Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dainggatti Entry Page

I have begun a series of posts looking at the Dainggatti, one of New England's Aboriginal people. I have two objectives in so doing.

First, I am interested in the Dainggatti as part of the history of New England. Secondly, I hope that the series will help all those with an interest in the Dainggatti.

To facilitate all this, I am creating this page as an entry page for all posts with connection to the Dainggatti.

If, as I hope, all of New England's Aboriginal peoples end up with their own web sites, this page will become redundant. In the meantime, I hope that it will be of some interest.

My writing is eclectic, mixing between present and past. So the posts are an evolving mixture.

My post on New England's Aboriginal Languages provides a useful starting point because it shows the distribution of the different Aboriginal languages within New England. Here one of the issues I am presently wrestling with is the nature of the linkages between the Macleay Valley Dainggatti and the nearby New England Tablelands.

One of the problems I face in understanding the Dainggatti is the nature of the evidence.

In The Poetry of Judith Wright - Bora Ring, I look at a poem by one of New England's poets, contrasting the view expressed in the poem of a vanished race with the continuing existence of Aboriginal experience. I also provide some information on the bora rings that were a feature of New England and south eastern Queensland.

The Wright family properties occupied a major strip of the Tablelands east of Armidale. The Wrights actually employed Dainggatti stockmen. High Lean Country, the latest history of the New England Tablelands, includes some historical material linked to the Dainggatti.

Note the use of the word "Thungeti" in a quote for the Dainggatti. There are multiple English spellings because of the difficulty of transcribing Dainggatti into English. I have settled on Dainggatti because of the map, but this is not necessarily right.

As in Bora Ring, views about the Aborigines and their history are affected by individual perceptions. My post Malcolm Calley, Anthropology and Australia's Aborigines provides an introduction to some of the difficulties as I see them.

One way of correcting this at least partially, one that I like, is to provide a series of overlapping stories focused on individuals.

Emma Jane Callaghan (1884-1979) Aboriginal nurse and midwife tells part of the story of an Aboriginal woman from La Perouse in Sydney who came to Bellbrook and married a Dainggatti man.

From Bellbrook, she moved to Armidale to be closer to medical facilities for her husband. There she met Dr Kent Hughes, an Armidale doctor and civic leader who was to play a major role in Aboriginal health matters over a long period.

Another, later, Armidale civic leader was Dainggatti women Pat Dixon who became the first Aboriginal woman elected to local government in NSW.

Even at this early stage in the process, the stories of these three women read together provides insights into Dainggatti life including the links between the Dainggatti and Armidale.

The council material referred to in Armidale's Aborigines - a note provides something of a potential historical framework for the Armidale side of the modern Dainggatti story, while Bellbrook's Aboriginal Community - a note provides some initial references for later follow up.

Still early days, but this post at least provides a start that can be updated as I complete further posts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bellbrook's Aboriginal community - a note

Short note to record a few internet references on Bellbrook:

  • Health NSW on the Aboriginal peoples of the Mid-North Coast.
  • Quinlan, M. (1983), "Bellbrook my father’s country", Aboriginal History, Vol. 7 No.1-2, pp.34-45.
  • A Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Aboriginal People.
  • Educating for Creativity and Difference. Dianne Roberts, OAM,Director and Principal Minimbah Aboriginal Pre- and Primary Schoo l, Armidale.
  • Ray Kelly
  • Bellbrook, my father's country

Monday, January 21, 2008

Armidale's Aborigines - a note

Short note to record two references that I found relevant to the writing that I am presently doing on the Dainggatti.

The story in Dawn on the move by the Moran family, a well known Armidale name, into a house in town provides a snap shot from 1967.

Then a historical piece from Armidale City Council on buildings and subdivisions contains a fair bit of historical material relevant to Armidale's Aboriginal community.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pat (Patricia) Dixon (?-2001)

Photo: Pat (Patricia) Dixon

Note to readers: the story that follows is drawn from the Australian Women biographical entry with some personal additions.

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.

Her extended family included many aunts and uncles, nine sisters and three brothers, but Patricia was separated from her family at the age of 13. Sent away by the Aboriginal Welfare Board, she worked in domestic service in a wealthy private home in Sydney.

