Mokare- His character and influence
Above: Louis de-Sainson’s Albany Aborigines sketched in October 1826, coloured and printed 1833. The images are of Mokare (bottom right); Patyet, thought to be Nakinah (bottom left); and young brother Yallapoli with the brothers’ father, also named Patyet (middle). The two men at the top are unidentified but likely to be close relatives, possibly Mokare’s close cousins, half brothers or uncles Coolbun and Dr Uredale. Image courtesy Trove Unique identifier here:
Apart from confidence and his willingness to connect, what do we really know of Mokare’s character and influence among the Menang?
The best the archives can give comes from the personal writing of three people; Dr Isaac Scot Nind, Captain Collett Barker and Dr Alexander Collie. Prior to that it is the official despatches of the military which tell a more limited story.
One telling experience detailed by Major Lockyer opens the chapter on the garrison era.
When the brig Amity arrived at the Sound, bringing with it the makings of first settlement, there was turmoil among the Aborigines. A sealing gang had kidnapped four of their women, in the process killing one man and marooning four others on Michaelmas Island in the Sound. The Aborigines attacked one of Lockyer’s convict men in retaliation, possibly associating his appearance or manner of speech with that of the sealers, spearing him multiple times. Lockyer recognised there was a problem and held back on his own retaliation. By way of action he’d instigated earlier, Lockyer had already rescued the marooned men. Afterwards, he located and rescued two of the stolen Aboriginal women (one just a girl around nine years old) and punished the perpetrators, thereby setting relations back on a solid footing again. This is Lockyer’s legacy to the town of Albany. By exercising good judgement he avoided a conflict potentially fatal to the settlement’s existence.
It’s important to consider what happened here.
When relating the spearing incident in his journal, Lockyer, abreast of King’s notes on the Albany Aborigines, speaks of a man he too called Jack. It isn’t clear whether this was Mokare, some think it was but one indispensable source gives the Aboriginal name of Lockyer’s Jack as Mongril, another forward figure of the time who was also named by P.P. King in 1822.
In any case, Lockyer’s Jack led the initial Aboriginal approach to the landing party, laying the ground for the spearing to occur, and then, after an eight day cool-off period, was the first of the Aborigines to re-approach. Though he played an important role, there was no fanfare to this assertion of local occupation. All indications point to the action being agreed in democratic fashion then planned. The scene unfolded in an ordinary way, orchestrated by a handful of men with no particular distinguishing marks or dress. Before he knew anything else about them, Mokare, if he was Jack, had played a front man’s role in the application of Aboriginal law over the incomers, thus demonstrating the group’s adherence to custom.
This is absolutely critical. Mokare’s mob acted in traditional Aboriginal fashion, taking the action they deemed justified, even though they understood the potential consequences. Sailors in uniform had guns and swords, they had whips and ropes and chains. The Menang had enough experience to know that, yet they did not hold off.
It’s unfortunate but still instructive to note that over the three months Major Lockyer was at the Sound he didn’t identify Mokare by name. Previous visitors had, and well within that time-frame too. That Mokare or any other of the Aborigines did not become obvious to Lockyer as leader of the Menang reflects the subtlety of Aboriginal counsel and of the democracy that existed within the group. Despite Mokare’s prominence in the texts, no one Aborigine presented to any of the educated visitors who wrote about their encounters at King George’s Sound as obviously in command.
This too is essential. There were personalities, but no readily identifiable persons of authority. Mokare’s older brother Nakinah, accepted now as titular head of the Albany town kala and by accounts reluctant, was one of those personalities who might have represented as someone of importance, but neither he nor his brother had mandate to act on behalf of their group when it came to dealing with the new white presence.
Consider the following passage from I.S. Nind’s, Description of the Natives of King George’s Sound (Swan River Colony) and Adjoining Country, published in 1831.
He talked little, very rarely asked for anything, and, for a great length of time, would neither accompany us on our sporting excursions, nor otherwise render us the little assistance that we were in the habit of receiving from others of his tribe. After a little time, however, both he and his brother, Mawcurrie (Mokare), became more sociable; and, at last, so partial to our people, as seldom to leave the camp. We had, therefore, a fair opportunity of satisfying ourseIves that neither of them possessed any authority over their countrymen.
Mokare never introduced himself to the incomers as anything beyond someone willing to engage.
Above: Looking westward along the harbour waterfront toward the garrison flagstaff at Residency Point. Image:Settlement at King George Sound, W.A. taken 3 April 1827 [picture] / [Edmund Lockyer] Courtesy, National Library of Australia. Attributed here to Major Lockyer, this may be the earliest sketch of the settlement in existence. The painting was held by Lockyer but there is belief it was made by I.S. Nind, the garrison’s Assistant Colonial Surgeon. Nind made six watercolours of the garrison during his almost three year tenure. The style shown here is in keeping with others made by him.
As far as the Europeans were concerned, the lack of appointed and controlled leadership, the independent personality driven conduct of the Aborigines, was alien to the rigidly structured, hierarchical society they belonged to. Especially those in the military. Additionally, the Aborigines were not contained in a set area, there was no central gathering point, no village. They slept in small family camps a few miles apart but were rarely together in those groups except at night, and even then people came and went. This unnerved the incomers, not only during the garrison period but well into the era of free settlement.
Attempting to understand how the Aborigines were socially organised, particularly with regard to the conflict that existed among them, preoccupied the early writers.
Nind put it down to food.
As the country does not abound in food, they are seldom stationary, removing, according to the time of the year, to those parts which produce the articles of provision that may be in season. During the winter and early spring they are very much scattered; but as summer advances they assemble in greater numbers.
