Revisiting Australian History: ‘The Colony’, ‘People of the River’, ‘A History of Aboriginal Illawarra Vols 1 & 2’ and ‘The Story of Djeebahn/Deeban’

Karskens, G.  People of the River:  Lost worlds of early Australia.  Australia, Allen & Unwin, 2020

I had carried out, what I considered to be at the time, extensive research of colonial Australian history over 20 years ago when I embarked on our family history.[1]  Last year I had reached the moment in the story when my First Fleet convict ancestors, Elizabeth Pulley and Anthony Rope, were on the verge of moving out to the Nepean-Hawkesbury rivers (Dyarubbin).

Simultaneously, through various articles, documentaries and networks, I was introduced to the work of Emeritus Professor of History Grace Karskens, who had uncovered old diaries written by Reverend McGarvie in 1829 with Dharug and Darkinyung place-names and words[2] and was working with local Dharug peoples to bring the information to the attention of the Australian public.

One of the outcomes of that research and collaboration was ‘People of the River’.[3]  Intrigued I decided it was time to update my research and bought the book. 

Karskens presentation of the history of Dyarubbin is broad and meticulously researched – covering the environmental and human pre-colonial history of the area in deep time and evidence of cultural and agricultural life, as well as the complex and uneasy story of the arrival of the British and other settlers and what eventuated. 

What differs from other Australian history records I’ve read is the way in which she attempts to view and write about these events from multiple perspectives – that of the Original Inhabitants and landholders, that of the ex-convicts and convicts who began arriving in the area from 1794, and that of the free settlers and wealthy, identifying their names where known – and how change was a constant for everyone as the Fleets continued to arrive.

In addition she does not avoid confronting and detailing the conflicts, wars and massacres that exploded along the river between the Aboriginal families, clans and nations and the new arrivals: naming players and places (giving the original Indigenous name where known), identifying where the triggers and orders originated, and unravelling where possible the intricate web of cause, effect and motivation.

So pleased I purchase the book.  So much more had been uncovered than I expected and knew.  It was enlightening.  I decided to buy ‘The Colony’ as well.

Karskens, G.  The Colony: A History of Early Sydney.  Australia, Allen & Unwin, (2009) 2010

This is the first published of the two works and sets the style for the later People of the River.  Beginning with the deep time history of the environment and the Original Peoples and their cultural expression and life around Sydney/Warrane[4] it continues, as would be expected, with the temporary arrival of Captain Cook in 1770, and then the permanent arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 – the berewalgal (people from far away or across the sea).

The pre-Dyarubbin story of colonisation/invasion is forensically examined.  As the story unfolds and the settlement begins to expand there is general overlap in the two books but not in detail.  The different ways in which the material has been thematically organised, and the amount of information gathered during the research has meant that it has been possible for similar stories to be told from different perspectives, emphases and with different minor characters in play.  Much to learn and understand.

What I especially love about The Colony is that it also names and includes the stories of a number of First Nations peoples who were known to the British and had survived the smallpox and influenza epidemics, conflicts, wars, massacres and had found ways to live around the British.  I can’t say ‘with’ the British because we were always viewed, and still are, as intruders on land that belongs to them.[5]  Perhaps ‘in spite of’ is a more appropriate phrase.  Their names keep popping up throughout the book.  So many names of First Nations peoples around Sydney Cove/Warrane and the Sydney basin/Dharug country that were known and I have never heard of.  These people have been ignored and forgotten in the white-colonial focus of Australian history previously written and taught in school when I was growing up.[6]  So much of a gap.  Unforgivable.  I hope it is changing.

Having begun this journey I decided to also follow up and learn more of the history of Dharawal country, where I spent my childhood.

Donaldson, M., Bursill, L., Jacobs, M. A History of Aboriginal Illawarra, Volume 1 – Before Colonisation. Australia, Dharawal Publications, 2016.

I loved reading this book and came away with deep regret that I had never been taught this when I did my schooling on Dharawal country, and how rich and meaningful it could have been to have been introduced to Dharawal and Dhurga culture and life.  How our dad would have also loved to have known this deep history in our backyard.

Written by Dharawal academics and educators it covers,

Dreaming and the Law 

Land, Forests






Power and Healing

People of the Sea

Crossing borders (trade and sharing ceremony across clans and nations) 

Our future

In the last chapter, Our Future, they write:

“Over 1,000 generations Dhurga and Dharawal Elders and their forbearers have maintained Illawarra, and they have good reason to be proud of their achievements. Illawarra’s Aboriginal population roughly equals its pre-invasion peak and Dhurga and Dharawal culture continues to gather strength.” (p. 27)

Bursill, L.  The Story of Djeebahn/Deeban: The Bay of Orcas and the Creation Serpent. Australia, Dharawal Publications, (2012), 2017.

I am inserting my response to this publication here as it draws the focus of A History of Aboriginal Illawarra Volume 1 to the area around Deeban/Port Hacking River.[7]  This compact book was written by Traditional Dharawal Knowledge Holder the late Les Bursill OAM and edited by Mary Jacob, lecturer in Early Childhood Development at Sydney Institute of TAFE.

The Story of Deeban is a summary of the deep history of the area. the extensive evidence of pre-colonial Dharawal life along the river – rock art, tool making, ceremony, the archaelogical discoveries of Bursill and his wife – as well as that of the first European settlers.  Original Dharawal names are given where known as well as the background to some of the people whose names are now carried in the area – Hacking (Port Hacking) and Gray (Gray’s Point).  The final chapter introduces plants traditionally used for food and medicine.

Again I would have loved to have learned this at school and the book itself is suitable as a text.  I hope all primary schools in the area have purchased and are teaching from it.

Donaldson, M., Bursill, L., Jacobs, M. A History of Aboriginal Illawarra, Volume 2 – Colonisation, Australia, Dharawal Publications, 2017

This book was not an easy read.  I wasn’t prepared for the different ways in which history can be told:  that reading well-researched events, from both colonial and state records and family histories, told by Dharawal academics and educators, could differ so much in impact to those same histories told by white historians.  I am still trying to get my head around it.

To read these stories and events and the repercussions they repeatedly had on family lives, who are named and have spoken of their experience and action, is devastating.  Underlying all was the taking of everything: land and children, and moving families on, again and again and again and…  This process continued even as Aboriginal individuals and families were working for the white man on their own land.  And then if anyone finally had enough money to set up house they had to buy their own land back from the white man and still hope that they would not be moved on again.  Of course this occurred everywhere around Australia.  I knew that.  This book brought it home for me.

This volume begins with ‘Strange Beings from Over the Sea’: the watched progress up the coast of the Endeavour carrying James Cook and company, the attempted landing at Botany Bay challenged by armed warriors of the Gweagal clan of the Dharawal nation, the musket-fire response that wounded two Gweagal men, the invader’s plundering of a nearby camp, the booty of which ended up in a Cambridge University museum, and their cutting down of trees and pollution of a spring.  Then there was the 1788 Fleet which also arrived in Botany Bay/Kamay, made a mess and then more or less left the area alone. 

It wasn’t until the arrival of the whalers and sealers in the Illawarra in 1801, who would call into the bays to refresh on the way further south, followed by the illegal loggers not long after who would decimate the forest of the sacred cedar trees[8] that things really came to a head.  Then there were the wealthy settlers who would be handed out thousands of acres of land for free by the government and function as absentee landlords while their farms were managed by convicts and ex-convicts.  No wonder the south coast ended up another war and massacre zone for decades.

I was also not aware that rampant discrimination and racism was still continuing not that far south from where I was growing up and I don’t remember ever hearing about it, or perhaps I did and let it roll over my head.[9]  I did not know that in 1960, when I was twelve, the south coast was functioning on a system of apartheid (p.60) or that when I was thirty-four the Mayor of Nowra burned the Aboriginal flag calling it a ‘rag’ (p.71).  How did I not know or put 2+2 together?

By the 1980’s I had moved and was slowly becoming aware that there was something not quite right in Australia;  not that I could really pinpoint it at that stage.

I now have a greater understanding of, and this publication has specified and detailed, the persistence of the fight by Aboriginal Peoples for their land and other rights, the repeated ignorance of and pushbacks by Councils, other government bodies and business, and how long this fight has been going on.  Also illuminating is the longterm collaboration and planning among different Aboriginal groups and organisations that this involved, the central position that Keven Cook and Tranby (as well as many others) played in coordinating, educating and actioning, as well as the role of the Labor party, Communist Party, Unions and independent religious in supporting.[10]   These were not just isolated events.  It is all beginning to make sense. 

The final chapter in this volume includes the long fight against a proposed major development at Sandon Point in 2000; an area which is of great cultural and spiritual significance.

“But in the end came victory. In 2008, Wollongong City Council was sacked for corruption on other counts after an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry. The fire ignited with embers from the 1972 Canberra Tent Embassy is still burning at Sandon Point. Artists played and children sang at SPATE in May 2007 to celebrate the declaration of 14 hectares at Sandon Point as the 55th Aboriginal Place in NSW. Non-alcoholic refreshments were provided and singer Jimmy Little, whose father is from Illawarra, gave a heartfelt performance that left no eyes dry. Community leaders spoke. South Coast Aboriginal Advancement League founder, Elder Mary Davis, said, “We got what we wanted, though not all that we wanted, land we can call our own” (p. 96)



[3] A more recent development has been the production of audio history walks, which are also available on youtbe,’11 Stories from the river Dyarubbin’.

