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shE HAS my face! catching the genealogy bug

Your guide to preserving family treasures

how you can help conserve our early colonial records

Nov–Dec 2011

4 PM


we’re one!

celebrate our birthday with us


9 771838 504008


ISSN 1838-5044




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ion ipt ! r sc ge sub cka pa

tasmania’s historic maria island

cemetery roses what they can reveal about your ancestor

Forget me not

our family


PO Box 406 Erskineville NSW 2043 Australia Editor Cassie Mercer

Cover image


Online Editor Ben Mercer Designers Rohana Archer Coral Chum Editorial contributors Jill Ball Mark Dunn Hazel Edwards Alison Elliott Miranda Farrell Karen Filewood Megan Gibson Paula Grunseit Barbara Hall Neil Hall Alice Johnson Helen Leggatt Jayne Shrimpton Neil Smith Kirsten Wade Mark Webster Submissions Inside History welcomes feature submissions. For guidelines, contact the editor Subscriptions See page 73 or subscribe online at

Woman wearing Sydney Harbour Bridge pin by Sam Hood (1872–1953), c.1930. Courtesy State Library of New South Wales. Reference a297059. Illustration by Rohana Archer.

Inside History (ISSN 1838-5044) is published six times a year by Cassie Mercer (ABN 13 353 848 961) PO Box 406 Erskineville NSW 2043 Australia. Views expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of the publisher. Copyright 2011 by Cassie Mercer and Inside History. All rights reserved. Distributed by Gordon and Gotch Australia

Printed by Ligare Pty Ltd 138 Bonds Road Riverwood NSW 2210


Issue 7, November-December 2011

On the cover 30 Roses are read What rose plantings in cemeteries across New Zealand and Australia can reveal about your ancestor



Keeping treasures safe From diaries and letters, to photos and textiles: how to protect your heirlooms

38 She has my face! Author Hazel Edwards tells us how she caught the family history bug 42 Bound by law One of our earliest government records has a wealth of information for genealogists — and you can help preserve it 59 Maria Island This little piece of land off the Tasmanian east coast has a big colonial history 70 It’s our first birthday! And we’re celebrating with some great giveaways for you, including a fantastic findmypast subscription package

genie on the go 26 Adventures with android… Love your tablet? Jill Ball looks at the best genealogy apps on the market



Contents 59

50 your family 47 Like father, like son? Discovering the early life of Tom Gulledge before he was transported 50

Who’s buried in your backyard? Karen Filewood goes searching for lost graves in the Coffs Harbour area of New South Wales

your history 54

Henri L’Estrange The rope walker who was the toast of the town

regulars 8

Ed’s letter

10 Postie’s here! Your thoughts, your say 11 Bob’s your uncle Network with other descendants 13 Platform We talk to History SA; plus, news from the history and genealogy world 16 Ask our experts Uncovering one family’s links to Lancashire

28 Calling Carnamah home How the work by Carnamah Historical Society & Museum stretches from WA to the ACT 64 Stories from the elders Miles Franklin winner Kim Scott talks about documenting oral history from the 1930s 74 One painting…1000 memories Galway Farm: the Larkin family home in Dapto, New South Wales



History now Events you won’t want to miss

69 Our special Christmas offer Purchase our back issues for just $7.50 each!


Which app? The best historical tour apps for adventurous — and armchair — travellers

73 Subscribe to Inside History… …before December 1, and receive 25% off self-publishing at Blurb

Specialising in early Irish convict research

Irish Wattle’s books cover more than 900 Irish convict arrivals before 1797.

Order today at

editor’s letter

Diaries, letters, photos, jewellery — many of us have precious objects handed down through generations.

