could walk from PNG to Cape Yorke and from Victoria to Tasmania (and from Perth to Rottnest) but what hadn’t occurred to me is that around 8,000 BC, lower sea levels meant that Australia was surrounded by a wide, fertile littoral plain, and its subsequent inundation has removed much evidence of early occupation. However, there remains plenty of evidence that the South West has been occupied for 50,000 years.

When the British arrived in 1826, Professor Sylvia Hallam describes the people of the south west as “firestick farmers and kangaroo pastoralists” with practices that had been continuously evolving for millenia. It is a (cruel) curiosity of the Native Title Act that claimants must show that their practices have not evolved since white settlement, but have been ‘preserved in aspic’. With the British came writing and ‘therefore’ history. Explorer Matthew Flinders called in at King George Sound (Albany) in 1802 and “wrote with evident bewilderment that Aboriginal people ‘seemed to have no idea of any superiority we possessed over them'” (see also Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance (my review)).

Matthew Flinders organised a military parade for the amusement of the locals and it is some evidence of the efficacy of oral history that the story of that parade was related to (anthropologist) Daisy Bates a century later. In fact, Bates’ meticulous records from when she was living with Noongars around 1906 formed an important part of the evidence for the claim (see also: my post Fanny Balbuk Yooreel (here)).

During the years up until the Swan River colony was formed in 1829, explorers and the garrison at King George Sound observed and recorded a great deal of material about Noongar law, custom and ways of living, by living amongst them relatively unobtrusively. In fact garrison commander Capt Collet Barker and local, Mineng man Mokare were clearly friends, and by the account in Barker’s journal had long discussions about all sorts of matters which greatly informed Host’s opinion about the Noongars’ adaptability in the face of changing circumstances.

Host spends a chapter establishing that there is no evidence for a decline in Noongar numbers after white settlement, despite the opposite being true around Sydney (due to smallpox probably). And in the process makes mincemeat of the work of Dr Neville Green, author of Broken Spears (1984). And yes, he acknowledges that there were massacres, but the number killed were not enough to lead to population decline.

If taking issue with the notion of drastic population decline between 1829 and 1850 has diverted me from the terms of my brief, it has been necessary. As noted …, evidence of cultural maintenance is of doubtful value unless the allegation of Aboriginal extinction or near extinction is shown to be groundless.

An interesting aspect of Host’s account is the permeability of boundaries. While one family group had primary responsibility for one area, the area may have been occupied by different groups at different times, with connections formed by marriage allowing families to travel widely to hunt. For instance, Mokare told Barker his family sometimes moved away inland to allow another group to camp by the shore and fish. However, absence did not lessen connection.

It is clear both from settler accounts, and from oral histories – of which many are cited – that Noongars, who in any case had always moved around a lot, adapted to white settlement spreading throughout the south west in the latter half of the C19th (and up to the 1930s) by combining seasonal farm labouring over a number of properties with frequent absences to maintain their culture.

By 1900, disregarding official attempts to distinguish between ‘full bloods’ and ‘half-castes’, Noongar culture remained vibrant and the Noongar population had probably increased.

The turn of the century brought two shocks. First, goldrushes expanded the white population from 50,000 to 184,000 in a single decade; and then, the 1905 Aborigines Act, brought all WA Aborigines under the direct control of the Chief Protector, and presaged 60 years of determined attempts to separate children with European descent from their mothers (see: Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (my review)). The Indigenous population of the South West in the 1901 census was about 1,500 but only Noongars living near towns or as farm workers were counted. As Noongars were notoriously (and rightly!) shy of officialdom and there was, and still is, a great deal of bush in the South West, the actual population was much higher, but as had always been the case, could not be accurately estimated. By the 2001 census, the Aboriginal population of the South West was 27,596 and a high (but unknown) proportion of those were Noongar.

Finally …

I will argue, however, that although the maintenance of traditional connections has been harder for some Noongars than for others, the Noongar as a people have retained the web of territorial and kinship ties along with the reciprocity or mutual obligation, that made up (and make up) the matrix of traditional law and custom.

The last quarter of the book documents the survival of the Noongar in the face of the 1905 Act, concentration camps at Moore River and Carrollup, the paucity of aid, the loss of farm work during the Great Depression, legislation which effectively prevented Aborigines from becoming landowners, and misguided attempts at assimilation in the 1950s, through to the current situation of recognition tempered by high rates of unemployment which we might say began with the Whitlam years, 1972-75.

This is a fascinating work, eminently readable, which greatly added to my understanding of Black-White interaction during the first century of white settlement. Of course this is local history for me, but I am sure Eastern-staters will find it equally interesting.

 

South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, John Host with Chris Owen, “It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”: Single Noongar Land Claim, UWAP, Perth, 2009. Cover: Ngallak Koort Boodja (Our Heart Land) canvas by Shane Pickett, Lance Chadd, Troy Bennell, Alice Warrell, Sharyn Egan and Yvonne Kickett.

Update, 30 Nov. 2019: Noongars’ $290 billion comp claim (here)


*”White fella got it but it’s still in my heart, this is my country,” Noongar elder, Angus Wallam, during Oct 2005 hearings.

**From what I can gather, Dr Host, who wrote this report, assigned the copyright to SWALSC who then had it published with some alterations and without Host’s permission. Chris Owen is/was an historian employed by SWALSC. See: Struggle over Host report (here)


Message to Lisa: It’s of course entirely up to you whether this counts as Indig.Lit. The report was commissioned by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, and they list themselves in first place as authors, though the actual writing has clearly been done by Dr Host.