[4] “The Aboriginal name for Sydney Cove as recorded in a number of First Fleet journals, maps and vocabularies, was Warrane, also spelt as War-ran, Warrang and Wee-rong” (

[5] There never was and never has been a Treaty or agreement made with the First Peoples of this country.

[6] Henry Reynolds also addresses this omission and bias during his schooling, including studying Australian history at University in his book, Why Weren’t we Told: A personal search for the truth about our history. Australia, Penguin, 1999.

[7] I grew up in the ‘Shire’: the Dharawal country between Botany Bay/Kamay and Port Hacking River/Deeban

[8] “By 1812 at least 10 vessels had carried away the trunks of more than 400 huge sacred cedar trees cut from Shoalhaven forests” p.8

[9] I have begun reading Henry Reynold’s, Why Weren’t we Told? which mirrors my journey over the last 25+ years.  However there is also the niggling thought that perhaps we did hear fragments and thought that it was just the way it was,  that it was isolated or that there must be something wrong with those involved and thought no further.

[10] For example, the Unions would refuse deliveries to businesses where apartheid and racism was practiced.


Remembering Rusty’s time as WWII prisoner-of-war

I have previously uploaded two stories of my father’s time as a POW (links below).

To mark 75 years since liberation this account fills in the gaps.  It is a mix of sections from his writing – life story, emails to the Goldcoaster network and my additions;  the latter two are in italics.  As I have said elsewhere, I have not edited my father’s vocabulary or spelling to make it more ‘politically correct’.  I have added sub-headings.

I don’t think he held any grudges about that time.  Growing up in Indonesia he had developed a more Eastern view of the circularity and ups and downs of life.  In my view it is always an horrendous time for all involved in war and conquest and I hope we are not forced to go that way again.

This is Peck’s story:

Beginnings in Holland

In 1917 my parents got married and in September 1918 on the 24th I was born. My father (Marius) was employed by a chemical manufacturing company in Naarden (mother, Antoinette, ‘Etty’) was a nurse.  This town is to the east of Amsterdam.

The first war (WWI) had ended and there was great demand for many products. A number of large corporations had sugar producing estates in Indonesia on the island of Java. There was a great demand for employees and the wages were very good and on top of that the staff received large bonuses at the end of the years. Due to the war there was a large demand for many goods one of them was sugar.

The move to Java

My Father applied for a job as chemist and was taken on by one of these corporations, he had to sign a contract for six years and at the end of that period he was given a 6 months holiday, the company paid all travel expenses. These sugar estates were always in the country and usually 40 or more KM from any town.  Once a month we use to go to town to purchase supplies for a month. It was always a great occasion and we children use to get a special treat of lemonade and Ice cream.

(They arrive in Java in 1920.  Frank is 1½ years old. While Marius works for the Dutch Indes sugar industry Etty uses her nursing and midwifery training to run a polyclinic on the Estate for the local Indonesians, which is always busy.   The Rups children hang around and watch, so learning about the treatments.  The children are schooled in Indonesia.)

Conscription into the army

In 1933 I passed the intermediate and it was decided that that was enough. Every boy of 18 had to serve in the army (Royal Indonesian-Netherland army) for a period of six or twelve months, depending on which branch they were put in.

I asked for the transport section and after a few months I asked to be transferred to the mechanic section. That was granted and that was a much better job. We had no parade and were not disturbed in our work. The regulars showed us how thing were done and it was very useful when I came to Australia. I was able to do most repairs myself.

Peck as a young man in Indonesia

I worked with Kolf & Co, Library and Stationers (for whom Frank is branch manager at Solo and Djocja) until the war started in 1942. I was called up and detailed to a gun unit to do the maintenance of all the vehicles. One day we were told to move and face the enemy, we drove all night and finished up in a queue on the way to an airport. But the Japanese had occupied the airport and used it to send bombers to bomb us. All day long they came over and dropped the bombs and I did nothing else but run from one ditch to another and I got out of it ‘Scott free’. We were ordered to retreat to our base in a small town near Bandung.

Capture by the Japanese

The next day the end of this war was announced and the following day Japanese troops entered our barracks and took all the weapons away. We were now prisoners of war. One day we were all called on parade and the Japanese brought two of our men into the camp. They had been beaten and now in front of us they were shot, all because they had gone home to their wives that night. After a few months a call was made for four drivers. I came forward and was selected. The Japanese gave us each a truck and we had to drive to the West Coast of Java. The next day we had to drive to the beach and there was a large supply of all sorts of things the Japanese had unloaded from their supply ships that came with their landing force.

One of the family homes

Frank’s father (Marius) and brother (Hans) before the occupation, in front of the house his mother (Etty) was taken from by the Japanese.  All members of the family were interred.

The Japanese loaded the trucks and we had to drive to a township where everything was stored. We lived with the Japanese soldiers and ate from their kitchen. We were treated as equals. It was here that the survivors of the Perth and Houston were kept in a camp. We were not allowed to talk to them. They looked a sorry lot. After the job of moving all this supply we drove back to the camp we had come from. We were used to do all sorts of different jobs, such as cleaning buildings and parks etc.

Work as an orderly in the camp hospital

Then one day the Japanese asked for a number of people to work in the hospital. I volunteered and in the afternoon we marched out of our camp. When we entered the hospital there stood a group of English soldiers on parade. As we marched in they marched out under command of Dr. Dunlop (Weary Dunlop).  The Dutch doctor in charge of the hospital told us that all the hospital was divided in a Dutch section with the Dutch personnel and an English section with English personnel. The English medical staff was taken to the prison camp and we had to replace them. (‘The Japanese decided that the hospital should be one unit, they asked how many English staff there was and told our camp commander that they wanted so many people to go to the hospital to work’.  Goldcoasters email 28/12/1999). Well there were a few orderlies and doctors among us but the rest had no knowledge of medicine (and also did not know much English, you can imagine that first night).

We had presumed that we were wanted for maintenance duties. Anyway we were all detailed to various wards. That night there had to be staff on the wards. No one wanted to take the contagious disease ward. A regular army orderly (from the medical corps) said to me, ‘come on we take that ward, I shall teach you the ropes’. So I started my career as an orderly, this followed me right through to the end of the prison period of three and a half years.

Because of the haste we did not know where we were to stay. That first night I spend sleeping on a blanket next to a patient who was in a terrible state. He had been wounded and had lost so much weight that he was skin and bone. He had the worst bedsores I ever saw. He needed a lot of attention because he was crying all the time and had dysentery as well (…he needed constant cleaning…but he survived that part, we got him better). I had some idea of nursing because I had picked the knowledge up when my mother was looking after the sick people on the estates.

The next morning the doctors came to their appointed wards and started to straighten things out.  We were given lectures in physiology, pathology and how to nurse but in my case I had learned all I needed to know from my mother. 

This all took place in Cimahi a town near Bandung.  The hospital is still there and used.

For eight months I worked in that hospital. The Japanese never came near us because of the T.B, dysentery and diphtheria we were nursing. In those early days it was still easy to buy various foods such as meat, vegetables, etc and I use to cook up something nice for Xmas. [1]

(‘The best chance of survival was to have a friendship bond of two or three people, who help one another under all circumstances.  I was lucky to be in that situation.  I visited my friend in England a number of times over the years.  He rose to a high position in one of the Banks.  The last time we met, we knew that that was the last time, when we said good bye he cried.  This was after we had made our separate journeys for some forty years.  Time does not mean anything in these matters’)

On the move

After the hospital we were sent back to the prison camp. Here they made us in three groups to be sent somewhere. After a month we were told to pack up and come on parade for our departure. All the possessions we had accumulated were too much to carry and we had to make a selection that could fit in a kitbag and a shoulderbag. We were put on a train with all the windows covered. We arrived in Jakarta and were marched to a prison camp.

We arrived at Jakarta (Batavia) and were billeted in the Bicycle camp, which was a notorious camp, because the Camp Commander had strange ideas, such as calling on parade at 2 o’clock in the morning and if you were not fast enough you got a belting.  He did many mean things. Luckily we were there for only a short time. (Goldcoasters email 3rd January 2000)

After a month we were rounded up and taken to the port (Tanjong Priok). When we were all counted and divided it was 1 o’clock midday and the sun was shining all day. There we had to get on board of a ship by climbing up a ladder. Arriving on the deck we were made to go down on a ladder into the hold of the ship. (At the bottom of the ladder were a number of Japanese soldiers with bamboo sticks beating everyone, making them crawl under.  

What the Japs had done was divided the space from the floor to the deck in three sections.  We had to occupy a three storied area…plus all the hundreds and hundreds of cockroaches)…and we had to crawl into the darkness underneath the platform. The later arrivals had to get on the platform. To make us hurry up we were beaten with sticks. It was nearly unbearable as the sun heated the steel of the ship and it was like being in an oven. I stripped to my underpants and the sweat was running of my body. Some men fainted. At last the ship started to move and we left the harbour.  I crawled in some distance and took up a position against a post.

