Originally Published 11 October 2014:
Cross-cultural understanding and the difficulty in researching old family histories
Preface: The following post, as with others in the Interlude sequence, contains the names and images of deceased Aboriginal persons. Also contained is a discussion about the difficulties Aboriginal families of the South West of Western Australia face in tracing their heritage. The conversation carries the names of certain old Aborigines recorded in various family trees and may be sensitive to some people. The intention is to help illustrate the nature of old Aboriginal family structures and the practice of keeping an oral history versus one based on written records. Also, to explain the dramatic change in traditional Aboriginal lore and culture that came with the arrival of settlement and the insurmountable problems surrounding the identification of a great many individuals during what was an extended and tragic period of transition.
Above: From Nyungar Tradition: Glimpses of Aborigines of South-Western Australia 1829-1914 by Lois Tilbrook. This photograph, said to be taken at Gnowangerup around 1910, is thought to be of the Williams family. There are eighteen children, three women and one man, but yet again, no names.
About a year and a half ago a niece of mine introduced me to her boyfriend. We were at a family gathering in Dunsborough and he was displaying his deadly left-foot kicking skills on the front lawn. Kevin (not his real name) is Noongar, he’s part of the Quartermaine family and an Eagles supporter. A couple of weeks ago, when the Eagles player Matt Priddis won the Brownlow Medal for best player in the AFL during season 2014, Kevin was just about the happiest man alive.
Late on the day of the family gathering, because I had just discovered and been pouring over the Nyungar Tradition book referenced above, I had the opportunity to ask him a little bit about the Quartermaines. I didn’t know what to expect, because not everybody is up on the who’s who within their family, and as it turned out Kevin wasn’t sure about where my interest came from so was a little bit circumspect. I said that my interest in Noongar families came through childhood friends of a long time ago. This seemed to gain him confidence but it was still clear he was reluctant to plough headlong into a conversation about his ancestry with the wadjela uncle of his girlfriend whom he’d only just met.
I pushed on regardless, calling up on my laptop the Quartermaine family tree. I did this because I wasn’t sure Kevin knew the information was there. Of course the tree leads all the way back to Elijah Quartermaine, an English settler who arrived into the Perth area around 1838. Elijah’s son, Elijah ‘Nigel’ Quartermaine, born 1842 at York, introduced the Quartermaine name into the Indigenous arena – so to speak. You can see the pathway in the below chart which also comes from the Nyungar Tradition book.
Above: The top branches of the Indigenous Quartermaine family tree, taken from Nyungar Tradition Pg 158. The matriarch is Mary Wartum or Wantum, thought to have been born in York in 1852. Mary’s father is believed to have been European but neither of her parent’s identities are known.
What I didn’t expect from Kevin when we got to this point was an abrupt baulking. I don’t think he’ll mind me saying this, but I got the impression he found it near enough to offensive that someone should show such animated curiosity, such enthusiasm for something so personal as his family background. I think he thought it was intrusive. Kevin quickly removed himself from the conversation and I was left there with my niece a little bit embarrassed by the failure of what I thought might have been a really interesting talk.
At first I worried he thought I might have been ‘pointing out’ the white or wadjela arm of his family and that by not showing interest in the Aboriginal side it reflected something of a racist trace in my behaviour. With hindsight, it made sense Aboriginal descendants weren’t going to like their European heritage being pointed out to them by other Europeans. Then I thought perhaps what I should have done, out of simple etiquette, was shown interest in the Aboriginal side of his heritage first, but there was no easy way of going about that. I was out of my depth there, completely.
Months later I began to understand the concept of the ‘yarn’ within Noongar culture. This process of general talk, of careful story telling, is the method by which more personal subjects are approached. Yarning, I think, is the process of talking around a subject as trust and confidence is gained . It takes time, sometimes a long time, to find the right point of entry and I had just jumped in there like it was an everyday thing and therefore been rejected. The memory of that failed talk with Kevin is one of the reasons I created the tag ‘I am not Aboriginal, I can not pretend to be’ and applied it to these pages. In part, it’s a reminder to myself to be very careful about what I’m trying to do here.
