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Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 73 - 03 of 03 (Text)

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Pam Watson Trish Julie Hornsey
IN 00:00:00 OUT 00:27:11
Trish FitzSimons
Pam Lukin
Griffith Film School
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73 - 03 of 03
4 September 2000
Timecode refers to tape 73_BC_SP Topics in Bold
Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 73 - 03 of 03
Pioneers Mooraberrie
PTC Refers to Part C of Tape 73
Copyright in individual works within this collection belongs to their authors or publishers. Recorded creative work created by permission of the copyright holder.
Pamela Watson
Interview with Pam Watson. Part 2 of 4. Some water damage evident. Some cuts during interview.
part of:
Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 73 - 03 of 03
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73_BC_SP_PTC_WATSON-plain.txt — 22 KB

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Yeah. OK. So this is um Betacam tape No. 73. We’re still in DAT tape
     27 and the DAT is now on 34-48. This is the second Betacam of an
     interview with Pam Watson in her home at Toowong and it’s the 4th
     September 2000.        73_BC_SP
And the time codes are 2.
OK. Um now where were we? Pam’s -
I don’t know.
Oh, we were – I want to ask again, I mean it’s interesting that in, in writing
     your last book, you went back to the Channel Country. Now what am I
     hearing? Have you got a tissue in your hand again?
Yes. OK. Start again.
Yes. What was in, in writing your last book you went, you were going back to
     this physical area of the Channel Country.
Yes. Yes.
Was that itself part of, of what made you write this book? I mean people with
     this, with my project, keep saying to me, you know, why the Channel
So now it’s my turn. How did, what constellation of reasons brought you back
     to the Channel Country?
History/ Race Relations
     02:02:19:00     Well in fact um by the time I did this work on pituri, I knew so
     much about it. You know, I’d read all the explorers’ reports that went through
     it. Ah as an example, there was – in 1880 there was a guy called Edmond
     Kerr who collected a ah questionnaire on um Aboriginal people from all the
     pastoralists and one of the – he had four, I’ve forgotten the number of
     questions, but one of them was about pituri.       So I read the whole three
     volumes of his book and I became aware of how many people knew about the
     massacres and um for example Kerr says between five and fifteen percent of
     people were shot during the first five or ten years of settlement. Now you
     know, when you hear politicians sort of denying all this, it’s horrifying,
     because people knew a lot about it. Um I mean I’m appalled by Howard’s sort
     of um dismissing it all as black arm band journalists and quoting Blainey
     who’s an expert on mining companies, not Aboriginal/white contact. Um – so
How did the – oh sorry. I beg your pardon.
     02:03:42:18    So I suppose that there were all these conflicting stories from
     the Channel Country and I was aware of them from something else, from the
     pituri study, and at the same time they seemed to be ah matters which were
     very contemporary, you know. This whole question about what was true, was
     it the sort of, the classic pioneer legend or was the black arm band legend? So
     it seemed to me particularly appropriate to look at how those early pastoralists
     themselves thought about what was going on. Did they write in terms of their
     pioneer legend or did they, did they admit the black things that were going on?
     And in fact when I looked at them, the only thing they all had in common as
     far as the sort of classic picture of pioneering, was that all of them ah all of
     them ah legitimately sort of praised pioneers for their courage and their
     hardship and everything else, but ah there were great differences apart from
How would you define those differences? Do you want to just tell me kind of
     whose accounts you looked at and just in, in broad terms, the um the
     differences between them?