After an hour or so we were told that if we wanted a drink, there was a large tub with hot tea in a corner (on deck) and we were allowed to come up and have a drink. There was a long tea queue.  I went back inside got my pannikin (dish) and eating utensils and went back. Once I was on deck I found myself a comfortable place where I intended to stay and sleep.  If we were torpedoed I could at least swim and perhaps save myself.  Many of the poor fellows were so disheartened that they just remained downstairs, got seasick. 

Arrival in Singapore

It took four days to arrive in Singapore in the driving rain. I climbed back into the hold to get my pack and went back on deck. As soon as we had docked we were taken off the ship and loaded onto lorries. They took us to Changie. We were taken to do various jobs in the garden they had started. The produce was for the Japanese troops not for us.

Dysentery and a return to nursing

After a few months in Changie camp we were taken back to the docks and put on a ship. There must have been a hitch because we did not move. Dysentery started to break out and one day all the people that had dysentery were taken off the ship. I was amongst them and we were returned to Changie camp. I was sent to the dysentery ward of the hospital. After a few days I recovered, but now there were no Dutch units left and I didn’t belong anywhere.

Because I had assisted with nursing, I was kept in the ward as an assistant. This was a bad time. The bacillary dysentery we could mostly cure but there were no medicines for the amoebic dysentery sufferers. As this disease is a slow and chronic complaint we had to give the patients enemas every day of Acraflavin, which is a disinfectant, in the hope that we could delay the progress of the disease.

Then one day troops started to return from the Burma railway. They were a sorry lot and many died. We had to work day and night to try to get them better.

Changi and Kranji

Then the big move came. The Japanese had used a lot of the prisoners to clear an area of land that was to become an airstrip and needed the buildings of our camps for their own troops. We were moved to Changie Jail. The civilians had been interned there, but we were a much larger group and many huts were built outside the jail.

Changi prison

Part of the hospital was moved to Kranji a camp not far from the naval base in the North of the island. I was not a patient and had to come to the jail. After a few months I was sick again and I was sent to Kranji. Here I met up again with the orderlies from the hospital.

Finding ‘mates’ and food

With two of them we formed a group and that became important because now the worst time started. Very little food and people started to get berry berry and other diseases due to lack of vitamins. Prior to this time I had made friends with an Australian soldier at the time we were in the jail. Arthur Gibbs, or Gibby….The group we formed consisted out of Jim an orderly, Harry a chemist and myself. I was employed in the garden.

There was a canteen with very meagre supply, cigars, palm oil, blachan (a shrimp paste). Our rations consisted out of rice, a thin bitter soup and one or two dovers (rissoles) rice mixed with dried fish and fried in the oil. Breakfast was porridge of rice mixed with crushed corn. It was cooked the night before and in the morning it was heated mixed with a bit more water. We would get a scoop of it plus one spoonful of sugar.

Because I worked outside I was able to steal some food. A sweet potato, some spinach leaves etc.  I knew many weeds that were edible.  And other things like the pips of the Jack Fruit.  The Jap guard often had a piece of jack fruit and threw the seeds away, roasted they are good eating. The problem was to get wood for a fire. The camp was under Gum trees and there were some branches but the bulk of wood came from the cemetery.

Cemetery duty

There were so many people dying there was always a call for volunteers to go with the stretcher to the cemetery. This was up a hill and there were many Rubber trees. As that area was out of bounds there was always plenty of dead wood to be gathered. So I regularly volunteered to attend a funeral.  James and Harry had their own sources to get something extra and we divided this.

Food savvy

In the period of the dry fish supply I discovered that the English cooks filleted the fish and threw away the bones. So I asked if I could have the bones and I minced them to a paste which was something extra to eat with the rice. The other item that helped was the Blachang, the smelly paste. I fried it in oil also as an extra taste and it must have had some nutrition in it.

At last we heard that the Japanese had given in and the war was over. It did not take long and our troops started to arrive. Amongst them were welfare people who did their best to bring us comfort. They had vans and handed out tea and biscuits.[2] 

The Aftermath

The authorities did not want me to leave Singapore for my recuperation after the three and a half-year in the prison camp because I was a medical nurse and there was a shortage of nursing staff. I had my heart set to be sent to Australia and not Holland. Then at some time beginning March 1946 an announcement was made that after the end of March no more Dutch troops were to go to Australia. I moved heaven and earth to be sure that I would not miss out.


The Event appeared in two newspaper articles.  The article above has been saved in the family archives with no reference.  The other can be found at,|||dateTo=1947-04-13 (Sunday Mail, Brisbane)

Frank at 82

age 82 years, the time of writing.

Frank died in 2008, at the age of 90 years.  In his self-written obituary he wrote,

I have always been thankful to Australia and the people have always treated me well.’

c. A. Maie 2020

[1] Rusty Rups’ Xmas in the camps.

[2] Rusty Rups’ liberation from Kranji


Embedded Racism: we’ve been here before

In 1997 I wrote an article titled, The Showboat Carousel: the Whitewash of the Blacks which was published in National Outlook, April 1998.  It was really an extended book review of Canadian writer, poet and novelist M. NourbeSe Philip’s,  Showing Grit, written in 1993, with reference to what was occurring in Australia at the time.  Although twenty three years later some comments may be dated and in other places I may express myself differently or choose different vocabulary, I thought I would republish the original article here, as it and indeed M. NourbSe Philip’s writing, maintains relevance.

In the second half of 1996 I had the fortune to be introduced to M. Nourbese Philip, Canadian writer, lawyer and scholar after reading her book Showing Grit. [1]

Showing Grit was written during the furore surrounding the 1993 opening of Show Boat in Toronto.  It was Nourbese’s hope at the time of writing that her book would assist “those in the front line of the effort to stop this production”, for when Show Boat came to Toronto it caused an outcry in the African-Canadian community.

To understand why is to be African-Canadian, or African-American, or any other non-white person who is living under white domination at the end of the twentieth century.

In Showing Grit, Nourbese explores the issues, conditions and attitudes that still support racism today, and how the emergence of musicals such as Miss Saigon and the re-emergence of Show Boat is a concrete and very public indication that racist and sexist attitudes still exist, are supported by large numbers of people, and are funded and promoted by large corporations for whom profit is the only morality.

The issues involved are complicated and reflect very much on us as a society.  Nourbese explores these in some detail and although hers is a Canadian analysis of an American musical, the issues are still relevant to Australians.

The central objection to Show Boat is that it is a racist musical based on a racist book (Show Boat by Edna Ferber).  Its portrayal of the Blacks is historically inaccurate, stereotyped and outdated.  The underlying themes in the story are:

  • intermarriage is dangerous and only ends in disaster
  • to be Black or thought of as Black is shameful
  • to be Black is to be uneducated, ones only value being to serve and support .  the white boss – “happy cotton-picking darkies” – providing local colour and entertainment
  • Blacks accept their condition with resignation and Christian forgiveness
  • the best thing that could happen is for the Blacks to disappear so that the whites can get on with their lives.

The dislike of the ‘Nigger’ shines through.

As a white Australian, does that make you feel uncomfortable, angry…or more secure, relieved, secretly pleased?

As an indigenous Australian, haven’t you heard this all before…too many times?

So why again…and why now?

Nourbese’s research into the history of the book, films and musical productions of Show Boat reveal that its revival came during periods of great financial unease, or when African-Americans had taken significant steps forward in their struggle for equality.  So she surmises that at these times the white (moneyed and middle class) are needing reassurance because there may be a hidden fear that if things continue the way they are going then “we may end up like ‘them’”(poor, underprivileged) or even worse, like them as people – perish the thought!  How better to silence the thought and instead demean the ‘other’…put them in their place…disempower them.

Financial security is not a given any more in Australian society.  The number of job losses over the last two years is an indication that all is not well and that the politicians promises are coming to nothing.  As well, since the 1960’s indigenous Australians have made some progress in their fight for equality and respect.  At the moment in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics Aboriginal artists are receiving a lot of support and publicity.  On the world stage it is a politically correct thing to do.  Yet behind the scenes the Prime Minister seems to be sidestepping the more controversial issues and backstepping on others, especially when it interferes with corporate agendas, so that marginal groups (indigenous Australians as well as women, the elderly, gays and lesbians) are losing ground.

Is this why the Show Boat carousel has arrived in Sydney?  If not, why is a musical which supports the stereotypical Black man and woman of the 1880/90’s white mind reproduced in these enlightened times?  Moreover why is an outdated, revamped American musical still being presented rather than one of our own?

A full-page advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 23rd August calls it ‘The Great American Musical’ and the ‘Winner of 5 Tony Awards in 1995’.  So?  The producers in Canada claimed it had historical significance as the highlight of the work of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.  It’s historical significance is that, apart from a few well known songs, it was Kern’s only highlight and one in which he borrowed (stole and profited from) the traditional music of the African American.  No compensation or royalties were or have ever been offered.