The Australian Women's biography entry suggests that as an Aboriginal person growing up in the 1950s, she was excluded from high school. I think that this is factually incorrect in the way it reads, although I have to check the details. In any event, Pat's initial education was limited to primary school, returning to study later as a mature age student.

After working in Sydney for several years, Patricia married Doug Dixon and had two sons, Graham and Douglas. The family soon moved to Armidale, a city with strong Dainggatti connections (Bellbrook and Armidale are relatively close) reinforced by in-migration during the 1950s.

Patricia worked first as a cleaner. She joined the Labor party in the late 70’s, and her involvement in local politics began. Much of her work since then focussed on enhancing Aboriginal involvement in local governance and mainstream civic affairs.

In 1983 she was elected to Armidale City Council, becoming the first Aboriginal person elected to local government in NSW. I first became aware of Pat as a Council member both from the local newspaper (The Armidale Express) and then directly after I returned to Armidale to live in the middle of 1987. In all, Pat spent over 17 years on the Armidale City Council as a member including, for three years, Deputy Mayor.

Working with Lowitje (Lois) O’Donoghue, Pat saw numbers of Aboriginal people participating in local councils nationally build to over 600 in 1998. She also worked for the Australian Local Government Association (Canberra) and the Department of Local Government in NSW. She served as Chairperson of the Armidale & District Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place; was a member of the NSW State Committee for Reconciliation; and was the Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Medical Service in Armidale at the time of her death.

In 1997, Pat was pre-selected by the Australian Labour Party in the seat of New England, becoming the first Aboriginal woman federal candidate for the ALP. She passed away on 30 September 2001 just before the election was called.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Kenty - Ellen Mary Kent Hughes (1893 -1979), medical practioner and alderman

Note to readers: This story on Dr Kent Hughes, Kenty, is drawn- pinched - from L A (Lionel) Gilbert's biographical entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography on-line edition. I have added some personal memories and a few links.

One of the things I love about the ADB entries is the way I can sometimes add emotional content to people I know. I also like the way they help me trace linkages between people. In the case of Kenty, I knew her not well but for a long time.

Dr Kent Hughes was born on 29 August 1893 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, eldest of seven children of Wilfred Kent Hughes, a Victorian-born surgeon, and his wife Clementina Jane, née Rankin (d.1916), a nurse from England.

Ellen was a niece of Rev. Ernest Selwyn Hughes, and a sister of (Sir) Wilfrid Kent Hughes and Gwenda Lloyd. She attended Ruyton Girls' School, Kew, then remained at home in 1912 until her mother was discharged from a tuberculosis sanatorium. In the following year Ellen entered Trinity College Hostel, University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1917).

On 31 July 1917 at St Monica's Catholic Presbytery, Footscray, she married Paul René Loubet, a divorcee from France and a medical-assistant at the Children's Hospital, Melbourne. Widowed three months later, Ellen bore Paul's son. Colleagues found her temporary work at Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital for Women and Children; they also found her a nanny, Alice Pickup, who remained an esteemed member of Ellen's household for fifty-four years.

In 1918 Dr Kent Hughes, as she was known professionally, was appointed resident medical officer at the Hospital for Sick Children, Brisbane, on a salary of £50 a year. Mother and baby lived in quarters, with Alice nearby. One year later Ellen accepted a locum tenency at Mitchell at a time when the State was gripped by drought and the pneumonic influenza epidemic. There, on 26 August 1920, at All Saints Anglican Church she married Francis Garde Wesley Wilson (d.1970), a returned soldier and auctioneer; they were to have a son and three daughters.

In 1921 the Wilsons went to Kingaroy where Mrs Wilson was elected (1923) to the shire council. In 1928 the family moved to Armidale. With extraordinary energy, 'a co-operative husband' and Alice ('Nanny'), Dr Kent Hughes combined medical practice (with Roger Mallam) and community service. In the meantime, her husband founded a succesful stock and station agency.