Photography Rohana Archer

But what’s the best way to preserve them for future family members? Starting on page 34, we take a look at how to care for mementos that may need a little TLC as part of our preservation special this issue. And on page 42 we highlight some of Australia’s earliest legal records, and how you can help preserve them as well as perhaps further your family history research. For readers who love cemeteries (and who among genealogists doesn’t!) we have two special features this issue. First up, on page 30, Helen Leggatt goes in search of heritage rose plantings in cemeteries around New Zealand, and looks at what roses can reveal about a gravesite . Then Karen Filewood talks about her wonderful project in the Coffs Harbour area of New South Wales, where she is documenting lost graves on farmland . She’s found 75 so far, and has documented each person’s life. Read how she did it on page 50. We were honoured to speak to two-time Miles Franklin award-winner Kim Scott about his latest project. He is part of a group in Western Australia retelling Indigenous stories written down in the 1930s; read more on page 64. We’re continuing our tech-focused features this issue, with genealogist Jill Ball showing why Android tablets are fantastic for family historians on the go (see page 26). Renowned author Hazel Edwards talks about how she was bitten by the family history bug when she opened a package full of old photos and saw a remarkable image. Read her story on page 38. And there’s so much more! Our experts, dress historian Jayne Shrimpton , and military specialist Neil Smith, help one reader join the dots between three family photos on page 16, and we travel to the wonderful and very historical Maria Island off the Tasmanian east coast (see page 59). Plus, don’t forget to enter our giveaways on page 70. It’s our first birthday and we’re celebrating with some terrific prizes! From the team at Inside History, we wish you and your family a wonderful festive season. And remember, a subscription makes a wonderful gift!



our family

This issue we ask our contributors… What’s your favourite Christmas-time memory?

Jill Ball

Adventures with Android, page 26 Memorable Christmases = tinsel, toys and tipsy uncles, pillowcases bulging with surprises, loving family and adoring Nannas, turkey and trifle, and singing along to snowy songs in blistering sun. Happiness reigned.

Hazel Edwards She has my face!, page 38 Since I was an only child, we celebrated Christmas with my mother’s family and each had their special food which they contributed. Aunty Violet’s shortbreads were fat triangles with fork prints. Ours was a Baptist non-drinking family, so when I made “butter” sauce for the Christmas pudding, which flamed, they all had a “nap” later, and declared that I’d always be the sauce-maker.

Kirsten Wade Keeping treasures safe, page 34 It would have to be when I was about five years old, my sisters and I found what we thought were sleigh marks on the driveway. We were so excited! We then followed a trail of tinsel to find our presents.

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


Discover your family history with AUNTIE ALICE



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Image Courtesy State Library of New South Wales

what’s on

History now

Events to get on your bike for


Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


Bega Valley Genealogy Society Seminar November 12 The Old Court House at Pambula will play host to a fascinating seminar run by the Bega Valley Genealogy Society. The seminar will include two presentations by genealogist Shauna Hicks and another by Beth Matthews on the Female Factory at Parramatta. Christine Yeats from State Records will present on the Old Register One to Nine — the place where people in the colony could log their legal transactions from 1794 to 1824. For more on the Register, see our feature on page 42. Visit

Part of Old Register One to Nine

School and Railway Records November 9 Come along to a talk at Cessnock City Library that will help you get the most out of State Records NSW’s extensive collection. The event will feature two presentations — the first on holdings relating to schools, teachers and pupils; and the second on the railway collection, exploring pictorial material, personnel records and other important sources. While the workshop is free, places are limited so bookings are essential. Call 02 4993 4399 The Last Passenger Train to Kandos December 3 This December could be your last chance to take the picturesque railway journey to Kandos — a historic town between Sydney and Mudgee. It was recently announced that the Kandos cement works are closing along with the rail line into the town. Passengers can board at Strathfield, Parramatta and Penrith, and they will travel in a special diesel train, enjoying spectacular views of the Great Dividing Range and Blue Mountains. Visit



Shell-shocked: Australia After Armistice November 4 to January 29, 2012 The signing of the Armistice, at 5am on November 11, 1918, marked the end of a conflict that left a generation in shell shock. This exhibition from the National Archives of Australia comes to the Museum of the Riverina in Wagga Wagga, and explores how communities around the nation dealt with the lingering effects of the war. Discover what the future held for the brave nurse wounded on the field, and follow the journeys of soldiers as they resettled after the horrors of battle. Visit