 

 

Extinctions, Josephine Wilson

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Extinctions (2016), the 2017 Miles Franklin Award winner is an exemplar of that award’s recent preference for safe, middle-brow novels that touch all the liberal bases. Author, Josephine Wilson is a fiftyish writer and academic “who lives in Perth, Western Australia with her partner and two children” – one of whom is adopted according to her interview with the Guardian.

She has written the story of a week in the life – with lots of backstory – of a 69 year old retired Engineering professor, Frederick Lothian and his largely estranged daughter, Caroline. The point of view is mainly that of Frederick, though sometimes of Caroline and once (I think), of Jan, Frederick’s next-door neighbour in the retirement village; and so is limited by Frederick’s almost total lack of self awareness.

Frederick is a widower; his wife, Martha has died of cancer a couple of years earlier; and he also has a son, Callum. Caroline, it turns out, is adopted and Indigenous, too young to be of the Stolen Generation, but pointing in that direction, removed from a disappointingly stereotypical Indigenous druggie mother who eventually dies due to domestic violence.

This is a story that connects to me in all sorts of ways but which, in the end, mostly fails to connect. Most reviewers have seen this as Frederick’s story, but it is not. This is a woman’s story, a woman attempting to understand her father’s generation. And just as Wilson is probably a decade older than Caroline, so Frederick is clearly a decade older than his given age. I will be 68 in a couple of months, will work for at least the next five years, I get around on my bike, and, until recently, competed in long distance ocean swims. Frederick is in a retirement village, his body is failing, and he refuses ongoing academic work.

The villa was a bridge between his real life, which had ended, and death, which waited behind a wall of paperbarks on the other side of the quadrangle. He had finished accumulating experiences, and now he was shuffling around in the past, peeking inside boxes and then closing them quickly. Moving to St Sylvan’s had cemented his fate.

Wilson touches lightly on Perth, her and my home town, and I appreciate that. Later as Frederick remembers dragging his family out into the Wheatbelt to stargaze, the locations become more specific; and in the final act Caroline is in Menzies, north of Kalgoorlie, getting in touch with her indigenous family – which, as you might expect of me, is a story I believe Wilson should not have attempted – Wilson, away from home territory, makes a small mistake and has Caroline advised to watch out for kangaroos while driving at night when the real danger in that area is unfenced cattle. And, if you want my advice, don’t drive in the outback at night, at all.

The other connections? I still think of myself as an ‘engineer’, despite never getting beyond first year. It was the only profession ever considered for me during all my school years, and by the time I arrived at Melbourne I was a natural fit for its boys-own culture – 240 boys in first year and one woman who left at the end of the year to study science. And my professors might be pleased to learn, the one lesson I remember, turning moments, has been of use to me throughout my working life.

Frederick is distant and controlling, he chooses to live in Perth to put distance between himself and a bullying father in England. He meets Martha in the US and she gives up her studies and the chance of career to follow him to Australia.

When he met Martha he knew nothing of families, and very little of love. A family was something to fear, like a long, dark tunnel cutting through a mountain. Who knew if you would come out the other side alive?

Frederick reports to us what Martha has said to him, without comprehension. Milly (ex Mrs Legend) would understand that! His unit, and before that his home, is full of collectibles, which the children are NOT TO TOUCH. Been there! I hope I was less anal, though I still don’t let anything go.

I have both a daughter who was adopted out and a daughter whose biological father I helped her find. Near the end, we discover that Martha had refused to let Caroline as a teenager have her birth mother’s details, which I didn’t find consistent with all the other ways Martha opposed Frederick.

When Frederick finally gains some insight in his old age, he is too willing to forgive himself. That was my father’s position, and mine too I think.

In the retirement village, Frederick holds himself aloof, regarding the other residents with scorn. The week or so of the story begins with him watching, allowing, another resident to die; Jan, his gregarious neighbour, insists on him talking; her scorn at his self-serving answers causing him to begin coming to terms with all he has suppressed; we discover he has a son who has been in care, incommunicative for years with brain damage, Frederick unable to make himself visit, even after Martha’s death; Frederick the cause of his son’s accident, Martha and Caroline both despising him for it, though it’s clear he doesn’t realise.

The backstory element is busy – Frederick’s relationship as a boy with his domineering father; his and his father’s involvement in the death of his younger brother; his ‘best friend’ Ralph; Martha’s increasing dissatisfaction and independence; her affair (which we learn only from Caroline); Jan’s story as she becomes more involved in Frederick’s life, becomes the catalyst for some very sudden changes.

But in the end, the novel has three weaknesses, the last of which is IMO fatal. Frederick’s agedness, already discussed; it is never clear why Martha stayed married to him; and we are meant to believe at the end that Frederick has seen the light and been redeemed. He is of course too like me (and my father) for me to find him likeable, but I did not even find him believable.

 

Josephine Wilson, Extinctions, UWA Publishing, Perth, 2016. Audiobook: Brilliance Audio, read by William McInnes (sounding in places very like Jack Thompson, the voice of Australia)

Other reviews:

Roslyn Jolly, Sydney Review of Books (here)
Lisa, ANZLitLovers (here)
Janine, The Resident Judge (here)