It was also lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II’s first critical success in which (in the words of his son) he “expressed things that nobody had expressed before”…well, no white person.  The ‘nobody’ was the Black.  Once more the Black has disappeared.

The producers claim it is historically accurate.  Maybe, but from whose perspective?  Better that the biased, racist versions of history remain in libraries, museums and video stores for the purpose of study and discussion than be presented as a contemporary version of white ‘truth’.

The producers also insisted that the musical version shows racial harmony and understanding.  They presented a television show narrated by a Black actor on the making of the musical to prove how sensitive the show is.  They prepared a schoolboard approved anti-racist educational package for schools and offered subsidised performances for students.  If they were telling the truth why the overkill?  Especially as the extensive media coverage (including advertising disguised as news items, special articles and television programs) excluded all opposing views.  Apart from being another example of the increasing intrusion of the corporate sector into school life and ‘news’ (which is also happening in this country) and the fact that The Toronto Star newspaper was one of the sponsors for the show, who really stood to gain from all this effort?  Who could afford the tickets?

Certainly not the African-Canadian community who were aghast that ‘once more with feeling’ they were being portrayed singing soul songs and happy with their lot – their ‘lot’ being inevitable, just like “ol’ man river rollin’ along” – less than the reality.

The real story was, and is, one of continued rebellion by the African-Americans from the beginning of slavery to the present.  It is also the story of holocaust – their genocide and separation from family – as well as their persistence and ‘showing grit’.  But this story is silent and silenced.  Where is the musical with the real story?  Where is the money to fund such a production?

In that case where are the musicals with the real story of indigenous Australians?  There was Bran’ Nue Day.  It trod carefully and the anger was well hidden under smiling faces, yet it was there.

Our Prime Minister is encouraging us all to leave the past behind and move forward.  But to move forward without turning, acknowledging and apologising for past mistakes is to ignore the wrongs and maintain the silence, in the hope ‘it’ will disappear (who will disappear?).

In 1992 Pope John Paul II was the first person in an official capacity to ask for forgiveness for the sins done to the Africans in the name of slavery.  It made 3-4 lines in a side-bar in the Toronto Star.  Galileo’s pardon by the Pope at the same time warranted an entire article.  If this is how we gauge what is important you can see where our loyalties lie.  So, our Prime Minister is not alone in refusing to acknowledge that Christian white oppressors are accountable and need to face their victims and apologise.  But it does not excuse him.

Another Prime Minister Gough Whitlam wanted to maintain the rage over the injustices done to him.  How can we do less for those for whom injustice is still a daily experience?

Prior to the October 17, 1993 opening of Show Boat in Canada the producers had made six million dollars in advanced ticket sales and their corporation’s share prices rose on the stock exchange.

This is the reality.  Money makes money.  You give the people what they want and they’ll pay.  Who is guilty here?  Who is being served?  Who are the servers?

As Nourbese says, the “blond head has greedily sucked African blood from the wound it created but has taken no responsibility and made no reparation, yet it is still continuing…..We may not be able to stop them, but we shall not bless them….It is my hope others will stand with us”.

What Show Boat is presenting may be about 1880’s America but its presence in Australia at this time is saying more.  It is saying that Australian whites still want to keep those of colour in their place, that they are still not ready for change, for true equality and sharing of resources.  The wealthy white corporate mind mirrors itself in the rest of those who will attend this production.  Where do you stand?

Show Boat is due to open early next year.  The ShowBoat carousel has just begun – prepare for the publicity whitewash.

c. 1997

[1]  M. Nourbese Philip, Showing Grit.  Toronto:  Poui Publications, 1993

‘Rusty’ Rups’ liberation from Kranji, September 1945

During World War II my father, who had been conscripted into the Dutch Army, was captured by the Japanese and incarcerated in Changi and Kranji prisoner-of-war camps for three years.  His parents and siblings were also imprisoned in different camps.  Dad wrote a number of short accounts of this time and emailed them to friends and contacts.[1]  I have previously uploaded another of these accounts as Rusty Rups’ Xmas in the camps.

The Japanese officially signed the terms for reoccupation on 4th September 1945, and the surrender was complete on 12th September.  The filmed church service at Kranji celebrating liberation is dated 7th September 1945.  This is my father’s story.[2]

“I decided to…tell you a funny story about the camps.  The Kranji camp I was in when we were liberated was situated in an old rubber plantation.  There were a number of bamboo huts with thatched leaves (as) roofs; home to centipedes, (and) when they had a fight up there one would fall down and give you a hell of a fright.  The camps (were) surrounded with a double barbed wire fence” and “the Jap soldiers used to patrol in between those fences.

At a distance from the huts were deep boreholes used as latrines.  Some had seats but others had slats to squat on.  It was a complete open space, no divisions, so there (were) always happy conversations going on.  From that came the word borehole(‘s double-) meaning: ‘rumour’.  Someone from the camp would come up to you and say, ‘did you hear the borehole, they are going to move the camp?’”

“Also there were some smart guys who would trade with the Jap guard (and sell) over the fence.”

“In the centre of the camp was an open area where four blocks of concrete were laid well apart, and on each…were six showers.  All (were) in the open, of course.  Why would you worry to put up partitions?”

“The advancing troops arrived a few days after the Japs surrendered, (and) in that convoy were also amenity people: a concert party and women to look after ‘these poor buggers’.  They were so eager to be kind to us that they arrived at the gate with their vans and walked straight into the camp…  There was pandemonium.

The war was over (and) there were no working parties, so everyone went (their) own way. (They were) coming out of the barracks with a towel over (their) shoulder…a piece of soap in (their) hand, and starting to have a good shower.  When all (the) women came in there was no escape.  The barracks were a distance away and one had to rinse the soap off before one could put a towel around one’s body.

Well, the next day the day’s orders stated the times one was allowed to shower and use the toilet.  In haste, bamboo partitions were obtained and a few days later all was civilized again.”

“Love to you all, Frank Rups (in the camps my name was Rusty;  Rusty Rups)”

in Singapore on release from POW

in Singapore upon release from the camps

[1] This account was emailed 28th March, 2000.

[2] My edits for continuity are in brackets.

A longer story of Frank’s more than three years in POW can be found at Remembering Rusty’s time as WWII prisoner-of-war

c. A. Maie, 2019

Education Week: The Mudgee Ropes and the Lawson Creek Schools

It’s Education Week and an appropriate time to revisit and update an article I began in 2016.  It is especially relevant as it is also my great grandfather George Rope’s memorial day next week.

The background research for this was conducted by my mother, Madge (Rope) Rups during 1970’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s; taken from birth, marriage, death, cemetery, land and department of education records as well as information given to her by relatives.  Madge was born in Mudgee,  After she died In 2015 I began re-checking her records and my additions with the purpose of handing them on to the next generation.  I was amazed to notice for the first time how many of the third generation of Australian Rope descendants ended up in or around Mudgee and how involved they were with the establishment of the first schools in the area.  This is their story.

First I wish to acknowledge the original inhabitants, the elders past and present, and the violence that was part of Mudgee settlement.[i]

The Mudgee area is the home of the Wiradjuri Nation’s Mowgee clan. The Mowgee women’s totem is the wedge tail eagle (Mullian), and the men’s, the crow (Waggan).

In 1821 James Blackman jnr, assisted by Aaron an Aboriginal guide, finds the Cudgegong River, and Blackman follows it to the Burrundulla Swamps.  Later that year Lawson makes it as far as the Aboriginal camp at Mudgee.  By 1822 Lawson has convinced George and Henry Cox (of Mulgoa) to settle the land with him.  Other settlers soon follow.

Gradually the battles begin between the settlers and Mowgee people over the Cudgegong River, other food sources (incl. animals which the settlers would kill), and sacred sites.  In 1824 Martial Law is imposed, and the Mowgee people are shot without question. 

By 1845, the time that Robert and his siblings probably arrive, Mudgee has been gazetted as a village, there are 30+ dwellings, including a post office, 3 hotels, a hospital, 2 stores, an Anglican church and a police station.  There is little evidence left of Aboriginal presence.

My family’s story centres on my great great grandparents Robert and Hannah Jane and their son George Rope, as well as James and Elizabeth Rope and families.  Robert was the grandson of first fleet convicts Elizabeth Pulley and Anthony Rope.  Anthony, Elizabeth and their growing family had moved west following the expanding settlement in the Sydney basin, finally working and settling around the areas east of the Nepean River/Dyarubbin.

1. Robert Rope2. Hannah Jane Thompson-Rope

Robert and Hannah Jane

At some stage in the 1840’s Robert, grandson of Anthony and Elizabeth and son of John and Maria, moves to Mudgee with, or followed by, his siblings Ann, George, Thomas, Elizabeth, Eliza and Mary Ann.

Elizabeth and her husband James are already in the area by 1847, and both die there.

Ann, who marries John Randall at Castlereagh,  is in Mudgee by 1860 when their children begin to get married.

By 1869 Thomas’ wife Letitia has given birth to their fourth child, Albert Robert, in Mudgee.  Thomas, Letitia and three of their eight children die in Mudgee.

Eliza marries William Rusten from Gulgong and has a child there, although she seems to have died in Penrith.  