I have been thus particular in describing their food, because I conceive that in savage tribes it gives rise to most of the peculiarities of their habits and customs. At King George’s Sound they live upon the productions of nature, unassisted by art, varying, at different seasons and in different districts, poor in quality, often scanty, and therefore compelling the natives to a vagrant life. The population is consequently far from numerous and varies in appearance and habits according to the nature of the food in their district.
Additionally, relationships within the Aboriginal world, along with cultural practices regarding ownership and sharing, ran counter to European intelligence. The effect of these differences being greater upon the civilian population which followed. For example, in the old Aboriginal world it was punishable to hunt game by lighting fires in another’s kala, though it was acceptable to gather edibles from the plant life. The garrison command battled against pilfering from the garden, and once free settlement took hold it still required the presence of mantraps and armed guards to get the message across to the Aborigines they could not take from the allotments; especially those who visited from outside the town. For obvious reasons, theft of vital foodstuffs was something the settlers feared. Eliza Baker, born in Albany in 1837, in an account of her memories given to the Westerm Mail newspaper in 1927, said;
The natives swarmed around the town and used to come corroborreeing about the houses. On Christmas Day they would come and demand puddings. Some of the settlers used to make large pots of soup to give to them so that they would go away. There were no shops in the Albany of my childhood, for rations were drawn. Our house was very close to the bush at the back and one night the natives came, broke a hole in the wattle and daub wall and stole handfuls of flour from inside the room. They used to come at night too and dig up the potatoes, then covering the holes up and leaving the tops standing, so that until the leaves began to wither in the sun we would not know the garden had been robbed. I was always very frightened of the natives.
On the whole, the Aborigines struggled to come to terms with the settler habit of storing food. Generally speaking, once got food was to be consumed. In the case of Aborigines on the move all of the animal was eaten at the place it was killed, the person or party moving on afterwards. Amounts digested by single Aborigines sometimes astonished the incomers. This is yet another key point. As Nind made clear, the Aborigines were what he called vagrant, constantly moving about, whereas the Europeans established abodes of fixed and permanent address. Accordingly, the Aborigines were not familiar with the concept of personal space held by the incomers and misunderstandings regularly occurred when it came to respecting places of accommodation. Beyond the garrison era the archives contain many accounts of settlers being intimidated by Aborigines breaching their privacy.
Back in the late 1820’s, Mokare’s Mob found it very difficult to accept they could not simply walk in and occupy the military compound, let alone the huts within it. One of the reasons they spent so much time at the garrison, often in the personal living quarters of Wakefield, Sleeman, Nind and Barker, was because once it was clear the incomers were not going to attack them, the Aborigines sought to regain that space. They regarded those quarters as communal, or put another way, as not belonging to the incomers but part of the exchange.
The Aborigines sought to treat the garrison in the same way they treated their camps. Access among friends was free, and the garrison could not hold back that push. The military command knew to do so risked alienation, which due to their numbers and isolation, they could not afford.
This mutual trade-off is the crux of the entire relationship, indeed the focus of much study. Neville Green’s transcript of Barker’s journals and his commentary on it, first published in 1992, forms the basis.
In more recent years, Dr Tiffany Shellam broke new ground by looking at the alliances between the two groups, identifying the Aborigines of the period as ‘the King Ya-nup’, and the Europeans as ‘newcomers’ in her book, Shaking Hands on the Fringe; Negotiating the Aboriginal World at King George’s Sound. Shellam’s comprehensive understanding of garrison era Albany and the cross-cultural relationships played out there, in part innovatively imagines the Aboriginal world from the Aboriginal perspective, seeking to tease out Menang motivations for apparently befriending the British incomers.
Shellam makes clear in her introduction that almost all the available writing, indeed almost all contemporary actions performed by Australian’s seeking to reconcile their capturing of the country from its original occupants, she regards as nothing more than continuing the business of maintaining Aboriginal/European relations within the colonial context. That is, refusing to, or simply being incapable of, recognising the Aborigines as belonging to their own perceptually binding pre-existing world, and not able to see the incoming colonial force as an entity which placed itself inside of it. Shellam’s point that Australia’s perpetual view of Aboriginal/European relations is not only miopic and lopsided but fundamentally discriminatory, resonated powerfully with my own attempts to decipher the past. In this way Shaking Hands On The Fringe is not only innovative but a work of heroic contribution, especially as it uses Albany’s records to not only make the point but try and realise a more complete truth.
Dr Murray Arnold took Shelham’s work into consideration and did a very good job himself of weighing up the mutual benefits and complexities facing both Aborigines and incomers during this time. Chapter 4 of his thoughtful, A Journey Travelled: Aboriginal European relations at Albany and surrounding regions from first colonial contact to 1926 gives dedicated non-judgemental coverage.
Another comes from Dr John Host, author of everything essential to the controversially published It’s Still In My Heart, This is My Country. Host writes from the Noongar viewpoint, his fierce intelligence and grasp of traditional Aboriginal culture allows him to look into the garrison period and quickly dispense with any kind of conversion theory, coming away with a firm belief the Albany Aborigine’s adapted to the arrival of the Europeans, that in equal measure they both helped and took from them what they found useful, and without undue influence were set to continue their lives as married to their age-old cultural practises as they ever were, had the commencement of free settlement and all that came with it not followed. Host’s insight and perspective is delivered with clarity and precision and is fundamental to the formation of a balanced view.
I should also mention Noongar People, Noongar Land, The Resilience of Aboriginal Culture in the South West of Western Australia, commissioned by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC), written by consultant anthropologist Dr Kingsley Palmer and published just last year (2016). In response to the need for Noongar people to identify with a known ancestor in order to verify their authenticity with regard to participating in the native title claim, Noongar People, Noongar Land is largely concerned with societal make-up and the relationships which existed between the various groups and their home country. Palmer isn’t concerned with Mokare in the same way I am here but in context his appraisal of the same literature (primarily Nind, Barker & Collie) gives commanding assessment of the nature of the group we are concerned with, particularly their proprietorship over parcels of land along with their entitlements to movement over it and beyond.