Kenty 'never found that being a woman had the slightest adverse effect' on her career. Honorary paediatrician at the Armidale and New England Hospital, government medical officer and a justice of the peace, she was 'tireless in her ministrations', 'firm in her admonitions' and resolute in answering calls. She published two articles in the Medical Journal of Australia, 'Observations on Congenital Syphilis' (1919) and 'The Role of the Private Practitioner in Preventive Medicine' (1967).

Aboriginal women had nursed her Hughes grandmother near Armidale after the loss of her first child. Ellen felt a long-standing debt to their people. One of her chief cares was the health of the local Aboriginal community, especially the mothers and children. Here Kenty worked with Emma Callaghan in the late twenties and earlier thirties.

In 1968 Kenty was awarded an MBE for community services and especially her services to Aboriginal children.

As Alderman Wilson she served (1937-68) on the Armidale City Council (deputy-mayor 1963-64); she pursued such causes as urban beautification and housing for Aborigines with characteristic persistence, especially if she sensed male indifference.

In 1975, Kenty qualified as a fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in 1971 and was granted the freedom of the city of Armidale in 1975. In its motion, the City Council determined:

That the Freedom of the City of Armidale be confered by this Council on Dr E. M. Hughes for the many years of unselfish and unstinting service to the community as a medical practioner, an Alderman of the Council, a citizen, a tireless adviser to all sections of the public, the young as well as the old, for qualities of kindness, tolerance and candid approach which have endeared her to many people over many years, and for her active participation in civic affairs contributed over a period of 30 years.

Lionel goes on: although she was criticized for her moral and maternalistic views, she retained wide respect and affection: her twinkling eyes and wide smile softened her brusque manner.

I think that this is a pretty fair assessment.

As the Armidale City Council motion said in one of those lines that could only really be understood by locals, Kenty could be candid. She was my doctor for a brief period when I was a young and, frankly, I was terrified of her. Mind you, I cannot say that this is quite what I felt at the time because it is a composite of memories.

Later in the early 1960s when the Council of the University of New England decided to banish room visiting between members of the opposite sexes, this decision was widely attributed to Kenty's concerns about student pregnancy. The decision generated major and continuing student protests and was ulimately revoked.

Kenty worshipped for fifty years at St Peter's Cathedral and was a member of its parish council. A devout Anglo-Catholic, she donated Eucharistic vestments to St Mary's Church, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and invited home a succession of curates to give them 'the once over'!

Her physician ordered her to retire in 1977. Survived by her five children, she died on 16 May 1979 at Armidale. In 1990 her residence was opened as Kent House, a community centre.

Looking back at Kenty, my main feeling is one of awe. I knew that she was a strong woman. I had no idea of the breadth of her interests, or the role that she played.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Emma Jane Callaghan (1884-1979) - Aboriginal nurse and midwife

Note to Readers: The following story is largely drawn from Shay Ann Kelly's biographical entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography on-line edition. My focus is on the New England connection. Those interested in the full story should read Shay's full entry.

Shay Kelly records that Emma Callaghan was born on 28 February 1884 at La Perouse Aborigines' Reserve, Sydney, the younger of twins of William Foot, fisherman, and Kathleen Sims of the Dharawal tribe. At the age of 4 she injured her head and was tended by Retta Dixon who was to found the Aborigines' Inland Mission of Australia.

Although Emma left school after third grade, she wanted to be a nurse. About 1903 Dixon took her to visit the Dunggutti (Dainggatti) people at the Nulla Nulla Aborigines' Reserve near Bellbrook in the Upper Macleay Valley. The Reserve had been founded in 1885 upon 36.4 hectares of Aboriginal Protection Land.

Unlike her mother, Emma had fair skin, blue eyes and red hair. She believed that she had a mission among her people. Returning to Bellbrook about 1905, she attended Sunday services and learned to play the organ; she also helped older Aboriginal women when they assisted in childbirth, earning their trust and respect.

From that time she registered Aboriginal births. In addition, she regularly searched the camps and humpies for sick people, crossing flooded creeks and riding through the bush to tend her patients: Aborigines were not admitted to Kempsey hospital until an annexe was built in the 1930s. Emma held religious services for the Dungguttis in the open air under trees or in the small, crudely-built, tin church on the reserve. With the police as witnesses, she buried the dead.

