As with every aspect of The View From Mount Clarence‘s look into the inclusive history of Albany and the South Coast, exploring the life and times of Mokare and his fellow Menang Aborigines has been nothing short of compelling. This is because most non-indigenous people, myself included, have little knowledge of -and do not properly understand- Aboriginal culture, either in an historical context or as it is played out in the today’s much changed world.
Discovering who our indigenous people were along with the extraordinary circumstances they were met with during the period of first contact is essential to understanding the society we live in today.
Above: Some of Mokare’s Mob, actual players in the first settlement drama from 1826, looking out over King George Sound from the southern flank of Mnt Clarence. Image: Habitans Du Port Du Roi Georges, N’elle Hollande‘ Coloured engraving, embossed with the blind stamp of Jules Dumont d’Urville, Commander of the French corvette, Astrolabe. Courtesy Australian Art Sales Digest
Where through their respective publications history doctors Tiffany Shellam and Murray Arnold sought to verify and deepen our understanding of the chronology of Aboriginal relations at Albany while valiantly shedding light on how Mokare’s Mob likely viewed the incomers, the focus of this exploration has been directed as much at trying to understand the relationships which existed between the Albany Aborigines and the first enduring White presence in their country as it has been an investigation into the make-up of their own social group, along with the fraught relationship conducted between themselves and their rival clan to the north, the opposing Will’s men.
As the often fatal conflict between the King George Sound and Willmen Aborigines dominates surviving texts from the Mokare era, it is impossible to disregard. All the more so when the concept of Mokare as hero is not universally accepted amongst today’s descendants of those groups.
In titling the series Mokare’s Mob, The View set out its stall in fairly explicit terms and the wares now lined up reflect this. Mokare’s Mob is an attempt to get deeper inside the world of the original Albany Noongars with a view to understanding how Menang families still tied to the town today might look back on their history, and how the town’s interested non-indigenous citizens might better their understanding of this most historical of persons and the effects of his short but highly influential life.
The View From Mount Clarence has approached the South Coast’s history with deep regard for its indigenous component, recognising that as a sole white voice it is not qualified to speak as or for the Aboriginal community, only to comment on cross-cultural exchange and consequence over the years. Exploring Mokare’s story and the reasons behind its controversial place in history may risk stirring long-held divisive feelings but yet cannot be avoided.
As I set out in the opening paragraphs of this series, the role Mokare and his older brother Nakinah played during the first years of settlement at Albany cannot be undone. After 190 years their deeds still stand, and will do for all time, constituting the weight of history.
Mongalan’s Tribe and Lockyer’s Pirates
One of the great questions of white writers on black history has been how to identify the Albany Aborigines.
Reference to Mongalan’s Tribe is found twice in Anecdotes and Remarks In Respect of the Natives of King George Sound. Published in six parts in The Perth Gazette And West Australian Journal over the months of July and August, 1834, the manuscript was written by Dr Collie, whose health was steadily failing, while carrying out his duties as Colonial Surgeon in Perth.
Dr Alexander Collie’s Anecdotes and Remarks in Respect of the Natives of King George Sound.
Despite this knowledge being there for 180 years no one has dared to step forward and say the Albany Aborigines were the Mongalan/Moncalon/Mongheron clan. This is because Norman Tindale concluded in 1974 that the group was named Menang (Minang), because the subject of unregistered population identity at a given point in time is notoriously difficult to pin down anyway, and because today’s descendants cannot or will not agree. Nonetheless, from a white-writing perspective -that is, from the information recorded by the earliest settlers- there is reason enough to accept that those we call the Menang today were in the 1820’s and 1830’s known as Mongalan.
Collie equates Mongalan with the King George’s Sound tribe, making it clear they are one and the same. First reference comes in Part 4 when speaking of Tallimamundy’s natal ground (Porongurups) in repsect of the settlement, the second in Part 6 when speaking in respect of Moolungul who was also from the northern border country (Upper Hay River).
Above: Excerpt from Part 4 of Collie’s Anecdotes and Remarks in which he describes the death of the ‘young Lothario’ Talmamundy (Talimamundy/Talimundi) whose kalla appears to have been at or close to the Porongurups Range (Barker, 22.11.30). Talmamunday’s presence at Albany seemed to represent both a threat and opportunity to the residing guardians of Mongalan’s clan, thus resulting in his untidy disposal.
Above: Excerpt from Part 6 of Collie’s Anecdotes and Remarks in which he describes Moolungul, who was married to Mokare’s aunt, as Mongalan. Moolungul came from his home fires on the upper Hay River to avenge the death of his friend Yunghite (Yoon-git) a Wills man. Moolungul’s actions illustrate the nature of the interclan conflict. Moolungul’s ground lay on the fringes of Mongalan country and his family and neighbouring groups will have been strongly influenced by both sides, often acting as envoys and brokering truces between the leading actors. But the vendetta at play between the two clans meant those with overlapping loyalties could never be fully trusted and therefore were constantly at risk.
Collie was very interested in the Upper Hay localties of Moorilup, Ongurup and Warungatup (Oorangadak) where the first Mount Barker farms were later established. When talking about Aborigines living at, or closely connected to families living at these localities he used the term Mongalan to denote those who he understood as belonging to the King George Sound group.
This is interesting because Barker, who lived among the Aborigines much longer than Collie did, didn’t identify the Albany Aborigines so specifically. But then again, by the time Collie was writing up his thoughts British settlement at Albany had been in place fully six years and during that time cultural barriers had become somewhat bridged. When Dr Scot Nind first stepped ashore off the Amity, if anything other than Noongar, the Albany Aborigines were speaking French. But yet it was Nind who took time to try and understand Aboriginal social organisation.
Nonetheless, Nind said there were two groups, Moncalon and Torndirrup, names which he said related to territorial ground; Moncalon more to the east, Torndirrup to the west. But, he said, at the garrison the two groups were intermingled and there were some who were neither.
