Sunday, March 02, 2008

Aboriginal midwife - the mystery of May Yarrowyck

Browsing round looking for information on the Anaiwan, the Aboriginal people who occupied the New England Tablelands from Gurya south, I came across the following reference on the Bundarra community site:

In the 1890’s a young Aboriginal woman by the name of May Yarrowyck whose mother had died during childbirth, trained in nursing at St Vincent’s hospital. On her return she worked for many years as a midwife in and around Bundarra riding great distances to deliver babies on some of the isolated selections, no doubt many of the people who are in Bundarra owe their existence to May’s competence in delivering their ancestors.

Now this is a rather remarkable story.

Bundarra lies some 80k northwest of Armidale and is, I think, in the divide area between Anaiwan and Kamilaroi. I would in fact have thought that this was Kamilaroi territory.

So what's remarkable about the story? It's the date.

This is the earliest recorded date that I have so far seen of an indigenous person gaining some form of qualification. Further, unlike Emma Jane Callaghan whose work seems to have focused exclusively on the indigenous community, May seems to have provided midwife services to the broader community.

A web search shows just one reference to May, the Bundarra page. So who was she? If anybody knows, please let me know.


Kim H said...

A lot of what you need can be found in a document/book
Bib ID 1337590
Format Book
Author Le Maistre, Barbara

Description Hurstville, N.S.W. : NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1996.
vii, 113 p. : ill., facsims., maps, ports. ; 30 cm.

ISBN 0731076184

May Yarrowyck is mentioned on page 12 in this and on a number of other pages.

Jim Belshaw said...

Kim, thank you for this. The content of the book is not on-line, so I will have to find a way of borrowing a copy.

I noticed the link to Tingha. I have a special interest here just at present.

Isn't the internet wonderful? I have no idea who you are, but to get this help is so great. I will put a post up on my New England History blog so that I can find the reference again.

Kim Harvie said...

Jim I have a copy of it on loan at the moment perhaps I can scan some though it will take some time. I am at present helping the kids at Bundarra with a brochure on the history of Bundarra Aboriginals plus a couple of the legends etc but am stuck in a pile of confusing literature ie Bundarra Aboriginals were classed as Anaiwan..fair enough but in the IATSIS they are listed as Wanaruah ..perhaps a sub group of Anaiwan with that name rather than Wanaruah Mob as such at anyrate it is difficult to find with so many differing tales etc. Have you red Red Kangaroo..The Last of His Tribe downloadable from the net 278 pages it tells of a battle between Red Kangaroo from the Namoi River Mob and Kibbi the great Bundarra Warrior was told to Idreiss as from the horses mouth so to speak. As for who I am, just a Bundy resident with a degree in History (UNE) and a great love of the Aboriginal people , who were the first people to be friendly to us when we moved here 5 years ago. You got the info of my webpage..

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Kim

The Wanaruah were Upper Hunter. I did an AIATSIS search to try to find an Anaiwan link but could not. One of the things that I have to do on the W. is to check Helen Brayshaw's thesis. I think that there is a copy in the Department at Armidale.

One of the big mysteries that I have to try to solve in my own writing is the relationship between Tablelands Aborigines and those to the east and west.

In considering this issue, a few things to note.

The first is that Aboriginal territories generally linked to river catchments. This appears to be true on east and west.

On the west, the Kamilaroi language group occupied a number of catchments from southern Queensland into the Upper Hunter because geography facilitated spread.

On the coast to the east, distribution is more closely linked to specific catchments with the rivers themselves as divides.

Language groupings were somewhat fluid in the sense that languages shaded into each other. Families at a distance in the same language group might in fact have difficulty in understanding each other.

The Tableland languages appear to combine elements of east and west. Some of the writing I have seen in passing suggests that the Tableland dialects at least in the north were extensions of the coastal languages.

The modern use of the word nations confuses things. Territory was occupied by extended families. They had their own name for themselves and their neighbours. They also had linkages with adjoining groups through kinship and custom.

There do appear to have been traditional enmities and friendships.

My present best guess for the Anaiwan is that they were squeezed between the Daingatti, Gumbaingar and Kamilaroi. In historical times, there are records of fights between the Daingatti and Anaiwan.

