Elena Govor, My Dark Brother, Sydney, 2000
National Biography Award nomination
Hearing how Aborigines around me addressed Flora and other elder women as ‘Auntie’, regardless of their actual relationship, reminded me about a similar Russian tradition, common especially among peasants and ordinary people. Probably in both cultures it comes from a subconscious feeling that all people from one locality are related. This was true both for Australian Aborigines and Russian peasants. The Aborigines created a most sophisticated kinship system, which differed from the European model and left no one without relatives. Along with his biological father, mother, sisters and brothers, each Ngadjon considered brothers of his father as his fathers, and sisters of his mother as his mothers. Their children were his sisters and brothers (Jessie referred to that relationship as ‘sister in Aboriginal law’). The system also determined whom each Aborigine could marry. Children of his father’s elder sister were his potential fathers- or mothers-in-law; he could marry their children. His children in their turn could marry children of his father’s younger brother. Similar laws related to his mother’s relatives. These kinship laws allowed me to reconstruct the genealogical tree of Kitty’s family. Like a palaeontologist who can reconstruct a skeleton from a single bone, I had only two definite facts to work on: that Emily (Kitty’s mother) and Charlene were ‘sisters in Aboriginal law’ and they married two brothers — Willie and Jack Clarke, sons of Barry Clarke. My reconstruction was the following.
Barry’s father = Barry’s mother
Barry’s elder sister Barry Clarke
Willie Clarke child child Jack Clarke
Kitty Clarke Molly Raymont
Glenda Illin recorded some more details about this family from the older people in the Atherton area. According to them, Barry had five wives and at least six children. Using materials from Glenda, Jessie and Edgar Short, it is possible to draw Kitty Clarke’s family tree (see Appendix).
The life stories of the members of this family are connected with the particular part of the Atherton Tablelands which stretches between Butchers Creek, Lamins Hill, and Boonjie. Barry’s family seems to be the patrilineal core of the community inhabiting this territory. Other members of the community could join them as a result of marriage or out of friendship, but the core clan would stay on the territory permanently. There is a lot of evidence to support this supposition. According to Jessie Calico, the Boonjie goldfield was Barry Clarke’s area. There was a pocket, a clearing, known as Barry’s Pocket, in Boonjie. His son, Willie, was employed by Fred Brown, who lived in Boonjie. Emily, Willie’s wife, and their daughter Kitty were born on the Russell goldfield, at the upper reaches of the Russell River, which begins in Boonjie. Leandro, whose farm was between Gadaloff road and Lamins Hill, wrote about Kitty in 1915: ‘My selection is right in her country’. (Was there any other European who wrote like that in those days?) Molly Raymont, Barry’s granddaughter, was born around 1890 in Boonjie. Her daughter, Emma Johnston, remembers living in the camp near the Rainbow Snake crater in around 1920. She and Jessie knew that it was Barry’s territory and preserved in their family the unique myth about the crater.
Barry’s family might be the core of their community also because Barry and his son Willie were named by the first European settlers ‘King Barry’ and ‘King Willie’. According to Harry Illin (Kitty’s son), Willie even had a brass breastplate with his name engraved on it.24 In traditional Aboriginal society there were no hereditary kings, in the European sense. Mjöberg, who lived in this area in 1913, recorded:
‘I did not meet with any particular ruling chieftains in the tribe of Atherton ... [and] Malanda ... The tribes are led by a council chosen from the wisest and most experienced men, from those who have achieved a position of respect and consideration. Courage is valued as a virtue everywhere. Cleverness and judgment are also appreciated. As these characteristics usually increase with age, the oldest men usually have the right to supervise affairs.’25
Barry and Willie certainly were the most influential men in the Butchers Creek-Boonjie area community, which led the Europeans to view them as ‘kings’.