Barker also used the terminology but across all his diary entries, only once. Early in July, 1830, Barker says Nakinah told Mokare the Mongalons were coming to visit their brother Taragon’s grave. Taragon had died from snake bite in March. The Mongalons were coming from the east and from part of Will’s country and would arrive in the Spring when the weather was better.
3rd July, 1830
Nakinah mentioned to Mokare that on Minongel or Mondianong (turns of season) a number of Blacks from the East & also from part of Will’s country were to come & see their brother’s grave, over which they would sprinkle ‘Poile’ (ochre) & erect a particular sort of wamera (spear thrower). They were to be all Mongalon’s, no Tronderups. They did not do it now on account of the rain & wind which would dirty the grave. It was the custom to do this for a young man (warrior) but not for an old one, or for women or children. (Mulvanney & Green, Pg 311)
The implication here, as far as I can work out, is that Mongalan and Tondarup comprised the majority of all people. According to Bates, these class divisions were subdivsions of the primary phratries, Manitchmat (white cockatoo) and Wordungmat (black crow). The question is why there are only two apparent subdivisions, not four? Perhaps this is because along the coast the predominant phratry was Manitchmat and the two dubdivions of Manitchmat were known locally as Tondarup and Moncalan. . .
Postscript – 19 August 2017
Bates talks at length about class divisions in Native Tribes of Western Australia. Somewhat ambigously, as these things are, she surmises that Tondarup is a localised name for the primary class division (phratry or moiety) Manitchmat, the fair or light skinned people whose opposing group were called Wordungmat, or dark skinned people. Bates noted that skin tone was allied to physique, Wordung more bodily rounded, the nose shorter and more broad. We also know that Manitch and Wordung groups in Noongar boodja were represented by birds, the white cocokatoo and black crow respectively. This indicates the Tondarups and Moncalons referred to by Nind and Barker were at that time subdivisions of two distinct groups, people of differing racial origins, distinguishable as the Gaels, Celts and Saxons from each other in the European context. (Sec I, 1a, Pgs 35-42).
Note; as genetic analysis of Australian Aboriginal groups continues much more is becoming known about inter-population antiquity and diversity and it is clear now that today’s Noongar are comprised of various genome groups of differing ages. That is, they were not a single homogenous group but made up of differing racial populations which arrived into the Southwest at differing periods over the course of the last thirty to sixty thousand years.
The subject of specific identity is difficult to grasp. John Host gives good coverage to family, territory and governance in It’s Still In My Heart, This Is My Country, (Chapter 7). Stopping short of settling on definitive boundaries or groups, Host maintains the notions of spread and permeability as the overriding geographical force in traditional Noongar life, holding to the principal that confinement worked against genetic health. While it is clear there were regional groups with strong identities, it was impossible for them to be bound by locality alone because of the need to incorporate a wider gene pool.
Locality, however, did govern individual men. Coolbun and Nakinah for example, because they inherited territorial custodies (their kallas). Logic dictates that the relative influence of such inheritors would tally with the rise and fall of reputations over time. Large figures, such as Mokare’s grandfather Mongheron (a giant with ten wives), gained wider and longer lasting prominence, but as new generations carved out their own stories so the older ones became lesser.
All the same, when it comes to the Albany Aborigines what we find ourselves talking about time and again is the idea of coastal identification. This is because those who lived along the coast had an impermeable barrier to their backs. Pushing sideways most commonly met with little or no resistance as those families were subject to the same geographical circumstance. Pushing inland, however, meant coming up against differing weather/climate profiles, differing topographs, differing food and fresh water types and availability, as well as differing cultural influences pressing in from beyond. Seen this way, coastal or Shell People -as they have been called- seem to be more easily identified as belonging to a group of their own.
Nonetheless, the power or dominance of any family had less to do with where they lived than the prowess of their leading members. Political persuasion then was no different to now. On the ground, people have always tended to act on charisma or fear, whomever impressed or frightened them the most. The largest figures in any history have always been those able to harness their personal power then be brave, bold or foolish enough to take on challenges of consequence.
With regard to Mokare’s Mob, Nakinah was the inheritor of the territory in question but Mokare was the man of charisma whose personal power weilded the influence and lasting consequence of the day.
In the comparatively little he wrote down, Collie doesn’t indicate that Mongalan was a person and makes no connection between Mongalan, Nakinah and Mokare. Nor does he equate Mongalan with Mongheron, the name Mokare ascribed to his grandfather when speaking to Collet Barker early in 1831. (Green & Mulvanney, Commandant of Solitude; page 393)
3rd February, 1831
Mokare’s grandfather Mongheron, had 10 wives. He had never seen him, but heard he was a very large, tall, stout man. Nakinah quite a child compared to him. (Green & Mulvanney, page 393)
Neville Green, in his compilation of the Aborigines Of The Albany Region (UWA Press, 1989) lists Mongheron under the name Nonglleron, citing Barker’s journal entry above as the source information, though gives no source or explanation for the spelling Nonglleron. (If anyone can help with that please let me know.)
When talking of the King George Sound tribe we have to be careful. The garrison itself was often referred to, or abbrieviated as, King George by Collet Barker and among the Aborigines also became known as King George or King George Town. In that respect, it could be inferred that Mongalan’s Tribe comprised those Aborigines who frequented the settlement most, thereby becoming best known to the military command (leading Dr Shellam to describe them as the King Ya-nup and Dr Arnold as the Kincannup). Even so, Collie goes beyond the immediate locality of Mokare’s and Nakinah’s home fires, which were the northern shores of Princess Royal Harbour, to include the region of King George’s Sound.
Identifying Mongalan’s Tribe as the King George Sound Tribe implies their origins, or centre of strength/power/authority as fundamentally coastal, though their fires ranged inland around thirty miles and it is clear the group were far from confined to the seaside. As apical ancestor of the King George Sound tribe, Mongalan laid claim to the whole area but his own fires, his own kalla, would appear to have been coastal.