On 20 September 1909 at Nulla Nulla Aborigines' Reserve Emma married Athol Callaghan, a 22-year-old labourer and a Dunggutti of mixed descent; they were to have eleven children. A competent needlewoman, she made her own hats, as well as clothes for herself, the family and the community (even wedding dresses and ball gowns). During the childhood of her eldest son Harry, she began to learn the intricacies of the tribal language and translated Bible stories into Dunggutti.

About 1928 Mrs Callaghan moved to Armidale to be closer to medical facilities for her husband who was suffering from tuberculosis. 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.

I found the Armidale link very interesting. On the surface, Armidale appears to have been a special case in its reactions to Aboriginal people. Yet I am not sure of this. Is it just because we do not understand the full complexity of indigenous relations with what was then a largely European community?

At Athol's request, the family returned to La Perouse after seven years at Armidale. Through the Homes for Unemployed Trust, in 1939 Emma bought a block of land near the mission, and a timber-and-fibro house was built to plans provided by her friend Kent Hughes.

From here, Emma's story becomes largely a Sydney story. I will leave it to you to follow up.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New England's Aboriginal Languages

Because I am about to begin posting a number of stories connected with New England's Aboriginal peoples, I though that I should post a map (original here) of New England's Aboriginal languages. The map extends down towards Sydney and misses a bit out on the left, but it gets the guts of it.

The map shows clearly the influence of geography on New England's history, including that of its indigenous people. I have added a few reference posts on this at the end of this post.

Before going on, to those who are confused about the different spellings attached to tribal or language groups, this reflects in part the differing ways in which languages can be translated into English.

If you look at the right of the map, you can see the number of language groups along the New England coast line. This reflects the richness of the coastal strip in foodstuffs and other resources. The varying language boundaries are directly linked to major river valleys, with tribal areas extending up into the mountainous headwaters.

If you look at the left of the map, you will see the large expanse occupied by the Kamilaroi along the western edge of the Tablelands and Western Slopes (modern Tamworth and Inverell are in Kamilaroi territory) out onto the Western Plains. This country was more open; the lower ranges separating the western flowing rivers allowed easy access.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the Kamilaroi were expanding south and had entered the Hunter Valley at the time of European arrival. If true, we do not know whether or not this was the result of pressures elsewhere or simply the natural expansion of a more powerful group.

Aborginal boundaries were not static. They did shift over time.

Those who have seen Ten Canoes will have know that Aboriginal weaponry could kill. One of the elements in the film dealt with the customs involved in settling disputes between different groups. The film also draws out very clearly the differences and suspicions between groups.

In spite of rituals and customs for dispute resolution, circumstances could arise (prolonged drought is an example) where one group could decide to access another area's resources or even occupy it permanently. So boundaries shifted.

In the middle of the Kamilaroi and the coast tribes you will find just two language groups occupying a relatively narrow strip of the New England Tablelands. This was a poorer area in resource terms. It was also, or so I argued in my long past honours thesis, a marchland area in some ways squeezed between the Kamilaroi and the coastal tribes.

I will leave further analysis here to another post.

Previous Geographical Posts

Friday, January 04, 2008

High Lean County - the story of the New England Tablelands

Edited by Alan Atkinson, J S (John) Ryan, Iain Davidson and Andrew Piper, High Lean Country: land, people and memory in New England (Allan & Unwin) captures, in the words of the blurb, "the rich history and haunting character" of the New England Tablelands region.

The authors explore how memory - of land, of family, of patterns of life on the other side of the world - has influenced the identity of New England. They also consider how the high country itself has shaped its people and their sense of regional uniqueness.

There are aspects of the book that I disagree with.

Focused on the Tablelands and to a lesser degree the interaction between the Tablelands and the broader state and national world, the book tends to ignore broader regional linkages and is arguably written from what I think of as the "little New England" perspective that came to dominate and indeed blinker Armidale and University of New England thinking from the early 1980s.

I will do a proper analysis of the book at a later point. For the moment I only note that it is well written, contains new insights and is a valuable read for those interested not just in New England but also Australian history in general. For those who are interested, you can read the book minus some pages on Google books.