Using Newspapers For Family History November 19 Newspapers provide an important means of discovering the significant events that may have impacted on the lives of your ancestors. In a presentation run by the Genealogical Society of Queensland in East Brisbane, Pauline Williams will demonstrate how newspapers can add value to your family history research, as they increasingly become available online. Bookings and prior payment is essential. Visit Home Hill Centenary Throughout December Home Hill, in the Burdekin shire south of Townsville, is celebrating its centenary with a series of 1911-themed events. The party will kick off with a picnic in Arch Dunn Park with old-time family games, as well as historical displays. The celebrations also include a gala dinner on December 10 featuring a re-enactment of the first land ballot. Food, decorations and music will all reflect the era. Visit Panoramic Queensland at Caboolture December 9-30 The Panoramic Queensland travelling exhibition celebrating the state’s 150-year history will be on display at Caboolture Library. The exhibition features photographs from the State Library’s John Oxley Library collection and captures the changing face of Queensland’s landscape, people and culture, from the granting of statehood until Expo ’88. Visit

Jane Austen Birthday Christmas Ball December 17 The end of the year is fast approaching and the upcoming Christmas Carol Ball at St John’s Church Hall Canberra on Saturday December 17 is the perfect way for history lovers to cap off the festive season. As the Ball coincides with Jane Austen’s birthday, Regency era dress (think empire waistlines, and elegant columnar gowns) is encouraged but not essential. Everyone is welcome to attend the event and tickets can be purchased online. Visit

Traversing Antarctica: the Australian experience Opens December 2 This exhibition at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery marks the 100th anniversary of the 1911–1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, led by Douglas Mawson. Developed by the National Archives of Australia and the Australian Antarctic Division, Traversing Antarctica celebrates the historical, scientific and social legacy of the landmark voyage through original documents, objects, stunning imagery and innovative touch-screen displays. Visit

Rats of Tobruk 1941 — A Curator-Led Tour November 16 Seventy years have passed since the first of Australia’s major battles in WWII. In 1941 men of the Tobruk garrison (mostly Australians) endured hellish conditions to halt the enemy’s advance into Egypt. The Australian War Memorial is running an exhibit commemorating the 70th anniversary of the celebrated “Rats of Tobruk” who earned lasting fame for their determination, bravery and humour. Now is your opportunity to tour the exhibition with its curator, Dr Karl James. Visit

Outside the Box November 27 Have you struck any roadblocks in your family history research? The Western Australian Genealogy Society is hosting a series of lunchtime discussions helping family historians tackle the challenges that can sometimes arise. Come listen to the stories of experienced family researchers and discover how they found their ‘un-findable ancestors’. This discussion will be the last Outside the Box event for 2011. Visit

An Anzac hostel ward, 1919, from Shell-shocked: Australia after Armistice

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


Dragon Tails 2011 November 11 to 13 Held at the Museum of Chinese Australian History, Dragon Tails 2011 is the 2nd Australasian conference on overseas Chinese history and heritage. The diverse range of sources available for Chinese Australian history will be explored. Australian researchers can find out more about relevant international scholarships and the current state of Chinese Australian history, the challenges researchers face and the ways we might continue to improve our understanding of Australia’s Chinese past (c.1840s–1940s). Visit

Sea of Dreams: The Lure of Port Phillip Bay 1830–1914 December 7 The Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery is hosting an exhibit showcasing Port Phillip Bay’s role in 19th and early 20th century settlement, its industry, commerce, defence and leisure activities. Featuring works from some of Australia’s most prominent artists, this is one of the first visual arts exhibitions to tell the intriguing story of Port Phillip Bay. The Royal Historical Society of Victoria is running an excursion to the exhibit on December 7. Bookings for the excursion are essential. Call 03 9326 9288.

