Artefact from Toondilla

The red and black image is an unexpected gift from the after-colonial colonised wildness this morning: thistle-bound, olive tree-barried, overgrown and unknown beyond the back paddock. Facing south I look for the sheep (my small errant flock), rattling the bucket and feeling my way through the grasses taller than I-me a mere 19th century five foot person. What was here before the settlers, what did these hills look like when the place was called Toondilla by the locals? Bruce Pascoe might have some clues in Dark Emu.** I need my Aboriginal friends right now, some of whom might say that hoofed creatures don't belong here in any case, and maybe their ancestors practised selective burning to control the grasses. 

Under a heading "Could Not Civilise The Blacks" I found the following on Trove, the writer is talking about the 1850s and writing in 1933. Underscored by the gob-smacking patronising ideologies of the time, there are in between some white fella names given to blackfellas that could be clues? Just how much has been lost to unconcern and desuetude is impossible to know. In any case "Our Special Representative" here writes as if it has always been thus.

All this hills country, of which I have been writing, was overrun by blackfellows in the fifties, and the sixties. Once a year they would gather in all their numbers, and migrate to Adelaide for the blankets which were distributed to them annually. How Billjim kept his calendar I cannot tell, but he was always on time when the yearly festival come round. The meeting place prior to the great trek citywards was the comparatively flat piece of ground on the Onkaparinga which is now the Clarendon recreation ground. Here a big corroboree was held to celebrate the gathering of the clan, and was generally witnessed by large numbers of white people. The chief of the tribe was called by the whites "King Rodney." His spouse was "Queen Charlotte," and their daughter "Princess Amelia." They were very proud of these titles. 

When "King Rodney" lay down for the last time and his spirit went roving over the happy hunting grounds of his ancestors, Mr. and Mrs. Daly— you will remember I told you Mr. Daly was an early schoolmaster— took the "princess" into their own home, and tried to civilise her. She was treated as a member of the family, given the same education as the other children, and taught to conform to the habits of the whites. But all the time her poor, black heart was yearning for the freedom of the bush. 

No sooner was her protector cold in his coffin than the "princess" shed the vestments of civilised respectability and fled back to the wilds— education or no education. She died only a few years ago at the Point Pearce Station. 

But, white or black, the maternal in- ... [?] ... I have come up against stories of the species. Wherever I have been on my rambles after notes for these articles I have come up against stories of the black woman's love for the white woman's piccaninnies. I encountered it again at Clarendon, where I was told the blacks were used as trusted guardians of the pale-faced babies. And they lavished just as much care on the baby girls as the baby boys, whereas their own tribal customs put the males so much above the females in prestige that if the latter grew too numerous they were murdered at birth. 

Some other noted natives of the period were King Billy, who used to wear a red cap, which accentuated a rather hideous countenance of which the white children were afraid; Black Jane, Selena (whose story was so much like that of "Princess Amelia" that the two were, apparently, identical), Jumbo, and Old Charlotte. "

TOWNS, PEOPLE, AND THINGS WE OUGHT TO KNOW. "More about Early Clarendon: Saints, Sinners and the Common Flock," By our Special Representative No. LVI (1933, August 3). Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), p. 44.


** And indeed he does, right in the beginning in acknowledgments he mentions Bill Gammage, and then of course the entire book that I will now read again in the context of this place, living here on 'property'. 

"[Bill] Gammage’s most recent book, The Biggest Estate, investigates, in exhaustive detail, the reports of early explorers and settlers, many of whom talked about the ‘gentleman’s estate’ they had chanced upon. Not a wilderness, not a land peopled by wanderers, but a managed landscape created by the enormous labour of a people intent on creating the best possible conditions for food production.” — Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu, Magabala Books: Broome 2014. (in Acknowledgments)


Professor Bill Gammage of ANU Humanities Research Centre discusses his work detailed in his book 'The Biggest Estate on Earth'. This video was recorded at The Australian National University in December 2011.