Making sense of who was who and the many interpersonal Aboriginal conflicts described by the writers of the time (largely Barker) is no easy task but it is evident that those belonging to coastal families generally did not spear one another. The spearing, generally, was between the coastal families and those inland; the Will men. This in itself implies a coastal alliance far wider than just King George Sound. In fact, extending from at least Wilson’s Inlet to the west and Mount Manypeak (Two People’s Bay/Waychinicup) to the east, though by way of reference (Barker) the mouth of the Blackwood River at Augusta all the way to the mouth of the Pallinup River near Bremer Bay.
Daisy Bates in Native Tribes of Western Australia says the King George Sound Aborigines were known to the York Aborigines as Meenung or Abbijer and that they extended east of Abany. Meenung was not just South coast people however. It was a name which seemed to apply to those of a generally southern location. However, Bates says she was told by the informant Baabur that ‘the coastal natives are all beeda kala. Sea people of one stock or family.’ (Section II, 2c, Pg5)
This coastal alliance may be extended again to include all south coast Aborigines from Augusta to Israelite Bay. Indeed, coastal versus inland antagonism around Albany could be seen as an extention or derivation of the enmity between the Bardoc people (desert culture) and resistant coastal Wudjari we examined in People of the Wild Cherry (Interlude Pursued – Part 8). The simplification being that coastal and inland people were regarded as different and that enmity existed between them, despite inter-clan marriage arrangements and other inescapable kinship bonds.
Above: Conceptual Aboriginal social organisation based on the notion of Alexander Collie’s ‘Mongalan Tribe’ with combined information from the garrison era. See Interlude Pursued – Part 8; People of the Wild Cherry for detail on the coastal versus inland conflict east of Albany. General tensions appear to tie the entire coastal grouping (Shell People) as a separate entity from those whose fires burned upriver.
Tying Collie’s Mongalan to Barker’s Mongheron doesn’t require much of an imaginitive leap. Given Mokare’s legend-like description, Mongheron’s traits resound like an arch apical ancestor. The comparison between him and the impressive Nakinah is stark. Nakinah was described by Scot Nind as ‘the finest looking‘ and ‘best limbed’ amongst them, yet against Mongheron was ‘quite a child‘. But there is nothing in the literature to substantiate the claim, only tantalising indications Mongheron might have met other visitors such as Philip Parker King who listed ‘Monga’ as one of the Aborigines he came across at Oyster Harbour in December 1821. (Survey of the Intertropical Coasts of Australia, Vol 2, Pg 147)
It’s a shame William Westall didn’t record the name of the fine looking, impressively limbed Albany Aborigine he sketched when part of Flinders’ crew which went ashore at King George Sound in December 1801. Westall’s drawing resembles the figure of a man photographed at Albany over 70 years later, though even the approximate age differences between them show they cannot be the same person.
Above: William Westall’s December 1801 sketch of an unnamed but prominent Albany Aborigine. Dr Isaac Scot Nind described Nakinah as ‘the finest looking‘ and ‘best limbed‘ of the Albany Aborigines. According to Nind’s assessment of his age, in 1801 Nakinah will have been in his early to mid-twenties. Image; King George’s Sound Native by Wiliam Westall, courtesy National Library of Australia,
Above: Unnamed Albany Aborigines readying for a display corroborree, cut from an 1877 photograph by Gustave Reimer, this copy scanned from John Dowson’s Old Albany photograph book. Note the similarities in stance and physical definition between the two men in this photo and the man sketched by Westal over 75 years earlier.
Linking Mongalan with Mongheron makes a useful starting point for our interpretation of the story of Albany’s Aborigines.
As Nakinah’s grandfather, Mongheron’s birth can be estimated at around 1750, making him a full-beard elder by the time Flinders arrived in 1801. Flinders publication of his voyage in Investigator tells of the Aboriginal man at Albany who joined in with the military drill, employing a stick to shoulder arms and mimick the performance. Over a hundred years later that same story emerged via the notes of Daisy Bates at Katanning where Nebinyan said that man was his father, Burduwan. Nebinyan also gave Bates his genealogy and the genealogy of a man he knew very well, Wandinyilmernong, who had recently died. Wandinyilmernong was otherwise known as Norngern or Tommy King, the most documented Aboriginal survivor of the post-garrison period at Albany. (From 1834.)
If Mongheron was Mokare’s actual grandfather (rather than a more distant patriarch) and if he did have ten wives, then his prodigy will have been many. One of his sons, Mokare’s father Patyet, along with some of his sons (and/or brothers and nephews) including Yalapoli and Mokare, were drawn by Louis de Sainson, artist aboard the French vessel Astrolabe, in the months before Lockyer and the Amity arrived in 1826.
Knowing this and considering the images left behind allows us to relate more closely to the story of Lockyer’s Pirates, the sealing gang which kidnapped and murdered members of the clan between October and December that year. Remember, when Lockyer first landed he rescued four Aborigines who had been marooned on Michaelmas Island, and as soon as they got back these men retaliated by spearing one of Lockyer’s crew. We don’t know exactly who of the Aborigines these were, but we know they were part of Mokare’s Mob, part the same King George Sound group and therefore related back to the same apical ancestor.
Lockyer’s Pirates, the sealing gangs belonging to mother ships Hunter and Governor Brisbane, represent the aggressive interaction between settlers and coastal Aborigines. Their 1826 kidnapping of the little Ngadju or Wudjari girl Lockyer named Fanny, marginally predates the arrival of both the Astrolabe and Amity at King George’s Sound, thereby also representing the commencement of inclusive history between the Sound and Recherche Archipelago. (See Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection series)
Major Lockyer’s decision not to respond in like-fashion to the Albany Aborigine’s spearing of his blacksmith Denis Dineen in retaliation for the attack on them by the sealers, is pivotal in the relationship. Lockyer’s role at Albany was minimal but that decision will stand forever as one of quality judgement. By establishing a precedent of tolerance and cross-cultural respect it not only prevented a much more bloody beginning but laid the groundwork for the relationship between the Albany Aborigines and the military to evolve as it did.