My own feeling is that Aboriginal actions toward the settlers were guided by their sense of what was on offer according to their own world view. A view, from the time of the garrison’s arrival, increasingly complicated and vexing. For the majority, especially the women and children, the garrison was surely a talking point and its impact on their daily existence essentially negative. They didn’t mix with the incomers, still had to gather edibles and keep the home fires burning. If anything, the garrison distraction caused their men to err by way of hunting responsibilities, leading to shortages of food.
Beyond the garrison era, as the settlers grew in number, increasingly influencing cultural change through denial of traditionally sourced local foods, acts of theft, which the Aborigines understood as wrong, grew both in frequency and daring. These thefts occurred because the promise of exchange, food and technology for acceptance, was not kept.
More’s to the point, between the two groups not only were the concepts of food storage and trespass different, ideas about ownership, sharing, vengeance and fidelity were ill-alligned. To most of the early European observers, almost all of whom made little of the native language, the Aboriginal men seemed communal but secretive, coming and going in apparent random fashion, neglecting their wives and children in the process, or else they were perceived a shamble of pilfering reactionaries, angering and rising to fight at the slightest provocation.
These differences required the patience and interest of Scott Nind and Collet Barker to begin to decipher.
Grasping this point is crucial to understanding why those who collected the information Mokare related about the Menang way of life found him and the ways of his people both captivating and a conundrum. It wasn’t solely the language barrier. The intricacies of Aboriginal life just didn’t make sense to the Europeans and rather than attempt to understand, adjust or accommodate, most simply dismissed them as lawless, primitive and obtuse.
Easy enough when you also hold the upper hand by way of weaponry.
Contrary to that, Mokare appears to have understood and, at least when in European company, accommodated the incomers cultural differences.
Above: Europeans at early Albany did not understand the often aggressive nature of Aboriginal interpersonal relations and found it difficult to tolerate opposing behaviours. Image: Menang preparing for a staged corroborree before visitors to Albany arriving by ship. Note the athletic bodies of the men and how thier stance, particularly the man far right, resembles that of William Westall’s 1801 sketch. The picture was taken by Gustave Riemer in 1877, this copy scanned from John Dowson’s Old Albany photograph book.
So much for opposing cultural attitudes.
Another occurrence of interest during Lockyer’s time relates more specifically to the task Mokare faced in managing the European presence on his kala. After an incident on January 26th, 1827, (exactly one month after landing) Lockyer reported;
Thirteen natives, most of them had been at the settlement, were detected creeping down with their spears all ready shipped for action to attack the Sawyers whilst at work. . . we have since ascertained that they are a Tribe from the borders of the Lakes and are very fierce, the other Natives pointing to the spot and shaking their heads and then pointing to Oyster Harbour as the place of their residence.
The northern and eastern end of Oyster Harbour was the kala of Coolbun, whose brother Uredale was the local mulgarradock or doctor. Coolbun and Uredale gain regular mentioned throughout Barker’s journal.
Now, the first point of question here is that it’s hard to know if the war-like action of the Aborigines was directly related to the sealer’s killing one of the Menang at Oyster Harbour five or six weeks earlier. It seems likely, but the Aborigines didn’t hold their grievances for too long and we already know that during the summer inland Aborigines came down to the coast, so their presence is not unusual. Perhaps the sawyers had committed some kind of offence against the Aborigines, possibly related to their women? Or, perhaps these ‘Willmen’, or northern tribesmen, just disagreed with the European presence?
The inference Lockyer makes is that the tribesmen arrived from the north via the Kalgan River, the lakes referred to being the salt lakes behind the Stirling Ranges. That these Willmen had been in the settlement prior to the aggression shows not only the free movement of apparent outsiders into, out of and within Mokare’s kala, but the freedom those outsiders felt towards taking action.
What’s worth noting here too is that no one from the garrison had been remotely close to the salt lakes at that time. Knowledge of them must have been gained through discussion with the Aborigines. Lockyer made a thwarted attempt to navigate the Kalgan in mid-February (two weeks after this incident), claiming he journeyed a distance of not less than thirty-five miles from the garrison, but yet did not reach the Porongurups.
It seems clear that though there were inherited lands, guardianship of kalas passed down from the titular head of a particular family or clan from generation to generation, there was a wider tribal law that did not bar others from moving about. Neighbouring kalas and those further afield were open rather than closed territories. However, it seems equally clear certain actions taken by visitors invited the ire of home families and that it was these deeds which were source of the many interfamily or interclan altercations.
Thus, as early as one month after the Amity’s arrival, there were outside Aborigines wanting to attack while local Aborigines were siding with the incomers. These defenders of the white presence were the men Dr Shellam described as ‘Shaking Hands on the Fringe‘.
The increasing frequency with which whitemen were visiting the coast around Albany from 1800 onwards will have been something the inland clans will have been aware of but on the whole not experienced. When it became clear the arrival of bigger ships with men in uniform signalled a celebration, it’s not unreasonable to think the Albany Aborigines will have wanted to protect and exploit the uniqueness of such events. After-all, there were in the beginning distinct benefits to be had. From an outsiders perspective, however, there were likely suspicions and jealousies giving rise to negative perceptions.
In any case, the offending tribesmen Lockyer mentions were fired at by the convict detail and ran off without apparent injury, after which none of the Aborigines at all came in to the compound for a period of two weeks, indicating the sensitivity the Aborigines at large held toward their overall responsibility and the possibility of retributive action.
Across the first hundred years of settlement there are multiple incidents such as the above where Aborigines engaged in (sometimes thwarted) violent acts against settlers, some of which resulted in deaths (eg; the killing of John Moir at Fanny Cove in 1878), after which the offenders removed themselves from the vicinity only to return in the belief that after an unspecified cooling-off period the incident would be forgotten.