Probably Barry’s high status in his community was the cause of the removal of his body out of the country after his death. According to Mjöberg and other early explorers of the area, ‘The custom of preparing mummies after their death of certain men who occupied a prominent position during their lifetime, seems to exist everywhere in the districts of Malanda [and] the upper Johnstone river ...’. The early explorers hunted for such mummies for museums. Glenda Illin discovered that local elder Aborigines still remember that ‘an embalmed body was taken from here’. She suggested that Barry Clarke might be the person known as ‘Narcha, King of Boenje [Boonjie]’, whose mummy was bought by the German anthropologist Hermann Klaatsch in 1905 and sent to a German museum. In a photo taken in 1894 of ‘Narcha’ with a big group of Boonjie Aborigines he is distinguished by his extremely large stature.26
Edgar Short, whose farm Glen-Allyn was not far from Boonjie, described Barry’s son Joe, who worked on their farm, as a very tall and strong man: ‘Joe had been employed by George Clarke, one of the discoverers of the Boonjie goldfield. Joe was something rare among the smallish rainforest natives, about 5 feet ten inches in height, with big chest, broad shoulders and very muscular arms and legs. He had facial features more like a Torres Strait islander than an Aboriginal.’ Joe, while in his sixties, gained a victory in a traditional duel fighting with younger challengers who laid claims to his young wife Annie Kane. First they used spears and then switched to huge swords and shields.27
Kitty’s parents, Emily and Willie Clarke, were young people when the first Europeans invaded their country. Much later on, in 1940, Emily told her grandson Harry about the first tragic encounter:
‘They took my grandmother in the early days from Lake Eacham. Her tribe camped at Lake Eacham. That was the main camp for them. The white men came and shot all the tribe out and took all the young people. And my grandmother was there, she was about ten or twelve years of age, so they took her. People by the name of Clarke took her. That’s what she told me.’
In a brief obituary from the Townsville Bulletin this story was told differently:
‘Emily was a girl about 18 years of age when the first white people landed in Cairns. The blacks had a belief that one day their spirits would return as white people and when they saw them they were terrified and took to the bush for two years and did not go near Cairns for that period. She told many graphic stories of early days on the Russell River Goldfield.’28
I am more inclined to believe the story preserved by Harry, particularly because Cairns is too far from the territory of Emily’s tribe. She might have been born around 1870.29 According to her identity card (E–101), Emily’s Aboriginal name was Darugso, her father’s name was Yariha and mother’s name was Nellie Acoman. Her birthplace was the Russell goldfield, and for her marriage certificate she gave her name as Emily Russell, associating herself with this particular area. Emily had a ‘tribal scar on shoulder’, which means that at the time of her youth the traditional customs were still observed and she was properly initiated.
Emily’s husband, Willie Clarke, known as ‘King Willie’, obviously received his surname from George Clarke, who discovered the Boonjie goldfield in 1886 and brought the first settlers there. Part of the track that George and his mates blazed from Herberton to Boonjie is still known as Clarke’s track. Emily and Willie worked for George Clarke, and Fred Brown and his wife Amelia in Boonjie. Fred Brown had a small shop, while Harry Land, his brother-in-law, started a farm there. They were both Englishmen. It was from these Europeans that Emily and Willie and their daughters Kitty and Julia first made their acquaintanceship with the world of the whites.
It is interesting that all the Aboriginal women from this family became good wives for Europeans. Emily, after Willie’s death, married an English miner, Tom Denyer; Kitty married Leandro, a Russian; Julia married a French miner, Charlie Civry, an escapee from a French penal colony. According to Short, Charlie ‘was looked after in every possible way. He taught his wife Julia to cook in the French manner, using it for native foods with excellent results. On one occasion a party of geologists accepted his invitation to lunch and were delighted with the dish of baked eels and native yams which Julia served. After the meal was over Charlie told them he had a confession to make, the eel was carpet snake. One of the diners promptly rushed outside and lost his meal, a couple looked a little pale, the other still said it was one of the best they had ever eaten.’30
However, the destiny of Willie Clarke, Kitty’s father, was tragic. For reasons that remain unknown, Fred Brown took him to Brisbane. Willie never came back. Some of his descendants believe that he died in Brisbane, some think that he might be buried in Babinda.31 Has his soul found its way to rest in peace on Bartle Frere?