DNA in Family History November 16 This seminar is one of a number of fascinating events this month being run by the South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Society. If you’ve always wondered how DNA technology can assist you with your family history, and you’re in Adelaide, this talk is for you. Society members will be discussing the best books and resources for learning more about the use of DNA in family history research. Bookings are essential. Visit

Finding Families: Genealogy Workshop November 16 The State Library is running a free workshop that will put you on the right track towards unlocking your family’s stories. The genealogy workshop will teach participants valuable family history research skills in the Library’s genealogy centre, and will introduce important resources that contain millions of names. The Library has an incredible array of resources and this workshop will ensure you get full value from them. Call 03 8664 7099



Tip of the Iceberg: Unlocking the Maritime Museum Stores Until December 2011 You may be surprised to learn that the objects on display at the South Australian Maritime Museum represent just a morsel of the Museum’s entire collection. In fact — just like many other museums — 97 per cent of the collection is kept in storage. To celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary, visitors can wander through the entire collection of almost 20,000 objects. Some are rare and valuable, others commonplace, but every object tells an intriguing story of the past. Visit

New Zealand Historical Association (NZHA) Conference November 16 to 18 This year’s conference, titled Past Tensions: Reflections on Making History, aims to spark dialogue about history and historical writing. Considerations of New Zealand’s place in the world and the world’s place in New Zealand are among many topics under discussion. The event is open to all practitioners of history in New Zealand and beyond. Visit Unveiled: 200 years of Wedding Dress December 17 to April 22, 2012 Romance, glamour and extravagance will be celebrated in Unveiled at the Museum of New Zealand. Showcasing 200 years of wedding fashion from one of the world’s most fabulous collections — the Victoria and Albert Museum, London — the exhibition explores the history of the wedding dress from the early 1800s to the present day. It reveals fascinating stories behind the gowns and their wearers, as well as the social and economic conditions of their day. Visit

Family History Lunchtime Series November 16 Te amorangi ki mua, te hāpai o ki muri (the leader at the front and the workers behind the scenes) with Geraldine Warren is part of a series of lunchtime events run by Auckland’s Central City Library focusing on family and local history. This session looks at the impact of WWII on marae (meeting places), town halls, memorials, New Zealand culture and institutions. It also explores the influence of the 28th Maori Battalion on Maori publications, songs, stories, plays and film. Bookings are essential. Call 09 307 7771

Planning a genealogy, history or heritage event that you would like to share with Inside History readers? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us at the details on page 4.

Courtesy National Archives Words Miranda Farrell Images um, London Muse t Alber and ria of Australia, Victo

Embroidered silksatin wedding dress, 1933

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


your history

Calling Carnamah home In our regular column, we’re featuring history and family history societies, showcasing the records they hold, and their projects on the go. Here, we talk to Carnamah Historical Society & Museum in Western Australia about their online resources When did the society open its doors? The society was formed in 1983, established a museum in 1992, and went online in 2003.

Where are you and what are your opening hours? Our base and museum is located at 10 Macpherson Street in Carnamah, Western Australia. Carnamah is an agricultural district and town approximately 300 kilometres north of Perth. The museum is open 1pm to 5pm on Fridays, and on other days by request (to book call 08 9951 1575). The yard of the museum, which is filled with old machinery, can be visited at any time. We also manage Macpherson Homestead, located just out of town. It’s more than 140 years old and, after much restoration, stands as a tribute to one of our founding families.

What areas of Australia does your society cover? The original Carnamah Road Board district, which is the present-day shires of Coorow, Carnamah and

Three Springs. Our resources overlap slightly into the shires of Mingenew and Perenjori.

What is the cost to join? There’s no joining fee for the society. All are welcome!

Your website is a terrific source. Our website includes three databases — Three Springs, Carnamah-Winchester and Coorow-Waddy — which document the lives of thousands of people who called the area home, be it for a short or long period of time. The entries in the databases reveal one massive story over a period of 150 years. Our endeavour is to tell our district’s history person by person. It was from reading our database that a curator at the National Museum of Australia decided to feature part of Carnamah’s story in a new gallery in Canberra. This new section, Landmarks: People and Places across Australia, was recently opened, and one of its sub-themes is on soldier settlement

Opposite Rusting machinery in a Carnamah paddock Above Macpherson Homestead, which dates back to the 1870s and is under the society’s management

As told to Kate Hutcheson

in Carnamah after World War I. We find it’s often the smaller details from which people draw meaning, context, delight, sorrow or inspiration. For this reason we try to enter into our databases every little fact we come across. For instance, the number plate of a resident’s car in 1932 (CA-11 and it belonged to John Lang), or that on September 2, 1933, Mary Linned Armstrong attended the Carnamah Football Club’s Monster Ball in a dress of apple green georgette. We have many old photographs of the area on Flickr, and ephemera such as letters, receipts and tickets, cemetery records, and Minute and other books of local organisations.