Thus, by the end of the first week in March there was another reversion at Lockyer’s garrison and the Aborigines were coming and going on a daily basis once more. Including March 8th, 1827, when;
Five natives of a Tribe we have not seen before came to the settlement; all stout well-made men, (I, Major Locker) caused one to be measured and he was six feet two inches, and better, as I could not make him hold himself up strait, as he did not understand.
Lockyer related that these five men had come because they had heard of the tomahawk axes being given out, and that he obliged their curiosity on the grounds he wanted them to know that they (the Europeans) did not come to make war.
Word of the whiteman’s presence was spreading and not all of those coming to investigate were bent on their demise.
Lockyer’s last entry before leaving Albany states that the Aborigines were constantly about the garrison and that he wasn’t particularly happy about it but felt he had to put up with it. He said he didn’t want to drive the Aborigines away because he thought offending them might force him to close ranks for a while and not let anyone, including the animals, out.
Within four months of setting up, with all its reserves of food and arms, the garrison was already irked by the presence of the Aborigines, while the Aborigines were still intrigued with the strange new presence in their midst.
Lockyer later summarised his experience of the Albany Aborigines in a report on the settlement, saying;
The Natives are numerous and from appearance, their condition being good, they cannot be at a loss for food; many of them are tall, above the middle size and well made and some good countenances and may fairly said to be good looking; their Colour in general very dark, many of them had light hair. At first, they are shy and cautious of approaching strangers, but are soon reconciled and become familiar and are a lively good natured set of people. . .
Lockyer wanted to make a positive report on the Sound, indeed he wrote it on the Success on the way back to Sydney, with James Stirling aboard just after investigating the Swan River with intent to establish his West Australian settlement there. Lockyer knew of Stirling’s plans and it seems clear through the manner of his report that he sought to promote King George’s Sound over the Swan River as the more desirable location. So his positive assessment of the Albany Aborigines may be in part politically motivated here, but it is nonetheless plainly complimentary.
Lockyer’s description of the Albany Aborigines appears to contradict Nind’s statement about scarcity of food and I accept that images of the early Albany Aborigines do not suggest malnourishment. On the contrary, they look decidedly athletic. This is not to dismiss Nind’s view however, as he wasn’t the only one to say the Aborigines of the interior were better fed and better built, it’s evident even in Lockyer’s writing. James Browne made similar observations between 1836 and 1838 as well.
Sourcing food was the dominant occupation of the Aborigines and the presence of the garrison, either through the direct apportionment of biscuit and flour or shared distribution of (mostly) fish, enabled not only more and different food but less time-consuming ways of acquiring it. Indeed, reading through the literature one gets a distinct sense of the garrison as a place of social union, where food sourced by both groups was prepared and eaten. With that in mind it’s not hard to imagine John Host’s view of the Albany Aborigines welcoming the white presence, in fact working towards its assimilation into their own life style.
With apparent powerful arms, apparent abundance of food and general conviviality on offer, who wouldn’t?
Above: Noongar foods were sourced according to seasonal availability. The garrison presence at Albany interrupted this continuity, introducing a new and not well understood economy to Mokare’s Mob. Image: Noongar Six Seasons, courtesy Government of Western Australia ECampus, Moorditj Moodle.
Assuming command from Lockyer on April 3rd, 1827, Joseph Wakefield remained at Albany until December the following year, his overall stay amounting to just short of two years. Captain Wakefield’s Aboriginal commentary for the first nine months of his leadership was brief but revealing. According to his despatches Mokare’s mob continued to visit the compound regularly, almost certainly every day, and relations between the two groups were ‘very friendly‘.
Importantly, Wakefield reported there was a disposition for stealing amongst the Aborigines and that it was a problem but for a number of them who he said, “live almost constantly among us”.
Within six months of arrival we can determine there are Aborigines more or less living with the whitemen and that those Aborigines both understood the European concept of ownership and were given to respecting it.
During May, six or seven weeks after Wakefield took over, two natives came into the compound and slept overnight by the cooking fire, leaving the next morning with two tomahawks. Despite Lockyer’s penchant for giving them out, Wakefield again considered it stealing and made it known. Wakefield said the Aborigines who stayed with them most often were angered by the theft and went off after the two. A couple of days later one of those who had taken an axe returned it. Wakefield said he’d been told the other had been speared and that the one who had come in to return the axe had also been subjected to a severe leg wound before he left.
From this point we might be able to say there was a rift developing among the Albany Aborigines, between those who were forming strong alliances with the incomers, and those whose actions suggested either misunderstanding or else lack of conviction toward honoring the wishes of the whitemen.
Certainly, defending the law of the whiteman over the actions of fellow tribesmen is significant. Down on the South Coast, from the very beginning there were Aborigines prepared to go against their own in order to appease the Europeans, and it would appear Mokare was one.
To some Aborigines the garrison was highly valued, to others, less so. Perhaps the young or those with less refined interpersonal skills, those who found it harder to accept the directives of the military leadership and the conditions they imposed inside the garrison, were less concerned with its continuity.
For others, such as Mokare, there appears to have been respect and this becomes more clear the further we delve. For Mokare, the garrison wasn’t just a place of exchange or social convenience, it was a place where genuine relationships based on mutual respect were being formed.
This is what emerges from the writing of Nind, Barker and Collie. The insight, admittedly more attractive to the settler viewpoint than the Aboriginal, forms the colonial impression of Mokare as a ‘Man of Peace’. Mokare, it appears, became a friend of the garrison leadership, valuing it above his position as member of the wider Aboriginal community.
That stance still difficult to accept by many today.
But the question remains, did Mokare do this because he was corrupted, because he was convinced the whiteman’s ways were better, or because he had no choice and could see the best method of Aboriginal defence was to win the confidence of the invading force?