It is also the reason why I prefaced this particular post. It’s about respect, about acknowledging the territory I want to enter as a foreigner and asking for permission. I am not Aboriginal, I cannot pretend to be. I cannot assume to be.
From my experience, culturally, anyone not Aboriginal needs to be accepted before people from that community are going to open up to them. It’s nothing strange or new, the same social phenomenon exists everywhere. It’s not a secret society either, it’s just that after two hundred years of what Aboriginal people in Western Australia have had to endure, the guardians of their lore are cautious.
So, as a reminder to the other side of the readership, the ‘White, European or Settler’ audience The View From Mount Clarence is trying to reach, the subject of Cocanarup -which the Interlude sequence is addressing specifically- is something to be approached in a very careful manner. On the one hand, it is essential the full story of Cocanarup becomes known, so every effort to research and tell it should be made, but equally we are dealing with a sensitive area. We are dealing with the ancestors of people living today, both black and white, some of whom may not yet know the extent of their family involvement.
As a work in progress these pages are wide open to mistake. I am adding postscript comments and making corrections as we go along so it is wise to review pages from time to time, particularly if the information you find there is directly relevant to you. At this point I’m about to address information I put up in Interlude Pursued – Part Two where I mistakenly attributed a father son relationship to Dartambaum/Jumbo and Mulyall. The mistake was easily made and I think forgiveable, but nonetheless was a mistake. I’ll point out how I made it and how I became aware of it below.
Above: Researching family histories, especially old Noongar family histories, is painstaking and prone to mis-interpretation. Errors are easily made and can be difficult to contend with. Image from the public domain.
So, down to the business at hand.
Following the Interlude Pursued – Part Two and Part Five posts, it became clear to me there was a need to try and explain the difficulty Aboriginal families have to deal with in trying to determine their ancestry. The Interlude – Part Two post looked at the key Aboriginal players in the events surrounding the death of John Dunn and the arrest and prosecution of Yungala/Yandawalla, while Part Five expressed my frustration at the lack of progress I was experiencing in tying down factual detail relating to both the Aboriginal and Settler sides.
Part Two, ‘And Yandawalla and Mulyall, who were they?‘ made an attempt to explain the nature of kinship in traditional Noongar culture and this deserves a little more attention. The practise of arranged marriages was central to the old way of life having its roots in the social make-up of what were small groups spread over large areas. Like most human societies worldwide, old Aboriginal society was male dominated.
There were many reasons why one particular man might have been promised the daughter of another’s, mostly political, but it was the practise that mattered. The practise was based on securing safe strong blood-lines and a system of kinship that facilitated the movement of people from one area to another. As the men who received young brides were usually at least thirty years old, child yielding relationships very often did not survive the woman’s adult lifetime. Men might have had relationships with older women well before their promised bride arrived and as a result may even have had two wives at the same time. Amongst this too, was the dangerous but apparently quite common practise of conquest. As a result Aboriginal children did not grow up within a confined family structure as was common amongst Europeans, but within a broad kinship system unconcerned with the strictures of the European code. Keeping track of who belonged to who in Aboriginal families was the job of close relatives. Records were not kept, they were remembered. The tradition of keeping this information was necessarily oral and frequently, though by no means exclusively, the job of the matriarchs, the elder women.
When the amateur anthropologist Daisy May Bates arrived in Western Australia in 1899 she commenced a period of research into Aboriginal groups from the North West, South West and South East of the state, that lasted until 1914. Bates was of the opinion that by her time the old laws and traditions had broken down irreparably, that the effect of settlement (disease and miscegenation) had disrupted the old way of life not only with regard to territory or country -managing custody of the traditional kala or living place- but with regard to bloodlines and the laws and customs relating to moieties and totems. With the introduction of mixed race children the old laws no longer applied. This meant the traditional small family groups, up until that time safely encamped on their traditional hunting grounds with requisite fresh water source and their age old ways of hunting and gathering necessarily determining their daily routines, disbanded. They intermingled, drifted and let go of the disciplines which had kept them organised for millennia. By the time Daisy Bates arrived and took interest she could see the remnants of a truly ancient culture disappearing before her very eyes.