Mary Ann was witness to Robert and Hannah’s marriage in Mudgee 1868 and she and her husband William George Frost seem to have died there.[ii]

James, another grandson of Elizabeth Pulley and Anthony Rope, and his mother, Elizabeth Ann, daughter of Anthony and Elizabeth also end up in Mudgee[iii].  James, who marries Elizabeth, Robert’s sister, is recorded as working as a labourer in Cooyal in 1847 and their first child is born there.  By the time of their third child it looks as if they have moved to Lawsons Creek, not far from Robert, Hannah Jane, and family.

Our records show that Robert acts as witness to Elizabeth’s and James’ marriage on 13th December 1853.  Robert’s partner (Hannah) Jane Rope[iv] acts as second witness.  This is a couple of months after the birth of James’ and Elizabeth’s third child.  James continues to work around the area and the family continue to expand to thirteen children, all of whom seem to be born around Lawsons and Pipeclay creek Mudgee.

At some stage five of James’ siblings are in Mudgee.  In 1859 Edward Player, James’ half-brother,  marries Jane Matthews and then Cora Proctor after Jane dies.  All his children are born in Mudgee.  There is an Edward ‘Rope’ who purchases land in 1874.  I am wondering if this is misnamed Edward Player as I cannot yet find an alternative.  John Player, another of James’ half brothers marries Elizabeth Ann Peak in Mudgee in 1869.  Eight of their children are born in Mudgee.

My great-great grandparents, Robert and Hannah Jane Rope, have four children, George, Matilda, William E. and Henry[v].

George Rope cropped4. Matilda5a. William and Henry

George, Matilda, William E and Henry

At the time of George’s birth in 1852 the family are living and working at Botobolar/Bottaballar near Mudgee.  By 1853 they have moved to Oakfield, which is overlooked by Mt Buckaroo near Lawson Creek.  Matilda, William E.  and Henry are born there.  By 1859 they have a small holding at Lawsons Creek.

In 1859 a school opens at Burrundulla on the other side of Mt Frome.  Although still in Mudgee surrounds it is a hike from Lawson’s Creek.  The search begins for an alternative location for another school.  In 1867 a school building is being erected at Lawsons Creek on land belonging to Mrs Maloney.  According to Joyce Turner (nee Tompkins) one of the schools “opened in 1868 on a flood prone site and relocated”.  By 1870 another site has been selected at Lawsons Creek and the school building is moved to its new location.  It is dedicated the following year.  In 1876 the school board is listed as James McGrath, Duncan Kerr, teacher Joseph Southwick, unmarried, and James Rope

During 1876 the board, including James Rope, requests a new building and in 1877 the plan James Rope has presented to the Board is approved, accepted and surveyed, with the value of improvements: Hut £4, Fencing £10, Clearing £12.  The following year, 1878, Mr. John Rope (I assume James’ and Elizabeth’s son) presents a bill for fencing.  By 1879 a request has been submitted to grant permission to sell the old building to pay for other buildings.

1897 Schoolhouse cropped

The class of 1897, with George’s children Violet, Clara, Alice May, Ellen Olive (Ollie), (Joseph) George and William Claude (Bill).  Photo from Ron Johnson’s collection.

This is perfect timing for George (my great-grandfather) who has married Ann (‘Hawkie’) Johnstone from Lue in 1874.  The first of their thirteen children, Maria Jane, is born the following year.  Maria Jane is followed by Florence Matilda (Flo), Charlotte Ethel (Eth), Henry Albert, Linda Dorothea, Violet, Clara, Alice May, Ellen Olive, my grandfather Joseph George, William Claude (Bill), Ivy Irene Madeline, and Daisy Pearl.[vi][vii]

6. George, Ann Hawkins Johnstone-Rope and children

George and ‘Hawkie’ build Edenville, just backing onto the railway line at Mt. Frome, to which they keep adding rooms for their expanding family.[viii]

7a. Edenville, Mt. Frome with 'Hawkie', Fla & EthEdenville

By this stage there are a lot of Rope descendent children of all ages growing up in the area.

There is a sad sidenote to this story.  A few months after the birth of George’s and Hawkie’s first child George’s mother is shot and killed by his uncle and namesake during one of his rages.  Robert, William and Henry are all there at the time, and Joseph Johnstone, ‘Hawkie’s father, is outside.  At the end of the year ‘uncle George’ is hung in spite of the rest of the family’s objections and pleas for leniency. [ix]

Five years later, in 1880, Robert marries a second time, Jane Haynes, a widow. Yet Robert seems to go into decline.  By 29th September 1887 he owes school fees, and in 1891 a letter is sent to the Minister for Public Instruction in Sydney requesting for Robert’s debts to be cancelled because of his continuing sickness (almost bedridden) and poverty:  Robert is being attended to by Dr. Nicholl ‘for the last three months’ and is without means of support.  He dies on 15th July 1892.[x]

In spite of this George and his brothers make a success of their lives.  By June 1900 George is involved as one of a number of parents signing a petition for a new school and residence.  He has six children attending the school.  By September of the same year he is named in a letter to Department of Public Instruction as willing to give or sell 2 acres of his land nearer Mt. Frome station in exchange for the present school site, half a mile away, which can only be accessed through the Rope private property.

By 1902 the new school is built on the corner of Lue and Rocky Waterhole roads and George offers to purchase the old school property at a fair price, especially as it joins his property, and as it has not been cared for since and tramps have damaged the buildings.  In October the land, near Billy’s Lookout is transferred.  In 1911 a report is submitted regarding the need for fencing to keep the rabbits out of the school garden.

8a. Mt. Frome school with George and 3 Rope childrenMt Frome School with George (my great grandfather) and three Rope children.

8b. Mt. Frome school. Joseph George 3rd row, 4th from RMt. Frome School with Joseph George (my grandfather) third row, fourth from right.

This is the school that my grandfather and siblings attended, followed in turn by my mother, Madge, and her brother, Geoffrey George (‘Geoff’) when they were young.

1929 schoolhouse with mum cropped

The class of 1929 with Madge hidden at the back.  Photo from Ron Johnson’s collection.

George’s energy and vision sees him gradually expand his holdings.  By the end of his life this has extended up the mountains on both sides of Lawsons Creek – Mt. Buckaroo and Mt. Frome.

He is obviously a very successful farmer and well respected in the community.  When he dies one obituary comments on his generosity and kindness and continues with,

‘he was a successful farmer, and for many years has added dairying as a profitable industry, and was one of the directors of the Mudgee Butter Factory (ed. which is managed by his son, Henry).  He also spent a period as alderman of the Cudgegong Council….He was an enthusiastic member of the Mudgee Agricultural Society…the Mudgee band has also lost a generous friend.  One who time after time opened his hospitable home when a band benefit was in progress.’

The other,

‘The funeral…was one of the largest witnessed for some years, thus showing the respect in which the late Mr Rope was held’

After George’s death[xi] the property passes to ‘Hawkie’, and then the two sons, my grandfather Joseph George, and William (‘Bill’).   During World War I Bill joins the army and Joseph George is constrained to stay at home and help look after the farm for his mother.   Joseph George extends the land holdings and agriculture, including an orchard and vineyards, and moves into the brick house (at the junction of Lue and Rocky Waterhole Roads) which is opposite and up the road from the old farm, adding a veranda around the outside for sleeping during summer.

The orchard contains every type of fruit, including quince, peach and fig trees.  The farm is mixed.  Although mainly dairy, there are also chooks, pigs, sheep and crops such as lucerne and oats.   The milk is separated, and the cream sold to the Mudgee Butter Factory, managed by Joseph George’s brother, ‘Harry’ (Henry Albert), while the skim milk is fed to the pigs and weaned calves.  The lucerne is pressed into bales and stored in the hayshed.[xii]

10j. Mt. Frome from BuckerooThe property from Mt. Buckaroo showing the schoolhouse, school and brick house

 10i. The orchard c. 1927 croppedThe brick house and orchard

Joseph George marries Florence Smith and the brick house becomes their home.  It is where my mother and her brother grow up and where we often stay as children.

Joseph George football cropped 2Florence May Smith cropped

Joseph George and Florence May

At some stage Joseph George also buys the two storied Hawthorn heritage cottage near what once was the causeway, and more land along Waterhole Road which was previously owned by Lawson.

When ‘Hawkie’ and my grandfather Joseph George die within four months of each other his sisters Fla, Eth and Daisy are given the brick house and surrounding land.  My grandmother ‘Flo’ inherits Joseph’s half of the farm and continues to manage it until her son, Geoff, receives a scholarship and decides to move to Sydney.  Flo goes with him.  Fla, Eth and Daisy agree to rent and run the property for her in her absence.  Madge follows her mother and brother at a later stage.

By all accounts the property has always been the centre of social life for the Lue and Rylestone Ropes when they pass through on the way to town, and the clan continues to gather regularly even after my mother moves to Sydney.   Fla also runs a post office and telephone exchange in the front room which would have been the locus for local news[xiii].  There is a wonderful story about two Rope woman saving  herd of cows at Mt. Frome c. 1935 and I am certain it is about Flat and Eth (story in notes below).