Above, inset A ticket from the Carnamah Agricultural Society’s Annual Show in 1926. The society has a large collection of local ephemera, as well as photographs and Minute books

and Coorow in the 1910s and the correspondence, which we have copies of, provides incredible details and insights into the families involved in the scheme.

Your favourite websites for family history research? Tough question! We look up genealogical information for many past residents. Our regular go-to sites are:

Do you have any projects happening in the next year?

● Australian electoral rolls, UK censuses and UK passenger arrivals on ● UK passenger departures on ● WA post office directories at the State Library of Western Australia (see ● Records of the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board in Perth (see

Our museum building is being extended to about four times its size, and we are preparing an online gallery of historical photographs, some of which can already be found on our website.

A full list of our sources are on our website at You can also ‘like’ us on Facebook at 

What record at your Society is underutilised, but well worth a look? Records of the Midland Railway Company’s Ready Made Farms scheme. The scheme ran in Carnamah

Do you want to highlight the great work being done by your local society? Contact Inside History at

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


your family

Boundby law

A drunken judge, marriage separations and more than 16 metres of sticky tape — step inside the fascinating world of the early colonial legal registers! Megan Gibson explains how you can help preserve a unique piece of Australian history — and perhaps further your own genealogy research


he Registers of Assignments and other Legal Instruments, or, Old Register One to Nine, may sound unimpressive as a title, but the contents are anything but! Welcome to an intriguing record of the men and women of colonial New South Wales. Often mistakenly dismissed as “just land transactions”, the nine-volume Register dating from 1794 to 1824 (and now with a complete index for the first time since 1856), is in reality a true gem for those with a general or family history interest in the early days of European settlement. Best of all, the digitised volumes and complete index are available for you, your family history society or local library, to own and search on DVD. You’ll also be contributing to the longevity of the original books, with the proceeds from the DVD sales going towards their continuing preservation, as Anthony Cranney, senior project officer at the Land & Property Information Division (LPI), New South Wales, explains. “The DVD was developed in conjunction with State Records NSW, and placed on sale to begin funding for



the repair and conservation of the Register before acceptance as State Archives,” he says. Cranney was one of the first people to be involved in the project, and explains how the more personal “non-land” records were nearly lost to history. “This has been a hidden resource since 1856! The Register was the first place that people of the new colony were able to officially record their legal transactions. However, the books moved around — from the Judge Advocate’s office to the newly established Supreme Court in 1823. Then in 1843 the Registrar General’s position was created, and the books were transferred again. “They then went back to the Supreme Court in 1848, then back to the Registrar General in 1856. That’s when the original complete index was lost. A partial index was then prepared, however it only listed the entries relating to land.” Cranney is passionate about using technology to make the Register and other LPI records available to a wider audience. “Every page in every Old

Left Five of the original nine registers that have been indexed. Below An extract from the Register, dated October 2nd, 1821

Register book was scanned by LPI’s graphic services and the pages hyperlinked to the index on the DVD. LPI is continuing its major program conserving and digitising many of its historical and titling records for the benefit of the community.”

