Thursday, November 24, 2011

Another poem by Henry Lawson indicates how Aboriginal people were viewed by white Australian society in 1897.Here are some excerpts from a poem about the first school Henry attended near his home at what is now Eurunderee (formerly Pipe Clay Creek) when he was 9.

The Old Bark School
by Henry Lawson
And we learnt the world in scraps from ancient dingy maps
Long discarded by the public schools in town;
And as nearly every book dated back to Captain Cook
Our geography was somewhat upside-down.

And Ireland! that was known from the coastline to Athlone,
But little of the land that gave us birth;
Save that Captain Cook was killed - and was very likely grilled -
And "our blacks are just the lowest race on earth".


It has just struck me that Ethel Governor must have been heavily pregnant when she was verbally abused by a woman at the Gulgong Show.
According to newspaper reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, the show was held on Friday and Saturday, 7-8 April 1899.
Ethel gave birth to her first child, a son Sidney, on Sunday 9 April 1899.
Being conspicuously pregnant to the part-black man she was with at the show, and at age 16, would have drawn more attention to her than normal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Henry Lawson, one of Australia's greatest poets and a voice of the 'common man', wrote a poem about snobbery which seems very relevant to my recent posts.
Coincidentally he grew up in the Gulgong area, on a 'selection' owned by his parents at a place now called Eurunderee, 8km north of Mudgee.
He left the district in 1882 when he was 15.
This was the same year Ethel Governor (nee Page) was born at Gloucester near Kempsey on the north coast of New South Wales.
If you fancy that your people came of better stock than mine
by Henry Lawson
If you fancy that your people came of better stock than mine,
If you hint of higher breeding by a word or by a sign,
If you're proud because of fortune or the clever things you do --
Then I'll play no second fiddle: I'm a prouder man than you!

If you think that your profession has the more gentility,
And that you are condescending to be seen along with me;
If you notice that I'm shabby while your clothes are spruce and new --
You have only got to hint it: I'm a prouder man than you!

If you have a swell companion when you see me on the street,
And you think that I'm too common for your toney friend to meet,
So that I, in passing closely, fail to come within your view --
Then be blind to me for ever: I'm a prouder man than you!

If your character be blameless, if your outward past be clean,
While 'tis known my antecedents are not what they should have been,
Do not risk contamination, save your name whate'er you do --
`Birds o' feather fly together': I'm a prouder bird than you!

Keep your patronage for others! Gold and station cannot hide
Friendship that can laugh at fortune, friendship that can conquer pride!
Offer this as to an equal -- let me see that you are true,
And my wall of pride is shattered: I am not so proud as you!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Retta Dixon, whose name Ethel Governor gave to her and Jimmy's second child, appears to have been a missionary with the Australian Inland Mission.
In March 1899 it was reported that she had been on a trip to Shoalhaven with Mrs Timbury, and it appeared that both of them were connected with the La Perouse Aboriginal Mission.
AIM was very active on the south coast, and it is possibly through Retta that Ethel met her second husband, another part-Aboriginal man, Francis Brown.
Retta Dixon ministered to Ethel's first husband, Jimmy Governor, while he was in Darlinghurst Gaol before being hanged.
One of the female members of the Long family who started the Australian Inland Mission was also named 'Retta'.


In the play, Posts in the Paddock, Ethel and Jimmy, like most newly married couples, just want to be together all the time and live happily ever after.
But the negative attitude towards a white woman marrying a black man which prevailed in Victorian times worked against them. 
This was not just the case in Australia, but in the USA as well.
Katherine Ellinghaus, in her book Taking Assimilation to Heart (2006), devotes an entire chapter to white women married to Aboriginal men, in particular Ethel and Jimmy Governor.
She starts out by quoting from an Australian book on marital advice published in 1900 which advises its middle class readers against marrying a man from 'a lower race'.
This includes a 'Negro, a Hindoo, a Chinaman' and 'an Australian black'.
In parts of the United States at that time it was illegal for a black man to have a sexual relationship with a white woman.
While being from different racial backgrounds was not an issue for Jimmy or Ethel, it was for many of those who came into contact with them after their marriage.
Dr Ellinghaus is currently a Monash Fellow in the School of Historical Studies at Monash University in Victoria.
She has a PhD from Melbourne University and is currently doing further research on assimilation in Australia and the USA.