Now, for the really hard part. She regarded the new mixed-race individuals as an aberration. Her interest lay in recording the laws and customs of the unaltered Aboriginal world. She recognised something of immense value and importance in a state of ruin and set about gathering the remnants for the sake of posterity. I think she recognised the human tragedy, amongst others her experience with the career academic A.R. Radcliffe-Browne on Bernier and Dorre Islands bore that out. Accounts of that experience are given in her own publication, The Passing of the Aborigines, and also in a 2010 thesis, Surviving The Cure: Life On Bernier and Dorre Islands Under The Lock Hospital Regime, by Jade Stingemore of the University of Western Australia.
Bates was genuinely concerned with the suffering, not just on a physical level either. She understood the deeply held spiritual beliefs and fears of the old Aborigines and witnessed their alarm and trauma when placed in circumstances where they were unable to practice rituals which defended them against the spirits of the dead. This kind of empathy was disregarded by the new colonial regime and her efforts to agitate and explain went unheard. But while Daisy was being wholly human toward the old Aborigines she was less so toward the growing number of their mixed race children, as was the rest of the colonial world, and it was these generations who took on the classification of White Underclass. As a White Underclass they bore the brunt of social exploitation and exclusion under the new colonial regime and have been dealing with it ever since.
You think life is hard? Trying living under that kind of discrimination at a time when support came in the form of a few blankets and a couple of pounds of flour, but only when enough of those around you had perished to warrant it.
Even those Aborigines whose pedigree remained true were no longer living in a world where the old ways applied. Relative to their numbers, the cultural disruption was so massive they resorted to camps with their mixed-race relatives near larger farm homesteads and on the outskirts of towns where some recognition of their existence came by way of subsistence handouts for whatever they could offer in return. The story collection OUTDONE is concerned with the period of 1818 to 1880, essentially the lead up to the second phase of the transition from Old Aborigine to New Noongar, so doesn’t go into that area but it is something that very much informs the The View’s view.
Above: Daisy May Bates (1863-1951), by Moore’s Studio, 1936
Today, Daisy Bates’ work is invaluable in helping people of Aboriginal descent find their way back to their ancestral stream. From the experience I have had over the last few years in working with certain people toward reconnecting with that past I cannot tell you how significant this is, suffice to say it is possibly the most rewarding thing I have ever participated in over the course of my fifty odd years.
The Bates files are of enormous significance to Aboriginal families today. They carry the genealogies of their ancestors in some cases back into the 1700’s. The work of Bob Howard to gather the Bates genealogies and combine them with those from others in the field who contributed subsequent to her (namely, Laves and Tindale), along with information provided by certain elders from within the Lower South West Noongar community, has provided a very useful resource for those interested in the genealogies of South Coast families.
Bob Howard’s work makes the search function easy but the information he lays out isn’t detailed. The database he has assembled was not complete before he passed away and in any case was only intended as a guide. Once family associations were spotted using his database it was intended the researching family member embark upon the process of obtaining, via the State Government, digital copies of the hand written Bates notes relating to their ancestors and studying them very closely.
Now, to the difficulty of working out those ancestral pathways. When I was researching the Aborigines involved in what happened at Cocanarup I found the names Yandawalla, Yungala, Dartambaum, Yangee, Mulyal, Kitty and Barron, to be of primary interest. Of course the first thing I went to was the Howard database. The names Dadabum, Yangiwart and Mulyal came up and I began the process of investigating their lineages and movements. This led me to believe that Dartambaum was also known as Worgum or Wooragum and that the Mulyall shown as his son was the Mulyall recorded in the Esperance Police books, the trail notes and other reference books based on police, court and prison records. I was convinced, especially when contacted by a man by the name of John Chandler, saying he had an 1894 photo with Mulyal and Mongel, someone else mentioned in relation to Cocanarup, in it. The inability to use that photo along with a silence from someone I had previously been corresponding with regarding early members of the Gillam family, prompted me to express my frustration and disappointment in the Part Five post.