02:05:00:20    Right. OK. Well there were quite a range of characters but
     their lives overlapped which was important in drawing comparisons. So that
     each one of them owned a property that was later owned by one of the others
     so was the, there was that togetherness. All five of the men were born within
     30 or 40 years of one another and some of them knew one another and they
     were a very interesting mix of personalities. There was um Costello, whose
     family had come from very poor Irish background, but he’d been born in
     Australia. Ah Patrick Durack, whose ah, who was by this time Costello’s
     brother-in-law and he was a migrant. And then there was, also from Ireland,
     then there was ah Collins who seemed to have, I think he had a Protestant sort
     of upper class Irish background, you know? Quite different from Durack and
     Costello. Ah then there was Oscar de Satge who um who came from a royalist
     family I think, and had been exiled to England for some sort of plot. And he
     was one of the founders of the Queensland Club and he was very much the
     aristocratic gentlemen and his book is full of references to, you know, belles
     of the Government House set and all this kind of thing. Um and then there
     were the Duncans, who were quite, quite different too.
     So ah, it was a big range.            02:06:38:16
And how will, just – I’ll ask you this question and then we’ll just let the City
     Cat go past, but how would you characterise in broad terms the differences in
     their account? Like, for instance, um did the men’s accounts accord with the
     pioneer legend or, or in, in you know –
In really broad brushed terms. How –
How did you find that these pastoralists did view this history of contact?
     We’re ready. We can go now.
     02:06:56:06    OK, well the um the three men, that’s Oscar de Satge, ah
     Collins and Costello um, their memoirs all coincided largely with the pioneer
     legend but when you sort of got below the surface a bit, there was all this ah,
     um it became across clearly that it had been very exploitive. That um they
     bought properties and then sold them. It was more really like real estate
     development I thought. Um but there was no talk about the, the ah country
     having Aboriginal people in it. Um, can I give you a story – an example –
Please. Please.
     From um Costello and Costello’s son wrote this memoir and Durack’s
     granddaughter. Well they tell the same story about how the family got into the
     area and according to Costello, his father went up as a young man. You’re led
     to believe he’s all by himself and he has this traumatic trip. The cattle and the
     horses all die. He had to slit the horse’s throat to drink the blood, other,
     otherwise he’d have died and it’s only his determination and his bushman
     skills that get him back home. Now when you turn to Mary Durack’s account
     of exactly the same incident, first of all, Durack um Costello isn’t alone.
     There’s two Duracks with him and another white. She does describe how they
     get to this desperate situation but they’re saved by a party of Aboriginal
     people who give them food and drink and then firmly point them to the south.
     Now that’s an entirely different thing. Um then ah Costello and the party
     insist on going further and once again they’re at the point of starvation and
     once again the Aboriginal, the same Aboriginal people appear and again help
     them but indicate that they must you know, go back to where they came from.
     And a third time it happens that Costello ah goes to start off and at that point
     the Aboriginal people raise their spears and they escort them back to the
     fringes of white settlement. Well you know, that’s an entirely different – I
     mean it’s, it shows that Aboriginal people objected right from the beginning
     from whites being there and that Aboriginal people were present in the area.
     They certainly didn’t treat the people, the whites savagely.        They didn’t
     massacre them or anything like that. So I think that’s a very significant
     difference right from the very beginning. And Mary Durack and Costello,
     there are a couple of places where they tell stories about the same incident and
     their stories are quite different, where Costello’s shows the blacks to be brutal
     and irrational and Mary Durack’s account is much more pro-black and um and
     supportive of what they were doing. 02:10:10:05
Mary Durack’s account really emphasises, and I know this is a point you make
     in your book, but there’s like interdependence between these Irish Catholic
     families -
Doesn’t she?
Between the families themselves.
Between the families.
Yes. Yes. Very much. And that again is not really consistent with the
     pioneer legend which tends to have the sole male hero out doing things.
And where does Alice, I’d like you to tell me where you came across Duncan-
     Kemp’s books and then I’d like to come and talk about the view of this contact
     history that we get from, from Alice. Where did, where did Alice Duncan-
     Kemp come to your awareness Pam?
Well I, I, when I was doing this thing on pituri I went to the ah the Institute of
     Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island. (interruption)
So I think we were, where we were at when we just stopped was I was asking
     you where you had come across Alice’s work.
Oh yes.