The evolution of this essentially peaceful relationship is the basis of the unanimous British/European view of Mokare as hero. Had Mokare not been the person he was it can only be reckoned the relationship would have been war-like. Though, with a resistance based rather than cooperative Aboriginal protagonist, perhaps for the Menang a history easier to accept.
Importantly, understanding Mongalan’s Tribe as Mokare’s grandfather’s clan also emphasises the closeness of relations between Dr Uredale and his brother Coolbun, and Mokare and his brothers. Neville Green’s painstaking transcription of Barker’s invaluable hand-written record shows us how the kallas of Dr Uredale and Coolbun neighboured Nakinah’s on either side of Princess Royal Harbour, how protective Coolbun was over Dr Uredale and his sons as well as Mokare’s immediate family and how (arguably) jurisdiction for Dr Uredale’s kalla and even that of Nakinah’s fell back to Coolbun after Dr Uredale’s death.
Given the overwhelming collective references to Mokare, Coolbun and others we are told are their direct relatives, it would seem Mokare and Coolbun are in the European context either step-brothers or cousins, or that Mokare was a nephew of Coolbun. Based on this evidence Coolbun and Dr Uredale must have been Mongalan too. That is, like Mokare’s father, they were sons or grandsons of the legendary Mongheron. Yet nowhere in the literature is the relationship between them categorically cited.
13th January 1831
Nakinah & several others asked for a boat to put them across (Princess Royal Harbour) in a few days to burn for Wallabi at Bald Head. He did not know the exact day as it depended on Coolbun’s arrival, whose ground it was, & their starting there without him would be considered stealing, ‘Quippel’. They also required his presence or permission now to burn at King George, as since Dr Uredale’s death it had become his property. They might kill Wallabi but not burn for them. They were joking each other on the consequences of having burnt for Wallabi yesterday on some of Maragnan’s Ground & talked laughingly of his spearing some of them for it. Females never possess ground, being considered a kind of moveables, liable by marriage to part their native place. The saying goes, ‘Yoke wam watagolere; yonger artonmunong.’ It is not even custom to give ground to one who marries your daughter. If a man dies without leaving sons, or males of his family, his next neighbours have his ground. Certain parts are often portioned out to sons as soon as they are born, but do not enjoy the possession until grown up & able to use it. (Mulvanney & Green; Pg 383)
Two principal families, Coolbun’s and Nakinah’s, though both belonging to Mongalan’s Tribe, are what we are left with as far as the central locality of Albany town is concerned, though there appears to be at least five families whose fires were kept between Oyster Harbour north shore, King River, Pincess Royal Harbour and Elleker (Kiangadarup). More research needs to be underatken on this by digitising the collective surviving texts/transcriptions and analysing all personal and location names and dates. Neville Green compiled and had published a list of Aborigines of the Albany Region 1821-1898 (UWA Press, 1989) which is extremely useful but sadly inaccurate on too many occasions to be cited as a reliable source.
In any case there are, I believe, 18 Albany families claiming Menang status at present, all of them theoretically identifying back to Alexander Collie’s Mongalan Clan. These families have the collective responsibility of managing Albany’s Aboriginal heritage today and it is these families I talk about when discussing divisions in opinion over Mokare’s contribution to their history.
Above: Members of the Albany Heritage Reference Group Aboriginal Corportaion (AHRGAC) discuss Mokare and the recent Yurlmun: Mokare Mia Boodja exhibition which prompted The View’s own investigation into the literature surrounding Mokare and his people. Clip courtesy National Indigenous Television, part of the national public television network SBS
Food, Health and Mokare’s Penchant for Befriending English Doctors
I began the Mokare series heavily influenced by the idea the provision of food by the incomers was the primary source of the amicable relationship which developed, and it can’t be dismissed.
Though the official relationship commenced with the arrival of the Amity over the Christmas of 1826 with an initial intention to, ‘use every exertion to conciliate the natives . . . with . . . a supply of tomahawks and blankets . . . .’ (HRA, S3, Vol6, Pg 453) biscuit had been the primary item of trade by way of previous colonial encounters (Flinders, King & Baudin) and once again quickly became the preferred item of choice. By the time Collie was leading the settlement five years later, the general principle . . . to observe a uniformly kind and steady demeanour . . . with . . .well timed gratuities of provisions . . . had become the norm.
Anyone who decides to establish an enclave within a hunter-gatherer society, bringing with them a ready store of preserved foods along with advanced means of procuring fresh supplies, wasnt going to be surprised by the hunter-gatherer society’s interest in them. This became ever more evident and the provision of food stuffs ever more embedded in the economy which evolved between the two groups. The Aborigines trading knowledge and acceptance first for food, then shelter and security.
Barker, though at pains to record his frustration at the incessant hankering after food he was subjected to, understood it was his sole means of bargaining Aboriginal cooperation and thus went about dispensing and witholding it in mixed measure; the former with overt political intent, the latter with messianic authority. These actions were in league with the Aboriginal practise of sharing, thereby likely leading to an at least perceived sense of compatability. Not distributing or sharing their food resources, as was the case at the Swan River, would have dramatically changed the dynamic and put great strain on the relationship.
Albany’s leading Aborigines, whose precedent for engaging in the exchange had been set with the arrival of Matthew Flinders 25 years earlier, not only picked up where their predecessors had left off but exerted law over the arrangement when they first punished their own for stealing from the garrison in May, 1827, just five months into the permanent relationship.
This is critical and can be asserted as the point at which the leading Albany Aborigines, whose primary influence appears to have been Mokare, chose the benefit of a long term relationship with the incomers over conflict, disengagement and withdrawal. So much so, the aggressive Coolbun found it within him not to avenge the death of his nephew Yallapoli by flinging his spear in anger.