On the west of Anaiwan territory there were kinship linkages with the Kamilaroi. The two over-lapped. However, Sue Hudson in an email to me some time ago suggested that there were also suspicions. They - Anaiwan and Kamilaroi - came together for ceremonies buy the Anaiwan were suspicous and cautious. Here i quote an email from Sue:

"I have a very good friend living in Ashford. She is Aboriginal and shares with me my love of all things cultural (tools, places and history). She told me several important things: Her grandmother (who was semi-tribal) told her all her life not to mix with coastal people, they were never to be trusted. When Anaiwan people went to Inverell for ceremonies, they always camped as close to their own boundaries as possible – they were not liked by Gamaroi people but kinship ties brought them together for important occasions. Everybody fought with them – I have the axes from the last great Aboriginal/Aboriginal massacre in Armidale, fought near the present day teachers college, these were given to me by the great nephew of the police constable who broke up the fracas. The axes have been sourced to Armidale area and Walcha (Daingutti)."

Another factor in a specific area such as Bundarra is what I call carrying capacity.

Aboriginal populations were determined by the capacity of the country to support people in bad times. So modern Bundarra was likely occupied by a number of extended families each with their own territory.

Given the proximity to Uralla which was (I think) clearly Anaiwan language group, it seems likely that Bundarra was too. It also seems likely that there were kinship links to the Kamilaroi.

One thing that I have found very valuable is just to get out a map and look at the land to try to work out what it was like.

I hope that this meander is of some vague use. I haven't read Red Chief since I was a kd, but must do so.

Jim Belshaw said...

Just a further comment, Kim. Have you come across Anne Harris's books?

Ruth Barratt said...

I was interested in the name of May Yarrowyck. As we have a place at Yarrowyck I have only recently began to look into where the name came from? So far I have not been successful in finding this out?

Also what was the Gwydir river called before Alan Cunningham named it the Gwydir after Lord Gwydir of Wales (his patron) in 1827.

If anyone has some information on this I would be interested to know.

Many thannks,

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ruth. I am a bit jet lagged following my return from Canada. Will try to come back a little later.

Anonymous said...

I am also researching the origins of the placename Yarrowyck. It is an interesting name because it shows little resemblance to any of the Kamilaroi words for that region. If it was derived from an indigenous word, it seems likely that it had been "Anglicized". It is also interesting that May's family name was Yarrowyck, suggesting that either her family took the name of the place or the place took the name of an Aboriginal name. It is plausible that Yarrowyck, probably as a non-Anglicized form, was originally the name of a great tribal chief or respected warrior. Or the name may have been the original indigenous name for the rock art site or mountain.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who may know more about the naming of Yarrowyck, for instance I have been unable to find even a date for its settlement by Europeans.

Ruth Barratt said...

I believe that the Dangars
named one of their 'runs'
Yarrowyck - so it is probably named after a place in the UK (Cornwall or Wales?)that had meaning to them.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Both. Anne Harris's Old Stations on the Gwydir (2000) has a chapter on Yarrowyck (pp118-134). There should be a copy in the Heritage Centre, in Dixson or maybe the council library. Its actually a great book for anyone along the river.

According to Anne, the first recorded European settler was W M Borthwick who about 1836 squatted on or near what would become Yarrowyck Station. In September 1939 Commissioner Macdonald rode to a run called Bundarra Station licensed to Sir Francis Forbes. By May 1884 the licenses had been transferred to Joseph Phelps who called the run Yarrowick. in 1850 the run now called Yarrowyck with a y was transferred to Henry Dangar.

I do not know where the name came from. I always thought that it was Aboriginal. I can't find my copy of High Lean Country just at the moment to see if they say something.

Ruth, I had completely forgotten about finding the original name for the Gwydir. However, my impression is that there were a number of names attached to different stretches of the river.

In her comment Kim mentioned the Red Kangaroo. Since then I have read Michael O'Rourke's book on him. This includes the original Ewing manuscripts with Michael's comments. There are some fantastic stories that Idress then used for his book.

I have also done some more work on Aboriginal languages. I will try to write something up specific for the area.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi all

I have spent the last few hours digging into language stuff for the area. If Yarrowyk is Aboriginal, it almost certainly can't be Kamilaroi. Probably Anaiwan.

I have part written the material up and will try to post tomorrow on my history blog with a cross-reference here.

Ruth Barratt said...