Some writers on the subject are apt to point out that the British version of respect was more heavily based on their want for the Aborigines to conform to their own traditions, as much as possible in fact, whereas the Aboriginal demand for European conformity was far less. I’m not so sure. Within the garrison certainly, yes, because it was effectively a British commune, but outside of it I think there is plenty of evidence Mokare’s white friends (the business of vengeance killing aside) respected what they understood of Aboriginal law and did everything they could to uphold it. It was in the anthropological interests of Nind, Barker or Collie, to observe and witness the Aborigines in an unaltered state.
White settlement at large, however, was less interested and held no desire to assimilate with the Aborigines. Their trick was persuasion via diplomacy, navigating a path toward domination through the avoidance of conflict.
In the absence of equal technology, this was very probably what Mokare was attempting from the opposite side; to bring the incomers into the Aboriginal world and make them part of that.
When it came to differences, the standout issue was the apparent Aboriginal conflict. On the surface of things, what the likes of Barker and Collie in particular wanted the Aborigines to contain was the practise of venging one death for another. The idea seems to have been genuinely troubling for them. Not least, of course, because of the threat of losing their precious ally. What if Mokare became victim, who would fill the ambassadorial place then?
Above: Interclan spearings were of primary concern to the command at the Albany garrison. Once allegiances with home Aborigines were formed they needed to be protected. Image: Unused uncredited postcard drawn from the internet public domain.
In June 1828 Wakefield’s official correspondence reveals he employed three Aboriginal guides on an excursion up the Kalgan River to Purrengorep (Porongurups). He doesn’t name Mokare and Nakinah but it is generally accepted one or both made up the party. This was the military’s first foray up the Kalgan River since Lockyer’s rain and illness interrupted attempt sixteen months earlier.
Around this time an event of genuine magnitude occurred, something Wakefield decided not to report back to Sydney but which shows the extent to which the garrison had influenced the surrounding Aboriginal world.
Mokare’s younger brother Yallapoli, a little boy whose name Philip Parker-King had recorded over six years earlier, unexpectedly and apparently quite suddenly, died at the garrison. Wakefield didn’t record this in his despatches, we only know about it because the story was related to Barker 18 months afterwards (26th January, 1830). Barker heard what had happened and wrote about it after Yallapoli’s grave had been pointed out to him on a walk he was taking.
The story related to Barker was that Yallapoli had gone to the prisoners quarters one day and feeling unwell simply laid down. When went to be woken he was found to be dead. I reckon Yallapoli to have been about 12 years old at that time. When asked what might have caused his death Scot Nind told Barker he thought it was some kind of poison. Later, Dr Davis, who replaced Nind, said he thought it was the result of overeating.
In any case, when the boy’s death was made known to his brothers they were understandably upset. Barker wrote;
The natives were very furious about it & collected in great numbers about the place with their spears shipped, threatening vengeance. Mokare was very violent, tearing off his clothes with his teeth & shewing many symptoms of rage. One of them (Colbine) threw a spear at Capt Wakefield, but he would not allow them be fired at & managed to pacify them by degrees, but he was obliged to have all his men together & to keep a strict watch for about three weeks.
Mokare later told Barker that Wakefield had cried for Yallapoli and that this in some way allowed the matter to settle.
That Wakefield dodged a spear is telling because it means he wasn’t meant to be killed, possibly even to be hit. If the Aborigines wanted to avenge Yallipoli’s death by taking the life of one of the white men they would have. There is no doubt about this, the minimum effect of a fully intentional response will have been severe wounding. Something Wakefield will have had to report.
That nothing of dire consequence appears to have happened means Mokare’s family’s response was either re-directed towards other Aborigines who they may have decided were responsible, or they accepted that an attack on any member of the garrison would have resulted in a breakdown in relations and that it was not in their interests for that to happen.
An awkward unhelpful situation to be faced with, especially in light of the spearing they had carried out on Dineen, Lockyer’s ironmonger aboard the Amity, in the aftermath of the sealers raid in December 1826, just a year and a half earlier.
However, as Yallapoli’s death was a mystery the Aborigines will very likely have believed it invoked by magic. This isn’t stated by Barker but is reasonable to assume given Mokare’s conversations with him. The Aborigines believed in the power of the Mulgarradock (doctor) and that spirits could exact revenge. This may be what saved the garrison, or someone within it, from attack.
Dr Uredale, brother of Coolbun (Colbine) was one of two Mulgarradock’s Barker mentions in his journals, but there were others from further afield who were more likely accused.
In any event, the outcome shows the white men -prisoners, soldiers, civilian wives and children as well as officers- were considered alike and not targetted by Yallapoli’s kin for his death, despite it occurring in their company and at their place.
By this time either the garrison contingent were too highly valued and thereby protected, or the division between Mokare’s Mob and his enemies was so pronounced responsibility was quickly and completely placed on them.
The one death for another law will very likely not have been disregarded. Someone, somewhere in the Aboriginal world will have paid the price. The result tying Mokare’s Mob to the garrison more tightly than ever.
Above: Invoked magic was believed in the old Aboriginal world. Ghosts appeared in dreams, and illness and death were delivered by spirits. Image: Unattributed, drawn from the internet public domain.
Major Lockyer’s landing party was made up of a contingent of soldiers from the 39th Regiment led by Captain Wakefield. As was the norm, a doctor was appointed to oversee the health of both the troops and convict detail. Twenty-nine year-old Isaac Scot Nind, known as Scot, was appointed the non-military position of Assistant Surgeon and joined the personnel aboard the Amity at Sydney.
Nind’s time at Albany was longer than any of the military officers. He was there from inception in December 1826 until October 1829, a period of 34 months. During this time overall command transferred from Lockyer to Wakefield to Lieutenant Sleeman.