Below is just a part of the Notuman family tree as it appears in the Bob Howard database. John Chandler, the man who contacted me, is descended from this tree. Men’s names are in blue, women’s in red. Notuman was an old woman of about 70 who Daisy Bates got to know very well while at Katanning in 1908. Notuman’s home kala was the Katanning/Wagin area. She gave details of her parents and grandparents, some of whom would have been born in the 1700’s. Notuman’s brother was Mulyal, also known as Yagong. Her father was Wurgam/Wooragum. Unfortunately, I had erroneously come to understand via another tree that Wurgam was also known as Dartambaum.
- Bonjer = Wurbarn
- Yungurt or Yejan = Wurgam or Wooragum
- Banang = Jenapan
- Ngugan = (1) Wenapan
- Ngugan = (2) Nganberah or Ngamberan*
- Ngugan = (3) Wanmeran**
- Yagong or Mulyal = (1)Nganberah or Ngamberan*
- Yagong or Mulyal = (2)Jilyap
- Yagong or Mulyal(Malyal) = (3)Waiaman
- Notuman or Doyet,Kitty or Ketty b. c.1835 = (1) Nuelbinan
- Notuman or Doyet,Kitty or Ketty b. c.1835 = (2) Wubanaitch
Above: Notuman’s family tree as taken from the Bob Howard genealogies
Over the last couple of weeks, John Chandler and I have been corresponding. He saw what I had posted here and thought I was mistaken and he was right. After digging up digital copies of the hand written notes from Daisy Bates he had obtained while researching his own family history he found one with the pedigree of a man named Tardabum which had been taken in Ravensthorpe. This is the document below. Tardabum does not appear in the Howard genealogy database. Somehow Bob had missed it.
Bates prefaces the information by saying that the pedigree is mixed, that the people in it are from both Jarramongup and Katanning. From other information I had deduced Dartamabaum had some connection to the Katanning area and so he does, but it is clear here that he is not Wurgam/Wooragum and that with Jimbuk he had four daughters.
One of the reasons Bob Howard may have missed it is because there is no informant, or it is not clear from the page who the informant is, although scribbled in is a side-note saying the genealogy had been entered under another tree belonging to Yulbian. Yulbian’s tree was where I mistakenly tied Wurgam to Dartamabum.
The work is incredibly complex and takes an enormous amount of patience, of checking and cross checking.
Above: Part of the Tardabum pedigree taken by Daisy Bates at Ravensthorpe sometime between 1906 and 1908. This document was sent to me by John Chandler, a descendent of Notuman, who has spent a great deal of time researching his family history. John’s coming forward has kept these pages on track regarding the identities of the Aborigines involved with the death of John Dunn and the arrest, trial and subsequent acquittal of Yungala/Yandwalla.
On a separate document John sent me I found the name Moolyal. Not Mulyall or Mulyal as the police books referred to him but Moolyal as the name appears on the Bonzle map identifying Moolyall Rocks where Moolyal was said to have been shot dead in 1905.
The information is contained on a sheet citing a number of people who were carried over to the trees of Barderak, Kanian and Watborong but for some reason, exactly like Tardabum’s was not transferred from note form to a tree, Moolyall and his family were left out. I don’t know how Bob Howard went about assembling his database but in the process he either deliberately or accidentally avoided the inclusion of these two key individuals.
You can see the information relating to Moolyall below. He was from Killudup and Ko-Kenarrup (Cocanarup), two places near Ravensthorpe. He married Melgulyin and had four sons, none of which were married or had any children at the time of recording. There is no detail showing how old either Moolyall or Melgulyin were at that time but the fact none of the four boys were partnered up suggests they were probably young. Say, teenagers or in their twenties.