An award-winning project Since its release in 2009, the DVD has won the 2009 Australian Society of Archivists’ Mander Jones award, and the Old Register has been formally accepted for inscription on the prestigious UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register. “There is no equivalent set of records,” says Cranney, who has gained some unique insights into the colony. “One of the Judge Advocates was a renowned drunk, and when you look at the morning entries and then the afternoon entries — well, often the afternoon looks like a thumbnail dipped in tar!” Author Lois Sabine, who spent more than a year indexing the entire nine volumes, agrees the Old

Register contains some fabulous finds. “I kept coming across this fascinating stuff that had absolutely nothing to do with land transactions,” she says. “There are bits of everything. Apprenticeships, a confession, sealing and shipping… Also, people going by ship overseas wouldn’t know if they’d be coming back, so they named trustees to take care of the children if something happened. There are also marriage agreements — there was no divorce, but there were definitely separations. It’s a real sample of Sydney in that time. The social commentary is just extraordinary. “Every now and then I’d crack up with laughter, and my boss would come over saying, ‘What have you found now?!’ Often there are some fascinating entries that just aren’t elaborated on. For example, in 1811, there was a part payment between a man and a woman, for 63 elephant teeth! I’d love to know what that was all about.” Lois quotes another favourite entry where 

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


a John Summers is appointed to work as a ferryman “as long as he behaves himself well.” Lois also shares an important tip for users of the DVD. “It’s divided into sections. Some people just look at the index, and think that’s it. You need to use the DVD in two steps. Do your search in the first section, ‘Index’. I recommend browsing in the ‘Details’ file. Note down the book, page and entry number you need. “Then, go to the second section, ‘Old_Register’. It may appear the same as the first, however, clicking on an entry will reveal the complete and original handwritten entry, often paragraphs long.” The ‘Introduction’ section is also useful, covering relevant topics such as ever-changing house numbering. “Numbers of houses were useless,” says Lois. “They numbered only the buildings, not the land in between, so as more houses were built they had to be renumbered all the time.” So, did anyone in particular jump out from the pages at her? “I found a woman who was letting a room out to a man on condition of giving reading lessons to her four



children. It’s the only reference to that woman in the whole Register. That incident really stayed with me.” While the DVD makes the unique material widely available, it doesn’t change the fact that the original books are still in need of preservation. Those who have already purchased the DVD when it was released in 2009 will be interested to hear that preservation work has now commenced on the original registers, specifically Six, one of those regarded to be in the most danger. Elizabeth Hadlow, senior conservator at State Records NSW, had the opportunity to examine and assess the collection. “The Register is still in the custody and control of the LPI, but is recognised as a state archive, so will eventually be transferred to State Records NSW,” she explains. “Registers Five and Six were identified as being most at risk. A lot of tearing and overhandling meant they had lost strength, as well as there being a variety of sticky tape from different eras. There were about 16 metres of various tapes in Register Six alone! That would take about 680 hours to remove.”

Left The Supreme Court (centre) and St James Church in Sydney, from Elizabeth Street by John Rae, c.1842. The Old Registers were kept for a time in the Supreme Court between 1823 and 1843, and then from 1848 to 1856

Hadlow and her team then undertook a conservation treatment trial on a small section of Register Six. “Preservation is a costly, quite labour intensive project. An assessment is done on the inks, and various solvents are tested, to see how the document will react. Then the sticky tape is tested – some can be removed with warm or cold water, or with heat via a hot air gun. A crepe eraser, which looks like the bottom of a shoe, might also be used.” After tape is removed, pages are washed, de-acidified, then lined with Japanese tissue and wheat starch to reinforce the whole sheet. After the page is lined, it comes out of the process wet, so it is air dried, and allowed to settle to the environment. Eventually the sheet is housed in a special polyester sleeve.“We felt quite privileged to be involved, as we don’t usually have the time to devote to just one record,” Hadlow says. Preservation of the high-risk Register Six has recently been completed by the specialist team at Preservation Australia, a private conservation business based in Sydney. Other work is being undertaken in-house at LPI.

Help preserve the Old Register AND save $25! Until December 14, State Records NSW is offering Inside History readers 20% off Old Register One to Nine. You can buy this unique DVD, featuring digital images of the original Registers, hyperlinked to a comprehensive and complete index, for just $100 (usually $125). What a great Christmas present for you, your family history society, or library! All proceeds will go towards the preservation of the original documents. To purchase, visit www.records.nsw. or call 02 9673 1788.