Nind and Sleeman’s relationship was fraught with conflict as Wakefield and Nind had both applied for transfer out of the Sound at the same time and only Wakefield was successful. Sleeman arrived from Port Raffles (Darwin) and assumed command over Nind early in December 1828. Nind was either tired and simply wanted to leave or something else more pressing was disturbing him. In any case, Sleeman appears to have been the unsympathetic autocratic type and the two clashed.
We’ll explore this as we go on but first we should recognise that despite Yallapoli’s passing, Sleeman inherited a settlement in apparent good social health, not only amongst the soldiers and Aborigines but amongst the Aborigines and convicts too. Mokare’s Mob were not just on good terms with the men in uniform, they had come to know the prisoners as well and seemed to understand the relationship that existed between them and their overseers.
When the Aborigines went in to the compound they didn’t just go to the officer’s huts. Visiting the convict quarters wasn’t forbidden and significant unwritten/unrecorded relationships developed there. Perhaps some which resulted in unions whose descendants feed down to today. We don’t know about them because there is no written record of any detail to draw from, but logic demands there was more to what was going on at Albany than just what the officers wrote down. In the literature, much has been made of the fact Albany’s Aborigines, despite their bushcraft, were not once successful in tracking down escapees, though they were hired to do so.
Snippets of information point to sympathies the Aborigines had for the treatment of the convicts, specifically punishments, as well as indicating some of the Aborigines were just as familiar with the convicts as they were with the leadership.
That as it may be, Sleeman was happy to report in March, 1829, three months into his command, that all was well except for the ongoing issue of having to give out biscuit.
The Natives continue to frequent the Settlement in the most friendly manner, and although they occasionally bring small presents, yet they are generally very importunate for biscuit, of which they are extremely fond. Where fish are so very plentiful, it is to be regretted we are (currently) without the means of catching them, as with the aid of a seine we could not only abundantly supply our own wants but satisfy those of our black friends. Should His Excellency be pleased to permit one of the seines at Raffles Bay to be brought here by the next vessel, it will be of most essential service.
The subject of food was never far from front of the command’s mind.
Above: One of six watercolours of the Albany garrison and surrounding lands prior to October 1829 attributed to I.S. Nind. From this eastward looking view we see the extent of the cultivated land alongside the garrison. Also gained is a visual perspective shared by the Aborigines who visited the settlement from surrounding kalas. Image:The Settlement of King George’s Sound 1828, courtesy Art Gallery of Western Australia. Taken from Commandant of Solitude by Mulvanney & Green.
Not much is known of Dr Scot Nind. He wasn’t a soldier but employed by the army as a layman, remaining a bachelor all the way to age 61. He was a watercolourist who made six technically accomplished paintings while at Albany, after which he went home to England for a spell, then returned to Australia to live out the latter half of his life in private practise in the Hunter Valley, not far north of Sydney. During his time at Albany Nind turned 30 and is primarily noted for two things. The first was a bout of intense anxiety followed by depression and borderline loss of sanity, an episode mostly documented by Sleeman and made much of by D.A.P. West in his 1976 publication The Settlement On The Sound. The second was the penning of the previously cited and strikingly well composed, Description of the Natives of King George’s Sound (Swan River Colony) and Adjoining Country which included a Menang vocabulary of around 250 words and a list of 43 Aboriginal names, 30 of them male.
Scot Nind did not leave a journal or collection of letters, the only thing we have from him is an essay, a formal piece of writing determined to impress his peers and thereby gain his career. Nonetheless, such is the voice we find in his writing Nind’s work lends more than just scientific analysis.
Nind’s Description was intended to be heard by a gathering of the Royal Geographical Society of London but when the time came for the reading he failed to show. The Society still heard what he wrote and published it in their journal anyway, such was its topicality and quality. Today, Nind’s work still reads really well. It’s succinct and on subject, put forward by an aloof observer of self-asserted higher being, such was the way of the so-called superior classes back then. But this doesn’t detract from the detail of his observations, the clarity of his interpretations or intimacy of what was clearly a shared experience. You come away from Scot Nind’s document with a sense the author might have lived with Mokare’s Mob; slept amongst them, hunted, prepared food and eaten with them, travelled and attended gatherings with the men, even had their confidence to stay behind and gather food with the women and children while some or all were away. Scot Nind’s detail of Aboriginal life at and around Albany in the late 1820s is precise and technically accomplished, but as with his use of watercolour as medium for his paintings, might also be described as romantic.
He was one of the finest looking and best limbed men amongst them, wore his hair tied up in a knob behind, bound tightly round with a string and his head ornamented on the top with a tuft of white feathers, and a similar badge round his left arm. His chest and shoulders were very much marked with gashes (umbin), and there was much peculiarity in his manners.
When the different species of Banksia first come into bloom, they collect from the flowers a considerable quantity of honey, of which the natives are particularly fond, and gather large quantities of the flowers (moncat) to suck. It is not, however, easy to be procured; the best time is in the morning when much dew is deposited on the ground; aIso in cloudy, but not wet weather.
It once occurred to me to be out shooting, accompanied by Mawcurrie. . . when we heard the cry “coo-whie, coo-whie-ca ca”, upon which my companion stopped short, and said that strange black men were coming, and were ‘no good,’ and wished me to accompany him to attack them. Very soon afterwards, however, he discovered that they were friends, and we walked towards them. They were five or six of the Murram tribe, and were dancing along the path towards us.
Scot Nind’s Description of the Natives of King George’s Sound isn’t very long and in it he only mentions Mokare twice. Nind doesn’t add to our understanding of Mokare’s relationship with the incomers, not directly anyway. What we get from him is a picture of the Albany Aborigines away from the garrison, going about their everyday business, living in their kala around King George’s Sound according to traditional means. What we get from Nind is an apolitical look into Mokare’s Aboriginal world, a vital counterpoint to the garrison-centric detail the literature otherwise keeps us focussed on.