The Aboriginal reckoning there being not only the provision of food but the threat of violence against them by way of far superior weapons if they chose to go against the incomers. To that end, Albany’s Aborigines faced a stark choice.
A. Over-run and destroy the foreignors altogether, thereby eliminating the continuation of both their stored food supply and access to guns and ammunition for hunting purposes.
B. Accept the presence but not interact with it, there by conceding their ground.
C. Seek to control the presence through acceptance and negotiation.
Option C is what the Albany Aborigines, through Mokare, took.
It could be argued the Aborigines might have taken a more firm stance, limiting their association with the incomers and demanding more from the exchange, but this would have required the Aborigines to understand the full implications of settlement ahead of time and this, I think, would have been very hard to do. Also, history shows the south coastal Noongar to have been an essentially welcoming people. Once the incomers proved not to be harmful it was in the Aborigines nature to engage with them.
Add to this the idea the Aborigine’s through their own belief systems saw white people as ghosts or spirits returned to them without colour or memory. Collie asserted the Albany Aborigines were deeply superstitious and although there is no mention in the literature the Albany Aborigines thought of the military this way, there are many references to ‘djanga’ in the wider Noongar literature and still a belief today that it played an important role in early cross-cultural relations.
As neighbours and close relatives, Mokare and his brothers along with Coolbun and Dr Uredale (perhaps with reluctance) must have been united in their acceptance of the military presence. This is evidenced by the regularity of interaction each of them had with the garrison.
Conflict between Mongalan’s Tribe and their foe to the north looks to have been an established aspect of the culture of both groups. Though the killings at times appear as plain vendetta their actions were (possibly) fed by long held differences between coastal and inland clans along with (definite) ancient senses of honor and spirituality backed by deeply held superstitions. Additionally, there was negotiation. There were intermediaries and emissaries, and there were means by which truces and amnesties were struck. Even though the literature is heavily preocuppied with interclan conflict, it was not all attack and defence. Nonetheless, fear of attack was powerful and immediate and the presence of the garrison and its arms offered degrees of security and strength to Mokare’s Mob which they found hard to resist.
But probably the most vital aspect of Mokare’s attitude toward the incomers, and therefore the type of influence he held over his wider family, stemmed from his poor health. At least from the time of Barker’s arrival (Nov, 1829) onwards. Because there are no surviving notes from Lockyer, Wakefield, Nind, Sleeman or Dr Davis (Barker’s surgeon) which carry the kind of detail Barker himself set down, we simply don’t know how unwell Mokare was until the late summer of 1830, three full years into the relationship. Suffice to say, Barker’s journal entries clearly show Mokare ailing and that by March 1830 Mokare had put his faith in ‘white fellow physic‘.
6 March, 1830
Mokare asked me very seriously this evening my opinion of him (Taragon, who had been bitten by a snake). When I told him that from what I heard of his state, I thought there would be no danger if he were in the settlement for us to look after him, but that where he was it was impossible for the Dr (Davis) to be with him much & that his people did not continue to give him his remedies as desired. He acknowledged this & said, ‘Physic very good white fellow, no good black fellow.’
With three years spent in the company of Dr Nind and Mokare’s confidence in the garrison’s medicine well established, the question is begged as to what sort of relationship existed between Mokare and Barker’s surgeon, Dr Davis. Was Mokare as close with him as with Nind, Barker and Collie?
Certainly they spent time together, references by Barker suggest Mokare was under the employ of Davis himself, at least for a time or periods of time. But for Barker commenting on Dr Davis’s manner in the days surrounding the unfortunate death of Taragon we might be tempted to think a great more about what transpired between the pair, but as it turns out Davis looks to have been abrupt and discourteous; dismissive of traditional Aboriginal practises as dispensed (presumably) by Dr Uredale and hardly sensitive toward Aboriginal loss when death occurred.
8th March 1830
I began to fear it might be all over with poor Taragon & mentioned my fears to the Dr who, with rather a want of tact, was putting a number of questions to them in his usual tone & waiting to push on. I thought it better however not to precipitate things & persuading him to have a little patience, sat down by the side of one of the blacks. . . (Mulvanney & Green, Pg 270)
12th March 1830
About noon Mokare came in and I saw had something on his mind. He soon began to tell me something about the Dr’s saying that the blacks were no good & of some misunderstanding between the Dr and Nakinah. I was vexed anything of this kind should have occurred just now & went up with Mokare to the Dr, who declared he was not aware of having said or done anything . . . The Dr has probably done something unintentionally to offend this man, who under his present feelings requires to be treated with kindness and gentleness. (Mulvanney & Green, Pg 273)
Barker is clearly sensitive to Taragon’s death and very probably baring-in-mind what happened in the wake of Yallapoli’s dying when Coolbun threw a (deliberately wide) spear at Captain Wakefield. Dr Davis, on the other hand, seems to be disdainful toward traditional treatments administered by Dr Uredale and in the days after Taragon’s death bereft of any feeling toward the family.
Note: This is somewhat ironic as Dr Davis when attending Taragon in the hours after he was bitten on the finger removed a bandage applied by the Aborigines and starting rubbing the hand, then told the Aborigines to keep doing it. The poison in Taragon’s system presumably being transported with greater speed and concentration because of it. (Barker, 4.3.1830)
Worth noting too is that on 27 November, 1830, Mokare and Talwyn set off to catch towan (rigneck parrot) hatchlings. Dr Davis had prepared to go too but they had left without him. Barker’s reference here is suggestive once again of Mokare’s indentureship to Dr Davis, but puts down Davis’s being left behind to ‘a misunderstanding.’ When Mokare and Talwyn arrived back empty handed the next day Dr Davis asked Mokare to take him straight away but Mokare declined, talking his way out of it by saying he was tired and it would mean staying out overnight.