Monday, November 21, 2011


In The Breelong Tragedy by Alan Sinclair, the author claims that a woman at the Gulgong show in April 1899 called Ethel a 'slommack' for marrying a 'darkie'.
I had never come across that word before, so I just looked it up on the internet.
The first reference to it I found was the Merriam-Webster Dictionary which defines it as 'an awkward, uncouth or slovernly person'.
Then I discovered the word had been used by our own Australian feminist, Germain Greer, in a piece about gender roles in house-cleaning in her book The Whole Woman.
She says that a man who is slovenly and untidy is considered normal; the woman who is, either a slut or a slommack or a slovern or a slag. [Source: Daily Times, Pakistan, 27 January 2010]
I can see why Jimmy reported the woman at the show to the police, and had her make a public apology to Ethel in the local newspaper.
The website Legends of suggests 'slommack' is a word from the Old West meaning 'prostitute, floozie, slut or dirty untidy woman'.
There were American miners at the Gulgong goldfields and they may have introduced the word into the local vernacular.
Internet Archive ( reveals that the word 'slommack' was part of the south-east Worcestershire dialect in England in the 1890s as a verb meaning 'to shuffle along in an idle ungainly manner'. Another reference on that website suggests it was also one of the dialectic words of the counties of Northampton and Leicester.


Gulgong, the gold mining town where Jimmy married Ethel in 1898, had a distinct social pecking order.
A unique insight into this is given by the British novelist, Anthony Trollope, who visited the town in 1871, 27 years before Jimmy and Ethel married there.

Gullgong [sic] was certainly a rough place ... but not quite so rough as I had expected.
There was an hotel there, at which I got a bedroom to myself, though but a small one, and made only of slabs ...
Every habitation and shop had probably required but a few days for its erection ...
Everything needful, however, seemed to be at hand.
There were bakers, butchers, grocers, and dealers in soft goods.
There were public-houses and banks in abundance.
There was an auctioneer's establishment ...
There was a photographer, and there was a theatre, at which I saw the 'Colleen Bawn' acted with a great deal of spirit ...
After the theatre a munificent banker of the town gave us an oyster supper, at a supper-room ...
I was charmed to hear that a few nights before there had been a most successful public ball.
But I was distressed to find that there had been some heart-burning.
Where was the line to be drawn in reference to the ladies?
The postmistress would not attend the ball unless the barmaids were excluded. The barmaids - I think very properly - were admitted, and the postmistress, who enjoyed the reputation of being the beauty of Gullgong, remained at home.

Ethel bore the brunt of this social snobbery after she married a black man, Jimmy Governor.
But that's the way things were, and still can be, in Australian country towns where people appear to be more concerned about their social status and reputations than in the city.


Peak Hill is directly west of Mudgee, and roughly half-way between Parkes and Dubbo.
Tomingley, the site of a gold rush in the 1890s, is north of Peak Hill.
It would have been Wiradjuri country.
See Google maps


When the elderly Jacky Porter was apprehended by police at put in a lock-up for the Mawbey murders, it appears that it was subsequently decided that he was too old to have been involved.
But the following newspaper article sheds new light on his level of fitness.

The Peak Hill Express, 31 October 1902
Jacky Porter who was acquited in connection with the Breelong murders is now among the shearers in Tomingly [a black's camp] who have been enjoying a high old time there for some weeks past.
It was reported during the week that a blackfellow had been murdered there.
On enquiry, however, it was found that the supposed murdered man was "Jacky" who had been quarrelling with another blackfellow, and had been rather severely dealt with.
[Source: Australian Indigenous Index, State Library NSW]


Yesterday while doing research at the Mitchell Library I found Peter Porter, a brother of Jimmy Governor's father or mother.

Our Aim, 1 December 1921
God Answers Prayer - Peter Porter
Death of Peter Porter, "the poor little deformed uncle of Jimmy Governor".
[Source: Aboriginal Inland Mission, Australian Indigenous Index, State Library NSW]

Earlier that year, Peter Porter had accompanied one of the female missionaries as her assistant on visits to Dandaloo and Taree.

Jacky Porter, an old man, was at the Governor camp at Breelong at the time of the Mawbey murders.
So was Jacky Underwood was also recorded as a 'Porter' in a police report.