Now, as far as the garrison and the relationship Nind and Mokare had with it is concerned, we gain valuable insight from an otherwise innocuous incident which occurred in mid-January 1829, just six weeks after Wakefield left. At this point it’s critical to remember Nind was neither soldier nor convict class, but an outsider, a layman employed by the army. His state of mental health as much as his unique view into Mokare’s Aboriginal world were influenced by this relative isolation.
On January 15th, Nind formally requested from Sleeman an additional monthly 20 lb flour ration.
My motive in making this application is to enable me to better provide for Mawcarrie, a Native Black, who has now resided with me many months.
Sleeman agreed, subsequently writing to Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay in Sydney for approval.
I beg to forward a letter which I received from Mr. Nind requesting my consent to his receiving an allowance of Twenty Pounds of Flour Monthly from the Commissariat Stores at this Settlement, to be either paid for or replaced by him at Sydney as His Excellency the Governor shall direct, to enable him to better provide for a Native black who has for many months past lived with him, and to state that, as the Native in question is almost always on the Settlement (though by no Means wholly dependant on Mr. Nind for support), and as he has proved himself useful in many instances in communicating with his fellow Natives and in restoring things that have been taken away, I have for these reasons acceded to Mr. Nind’s request, and hope to receive His Excellency’s approval to my so doing.
Mokare’s contribution to smooth relations between the Aborigines and the garrison was recognised by Sleeman, at least partially, and the ration was accounted for and distributed. It was a monthly lump issue the equivalent of 12 ounces per day, enough to make three typical ships biscuits but without an oven will have been used to make a less dried, softer more expansive version, damper, for immediate consumption. The Albany Aborigines knew about bread, though it didn’t form part of their diet. Nind noted;
“Bread they call quannert, or marrin, both which names I conceive to denote substances eaten by them that are only to be found in the interior.”
Mokare’s monthly ration, issued from late January, 1829, and coincidentally as Nind’s anxiety began to take hold, was the first official and regular payment we know of for what might be described as direct employment. Lieutenant Sleeman elsewhere referred to Mokare (without naming him) as ‘Nind’s native servant‘.
It’s hard to make any conclusive statements about the extent of the Nind/Mokare relationship but the suggestion is that it was as much as a year or more after the arrival of the Amity before it developed into friendship and that it was very probably during 1828 that Nind developed the idea of and set about collecting the knowledge he was to set down in his Description.
Also, though it was two years before Mokare was issued an official ration, Nind had not only to ask for it but to pay for it personally. As he was not in command and Sleeman, being new to the settlement, could not have been fully aware of the historical relationship between Mokare and the garrison, Nind clearly felt compelled to give something.
Equally, Mokare’s bargaining must not have let up.
The first 20lbs was given to Mokare on January 25th, the second at the beginning of March. When it came to the second dispensing the storekeeper, Pritchett, insisted the ration be made available from the beginning of each month rather than the end. However, on March 20th, less than three weeks after the second issue, Mokare arrived back at the store looking for the next lot. Pritchett refused, turning Mokare away. Mokare left but immediately returned with Nind who demanded Mokare be issued the ration forthwith. Pritchett refused again, saying the 25th was the earliest but that it should not be given before April 1st. Pritchett then shut and locked the door. What transpired immediately isn’t known except that Pritchett took the delaying tactic of writing to Sleeman (dated 20th March) seeking clarification from him on when he should issue the ration and to make the point that if he was to be treated so insolently by Nind he would just as soon resign. (HRA, Series 3, Pg 535)
The outcome of this otherwise trivial dispute isn’t known and it looks to form as much part of the breakdown in relations between Nind and the military as it does Nind’s strength of resolve to uphold the wishes of Mokare.
The question begged here, is how much pressure Nind felt to meet Mokare’s demand?
The garrison was well into its third year and Mokare was ‘many months’ more-or-less living there. Being Aboriginal, Mokare’s understanding of the monthly moon cycle is beyond doubting and while his understanding of the disciplines maintained by the military may have been disregarded they surely weren’t absent. Mokare pushed for the 20 lbs of flour early and Nind felt compelled to support him. The inference here is that external forces were at work. The flour was not for Mokare. Nind could have given an advance from his own ration if that was the case. The suggestion here is that the flour, all of it, was wanted by others Mokare and Nind felt obliged towards.
It isn’t clear how much Captain Wakefield had favoured Mokare by way of direct provision as there is no evidence, but this is not to say prior to Sleeman the garrison didn’t have its own means of making support available. Nind’s direct action in the immediate post-Wakefield period is suggestion enough something had changed after Sleeman stepped in, either in a purely adminsitrative sense or in a manner solely relating to Nind and Mokare.
What looks to be the case is though Sleeman approved Nind’s request for flour, Sleeman did not appreciate the extent of the relationship between the garrison and Aborigines either on a group level or that which was much more personal to Nind.
We know Nind wanted to leave King George’s Sound many months earlier and that he was frustrated by Wakefield’s transfer over his own. Adding to those woes was Sleeman’s apparent application to procedure, something Nind may have worried would bring about a collapse in Aboriginal relations. In any event, Nind baulked at Sleeman’s methods and the two fought, but as Sleeman was in command and not one to concede to a layman doctor, Nind found himself all the more on the outside and in an increasing state of isolation and despair.
Nind’s list of 43 Aboriginal names contains one perhaps just as interesting as those of Nakinah and Mokare. It is Ninderowl. After Scot Nind eventually left Albany in October 1829 Collett Barker wrote of ‘little Ninderoli’, a child. Barker recorded Ninderoli a half dozen times over the course of 1830, the last entry dated December 24, telling of a bird gifted to him being speared by another of the younger Albany Aborigines, Nakinah’s son Waperi.
