Upper Hunter Case Study : Reading 102

Upper Hunter Hisotry of Aboriginal and European contact: Part A

Aboriginal people in the Hunter Valley

Today Aboriginal culture is recognized as holding the oldest collective memory known to man and prior to 1788 the continent was home to a diverse range of over 300 differing language or tribal groups. Western scientific understanding dictates that Aboriginal culture has existed on the Australian continent for upwards of 60,000 years. In contrast Aboriginal belief states that Aboriginal people have been a part of the Australian continent ‘since the time before time began’. James Cook’s exploration of the east coast of the Australian continent in 1770 and journal observations and maps were responsible for the British government’s decision to establish a penal settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. The invasion of Aboriginal Australia had begun.

Aboriginal peoples living in the Hunter Valley were culturally and environmentally rich groups who had lived in the area for thousands of years. The sense of care and respect they developed for their environment and sacred attachment to land ensured the survival of future generations. Trade and gift exchange were very important elements of Aboriginal economic, social and ritual life. Trade routes criss-crossed all parts of the continent including the Hunter Valley. Goods including shell, wood, gums, ochre and a variety of manufactured items such as tools, ornaments and sacred objects were sent along these routes. Kinship is the central core to the egalitarian Aboriginal extended family system - including skin and totemic affiliation. There were no chiefs or kings; in traditional Aboriginal society, all Aboriginal adults have ongoing reciprocal commitments to one another.

The Dreaming beliefs of all Aboriginal groups are linked and interwoven to the Creative Ancestors. The Creation heroes created the world and all within during the creation era. Prior to the creation period the Hunter Valley like the continent at large was a vast empty flat plain devoid of any living thing. The creation ancestors rose up from their slumber beneath the plain to invoke the creation period. In doing so they left their indelible imprint – mountains, rivers, lakes, rocks, flora, fauna and man/woman. Every geographical feature and living thing on the land bore the mark of the Creative Ancestors.

In regard to spiritual beliefs there were several important Beings in the Hunter Valley, including Biame and Koin. Reverend Kemp recorded aspects of early Muswellbrook history when attached to the clergy in the 1840s. He wrote briefly about Aboriginal people in the locality and recorded a small vocabulary. He revealed that some Aboriginal people in the area believed in Biame the creation hero of the Kamilaroi, whilst others paid reverence to Koin the Creation Ancestor of the Awabakal, Gringhai and Worimi. An ochre painting of Biame is located in a cave at Milbrodale on the outskirts of Singleton. Biame is depicted as a large figure with long outspread arms welcoming and embracing protectively the tribal territory.

Pp 12 - 13

Source:
Wannin Thanbarran
A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley
Greg Blyton, Deirdre Heitmeyer and John Maynard
Umulliko Centre for Indigenous Higher Education
The University of Newcaste
A project of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee

 

 

First Contact in the Upper Hunter Valley

1788 witnessed the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney, but more than thirty years would pass before the first colonists arrived in the upper Hunter Valley. Between 1818 and 1821 Benjamin Singleton and John Howe led exploratory parties along the Great Divide from Windsor under the instructions of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. These men are credited with discovering the rich grasslands and the vast forests of the upper Hunter Valley and the town of Singleton and Howe’s Valley are a legacy of these men’s efforts.

The anxiety and fear of Aboriginal people by Singleton and his group clearly evident in the following extract, which occurred on the Tuesday 5th May 1818:

Deep Gully’s to the westward to get Water Halted the Night about 8 o’clock Disturbed by the Voice of Natives Cracking of Sticks an Rolling By the Stones Down towards us every man of us arose an fled from the fire secreting ourselves behind trees with our guns.

John Howe led an exploratory party along the mountain ranges to the Hunter Valley in the following year and a second journey in 1821. As a result the rich lands of the Hunter Valley became known to the colonists including the discovery of a large river teeming with fish. Howe believed the lands were ideal for sheep and cattle and wrote in his journal:

It is the finest sheep land I have seen since I left England ... The grass on the low ground equals a meadow in England and will grow as good a swath and is like the native grass where old stockyards have been.