Genealogist, Claire Battle, has used the Old Register to trace her family, and is a fan. “It’s wonderful for building up a picture of the relationships, it’s a very intimate look at life in the early colony,” says Battle. “And you never know your luck — I found an address for an ancestor, which I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.” Having spent over a year immersed in the Old Register, Lois Sabine knows it better than most. What kept her going, through all the frustrations of hard-to-read handwriting and torn paper? “I love a good story!” she says. “These are all people.” And they are all someone’s ancestors. Maybe even yours.  ✳ Megan Gibson from Family Tree Time is a freelance writer, researcher and family tree coach. She’s worked as a freelance researcher on episodes of the hit Australian genealogy TV show, Who Do You Think You Are?, and regularly presents “tips and tales” talks. Her book, How To Get More Family Tree Time — Tips for the Time Poor, is available at

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


books we love

Stories from the elders A new series of books by author Kim Scott and the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project in Western Australia sees old stories rediscovered and reshaped to be passed on to a new audience. Paula Grunseit speaks with Scott, twice winner of the Miles Franklin award, about language regeneration, loss, connection, and the sharing of stories


im Scott is one of the Wirlomin Noongar people whose country covers the south-west corner of Western Australia from Geraldton to Esperance. One of a number of key people involved in the retelling of stories that were told to American linguist Gerhardt Laves in Albany in the 1930s, Scott says story does not occur in a void. “Community, listeners and speakers being together, sharing sounds, sharing images, sharing the experience of a story, dwelling within a story — they’re probably all part of a tradition of storytelling that we’re igniting,” he says. “I’m not sure about the way it was in the past. I’m not an anthropologist but I care a lot about the way it feels now and it feels like we’re working with a heritage and ancient traditions.” After Laves’ death in 1993 these stories were



returned to the Wirlomin Noongar people. The first two in the series, Mamang and Noongar Mambara Bakitj, were recently published in Noongar and English, and are beautifully illustrated by several artists. Both include an extensive essay written by Scott about the project, and a Noongar to English language glossary. “It’s fantastic, in the home territory particularly, to be making the ancient sounds of that place; it’s certainly got a spiritual quality to it,” says Scott. “A few among us carry language, but most of us don’t and we’re regaining it — that’s a very important thing.” Scott acknowledges Hazel Brown, Roma Winmar (Yibiyung), Iris Woods and Ezzard Flowers as some of the key participants in the project. “There was a wonderful emotional intensity at the workshops that

connecting some of the stories we’re working with have prepared these books because it has taken years to landscapes — land as text. We can tell that some of to put them together. Within about 10 or 15 minutes the stories are from pre-Ice-Age times because they of us getting together at the first workshop, everyone mention places that are on the ‘edge of ocean’ and now was crying. Some of the things that were said over the they’re not, because of the extent of time,” he says. weekend were: ‘We only ever get together like this at In Mamang, a young Noongar man journeys far funerals these days.’ And here we were, gathering from home inside a whale. stories of family members “That Noongar man pushed In Noongar Mambara who have passed away and a Noongar man since we began this project, and squeezed the whale’s heart Bakitj, hunts kangaroo and gets a number of people that so that the whale cried out and into a boomerang battle are really important to this project have also passed dived, down, deep into the ocean. with a mischievous spirit. Presented in picture book away,” he says. As it grew darker the man format, both will inspire and In saying that, regaining a sense of continuity has began to sing a very old song, delight readers of all ages. “These stories are been joyous. “Laves spent a song his father taught him, a interestingly complex; rich a fair bit of time with these people. We have a brother song to make a whale carry you and layered,” says Scott. “Some we hope to bring out and sister both in their on a very special journey.” include colonial experience sixties — Russell Nelly and and encounters. One I’m Helen Hall. Auntie Helen thinking of is about a friendly relationship and an was a young child and Uncle Russell was still in his alliance between a Noongar person and a nonmother’s womb when their father died, but he spoke to Aboriginal person. In terms of history, these stories Laves, so that’s a gorgeous thing at these workshops to say in effect: ‘Here are your father’s stories that you have the potential of offering really valuable insights that are otherwise neglected,” he says. never got a chance to hear, and we’re bringing them When reading Mamang, the biblical story of alive now from these scraps of paper’,” he says. Jonah and the Whale comes to mind. Are certain stories common to us all, and were whales a part of life here? Community Participation “I’ve had elders take me to whale-dreaming sites,” he This bank of stories, including creation tales, come says. “There are particular places where the whales come from the south coast of Western Australia. “And we in close to the shore as indicated in that story,” says know that because elders we work with are telling us Scott. “In the dunes you can find ancient whalebones.” that,” says Scott. “As part of this project we’ve put Scott says that while he has some sympathy for  together a little film just for community circulation