The very first entry in the surviving part of Collet Barker’s King George Sound Journal (which we will discuss in detail a litte later on) is dated 18 January 1830 and contains the following passage;
Mokare & about 20 or 30 blacks came in about 7 am. I was then going out toward Mt Melville when I met Tullicatwaly with his wife & little Nindaroli. Some of the crown prisoners coming down the path while we were talking, he sent his wife into the scrub until they passed. They went to the Dr’s (Davis) and had been for some time pressing Tulicatwaly to bring in the wife & he told me afterwards he had some trouble in getting them away. . .
It sounds like Tulicatwaly’s wife was of fairly intense interest to at least some of the prisoners. Had she been of interest to Scott Nind earlier on?
There has long been conjecture the source of Scot Nind’s anxiety and depression was an involvement he had with one of the Menang women. He begged to be transferred, turning neurotic then morose as time wore on.
It isn’t clear how old little Ninderowl/Ninderoli was when Barker introduces him. My own reckoning is probably about five, although a toddling three-year-old is, I suppose, possible. Nind knew very well the jealousies Aboriginal men held over their women and of the consequences of jilting them.
The majority of the men are single until past thirty years of age; some much longer. The old men have not only several wives, but of all ages. Infidelity is by no means uncommon. The husband keeps a jealous eye on his wife, and on the least excuse for suspicion she is severely punished.
Their quarrels most frequently arise about their women. For depredations on each other’s grounds, or any slight cause, they are contented with spearing through the legs or thighs, and do not attempt to kill each other; at the moment one of the party is wounded, the engagement ceases.
Thirty-year-old Scot Nind may well have had relations with one of the Menang women and may have feared for his safety and that of his lover’s, to the point he gave flour as a form of reparation, and to the point the military’s, and Sleeman’s, intransigence drove him crazy, but from the timeframes involved it seems only marginally possible ‘little Ninderoli’ was his.
Nind’s legacy are his watercolours and the far more detailed verbal picture he painted of the Albany Aborigines at home in the bush. Mokare’s Mob are presented as a core body of about 50 people, counting women and children, living in a number of different camps, perhaps five or six, spread between the southern edge of the sea, Lower King River, the location of what became the Old Farm at Strawberry Hill and the area where most of the ship’s captains decided to come ashore, where there was a fresh water supply, now known as Albany’s Historical Precinct. The group was bound by the unity of their own kalas while also bound to associated fires and kalas, spread in all landward directions up to forty or fifty miles away. Camps, kalas and domaines interlocked yet overlapped, spreading all across the South West corner of the state and beyond. Kala and domaine boundaries were fixed but yet arbitrary too, shifting according to marriages, unions and other negotiated trades as hey happened. Women and children generally stayed close to the camps, keeping the fire lit and foraging for edibles. Men ranged further in twos or threes, but at different times of the year, according to seasonal availabliity of food, moved with their family groups, sometimes in tandem with two or three others, either inland or southwards toward the coast. Men friendy with relatives from a distance away were also hostile towards others they carried some kind of grievance against. The human canvas is fluid and spacious, the landscape even wider. Through Nind’s Description emerges the picture of a body of Aborigines going about their daily existence, preoccupied by the procurement of a unique but essentailly difficult supply of food while tolerating, as best they could, each other along with a contingent of well stocked, mildly insurgent foreignors at their fringe, a very small number of whom they gave access to and made privy their most intimate routines.
Above: Mokare’s kala, showing the approximate distribution of Aboriginal fires (camps) surrounding the garrison. Image: Dr Tiffany Shellam‘s map of King Ya-Nup country, gratefully borrowed from Shaking Hands On The Fringe and cropped here as interpretation. Note: Dr Shellam shows Coolbun’s wallaby ground as the Vancouver Peninsula, a territory Collet Barker said was named Cormo, but Coolbun’s kala is also said to be east side of Oyster Harbour, which he shared with his brother, the mulgarradock (doctor) Dr Uredale. Probably one of the Oyster Harbour Aborigines identified by Major Lockyer, Coolbun was a prominent and sometimes threatening figure during the garrison era, just as much at home on Mokare’s Mount Clarence patch as Mokare and Nakinah themselves.
Modern-day detractors are not unreasonable in taking the line Mokare by 1829 had been converted. In some ways it looks very much like he had jumped the fence, so to speak, and become one of the other. In isolation, examination of the Nind/Sleeman period furthers the notion Mokare maintained friendly Aboriginal links to the west and hostile ones to the north, and that his alliance with the incomers deepened. But in reality, the texts are scant. Sleeman tells us nothing about who else and how many of the Aborigines come and go from the garrison so we have no idea of the extent of the relationship which existed. And as for Dr I.S. Nind, while leaving a list of names belonging to 43 individuals, along with an important and insightful description of how those people went about their daily living, we know nothing about them, not their ages, their personalities, or relationships with and to one another.
All we come away with from the Nind/Sleeman period is the idea Mokare has moved in with the whites. The contribution makes for a man who has separated from the outside fires of his kin and in so doing describes someone who appears to have taken fancy to the shelter of a solid hut, the comforts of bedding and the presence of a controlled but seemingly limitless supply of food and alcoholic beverage. Someone who has lost the life of his little brother at the hands of his enemies only to find solace in the comfort of the European presence, likely source of escalating differences.
But this is only what the literature leads us to think, and is at best only half the truth. Even without knowing the details, we can just as equally say Mokare moves freely between both worlds, viewing the garrison as a component place within his own. A significant place, granted, as it is an essential site within his kala. Even without the detail we can still claim Mokare regarded the military compound as the place of his own fire, as it always had been, and that he had not only not given up the location to the incomers by finding a way to remain, but also impressed upon them through his dedicated flour ration a small but nevertheless symbolic increase in rent.
Part 3 follows…