Ah I don’t know whether I answered that so –
I don’t, I don’t think so.
So I think we should start from there =
And then, then I’ll go on to ask you about um you know, the view of history
     one gets from her work, but – so where did you come across ADK?
Alice Duncan-Kemp
     02:11:25:10     Oh, simply when I was doing this research into pituri. I went to
     the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and asked them
     for a list of every publication in which the word pituri occurred and Alice
     Duncan-Kemp’s was one of the books so then I ah was very taken with it and I
     read the whole four um –
So her four books, do they describe different parts of the – this is the naïve
     question. Do they, do her four books describe different eras of the Channel
02:11:59:16     Ah, no I don’t think you could say that. I think there’s an awful
     lot, lot of overlap between the four. She does have quite a lot of information
     about Aboriginal life before whites arrived but her principal informant was a
     guy called Moses who as far as I can tell, seems to have been born about 1850
     um – he died a very old man just at the beginning of World War II. So I, she
     names him as her principal informant together with her father ah so she does
     cover a fair range. So some of it is talking about before whites arrived and
     then she talks about um ah when Aboriginal people were taken ah which is
     both in 1900 and about 1925, I think. 02:12:55:00
When –
So she covers a huge span.
When you say ‘taken’, what do you mean?
Oh they, they were ah taken away from their country and put on reserves.
There’s so many different angles. We’ll have to pick through them. Alice’s
     children seem completely certain that Moses died about 1920. What evidence
     do you have for, for Moses being alive up ‘till the 40s?
02:13:22:22    Ah a book written by a guy called Baker or Barker, who is a
     policeman out in um in that area, in the Windorah area, and he was there just
     before World War II and he was introduced to Moses. And he says this was
     Mrs Duncan-Kemp’s Moses and he refused to speak English any more which I
     thought was very sad. Um maybe this is not relevant to your question but ah
     Dawn also told me that ah Moses just disappeared when Alice went and I
     thought it was one of those stories whites tell about Aboriginal people you
     know, that he was so devoted to the Mrs, the young Mrs, that when she took
     off, he vanished into the background um and there was no longer any need for
     him to guide her sort of. But if, if at what, Mooraberrie and that area was his
     traditional area. He would never have left. He would’ve had, retained a
     whole lot of responsibility for sites there with everything else.

Jocelyn put forward and I, I didn’t get a chance to check the tape so this is a
     kind of um my memory of what Joslin said –
But words to the effect that Alice in, in writing a lot of her books, wasn’t
     really, it wasn’t really Alice writing. It was Alice virtually transcribing what
     Moses was saying to her. What do you, what do you say to that and going on
     from that, how would you characterise the relationship between Alice and
02:15:14:12    Well if the inference, if the inference is that Alice didn’t write
     the books um I think that’s rubbish because she had to be willing to listen to
     Moses to start with. She had to have a very exceptional personality to accept
     what he said. Um, she says herself that Moses wouldn’t always answer her
     questions. He’d say um ah ‘I’m much too busy. You little girls are a waste of
     my valuable time, Miss’, which I love. Um and she says all the time that there
     were things that no-one would discuss with him. Things that they thought,
     that ah were tribal business only and sometimes she only found out about them
     because she got the wrong idea and rather than leave her with a faulty idea, the
     Aboriginal people would set her straight about something.
So going on from that then, how would you characterise the Alice/Moses
     (interruption) how would you characterise the Alice/Moses relationship?
02:16:25:08    Ahhh, severe on Moses’ part I think. Um Alice describes how
     she’d make mistakes and his eyes would go as hard as wood and he would say
     to her ‘none of your white fella ways’ and ah he certainly would correct her
     for swearing and um and ah for not, not um riding a horse properly or this, this
     and that. Um it’s a very interesting question because traditionally, a senior
     Aboriginal man would not have been familiar with a young girl ah and would
     have not had much communication with her. That’s the story anyway. But
     then on the other hand ah you’d have to wonder how many situations would
     arise where the possibility could even come up and if it’d be even mentioned if
     it did come up. And there’s lots of talk about how Aboriginal people ah
     manipulated their white ah conquerors as much as they could to get the best
     out of them. And I can visualise a sense that Moses may have seen that he’s
     got this very intelligent young girl very interested in the culture and he may
     have um you know, found it very useful to promote her interests.