This is important, not just because it suggests Mokare and Davis were probably not that friendly toward each other but also because it puts considerable distance between Dr Davis and Dr Uredale, thereby likely affecting the Coolbun/Uredale relationship with Mokare who we know had come to rely heavily on European medical support.
Mokare had turned the garrison into his home prior to the Barker/Davis era and continued living in English company with the arrival of Dr Collie and Lieutenant Donald McLeod around March 1831. On numerous occasions Mokare favoured food and shelter at the settlement over trips to the bush, at times coming right out and saying he would never leave the garrison again (Barker, 25.1.30 & 19.3.30) It’s difficult to know if this is because he feared for his life everytime he left the protection of the garrison without a gun or whether he just didn’t like going out in the cold when he wasn’t feeling well.
But Mokare didn’t give up on going to the bush altogether, as his death illustrates. Collie says Mokare effectively died of exposure, that his habit of going to the bush, especially during winter, worsened his condition and, in August 1831, he died because of it.
This tells us Mokare’s poor health never recovered, that he craved the comfort of the European settlement and the relief provided him by the series of European doctors present at it, but that he was not above or dismissive of his tribal habits, customs, beliefs and responsibilities. Not least because his close relative Dr Uredale was mulgarradock, a traditional medicine man.
Mulgarradock played a distinct part in deaths and retaliatory spearing. As well as being an esteemed medical man, a mulgarradock held power in both the spirit and natural worlds, and was influential in the group’s political affairs. Their right hand was thought to be source of much of their power. Dr Uredale (full beard) was a mulgarradock. He was Coolbun’s older brother and father of young Talwyn. (Shellam; Shaking Hands on the Fringe, Pg 104).
By the time Mokare died, followed by Nakinah less than a year later, more Albany Aborigines were in the process of adapting to the European style of living by wearing shirts and trousers about the settlement and living in master/servant type relationships with the soldiers and settlers. The two groups were culturally alienated and for the most part fundamentally incompatible, but some among the Aborigines were able to integrate better. Manyat being the next to emerge. Inclination toward adaptation was Mokare’s legacy, built on the original premise acceptance, local knowledge and provision of labour were to be exchanged for food, shelter and protection.
Mokare did imagine a shared future between the two peoples though he knew it would take time (Barker, , ). This vision of the future, however limited, was not unrealistic and effectively did come to pass. Further reason why Mokare is revered by non-indigenous writers as that all important ‘man of peace‘.
But we forget, and it is crucial to understand this, Mokare was sick and in need of treatment. To my mind, this compromised the arrangement between he and the Europeans as well as between he and his traditional elders Coolbun and Dr Uredale. Mokare was lame. His ill-health making him rely more on the Europeans and their doctor’s remedies than the incomers relied on him. Shellam gives good coverage to the subject of the Albany Aborigines and their relationship with the various English doctors, concluding that the Aborigines used both to extract every effect they could. To a large extent they trusted the white doctors but when push-came-to-shove, so to speak, fell back on their own because of the spiritual connection. Separating themselves from their ‘Dreaming’ was not possible and their mulgarradock was the link.
Shellam doesn’t consider the effect of the English doctors on the esteem of Dr Uredale, however, though Barker recorded that he was regarded only as a ‘middling’ muldarradock and that others far more powerful lived about the Stirling Ranges. We learn also that Coolbun inherited his brothers status on his death and so became mulgarradock himself and keen to keep the practice of his people coming to him for help.
I’m convinced Mokare’s penchant for befriending the English doctors altered the relationship he originallly had with Dr Uredale and Coolbun. Especially given the likes of the impatient and perjorative Dr Davis whose presence punctuated the more tractable and interested Nind and Collie.
Above: Traditional Aboriginal doctors in the Albany region were known as mulgarradocks. Mulgarradocks were the link between the spirit and human worlds. Though they had an appreciation of wounds and the application of healing substances, as well as many naturally occuring medicines, mulgarradocks were believed to be able to influence health through contact with the spirit world. Image: unattributed photo taken from Rotary West Perth, Aboriginal Education Project.
Dr Uredale’s Death and the Distracting Towan Trade
But Dr Uredale was sick too, and this caused another complication.
Coolbun’s brother Dr Uredale died from flu in December 1830, a time when Ringneck Parrot hatchlings, a great delicacy among the Aborigines whose name for them was towan, cheeped and warbled in their tree-top nests. Because of trade in the birds between the Aborigines and the soldiers and prisoners, Dr Uredale’s death passed-off without due ritual.
At the end of October 1830, Barker references Scott Nind becoming interested in towan while he was at the garrison and apparently was given one as a gift from Mokare which he kept in his hut. (Shellam, pg 186/Barker, 30.10.30) Barker cites the Menang name for the birds as towan a month later, when Mokare offered to bring Barker a couple of hatchlings so he could give them to the Governor in Sydney. Mokare knowing by this time the birds held appeal among the whitemen, that the garrison was to be removed soon and that free settlement was on the way.
Towan hunting became a ‘thing’ during November and December that year, Mokare avoiding the company of Dr Davis on two occasions so he could go in search and then on 2nd December, apparently using it as an excuse to go and sort things out after Talimamunde speared Metyalpin, once again leaving without telling Dr Davis what he was doing. Mokare returned three days later, Barker noting that several other Aborigines ‘were bringing (towan) for Crown Prisns and soldiers‘.
It was also this day, 5th December, when news arrived from Duck Pond that Dr Uredale had died, Mokare showing his feelings by bursting ‘into a fit of crying.’
Now, the next day Barker says Talwyn, Tringole and Talimamunde came into the camp with towans, though he did not see them. Barker was most concerned about what the Aborigines were going to do to avenge the death of Dr Uredale, Mokare telling him Coolbun would go north and Metyalpin west to Commandyup (Mnt Hallowell, Denmark). But Barker also commented;
6th December 1830
Most of the others would go away, Mokare believed, for a month or two, but not immediately on account of it being towan season, & if they went now the soldiers and prisoners would not get what they expected. After bringing plenty of towans they would be off.