For some time I have pondered where the name 'Yarrowyck' might have come from. I did come across the family who is considered the earliest settler there - Charles Murray Borthwick (Scot) who have a long family story on the internet and it mentions a property called "Yenrowook" which might be a phonetic interpretation of Yarrowick in a Scot's accent?

There are no Yarrowyck/Yarrowick places in the UK as far as I can research, so I started to look at places in Scotland called "Wick" and I did find this:

Three miles south of Wick are the Chambered Cairns of the “Yarrow Archaeological Tombs and Burial Grounds” and pairs of standing stones. Nearby, at Mid Clyth is “the Hill of Many Stanes” which is made up of 22 fan shaped rows running north to south. In total about 200 stones remain but it is thought there may originally have been over 600. Each stone is 3ft 3inches in height (less than 1metre) and most are only a few inches wide. They are set on a south-facing slope and it is thought they may have had an astronomical function by means of which observations of the moon were plotted.

Given that the area is well endowed with huge standing Stones it might have reminded them of 'home' and we got the combined word of 'Yarrowick' (which was the earlier name) and then got changed by some official to 'Yarrowyck'.

Could be?

Ruth Barratt

Unknown said...

Hi Everyone.
I have just got on loan from Inverell library the book "Old Stations on the Gwydir".
The photo of the man on the cover of the book is my great Grandfather.
I would love to own a copy of this book if anyone comes across one, please let me know.
I do own a copy of the other Ann Harris book, "Abington" which is the station a lot of my family were born, lived and worked on.
My family came from Bundarra and all around that area, including Tingha, Armidale, Walcha etc etc. All your comments are very interesting as I have started doing my family history/tree this year, its great to read anything and everything about where my families lived.
Cheers everyone.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, Penny. Nice to hear your story. Boo Books in Armidale may have a copy; they have quite a big local collection. It was a while since I had visited this post. I actually missed Ruth's comment. Looking back, perhaps time for an update.

Penny, depending on exactly where and when your family lived, Helen Browns' Tin at Tingha gives the story of that town. There are also property histories for Ohio and Terrible Vale.

Norm Croshaw said...

Norm Croshaw
Hi am a late comer searching for all the information on the families in the Bundarra district in the late 1800's early 1900's, my mother was born in the area and I have spent a lot time chasing rainbows over these past 50 odd years without a lot of success ,
Re that book "Old Stations on the Gwydir" is available from the information centre at Bundarra at a cost of $30.00 I was able to obtain a copy on my last visit to Bundarra in December 2014, as previously mentioned I have always found Inverell Library and have spoken and borrowed publications thru inter library loans these carry a small fee generally $5 or so I am trying at present trying to locate a copy of"Nimbula Tinga Bullawangen Aboriginal People and their Lands" If there is anyone out there that can help I would be very grateful.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Norm. Sorry for the lagged response. I don't have a copy of the book you refer to. Would be interested to see it! What do you know about your mother already? That might give a clue to further sources.

Unknown said...

Hi just wondering if anyone has heard of a book called my yarrowyck West Armidale, I'm trying to find info on my great grandfather William Snow I was told he is mentioned in this book, thank you regards lorraine Tasker née snow

Unknown said...

Hi- This might be of interest. Some amazing research that has been conducted into May Yarrowick by Dr Odette Best and Kath Howey. Here is a video of their research findings.

Elizabeth said...

Nimbula, Tingha, Bullawangen: Aboriginal People and Their Land was published in 1996 by
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
by Barbara Le Maistre with contributions from M.R. Hardie.
The story of May Yarrowick, grand-daughter of a woman from the Yarrowyck tribe who was left behind at Stony Creek when she got into difficulties in labour. The Yarrowyck blacks had stood around on one leg, holding spears upright, for two hours. Mrs Kelly believed that was the time they normally gave woman to deliver. Then they moved on, leaving the woman lying on the ground. Both mother and daughter survived after assistance from Mrs Kelly, who found the baby's arm was caught. The baby grew up in the kitchen and the mother refused to associate with the Stony Creek blacks. The mother returned to the tribe when it passed through two years later but Peg, the baby, ran back to Mrs Kelly three times and the mother walked away leaving her with the Kellys, who reared her in the homestead. At sixteen she gave birth to a baby, May, who's paternity remained unknown. Peg died shortly after the birth.
I have copied this out of the above book.
Elizabeth Browne

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for this Elizabeth. I haven't been back to May for a while. I need to do that.