Howe continued his journey until he reached Maitland and from this time the Hunter Valley became a target of colonization. Several colonists were ordered by Governor Brisbane to survey the lands along the river, including Henry Dangar who wrote:

From 1822, when the valley contained no people, save its few [Aboriginal inhabitants, to November, 1825, no less than 372,141 acres were appropriated to 792 persons, 132,164 acres were allotted for church and school purposes, and 100,000 acres reserved in various parts by the Government.

Aboriginal people living in the Hunter Valley resisted these incursions on their lands from the outset. In the summer of 1824 Henry Dangar leading a survey party of five men were forced by around 150 Aboriginal men to withdraw. The Australian reported on the 23rd December 1824:

From Dartbrook they proceeded on to the Liverpool Plains, across the dividing range which separates the waters of the Hunter’s River from the waters of the Western Country. On the borders of these they met with a large body of natives ... by whom they were attacked unawares: one of their party having been struck by a spear in the head.

With the assistance of guns the survey party managed to make their way to the sanctuary of Dr. Bowman’s farm.

A Forceful Response

The next decade witnessed hundreds of colonists arriving in the Valley to occupy Crown Land grants for thousands of sheep and cattle. These land grants occupied prime locations along the Hunter River and the settlers quickly intensified efforts to exclude Aboriginal people from these properties and the resources of the land. Denied access to land and, resources, and improprieties endured by Aboriginal women, resulted with the situation deteriorating into a state of warfare. On the 4th September 1826 Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, the missionary to Aboriginal people at Lake Macquarie wrote:

But Alas! the blood of the Blacks begin to flow, we are in state of warfare up the country here - two stockmen have been speared in retaliation for the 4 natives who were deliberately shot without any trial or form whatever. Martial Law is the cry of the Settlers and there be many who are grieved that a man is come to seek the welfare of the Aborigines.

Pp 15 - 17

Source:
Wannin Thanbarran
A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley
Greg Blyton, Deirdre Heitmeyer and John Maynard
Umulliko Centre for Indigenous Higher Education
The University of Newcaste
A project of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee

The Trial of Lieutenant Nathaniel Lowe

The Aboriginal men who were ‘deliberately shot’ and referred to by Threlkeld were prisoners under the guard of Lieutenant Nathaniel Lowe and in 1827 this military man stood trial for murder in the Supreme Court at Sydney. From the allegations made in the trial it was claimed that an Aboriginal man named ‘Jackey Jackey alias Commandant, alias Jeffrey’ was taken outside the gaol at Wallis Plains (Maitland) and shot by a firing squad. One witness swore under oath:

About seven o’clock two soldiers took him to government house, where Mr. Lowe was then living. I followed them to government house and heard Mr. Lowe order four soldiers to take him and shoot him. They took the man about a quarter of a mile off in the bush. The soldiers had their muskets with them; they placed him by the side of a tree, three of them fired at him. I was standing close by; he fell and the fourth soldier who had not yet discharged his piece, went within a few yards of where the black lay and put a ball through his body...We all came away and left him there.

Another witness called William Salisbury gave a similar version of the alleged murder of the Aboriginal man, which occurred following an order from Lowe. The defence counsel consisting of William Wentworth attacked the credibility of the witnesses emphasising they were both ex-convicts which cast sufficient doubt in the minds of the jury to deliver a verdict of not guilty for the alleged murder:

The jury retired for about five minutes, during which time the utmost impatience was manifested by the auditors in Court to hear the result. The Jury having returned, and silence restored, the Foreman delivered a verdict - NOT GUILTY. Loud and general applause accompanied this Announcement of the verdict. The numerous friends of Lieutenant Lowe crowded round to congratulate him on the happy termination of the trial. A second burst of applause was given as he triumphantly left the Court.