Dr Uredale’s death was significant for the Aborigines to go off ‘ for a month or two’ but yet not significant enough to prevent them from seeing through a deal they had struck with the garrison. Barker, in the same diary entry, then commented on the effects of that deal.
Complaint of Smith that Gunn had come last night about 9.00 o’clock to Prsns’ hut, a little in liquor, & after rushing about had seized his towan, flung it on the ground & killed it, giving him much bad language & saying he would do what he liked to a prisoner. . . Sending for Gunn, he said he went down on purpose to kill the bird, as Tulicatwali who had given it had promised him one & did not bring it, though he had been feeding him so long.
Private Gunn was not happy the bird he had traded for a share of his rations was given to a prisoner instead. The next day, Barker noted Mokare’s mood had changed and the reasons why.
7th December, 1830
Mokare on return from Woolyong, where there were known to be towans’ nests, brought word that the young birds had been eaten, supposed by Tipatroit’s party. Seemed very angry. They were always (the young birds) eaten by them, formerly being considered a great delicacy, till the white people came & set such a value on them, for keeping.
Mokare and certain of the Albany Aborigines felt strong pressure to get the birds and deliver them to their clients.
8th December, 1830
Gunn released, grog stopped for a fortnight & such further time until he has made satisfaction for the bird. Said he understood Smith had gone out & taken from Talicat the bird intended for him. Serjt Shore says some of the Prisns appear to have gone out in that way. Lennox ( a prisoner) went & took two towans Numal was bringing for him, having actually got a bag from him for the purpose. Overseer to find out who has got towans from the blacks, before searching the settlement. Mokare to ascertain from Numal for whom the two were intended, & in what way Lennox got them from him.
. . . Mokare just arrived there (at the farm), who had fired frequently but shot nothing. Nakinah with him, who came to shake hands, & Numal who seemed much discomposed about something & I heard him talking something about towans.
Barker’s November and December journal entries are pre-occupied with the towan saga. His men were fighting over them after agreeing food deals with the Aborigines to supply. The obliged Aborigines appear to have been responding but were tethered to some extent by Dr Uredale’s passing and other goings on, and by other Aborigines getting to the nests first.
Early on the morning of 9th December, four days after Dr Uredale had passed away, Mokare came into Barker saying they (all the Aborigines) were going to the bush. Barker noted that he thought it was to lament the death of the mulgarradok, but a relaxed Nakinah stayed behind for breakfast, saying they weren’t going too far. The clear suggestion being the need to catch towan had assumed priority.
The group, less Coolbun -who had stayed at Woolyongup to ‘ cry a great deal‘- returned not a month or two later as Mokare had originally suggested but after just three days.
12 December, 1830
Pomacan has brought a towan for Corpl Parkes, I suppose to make friends for having stolen his knife. . . Nakinah afterwards told me that at daylight this morning some of the blackfellows were talking of taking the towans they had procurred to the Prisoners’ barrack. He said ‘no, no, the Prisoners got plenty the other day, they ought to take these to the soldiers who had scarcely any.’ Soldier – young man – fine man. They still talked of prisns’ barrack’s and after a time got sulky with each other & began to ‘spear, spear’. Nobody was hurt however. He (Nakinah) called ‘Pel Pel’ & tried to stop it. ‘Tringole was very sulky.’
After setting off to ritualise the death of Dr Uredale, the Aborigines sat down at Woolyongup (Mnt Wilyung) where they collected a number of towans. Within a few days they were very keen to get back to the barracks. Through Nakinah’s exchange with Barker we catch a glimpse of them seemingly favouring prisoner relations over those with the soldiers. Nakinah sought to change their minds however, presumably in the interests of diplomacy, but the argument persisted, eventually resulting in conflict.
Curiously, later that day, Mokare appears to give a different version of events to Barker. Mokare said the spearing resulted from an argument between the King George tribe and Will’s men who wanted to spear someone in exchange for the death of a man killed by Tulicatwale (either then or back in March). The two groups resorted to contest and spears were dodged all morning. Around midday they gave up without injury and shook hands, though Mokare said he thought the Will’s men would come again in the fine weather to spear either him, Nakinah, Tulicatwale, Tringole or another.
It’s as if they were talking of two different occurances. One argument within the Albany group and one between the Albany group and the Wills group. Nakinah conscious of relations back at the garrison, Mokare once again concerned with interclan hostilities.
Two days later again (14th December) Mokare ‘and all the rest’ went for more towans. Barker saying he and Dr Davis were to be recipients this time. The group returned five days later with three and two ‘green birds’ which they distributed as planned.
Ten days post Dr Uredale’s sudden passing away Barker was just as focussed on the business of collecting baby parrots as Mokare and his kin. Relative to Taragon’s death, Dr Uredale is hardly mentioned. What we take from this episode is the image of a solitary Coolbun left at Woolyongup to cry away his brother’s death on his own.
Not quite what we would expect to have occurred given the mulgarrdock’s status.
After this there is just one more entry referring to the birds and in it even Coolbun has come back to camp with one of the birds. On 23rd December he and Talwyn came in to the garrison, Barker doesn’t say who recieved the towan, just writes that the next day Wapere, Nakinah’s young son, speared one given to the prisoner William Hanley and laid (gave it in payment) to his contemporary, young Nindaroli. Mokare recognised the wrong, or diplomatically managed it, by telling Barker he would punish Wapere by sending him to the bush for a month or so as he had become so ‘saucy‘. (Wapere was about 16 years old.)
After this Barker drops the towan story and we get to know nothing more of the birds.
The lasting impression here is that the relationship between the Aborigines and garrison, at least with respect to the business of trading food for items of interest, had become much more important than the passing of a mulgarrdock and senior elder.