1961 map copy showing Rope land img955 close upshowing the Ropes holdings.

My uncle Geoff and family, my mother, my father and we children continue to return to the property to maintain it, staying in the main brick house with Fla, Eth and Daisy[xiv].  At some stage Fred Creaser (who marries Daisy and stays on after her death to assist Fla and Eth) is engaged to run the farm and continues to do so after the sisters die. Here the order of events is not clear but at another stage the main house becomes unavailable to us.

It is probably then that my uncle Geoff organises to rent the school back from the Department of Education.  The two families convert it into a large, single room living space.  I remember clearing out all the bird nests and droppings, as well as sheep droppings.  My cousin Judith remembers cupboards being moved from the main house to provide a division between sleeping and living areas, beds being moved over for us to sleep in, and having to bath in a tub.

As well as the tub I also remember a large log fire on which we heat the hot water in the kettle and make toast for breakfast, layered with fresh cream which we collect over the road at the farm as it is being separated from the early morning milking of the cows, and going through the mist and frost to do so.  This is still during Fred Creaser’s time as I remember helping him wash the separating machine.  And, of course, we both remember the ‘dunny’ out the back facing the railway line and Mt. Frome.  For me it was a childhood highlight; much anticipated.  For our parents, however, it was lot of hard work keeping the property maintained from such a distance and, once my grandmother dies my uncle decides to sell.[xv]

The Coopers, who are renting the school house, buy the schoolhouse and school when the Department of Education puts them on the market.  In later years when mum and I visit we notice that the school is converted into an attractive cottage – who would have believed it!  And during my last couple of visits I was delighted to discover that Moothi Estate[xvi] and winery is established on what once was the Mt. Frome section of the property.  I think both my great grandfather and grandfather would be pleased to know that grapes are still being grown on the property.


looking back from Moothi Estate

c. Annette Maie, 2018

Updated 2019.

THE STORY OF JIMMY GOVERNOR – updated 2022 (with thanks to Ron Johnson for sourcing and sharing the  newspaper article).  Other sources include Stan Grant’s Australia Day,, Katherine Biber, (2008) ‘Besieged at Home: Jimmy Governor’s Rampage’ in The Journal of Law and Social Justice, Vol. 2, Art 2, pp. 1-41, and correspondence with Mudgee Historical Society.

In 1900, during great grandfather George’s time, ex-tracker and labourer Jimmy Governor, who had been supporting his own and extended family, went on a murdering spree triggered by repetitive harassment of he and his wife Ethel for being an Aboriginal man (his father was Aboriginal and mother of mixed Aboriginal and Irish descent) married to a white woman (if the newspaper article is anything to go by, the harassment would have been severe).  According to the newspaper at the time, a few years before Ethel had lived with her parents on a Lawson’s Creek farm, near Oakfield.  Probably George and other Ropes would have known the family, and from my mother’s comments our family at the time was very aware of the story.

According to Katherine Biber “Governor’s wife, Ethel, a 17 year old white woman, the mother of his child, the Mawbey’s domestic servant, may or may not have been an accomplice to these murders”.  The Mawbey’s had been among those who had harassed her about her marriage and were Jimmy’s first target.  According to information from Mudgee Historical Society Emma was also pregnant with their second child.

Jimmy, his brother Joe, and Jack Underwood continued their ‘rampage’ until Jack was captured and Joe shot.  Jimmy was eventually captured and hung.  The story of the life of Jimmy Governor was the basis for Thomas Keneally‘s 1972 novel The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, which was filmed by Fred Schepisi in 1978.  His life is also the subject of Australian poet Les Murray‘s poem “The Ballad of Jimmy Governor”.  And from Stan Grant, “As modern Australia celebrated its birth at Federation in 1901…Jimmy Governor sat in a Darlinghurst jail cell, alternating between singing songs in his traditional Wiradjuri language and reading the Bible – the synthesis of the old and new worlds that collided here so violently, given form in a man soon for the gallows. “

In a 2004 article in the Sydney Morning Herald one of the results of the Governor’s payback spree was that the remaining Wiradjuri peoples around Wollar were rounded up and taken to Brewarrina Mission about 500 km away.


[i] Mudgee History website as well as other sources.  2022 update: I have recently been told that Mudgee was also home to the Meroo people of the Wiradjuri nation and that numbers of Aboriginal families in the area were forcibly removed to Brewarrina, on the Queensland border.  Brewarrina Mission opened in 1886.  The only reference I have found so far is from the Sydney Morning Herald article in relation to the Governors (above).

[ii] The road across the Blue Mountains was completed earlier in the century, Robert’s mother Maria dies in 1842, his father John dies in 1845, his grandmother Elizabeth in 1837 and grandfather Anthony in 1843.  Toby Ryan, son of Mary (nee Rope) and another grandson of Elizabeth and Anthony, by his own account, has been travelling often, crossing the Blue Mountains between Penrith and Bathurst and bringing back glowing reports: ‘great grazing country’….’a great deal of land was taken up, but not at that time occupied’ (Ryan, pp. 124-126). Although it is impossible to say whether these events triggered the move, it seems to have been time for a new start.  It is likely that all of John and Maria’s living children ended up in and around Mudgee during this period.  For a list of the siblings, family members and children whom I have so far identified as ending up in Mudgee, Rope-Pulley descendants who move to Mudgee

[iii] I don’t have the detail whether James arrives in the area with Robert, or comes separately with Elizabeth, or at what stage James’ mother arrives.

[iv] Robert and Hannah Jane marry in 1868.  Their marriage is witnessed by William and Mary Ann Frost.  Mary Ann is Robert’s sister.

[v] Matilda marries James William Honeysett, and I believe there are still Honeysett’s living in Rylestone;  William and Henry Rope become brewers and hoteliers in Orange and are buried there.

[vi] Maria Jane marries Henry Castle Adams, owner of Victoria Hotel, Orange;  Florence (Fla), Charlotte Ethel (Eth) and Daisy end up managing Lawson Creek property, dying in Mudgee; Henry marries Belle Smede and manages Mudgee Butter Factory;  Linda marries Frederick Rule Webb; Violet marries Walter Hedley Ford and dies in Mudgee; Clara marries ‘Gus’ Manners and dies in Mudgee;  Alice May marries Clarence Hilton Clark of Mudgee; Ellen Olive marries Roy Keith Stoddard and moves to Sydney; Joseph George marries Florence May Smith and manages the Lawson Creek property;  William (Bill) marries Bessie Ann Kellet, works for the office of railways which requires him to move around, and dies in Mudgee; Ivy marries Tom Rowbotham and moves to Home Rule.

[vii] On our visits to the farm we catch up with those of George’s children and grandchildren who are still around.  As well as Fla, Eth and Daisy, I remember aunty Ivy clearly, and still visit her daughter Sally up at Home Rule.  I also remember calling in regularly on Graham and Tom Clark (Alice’s sons) and, of course, visiting their brother Peter’s memorial in St. John’s Anglican church, Mudgee.

[viii] According to mum, ‘He built a house of slabs, like they used to do, with lining on the inside covered with fancy wallpaper, on the block near the railway line.  Had 13 children, so kept extending it backwards.  Because of the fuel stoves and danger of fire they had a division between the dining area, kitchen and bathroom at one end, and the bedrooms at the other.  In between was a courtyard with a cement floor.  It was long, but quite a pleasant house.  The dining room was large with a huge fireplace at one end; the other end had one or two bedrooms.’  (ed. By the time my generation visit Mt. Frome Edenville is little more than a pile of bricks, and my father teaches me to drive in the surrounding paddock).

[ix]  The family obviously wanted clemency.  ‘Uncle George’ seems to have had a harrowing time prior to coming to Mudgee, losing two children in infancy and his wife;  all in a period of two years.  His wife, Margaret (nee Behan/Behean), and the two children are all buried at John Jamison Cemetery in Penrith with her grandfather.  Uncle George was obviously struggling and I like to think he is remembered by his name being carried through the following generations (although King George VI was also on the British throne during this time)

[x] Two other deaths occur around this time. On 23rd August 1889 Elizabeth Ann (Rope) Player dies in Mudgee, notified by her son James.    On 4th May 1895 James Rope also dies.

[xi] George has the foresight to buy a sizeable plot in Mudgee Cemetery.  He, Hawkie and many family members are buried or interred there or nearby, including my parents.  There is also a memorial to Robert and Hannah Jane.

[xii] At harvest time Frank Muller who lives along Eurunderee Lane (near Pipeclay creek) comes over to help prune the orchard and vines.  He and Joseph George are great friends.  Frank Muller’s sister Freda ends up marrying my grandmother Flo’s brother, Lloyd Smith.  When mum and I visit in 2008 Frank Muller’s two grandsons are still living there and growing grapes.

[xiii] All the kids run to answer the phone when it rings and I seem to remember helping to plug in the connections to answer and transfer calls.