The detail provided by these two sheets doesn’t tell us much more about Dartambaum and Moolyall, other than they do not look to be closely related. Importantly however, they show up as part of larger Noongar family groups associated with the Esperance to Katanning area (a pretty large tract) which ties them fairly conclusively to the Wudjari, Wheelman and Koreng tribes. They do not look to belong to the eastern or desert groups I have mentioned and who I still think Yungala may have belonged to.
Above: Part of the handwritten sheet carrying details of Moolyall, his wife, Melgulyin and four boys. Like Tardabum’s, Moolyall’s details were not transcribed by Bob Howard to his database. Thanks to John Chandler once again for the image.
If you have managed to stay this far with me then you will undoubtedly be aware of the difficulty in pinning down accurate details of the people of this time. The entire process is fraught with complication, but yet the information is there and with careful picking and careful sorting can be used to make truthful assertions.
Now, with that under everyone’s belts, its time to look at something Daisy Bates said about a couple of other Noongar elders, Ngurian and Ngalbaitch, two women she met while touring the South West between 1906 in 1908. John Chandler referred me to the information after spotting it in a blog piece posted by Peter Morris at the Albany Gateway website. I had read something related to Morris’s piece on another Albany based blog, A WineDark Sea, hosted by Sarah Drummond who I have mentioned a few times in these pages. Sarah had posted up some paintings of old Albany Aborigines, including Nory Ann, which can be found here. I had come across something but not exactly what Morris had sourced from the newspaper archives and posted up, before. Going back through my reading I realised Daisy Bates often recycled her writing (because she was paid for it by the newspapers on a column inches basis) and that what I had read came from her later published book, The Passing of the Aborigines.
Daisy Bates had been contacted by the editor of the Western Mail in 1924 when she was living with the Aborigines at Ooldea, east of Eucla, when a story was circulating about the remarkable age of an Aboriginal woman known as Nory Ann. Bates responded with a narrative related to her experiences along the South Coast which I have edited below to show what she knew of the movement of the old Aborigines from the Noongar/Desert borderlands westwards through the Ravensthorpe area, ever deeper into Noongar country around Katanning.
The full article in original newspaper form can be found here.
As far back as 1907 the few living representatives of once numerous groups were found far away from their own waters. At the camp near Katanning there were natives from Eucla, Balladonia, Mt Stirling, Mt Ragged and many other places far south and east and north-east of Katanning.
As the members of the various groups died out the ranks closed in. Men and women from east of the dividing ranges mixed with the Beelgar (river people) and Waddarn-gur (sea people). In the old native days, they only held formal intercourse at initiation and other gatherings, with those groups, so during my tour of the south-west there was not one group in any district whose members belonged to that area.
Nory Ann was almost certainly Ngal-baitch’s daughter Ngu-rian and cannot have been more than 70 years of age, if so much, at the time of her death. Ngal-baitch’s group belonged to the “Border,” an undefined and movable line between the circumcised tribes of the interior and the uncircumcised Bibbulmun of the south-west.
The groups of the areas bordering the Bibbulmun were a hardy stock. There was such a struggle for existence in the comparative dry areas of what are now the Dundas, Fraser, Phillips and Coolgardie districts, that only the hardiest members survived and here and there amongst the groups a fourth generation was met with, especially in the Fraser district.
Ngal-baitch and Ngurian remembered the families of six-fingered and six-toed aborigines mentioned by Helms as having been seen in the Fraser Range area. The six-toed folk owned Drollinya (Fraser Range) waters and their additional toes and fingers were supposed to have endowed them with special magic powers in hunting and food getting.
When the British pioneers ventured inland from the south and west coasts and settled in the wilds, the natives of those areas came along and helped or hindered the new arrivals according to the temperaments of both.
Ngurian’s brothers were amongst the mob that held up Mr Hassall’s employee Scott, on a bare hill now called Scott’s Lookout, where he was shepherding some sheep. While his mate hurried to Jerramungup for help, Scott pointed his gun wherever the mob bunched and sang and whistled till his throat dried up. He came just in time and the mob disappeared, but came back by-and-bye with their women and children to Jerramungup water. The extinction of the various groups through sheer contact with a civilisation they were utterly unable to assimilate per saltum scattered the few enduring members into areas far beyond their one-time friendly limits.