Was Moses a fully traditional Aboriginal man or was he in some ways bi-
02:17:59:14    Ah he certainly went to a um a white school. If he was born
     about 1950, he probably had been at least one initiation grade before whites
     arrived. Um I suppose you’d call him bi-cultural. I, I think that story about
     him refusing to speak English at the end of his life is terribly moving because
     there would’ve been very few who spoke his languages around.
That’s just Kay. So gone on. You said something like a ring of authenticity?
     I, I –
Alice Duncan-Kemp
     02:18:36:06    Oh I think, you know, the conversations that um ah where
     they’re quoting Moses, they have a ring of authenticity I think. Do um do you
     know that ah Aboriginal people often spoke and understood fluent English but
       the pastoralists addressed them in pigeon English? Ah it comes in that book
       called um ‘Born in the Saddle’. I never realised that and one of the things that
       makes Abor – um, Alice’s books sort of ah curious in a way is all the speech
       is, is rendered in good English. But then I think, she spoke all those native
       languages so probably she had the conversations in the native language and
       just translated them into her English.
Did Alice have contact with – close contact with Aboriginal women or was it
       mainly from an Aboriginal male perspective that she was ……
02:19:34:16    Oh no. She um she had a lot of ah ah contact. For example she
       had a nurse, Mary Anne, and she spent a lot of time with Mary Anne and the
       other little kids that Mary Anne looked after. Um and it was Mary Anne she
       says who taught her Aboriginal etiquette and ah that kind of thing and ethics
       and –
How about stockman Maggie? Like, all the stories –
Of Alice’s sister Laura. She was clearly very at home in the saddle. How,
       what’s your sense of Alice in that regard and how significant do you regard
       stockman Maggie to, to Alice’s development?
Alice Duncan-Kemp
       02:20:16:00    Um she did say she was important but she’s certainly not the
       Aboriginal woman she talks about most. Um which would have been Mary
       Anne and I think there was another one. Stockman Maggie was the wife of ah
       some other figure that she saw a lot of. I can’t remember who. I don’t think
       stockman Maggie was very important. But certainly Alice taught, learnt to
       ride early and in the Channel Country they used young kids to tail cattle. I’m
       not quite sure what that means but um so Alice worked from quite a young
Do you want to talk now just in very broad terms, you’ve filled us in the kind
       of view of history you get from Costello and um de Satge Collins Durack –
How would you characterise the view of history that one gets from Alice’s
       books? And if you could include Alice’s name in the answer.
I’d like you just to, to summarise for me Pam, the view of contact history that
     one gets from Alice’s books.
Race Relations
     02:21:34:00     Ahhh, it’s a bit hard to say because her books are so rambling.
     Ahhh, she certainly, she certainly emphasises I think that um, that ah
     Aboriginal people um made the pastoralists successful and you know, her
     father used to have them say before meals as Grace, white pioneers, black
     saviours. Um, I’ve dried up on that question. Um –
No, that’s very interesting. I mean I was asking David about that because the,
     the way in which, in Alice’s books one gets the sense of the, of the landscape
     being thickly peopled with Aboriginals.
Yes. Yes. Oh yes.
Do you want to just talk about – like talk about that a little bit?
Yes. Yes. Yes. I, I mean that’s the thing. Well you start and I’ll work
     around it.
No. No. I can try and …..