The story of ‘the two Rope women’ who saved a herd of cattle: “Daisy Baynham remembers when two women saved a herd of cows on Mt Frome…They lived just up the hill from the old schoolhouse on the corner of Lue and Rocky Water Hole roads. Apparently two old ladies from the Rope family lived across the Lue Road from them…..‘As Ted rushed to try to get them out of the paddock, he yelled to his wife to get the Rope girls, and they came running across the road to the bulging cows with their hands full of knives,” Daisy told me.  Daisy said the women held one knife in their mouth while they threw another knife at a cow’s bulging tummy. “Pop! It would go, as the wind escaped,” she said, “and the other lady rammed her fist into the paunch and pulled out hunks of half chewed grass.” The women treated all the cows in the same fashion and most of them  survived, according to Daisy” (an interview with Joyce Turner, nee Tompkins at  Eth would have been c. 57yrs and Fla 59 yrs.

[xiv] ‘Hawkie’ wills the brick house and surrounding land to her three unmarried daughters, and follows through with George’s wishes that Bill inherits the Mt. Buckaroo side of the creek, which is more suitable for sheep, and Joseph George the Mt. Frome side, which is more suitable for agriculture.

[xv] The Mt Buckaroo side of the property, which Bill inherits, is passed down to his son, Ron.  My understanding (from speaking with Ron’s family when mum dies), is that they still own their property and live there periodically.

[xvi] At the time of writing, Moothi Estate sells ‘the best’ cabernet savignon among other wines, has a cellar door, and offers lunch with a wonderful view over our ancestor’s property.

Anzac Day: remembering family, their stories and reality’s challenge to idealism

Geoff's hat

The views expressed in this article are my own and do not represent views held by any other family member or organisation.

I guess I am an idealist yet this idealism is always tempered by the realities of the world in which we live and our history, which includes the ghastly side of human behaviour and conflict.

My father also was an idealist.  His family had moved to Indonesia when he was two.  At eighteen he was conscripted for twelve months into the Dutch army (Royal Indonesian-Netherland army) as were all men his age.  He returned to the army for retraining for active service in 1940 and was called up the following year to fight the Japanese when they invaded Indonesia.  He was soon captured and spent three years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, as were all his family in different camps.  Part of that time he spent as an assistant in the camp hospital treating other prisoners. [1]

Upon release he was again called up by the Dutch army; this time to fight the Indonesians who were claiming independence from their colonisers.  My father was aghast.  His childhood and adolescence was spent playing with Indonesian children on and around the estates where he lived.  He viewed them as brothers and sisters.  Fortunately for him he received an honourable discharge for health reasons and was not forced to fight again.

Peck in Singapore on release from POWphoto taken after liberation from POW

My mother’s family were drawn into the patriotism which spread through Australia during World Wars I and II.  I think it was viewed as part of our duty to Britain, the ‘mother’ country, and the proper thing to do.  As far as I am aware she and her family had no problem enlisting.

Hats cropped

Her father and uncle were first off the rank to enlist for World War I.  The next generation enlisted for War War II.

13e. The Army years - Geoff, Joyce and Madge - Madge cropped 2Mum applied to the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) in 1941 and was accepted in 1942, ending up being based at Victoria Barracks.  She was proud of her army years and responded well to the regularity and discipline which was part of it.  She felt she was doing an important job for her country.  Some of her closest long-term friends were made during that time and every now and again they would meet up, attend reunions, or special events at the Barracks.

The ‘war years’ was a focal event, or series of events, in the lives of both my parents.  My father requested that the Last Post be played at his funeral and interment because of the significance of hearing it in the camps when one of the prisoners had died.  My mother, when television arrived in our household, would turn it on immediately on waking up on Anzac Day and it would remain on until the public events of the day were complete.  Their need signifies the importance of ritual acts which mark, honour and remember.

I’m not sure how many of my family saw active duty.  As far as I am aware only mum’s cousin was killed, and that was an accident.   He had become a pilot and a Canadian pilot flew into his plane during a training exercise in England in 1943.  Both pilots crashed and were killed. He is buried in Annan, Scotland.  His parents donated a stained glass window to St. John the Baptist, Mudgee.  Two months before his accident he had written a letter to mum and the family commenting on letters he had received, thoughts of family and friends at home, his experience of R ‘n R in Cambridge, and, ‘Next time I write I hope to be flying spitfires.  Should be only a couple of weeks in fact now….So long for present….till next time.  luv….’  I am sure many families have similar poignant stories.

13c. Memorial to Peter Clark in St. John the Baptist Church Mudgeememorial at St John the Baptist, Mudgee

The dating of Anzac Day links it to Easter, thematically as well: death, being killed for a cause, and the promise of remembrance and possible resurrection and salvation, but not resurrection in the literal sense as far as ‘our sons and daughters’ are concerned.  Both stand as memorials to young, and not so young, men and women who died for ‘us’.  The interesting thing about Australia’s wars is that they have been fought, on the whole, for someone else, although the Japanese did begin to invade Australia and surrounding islands.  My uncle was based at Darwin, where my mother had initially wanted to be posted as well, so he was part of the contingent which was defending our shores.

Of course the first defenders of Australia were the First Nations peoples here.  They fought us;  the British colonisers.  War leaders like Pemulwuy, with the Eora and Darug clans around the Sydney basin, and Windradyne with the Wiradjuri clans around Bathurst, led guerrilla armies in attempts to reclaim their territory and food sources and in retaliation for atrocities committed by the invaders and their accompanying armed forces.  These were Australia’s first wars, enacted on our own shores.[2]

Yet I don’t think that descendants of these First Nations peoples have been invited to march on Anzac Day, let alone lead the march.  The reality of this omission challenges the idealism of who we include under ‘Australian armies’, ‘fallen soldiers’ and the limits of this designated memorial day.  I imagine there must be a constant reinvention of meaning and purpose by the organisers to justify this omission or accommodate change.  It took a long time to recognise and include the Vietnam War and its veterans.   I hope that one day we are mature enough to include this earlier truth.

2022 Update.  The opening up of the Anzac Day march to Vietnam veterans has paved the way for Afghanistan veterans to lead the march this year.  There is still no mention of an invitation to First Nations peoples to represent their ancestors killed during the Frontier wars.


[1] After  release my father’s (known as ‘Peck’) parents sent him a letter, dated 13th September, 1945, letting him know that they were all safe.  Translated from Dutch, this is part of the letter

Dear Peck,

Maybe we are lucky in a mysterious way so the letter will reach you. ………

You did some good work as well, I heard from a nurse of Geel Gildemeesters (?).

Bye my dear son!….for sure no lost time and I have learned a lot.

I am good my little son and hope that all turned out well for you. It would be a miracle if the five of us would really pull through.

Be brave.


[2]  For an introduction to Australia’s first frontier wars – Grassby, A. & Hill, M.  Six Australian Battlefields.  St. Leonards, Allen & Unwin, 1998.  There is also a regularly updated Map of known massacres of tribes in Australia available online.  For Wikepedia’s summary of the wars involving British forces up to Dyarubbin (1794-1816) – Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars.

Wingaru Education offers a number of teaching resources for Anzac Day, including ANZACs – Indigenous Veterans, to open discussion on Indigenous veterans in all Australian wars, beginning with the first internal wars against the British as well as Indigenous support as part of Australian defence forces overseas.

Remembering Elizabeth Pulley on ‘Australia Day’


I’ve had difficulty selecting a title for this blog as I remain conflicted with the title of ‘Australia Day’ continuing to be used for 26th January, when that day also signifies the beginning of the colonisation, slavery and murder of the First Nations in this country.  Promotional images of Aboriginal people in traditional costume dancing, singing and playing didgeridoos, does not ‘whitewash’ the historical reality for me. The enactments of the past of British arrival and Aboriginal opposition were at least more honest.   Public emphasis on it being a day for ALL Australians to celebrate also grates as it continues to ignore First Peoples’ stories. These days we are aware of, and can no longer ignore, the anomaly.[i]

The arrival of the British First Fleet into Sydney Cove on 26th January, 1788 is historical reality.  The union jack was raised, the cove (re)named and the land claimed for Britain.  My ancestors Anthony Rope and Elizabeth Pulley were convicts on that fleet, and it is their story that I wish to honour here.  The following are adapted excerpts from a longer study, Elizabeth Pulley: The First Five Years which I researched as part of background for thesis from 1998-2008 and later serialised in Elizabeth Pulley Sets Sail.  I am presenting it as a story based on facts on hand at the time, but a story none-the-less, and I apologise if some of the ‘facts’ prove to be inaccurate.

 BEGINNINGS (note that this is an earlier version to the ones I have serialised on Elizabeth Pulley Sets Sail)

At midnight on Christmas Eve in 1782 Elizabeth Pulley broke in and stole 10 lbs cheese, 3 lbs bacon, 24 oz butter, 3 lbs raisins, 7 lbs flour and 2 rolls of worsted material from the shop of Elizabeth Mimms at Hethersett in the South-East of England.

As far as I know Elizabeth was a single woman, an orphan, poor and had no known trade.  Little else is known about her background at this time, except that she was orphaned at the age of six, so it can only be imagined how she lived and survived.  According to Portia Robinson[ii] “it was the very poor, especially the single women, the washerwomen, the charwomen, the street-sellers, the silk-winders, streetwalkers and those of “no trade” who lived in…cellars and garrets…” in “…all the major cities and towns of Britain”.  Their lives “were characterised by squalor, poverty, dirt and disease…”.  The poverty had grown with the spread of the industrial towns and cities which were unable to deal with the increased population.

