Saturday, February 02, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings


Photo: Burnt Bridge Aboriginal Reserve school class.

This really should be Saturday afternoon musings. I have been gardening, driven in doors by the heat.

Dear I find it hard to stay cranky with Neil. I was just about to berate him over Go to the top of the class, Ifan Yusuf! when I noticed that he had had my name translated into Chinese. The post here (I am an add on) is worth a read. Certainly it made me laugh.

In terms of my Chinese name, I do like the translation of Jim as peaceful visionary. I would like to think that it is true!

Why was I cranky with Neil? I thought that Yusuf's post and Neil's support added little to the discussion on the sorry issue.

In the meantime, I have been involved in something a little different.

A while ago Rhonda came in with a comment on an earlier stocktake post I had done on my posts about New England's Aboriginal peoples. She wrote in part:

Thank you for pulling all of your aboriginal posts together, it will make it easier for me to read up on the history. My mothers adopted family were based in the New England area and I always thought they were Biripi but was corrected by a cousin in Kempsey quiet a few years ago that they were in fact Daingatti, I haven't had the opportunity to really venture into the history as it is so difficult to trace. My gran was born in 1913 at the Railway Reserve, Walcha.

When I looked at Rhonda's material, the thing that interested and to a degree puzzled me (as it did Rhonda) was the fact that an Aboriginal women legally adopted a white baby at a time covered by the stolen generation in NSW.

I cannot resolve this without a fair bit of work. However, what I thought that I could do for Rhonda was to look further at the Dainggatti, their history and their linkages with the New England Tablelands. Here I was influenced by another comment on my post on Malcolm Calley, Anthropology and Australia's Aborigines.

C wrote:

Hi Jim,

I am interested in what you have been writing here. I live in Armidale and have done some research and writing in a grad dip on the local Aboriginal people. Particually the role of the Catholic church here in the mid 50s onwards in providing support for the people living in east Armidale. I feel that Armidale is unique. So much culture has been retained that people don't see. They still meet and camp down at a river site towards the coast as their ancestors have done for centuries.

I too get frustrated with the reactions from the general public in response to some history writing or the issue of welfare payments and other financial assistance.

My husband works with Aboriginal youth through sport on an voluntary basis and
has made many friendships and contacts in the community. They are a strong people.

In response, I wrote:

This is fascinating C. I would love to hear more about your research.

I do not think that Armidale is unique in the retention of historical memories by local aborigines, I think that is also true of other areas.

Armidale may, however, be unusual if not unique in the nature of interactions between the aboriginal and non-aboriginal community.

I am not suggesting that this is in any way perfect. After all, I grew up in Armidale during the fifties, so remember the original shanty settlement in East Armidale.

I do have a strong feeling, however, that Armidale's traditional aboriginal families have achieved a degree of community prominence and at an earlier date than seems to have happened in many other places.

C responded:

The great thing about this area is that although there were many experiences of families being held in missions such as bellbrook and burnt bridge at Kempsey, the family and tribal groups have largely been held together. Many families moved to Armidale from the coast and Bellbrook in 1956 when you would remember a surge in the numbers on the town dump over east side.

We spent 6 years in Wagga where I taught as a casual teacher. The Aboriginal people there had suffered more dislocation through the housing commission's policies of the 1960s-70s and through the removal of children prior to that. There were a few elders who had been through Cootamundra Girls Home. Although there were many Wiradjurri people, they were from many different areas within that nation. From Yorta Yorta as well.

Armidale is a great place to live. For me with my interests in helping Aboriginal youth, I couldnt be happier and we hope to stay here for a good while. The kids here are very easy to get along with.I came to Armidale to go to uni up here in '89 and have spent most of my time here since.

Now there is a lot of insight in C's response, things that interest me in thinking about the Aborigines as a people, more correctly peoples.

One was the way in which at least some of New England's Aboriginal peoples have been able to retain their linkages with the past.

Part of the reason for this is that Aboriginal numbers in New England - remember that I am talking about the broader New England, not just the Tablelands - were so large. In resource terms, New England's coastal strip was the wealthiest area in NSW at the time of European intrusion.

I think that part of the reason also lies in the possibility that there were simply more refuge areas available. Today, we are used to thinking of the North Coast as a high population growth area. This was not always the case.

As recently as the 1950s, the major towns on the coast and inland were comparable in size. The huge coastal population grow is relatively recent. Today, New England's coastal Aborigines risk being squeezed out, again made strangers in their own land, by urban development and rising house prices.

I do clearly remember the sharp increase in Armidale's Aboriginal population during the 1950s that C referred to. Suddenly, we went from a small Aboriginal presence to one that was quite noticeable. Today the same thing is happening again, with in-migration from the west.

But why did it happen in the 1950s? And why were the people all apparently drawn from one tribal group, the Dainggatti?

Now this is where I return to my response to Rhonda's comment. Here I have begun putting up a series on the New England's History blog. These are something of a pot pouri, but even at this stage some patterns emerge.

The first post I put up was New England's Aboriginal languages. This repeated a map that I had put up earlier, this time with a supporting discussion on geography.

If you look at the map, you can see the heavy concentration of Aboriginal languages on the North Coast centred on the river valleys and adjacent headwaters.

The Dainggatti themselves occupy the Macleay Valley. Now the headwaters of this river lie on the Tablelands between Armidale and Walcha. In a direct line, the Upper Macleay in particular is not far from Armidale. Groups from the Upper Macleay would certainly have visited the Tablelands.