Inside History | Nov-Dec 2011 |


the idea of archetypal stories, it’s important to look at the differences. “The Jonah story is instructive,” explains Scott. “Jonah was swallowed and was terrified. In this story, a Noongar dances across the back of a whale and chooses to go into it and then trusts the song his father taught him — trusts his heritage to the extent that he’ll risk his life. That’s really different and in fact really interests me. These stories present good models for how an ancient heritage prepares you for a modern world: trust your heritage, take risks and continually expand your boundaries. In both these stories the individuals are going through a process that [lawyer and activist] Noel Pearson calls ‘orbit’ – they’re ‘orbiting’. They go out a long way from their home community and return bringing back ‘wealth’ of one sort or another.” In a way, this model echoes Scott’s recent role at RMIT, Melbourne, as a writer-in-residence. “This way of working is my thesis. It’s one answer to that post-colonial dilemma for a literary writer. Your own mob is a minority of your audience and you’re working in the coloniser’s language and there are all these political imperatives upon one, which sometimes means the literary work becomes overtly political and stops communicating to people. My thesis is that you have to have a twin focus. One involves the language regeneration and community development principles, and the other is so-called



‘literary fiction’. You use the one to shine a light upon the other. I’m testing that thesis as we speak. I’m developing these ideas and trying to find ways to respect the strength of story.” Hoping the books will have as wide a reach as possible, Scott says that there is a need for ongoing funding. “Our intention is to maintain the project very much to empower the home community with controlled dissemination so you don’t just have a few cultural brokers, like myself, but you have lots of others. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board talks about the need for Indigenous peoples to ‘claim, control and enhance our heritage’, so the stories have to be useful and consolidated at a community level first, otherwise it’s just commodification,” he says.  ✻ Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor, and sometime librarian. She tweets at @PaulaGrunseit and her blog is at

MORE Mamang and Noongar Mambara Bakitj by Kim Scott (UWA Publishing, $24.95 each) are available now. To listen to the stories or for details about how to purchase a CD containing the readings, go to

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This painting of a family home called Galway Farm was done by artist Mandy Ralph and depicts the house in the 1930s. It was presented to me at a family reunion at Dapto, south of Wollongong in New South Wales. The first resident at Galway Farm was my ancestor, Peter Larkin. He was a transportee on the John Barry, which left from Cork, Ireland, on its second trip as a convict ship on June 16, 1821. Larkin received his Ticket-of-Leave in January 1827, just in time to be reunited with his wife Bridget and their four children, Bridget, Martin, Patrick and Catherine, who arrived on the convict ship Brothers on February 2. In 1835 Larkin purchased 164 acres next to his brother Martin’s 50 acres at West Dapto, and

this became the start of Galway Farm. By 1841 the family’s combined allotment had increased to 1198 acres. Larkin began bringing out more of his family from Ireland using the farm as a launching place before they established their own farms and residences elsewhere. Generations of Larkins lived and cared for the land until it was sold in 1934 to an Edwin Smith. The price Peter Larkin paid for his original 164 acres in 1835 was £41; 99 years later Smith paid £2,458 for the 214-acre remains of Galway Farm. After WWII it was acquired by the Australian Iron & Steel Co. at Wollongong. Today, nothing remains of the original farm. — David Larkin, Burpengary, QLD

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Issue 7: Nov-Dec 2011