When Elizabeth stole from Mrs Mimms it was the middle of Winter and, after all, Christmas, the time of celebration and the giving of gifts.  Some of the more privileged made a habit of giving gifts to the poor as well.  Perhaps Elizabeth had nothing and wanted what everyone else had – a good meal, a Christmas pudding and a new dress for herself and family or friends.

Whatever the case Elizabeth was arrested, tried, confessed and sentenced to death.  She had done this before.  During the previous four years at least she had been arrested annually and convicted of stealing.  She had been gaoled, publicly whipped and sentenced to twelve months hard labour in the house of correction at Aylsham.  It had made no difference.  She still stole.  Perhaps there was no alternative for someone like her.

The courts had tried everything.  There was no improvement.  The gaols and prison hulks were overflowing already.  Transportation to America was no longer possible after 1781 when America won its independence from Britain.  So in 1783 the judgement was made that Elizabeth “should be hanged by the neck till she be dead”. She was about 22 years old.

Meanwhile in 1770 Captain James Cook had found “New Holland”.  Since then the British government had been examining the possibility of reviving transportation and New Holland was suggested as a potential site.  By 1786, three years after Elizabeth’s conviction, the plan to send convicts to NSW was put into operation by the government and preparations began.

At some stage during this period Elizabeth’s death sentence was reprieved and instead she was to be transported for seven years.  She spent the time waiting, imprisoned in Norwich Castle.

It was 1787.  The seed was planted.  The seed of hope and new beginnings for the 778[iii] convicts who were to travel from England on the First Fleet, and the seed of despair and death for the indigenous people of this ‘new’ land.

Two years later in another Winter, the Winter of 1789, thousands of the original inhabitants of the Sydney basin (country of the Gadigal, Eora and Darug) died from the effects of smallpox considered to be brought in by the new arrivals.  That was another beginning.  Over the next ten to fifteen years the original population of Australia was decimated by 50% – 90% as the smallpox epidemic was quickly followed by measles and influenza.

For Elizabeth, this was her only chance.


Winter had ended and spring festivities, including Lent, were in full swing when on 11th March 1787 Elizabeth Pulley, and Susannah Holmes, with whom she had spent the last 3 years in custody, were received on board the transport ship, Friendship, at Plymouth, England.  Elizabeth’s future husband Anthony Rope was on the Alexander.

The Friendship was captained by Lt. Ralph Clark and during the eight months and one week[iv]  journey Elizabeth was mentioned a number of times in Clark’s journal[v].  She was one of a group of women who continued to cause trouble throughout the passage, and was eventually moved to another ship, the Prince of Wales.   I need to add that when the women were moved it did not stop Lt. Clark’s complaints.


On Saturday 19th January, 1788 the Prince of Wales and the rest of the Fleet arrived at the entrance to Botany Bay (Kamay).  There was great excitement and relief at having arrived safely.

In spite of their explorations Captain Phillip and the officers were unable to find a suitable settlement site so Phillip ‘judged it advisable to examine Port Jackson’.  While he was away the officers continued their explorations around Botany Bay as well as clearing the land in preparation for settlement in case Port Jackson did not prove to be suitable.  The indigenous Australians were not happy, ‘The Natives were well pleas’d with our People until they began clearing the ground at which they were displeased & wanted them to be gone’.

The Aboriginal people were also astonished by the amount of fish the new arrivals could catch in their sein – ‘when they saw the quantity of Fish brought on shore at once were much astonished which they expressed by a loud & long shout, They took some of the Fish (which the Officer permitted) & ran away directly’.   The encroachment of the British on indigenous land and food sources had begun.

Underneath the surface friendliness of the British, who attempted to engage peacefully, there was quite a different attitude,  ‘The Governor’s plan with respect to the Natives, was, if possible to cultivate an acquaintance with them without their having an idea of our great superiority over them’…hmmm!

Phillip and his party returned to Botany Bay on 23rd January with good news about Port Jackson.  The fleet raised anchor and headed north.


On 26th January 1988, after an almost disastrous exit from Botany Bay, the fleet ‘Came to an Ankor at. 1/2 p, 6 OClock in Port Jackson Close to the New town Which Was Crisned this Day’.  The ships scattered through the bay, anchored, and were secured by ropes tied to the trees on shore.

The next day some of the convicts and troops began to clear ground and set up tents.  Collins, the Judge Advocate for the colony, was poignantly aware of the impact their arrival would have,

The spot chosen for this purpose was at the head of the cove, near the run of fresh water, which stole silently along through a very thick wood, the stillness of which had then, for the first time since the creation, been interrupted by the rude sound of the labourer’s axe, and the downfall of its ancient inhabitants;  a stillness and tranquillity which from that day were to give place to the voice of labour, the confusion of camps and towns, and ‘the busy hum of its new possessors’

Then on 28th the rest of the marines, their wives and children and the male convicts disembarked, and some stock was landed[vi].  At this stage Anthony Rope would have been put to work on shore, assisting in the preparation.  As the women convicts were not yet allowed to disembark, Elizabeth Pulley probably would have watched the activity from the deck of the Prince of Wales.

Immediately, some of the convicts began to run away as there were no longer any constraints.  A number ended up back at Botany Bay, and tried to obtain a passage on French ships which had arrived there, but they were dismissed with threats and were given ‘a days provisions to carry them back to ye settlement.’

Then on 5th February ‘slops of every kind’ were issued ‘to all the women & Childn. on board previous to their landing tomorrow…5 of the women, who supported the best Characters on board were this day landed on the Governor’s side of the Encampment, & had Tents pitch’d for them not far from the Governor’s house’.  The other women, who would have included Elizabeth Pulley, were directed to the west side of the Encampment.  The sailors were to remain on board the ships.

Finally at 5 a.m. on 6th February 1788 Elizabeth and the rest of the convict women prepared to disembark. ‘They were dress’d in general very clean & some few amongst them might be sd. to be well dress’d’[vii].  The peace did not last long as the women faced the waiting men on shore. It was a riot. ‘The Men Convicts got to them very soon after they landed, & it is beyond my abilities to give a just discription of the Scene of Debauchery & Riot that ensued during the night’.  One hour later there was also a ‘violent storm of thunder, lighteng. & rain’.

Elizabeth Pulley had arrived, carrying her bed with her.  The messy scene that was enacted on that first day was an apt introduction to the ensuing uneasy early years of settlement.

Three months after stepping onto Australian soil, Elizabeth Pulley married Anthony Rope.  She was about 25 years of age, and Anthony about 29.  Frances Williams loaned Elizabeth special clothes for the occasion, and Elizabeth Mason and John Summers acted as witnesses.  Elizabeth Mason had been one of ‘Pulley’s crowd’ on the Friendship, transferring with her to the Prince of Wales where they must have met up with Frances Williams.  John Summers had travelled out on the Alexander with Anthony.

It took a while but eventually Elizabeth and Anthony did make a life.  As the colony expanded they and their growing family moved to the newly opened areas west of Sydney until they were able, more or less, to support themselves off the land.  Elizabeth had eight known children.  One died young, some had children, some made a success of their lives, others had difficulty as in most families, but they survived.

The indigenous population, however, did not survive as well. Their land and food sources were increasingly overtaken, foreign diseases caused multiple deaths, and their fightbacks[viii] against British encroachment were squashed.[ix]

Whereas for me the 26th January will remain a symbol of my own British ancestors’ arrival and survival in Australia, part of our family tradition to be honoured and celebrated, stories such as these are complex and conflicted.  The other side of Elizabeth’s story challenges the current dating of our national day and has still to be accommodated.  It is important that we find a way to honour the whole, not just part.  That is yet to come. [x]

c. Annette Maie, 2017


[i] As the concept of ‘Australia Day for All’ is tied up with our understanding of ‘nationhood’ the date probably will not undergo a change until we cut our ties with Britain and become a truly independent nation.

[ii] Robinson, P.  The Women of Botany Bay.

[iii] Numbers seem to differ as some sources say only 759 actually sailed, some convict names did not appear on the Registers, and others had aliases.

[iv] according to Judge-Advocate David Collins, Fletcher, B. H. (ed.) An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Volume 1, by David Collins.

[v] Fidlon, P. G. & Ryan, R. J.  The Journal and Letters of Lt. Ralph Clark 1787-1792.

[vi] including mares, stallions, cows, a bull and a calf, ewes, poultry, goats and hogs.

[vii] Fidlon, P. G. & Ryan, R. J. The Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth:  Surgeon, Lady Penrhyn, 1787-1789

[viii] The first Australian armies to fight for their homeland;  also not yet officially recognised.

[ix] Grassby, A. & Hill, M.  Six Australian Battlefields.

[x] Addendum.  This year Freemantle, Western Australia has taken the lead and rescheduled their celebration and fireworks to 28th January, calling it ‘Unity Day’.  Let’s hope this is the trigger for further changes across Australia.