Ngal-baitch’s group wandered between Dundas and Fraser Range, to Balladonia and Ponton’s station, down to the coast to Campbell Taylor’s place near Cape Arid, then Dempster’s at Esperance, Dunn’s at Ravensthorpe, Hassall’s at Jerramungup always resting securely near white settlement or station under the white man’s protection.
The birth of half-castes still further disintegrated the wandering families, for the half-caste fears and dislikes his mother’s people and objects to the communal food laws, while the natives despise the half-caste for his colour and his “breed.”
I remember Ngurian as the wiry daughter of a sturdy mother, but she was only a young girl when the white men first penetrated the south-west areas. Her children were pure-blooded, but her grandchildren were castes and she herself may have given birth to a half-caste or two in her early wanderings.
Ngurian belonged to the Jee-uk-wuk or “native cherry” group, about Fraser Range, who intermarried with the Bibbulmun. Therefore, she would have relations amongst all the remnants of the old Bibbulmun and “Border” groups roaming about the south-west.
Daisy’s narrative is romantic, melancholic, filled with an ineluctable sorrow derived from her playing witness to the late throws of a gigantic and unalterable tragedy; The Passing of the Aborigines.
Curiously, her relations with the settlers are benign. In this article in particular, she speaks of the settlers we are familiar with (Taylor/Dempsters/Dunns/Hasssells) as kindly, as offering ‘white protection’. Daisy Bates mentions an altercation at Scott’s Lookout near Jerramungup which ends peacefully. She says the threatening Aboriginal mob disperses but eventually returned and went to their water without further trouble. It’s as if she is looking to keep the peace, suggesting each side has its right and comes away with a positive outcome.
Curiously too, nowhere in Daisy’s writings is there mention of a battle, fight, tragedy, or ill-doing around the Ravensthorpe area. Despite her intimacy with so many people who surely would have been affected, she doesn’t once acknowledge the events of Cocanarup.
Above: Daisy Bates in younger years. Photo taken from the ABC Radio weblog
You can hear Emeritis Professor Bob Reece of Murdoch University speaking about Daisy Bates on ABC Radio’s Fantastic Forbears program here. The program was aired in September 2013.
To finish, I want to say that so long as Cocanarup remains un-addressed by the old settler community, it represents a failure to recognise not just what was an awful period, but a failure to recognise the presence of the affected families today. It’s a form of denial, of refusal, a form of social repression that is just plain wrong.
Cocanarup is not a sensational story of the past waiting to be told, Cocanarup resounds today; powerfully. Read any Noongar history related to the South Coast and it’s there in the pages crying out as a source of pain and resentment. A hundred and thirty years later its time to stand up and say, ‘Okay, let’s look back and see what happened. Let’s not skirt around this any longer. Let’s have a good look and really try to find out what was going on at the time and ask ourselves first what did actually happen, and then how did what happened, happen?’
These pages are dedicated to exploring that. Afterwards, when the job’s done and we can see the past for what it really was, let’s recognise it and accept it as part of our history too. Let’s write it into the official history as part of the great failing of the colonial era and admit, like so many others already have all over Australia, to our own particular contribution. I’ve said it before, when it was actually pointed out to me through a facebook comment, Albany’s role in the history of the South Coast is just as much An Australian Story as it is a local one. By being big enough to finally investigate and tell the whole story, Albany can shrug off its small town ambivalence and take its place amongst the more upstanding communities, nationally, and perhaps even reclaim some of that old Friendly Frontier reputation.
Above: A poster advertising The Healing Foundation’s concert, ‘Apology – Heal Our Past, Build Our Future Together’ at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl to celebrate the anniversary of the Apology to Australia’s Stolen Generations. The concert was staged in February this year. From the Yarra Healing Website