So much had changed by the time Collet Barker sailed away. The Albany Aborigine’s attachment to the garrison, its prisoners, soldiers and officers, looks to have changed their priorities far more than even they realised.
Above: The Albany Aborigine’s Towan, otherwise known as the Twenty-Eight or Ringneck Parrot. Twenty-Eight is a translation of the French ‘vingt-huit’, an onomatopoeic derived name of the bird’s call described by Quoy and Gainard, botanists aboard the French vessell Astrolabe which set up a sail repair camp on the shores of Princess Royal Harbour in October 1826, less than three months before the arrival of the Amity. Trade in towan between the garrison and certain Aborigines during December 1830 caused tensions among the Albany Aborigines of the time. Image courtesy Wikipedia entry.
Dr Collie, Free Enterprise and those Menang Artefacts
In the wake of Mokare’s sad demise, followed within a year by Nakinah’s disappearance, the details of which are readily imaginable though subject to eternal conjecture, Collie arrived with two things on his mind. The first; to bolster his reputation as a natural historian and collector, the second; to search out viable farmland and see what he could gain of it for himself by way of official grant.
To his delight, I’m sure, he found Mokare’s Mob not only friendly and accessible but very much in the business of trade. To that end, his job of collecting Aboriginal artefacts must have been made easy. The artefacts which comprised the Yurlmun exhibition were all high quality, exquisite even in their craftmanship, so Collie collected well. Who they were made by is impossible to know, though current thinking accepts Mokare, through his ‘great friendship’ with Collie, as a main supplier.
But Collie’s friendship with Mokare is questionable. I’m at pains to say it didn’t exist because Mokare and Nakinah more or less lived with Collie. Mokare acting as he had done with Davis and Nind as a kind of paid hand. There was very clearly a relationship there, it’s just that Collie’s writing isn’t complimentary toward Mokare. Rather, it’s critical. When Mokare died Barker was very particular about due ceremony. We could say this was done out of respect and emotional will, but we could also say Mokare died in Collie’s house and that Collie feared retribution from the Aborigines because of it. Under that circumstance Collie must have been compelled to express deep sorrow and to carry out his own diplomacy in a very particular way. It was essential, rather than natural, for him to show upset and attentiveness if he was to avoid their anger.
When the Perth officials arrived a couple of months later Nakinah was the untethered master of the kalla and he revelled in the role, wearing his white fellow clothes and leading Stirling and Roe to Moorilup and then Dale out to the Stirlings. It was a high time, perhaps the pinacle of relations between the two groups. The Albany Aborigines quite familiar with the practise of free enterprise and the officials very much in the mood to pay for what they needed. Dale’s Panorama is an exaggeration but still depicts the scene in an imaginable way. Mokare is dead but relations are far from troubled because of it.
When Nakinah disappeared (presumed speared in the bush) Manyat, a heretofore quiet figure who had also taken up as a shirt and trowser man about the settlement, emerged as the shining new star. In Manyat, Collie found someone who showed optimism and delight rather than sombre obsession with conflict and death, and as a result it is Manyat, not Mokare, who features most tellingly in Dr Collie’s Anecdotes and Remarks.
Over the course of Barker’s priceless journal Mokare emerges a somewhat forlorn figure. Despite his capacity to engage and win the respect of Barker, he doesn’t exactly light up the place either. Mokare was accomodating, conversive and open but hardly at ease, hardly a carefree, happy-go-lucky spirit.
Mokare told Barker his health had been in decline since co-habiting with the whites, saying his speed of movement and eyesight had been impaired. I wonder what he put this down to? Western medicine at that time understood contagion but not its cause. The various doctors Mokare spent time with may have tried to explain to him the way people appeared to catch the effects of disease from one another. Mokare saw group sickness among the Menang and others which he reported to the various garrison leaders, so perhaps he accepted, to an extent, that cause. But the Aborigines of that time were deeply supersticious and the belief which still exists today that Mokare was ‘sung’ by his enemies was very probably what consumed his thoughts at the time. If he was not to die at the hands of a spear thrower, or throwers, it would be by some other fate delivered by the spirits. In contrast to Manyat, who appears to have been liberated by his teaming up with Collie, Mokare’s character was that of someone doomed. Someone who did not expect to live.
Mokare spoke of travelling by ship on several occasions but never left his domaine. Manyat, on the other hand, no sooner got back from his excursion to Moorilup and the west Stirlings with Collie when he started making arrangments to go to Perth by ship. And go he did, twice in the same year.
In Nakinah’s passing Collie’s own delight is evidenced. First he found a new guide, one who revelled in adventure, but more importantly Manyat was willing to continue the vital relationship necessary for the settlers to further their insidious usurping of Menang kallas, the campsites where natural resources were most abundant and which, on the upper Hay River, became the first farms in the district.
Mokare’s legacy to Western Australian colonialism is a clear path toward establishment and this is why he is revered by what has become the overwhelming human force. History is indeed written by the victors. But among the vanquished of course there resides irremovable disappointment and remorse. It happened too easily. Mokare’s Mob became corrupted, fell in with the sneaky white men and cost them everything. No wonder his reputation is not the same in those circles.
My only comment on that score is that everyone was complicit. It wasn’t just Mokare and Nakinah. Coolbun and Dr Uredale had authority. They could have changed things. During the garrison era there was no obvious challenge to Mokare and Nakinah from within. In Adam and Eve parlance, they all ate the fruit. All enjoyed the benefits while they were there, unknowing of what really lay ahead.
Which means no-one was to blame.
Today’s Menang, as with every Aboriginal group in Australia, still struggles with their losses. Much has changed, but as white Australia rushes ahead with its own agenda, most people unaware and unconcerned with indigenous welfare, those whose responsibiity it is to manage Aboriginal Heritage face that history every day. They do this by looking into the eyes of the coloniser who they must negotiate with to get anything done. After 190 years, around Albany they are still seeking permission to act in their country and to live in it on their own terms.
We should all be more conscious of this, all the time.