The next post I put up was Emma Jane Callaghan (1884- 1979) - Aboriginal nurse and midwife. Born at la Perouse, Emma Callaghan moved to the Nulla Nulla Aboriginal Reserve at Bellbrook in the Upper Macleay around 1905. There she played a major role in trying to improve conditions, marrying a local in 1909.

In 1928 she moved to Armidale to be closer to medical facilities for her husband who was suffering from TB. There she continued her role.

Finding that Aborigines were living in appalling conditions on the fringes of the town, she lobbied the mayor and the Anglican bishop until her family obtained a house. Her home soon became an impromptu hospital; she practised as midwife to her people and nursed them without charge. Dr Ellen Kent Hughes visited the Callaghans' home to see patients and any local Aboriginal family in need of treatment. Highly respected among the White community, Emma encountered no personal prejudice.

From Armidale Emma returned to Sydney. There she maintained her role with her people, but passes out of my immediate story.

Since I knew Kenty, Dr Kent Hughes, my next post was Kenty - Ellen Mary Kent Hughes (1893-1879), medical practioner and alderman. From the time of her arrival in Armidale in 1928 to her death, Dr Kent Hughes provided medical services to the Aboriginal community. In 1968 she was awarded an OBE in part for her services to Aborginal children. In 1975 she was awarded the freedom of the city because of her services to the community including her role in local government.

My next post was Pat (Patricia) Dixon (?-2001). I must flesh that title out.

A Dainggatti woman, Pat Dixon was born on the Macleay River near Kempsey and raised on a reserve near Bellbrook, presumably the Nulla Nulla Reserve. After a period working in domestic service in Sydney, Pat and her husband moved to Armidale where Pat worked as a cleaner. I am not sure of the date, but I am guessing late sixties, early seventies.

From the 1970s Pat became active in Labor politics. In 1983 she was elected to Armidale City Council, becoming the first Aboriginal person elected to a local council in NSW. In all, Pat spent over 17 years on the Armidale City Council as a member including, for three years, Deputy Mayor.

In addition to her party and community roles, Pat campaigned with with Lowitje (Lois) O’Donoghue to increase the number of Aboriginal people participating in local government. Here she saw the numbers of Aboriginal people participating in local councils nationally build to over 600 in 1998. At the time of her death in 2001, she was the endorsed Labor candidate for the Federal seat of New England, the first Aboriginal candidate endorsed by the ALP for a Federal seat.

Even at this early stage in the series, we can see the linkages between Armidale and the Aboriginal people of the Upper Macleay in particular. We can also see, I think, some of the deep texture of the life of New England's Aboriginal people.

However, I am also having some problems with material because of distortions caused by discussions in recent years on Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations. This affects both Aboriginal oral memory and writings about the Aborigines.

To a degree I have to accept things because I am trying to put together an overview and am therefore reliant on secondary sources. However, I am hopeful that I can balance this with specific spot-checks.

Despite any problems, I am finding the research very interesting. I am also finding my knowledge of the area, as well as my own past research and writing, a considerable aid in defining questions and issues.

2 comments:

ninglun said...

Sorry to make you cranky, Jim, but I liked the fact that a Subcontinental Muslim Australian and I could feel much the same way about the Apology issue, hence my 110% agreement with Irfan Yusuf. I am not just for an apology, as you know, but I am enthusiastic about it and overjoyed that we are dealing with it at last. Pretty much have been since 1988.

This post is interesting. My own Aboriginal descent came about, so I was told, through and Aboriginal man having a relationship, afterwards denied, with a white widow. So the story goes... Some in the family deny it still.

The other thing that strikes me is that the material you quote gives good examples of the disruption and mingling of groups through all manner of reasons, including mission interests, land clearing, administrative practice, so that groups that had little connection with one another often ended up out of touch with their true country and story. Quite a few of the problems we have today come from this, especially where the groups so brought together were hostile towards each other.

On the other hand one of the amazing things about my nephew's mother's family is that some of them, at least, remained pretty much where their ancestors had been before 1800.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning Neil. I knew where you were coming from with your comment on Yusuf. I just did not think that it added anything new.

I am glad that you are finding the material interesting. There, are of course, lots of examples of disruption.

From my perspective, I am interested in variations in patterns, the way in which differing local or regional conditions affected things.

I would surmise, as an example, that disruption in inland farming regions was more complete simply because there were fewer refuge areas. As a second example, on the coast the rise of diarying created land pressures. However, it also appears to have opened employment opportunities for Aboriginal people because Europeans moved from some occupations into diarying.

So far as the Dainggatti are concerned, I have the gut feel (this may prove to be very wrong)that there were significant differences between the upper and lower Macleay in the nature of Aboriginal responses.

In all this, people stand out too like Emma Callaghan on the Aboriginal side or Dr Kent Hughes on the European.

By the way, and I had not realised this, the Wrights employed Dainggatti. I will follow this one up a little later because it adds to the lost race interest in Bora Ring as compared to the still living reality.

For my own reasons, I need to follow up on the Walcha/Woolbrook Aborigines. Rhonda's comment suggest a D. presence here, too, again with an Upper Macleay connection.

Have a look, by the way, at the report of the Aboriginal Protection Board for the year ended June 1940. Paternalistic yes. Genocidal, no - http://asset0.aiatsis.gov.au:1801/webclient/StreamGate?folder_id=0&dvs=1201980801348~996

I must standardise my spelling on the tribe, by the way.