OK. So what we’re really thinking about is, did she know a whole range of
02:22:47:06     Yes she did. Ah and she seemed to have known a lot about the
     women’s ceremonies and um um and I get the feeling that the whole place was
     crowded with sacred spots and points of reference and that’s one of the things
     I think, when you go to Mooraberrie, that it is so bare and so harsh. There’s
     almost nothing. It’s lost its particularity sort of.
How would you define the relationship between the Duncan-Kemps and
     Aboriginal people? As, as –
As Alice portrays it?
Race Relations
     02:23:24:18     Oh very good I think. Um in fact that’s one of the interesting
     things about Alice’s books because although ah anthropologists and historians
     interviewed Aboriginal people in a pastoral context, for anthropologists they
     always ah dropped that.        They, they – there was a pressure to present
     Aboriginal people as the sort of untouched ah and so there’s almost no books
     about the two groups interacting which, which Alice gives you and the sort of
     um compromises the whites had to make. The certain sort of um dangers that
     could very suddenly arise. Um, I think in a strange way, Alice’s books make
     you see Aboriginal people as um complex and very alien and you can see how
     whites must have had to watch their step. There are, there are - a couple of
     bits in the books which were quite fascinating I thought was, one of them was
     where Alice was out with Maggie um, and ah a white stockman rode up.
     Mmm, look I’m, I’m a bit uncertain about the context, but whatever it was, ah
     there was an Aboriginal used there and a white stockman, and the Aboriginal
     guy said something about this is our land and the white stockman ah took up a
     whip and slashed him across the chest and ah there’s just this wonderful bit
     where the mark swells and swells and swells and you don’t know what’s going
     to happen, and Maggie intervenes and calms it all down. Um so I think she,
     she gives a very – it’s a – to my mind it’s the only interesting pastoral sagas
     I’ve ever read. 02:25:23:14
How would you broadly character – or, or before that, um, I mean the, the
     Duncan-Kemps made do with – they, oh not made do. The Duncan-Kemps
     changed their form of pastoralism partly to accommodate Aboriginal people,
     didn’t they?
Yes. Yes.
Do you want to, to talk about that a little?
Race Relations/ Duncans
     02:25:43:14    Yes. Well for example um, the children had to conform to all
     the, all the regulations. If they were going along and they came across a heap
     of little stones, they were required to add stones to this or they were required
     to chant little prayers at various times. And um, Maggie or whoever was in
     charge of them, would insist on this and if they didn’t do it, they were
     punished by their parents and made to do it anyway. Um, there were other
     things too, like um Moses warning Alice, being a women, you must always sit
     on the left side of the tree and ah she would do that. And certain parts of the
     property weren’t ah, couldn’t, were out of bounds to whites and to cattle
     during certain ceremonies and ah so they really accommodated to Aboriginal
     people a lot. Mind you, it’s also true to say that um William Duncan was very
     aware that there were enough blacks out there to wipe out the whites if they
     were offended. Ah so, you know, there, there was reason behind what he did.
     But that doesn’t detract from its being you know, quite exceptional from the
     way other people behaved. And they allowed all sorts of Aboriginal people on
     their land, you know, to arrange marriages or ceremonies and things like that.
On that thing of, of the, the otherness of each group to the other, could you tell
     us the story of, of them finding Aboriginal people inside the house?
Oh yes.
Was it - ….. to the Pise? Walls ? …..
Yes. Yes.
I filmed the Pise so I’d like to talk about –
     02:27:23:10     Oh you did.     Yes.    Well that’s one of the ah, you know,
     obviously the family made these terrific efforts to communicate with
     Aboriginal people but they didn’t always manage it and one particular time
     they came in and ah, oh they got up in the morning and they found ah not
     Moses, it was stockman Maggie’s husband there with some of the other people
     and they were chanting to the inside walls and nobody knows what it was
     about. Someone was standing guard over the bathroom and ah nobody knew
     what it was about. And another time, the ah, the Aboriginal camp all changed
     names and nobody knew why that happened so ah – there are all sorts of odd
     things like that.      02:28:10:15
Well look I might change tapes.