The hostile state of relations between the colonists and Aboriginal people led to bitterness and hatred and resulted in casualties to both sides over the next decade. On the same day as Threlkeld wrote of a “state of warfare” in the upper Hunter Valley, eleven Hunter River ‘landholders’ presented a petition to Governor Ralph Darling requesting military assistance to counter resistance from Aboriginal people. It is clear from the petition that relations between the two were not good. However, it was in the settlers’ interests to play up Aboriginal barbarity as a means of sanctioning their own terror campaigns. The following extract is a facsimile copy of this petition and is dated the 4th September 1826:

May, it Please Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned, Landholders at Hunter’s River, beg leave most respectfully to represent to Your Excellency the present very disturbed state of the country by the incursions of the numerous Tribes of Black Natives, armed and threatening death to our Servants, and destruction to our property.

We are fully impressed with the intentions of Your Excellency by ordering the protection of the Horse Patrole?; at this moment, we have received information that some of the soldiers are withdrawn to attend an Investigation at Newcastle on a subject connected with the marauding conduct of the Natives.

We most humbly trust Your Excellency will take this into Your consideration, either by ordering others to take their places, or by suspending the order to recall to Newcastle, until the threats and murderous designs of the Natives shall have subsided; for, in the event of our losing the protection of the Troops, our property will be exposed to revenge and depredation of these infuriated and savage people.

The relationship between Aboriginal people and colonists caused Darling to write to Earl Bathurst, Colonial Office in London informing him of the deteriorating state of relations. Bathurst wrote to Darling on the 14th July 1825 who received the letter of instruction on the 5th May 1826:

In reference to the discussions, which have recently taken place in the Colony respecting the manner, in which the Native Inhabitants are to be treated when making hostile incursions for the purpose of Plunder, you will understand it to be your duty, when such disturbances cannot be prevented or allayed by less vigorous measures, to oppose force by force, and to repel such Aggressions in the same manner, as if they proceeded from subjects of any accredited State.

As a result of these instructions Darling had a mandate to use his discretion and in the following extract he orders the colonists who were taking up land grants to employ force to counter Aboriginal peoples’ resistance. He wrote to the ‘Hunter River landholders’ in October 1826:

Every one knows that, from the Natives as a Body, at the utmost but few in Numbers, nothing is to be feared. The Settlements at Hunter’s River are very extensive, and the Settlers, who are proportionately numerous, should not allow the Natives to see they are under any apprehension. Vigorous measures amongst yourselves would more effectually establish Your ascendancy than the utmost power of the Military, as, when the latter are withdrawn ... no longer fearing the Settlers, the Natives will renew their depradations.

The result of these instructions saw the ‘Settlers’ willingly oblige the Governor, forming vigilante groups who attacked Aboriginal people at every opportunity, and in keeping with the instructions applied ‘vigorous methods’ to do so. The Australian in September 1826 mentioned incidents at Hunter’s River where the military and civilians joined forces in a punitive expedition in to counter Aboriginal resistance which led to the death of 18 Aboriginal people.

Clashes were breaking out throughout the upper Hunter Valley and from the account left by Peter Cunningham it is apparent that casualties were occurring on both sides. Cunningham records one incident where “two whites were found in the hut, one quite dead” and the response of the colonists is clearly a forceful one:

A party of constables and soldiers was forthwith dispatched to punish the murderers, and near the scene of these atrocities fell in with a recent native track ...Wishing to secure one of the group to obtain information, a female with a child on her shoulders was pursued, as the most likely to be caught ... at length exhausted by her efforts, she sank with her load.

The Aboriginal woman was captured and subsequently interrogated by the military who discovered they had harassed the wrong community. Cunningham writes, “It turned out afterwards that this was unfortunately a friendly tribe, who had nothing to do with the murders”.

Not all colonists followed the offensive and vigilante mentality, some preferred a more conciliatory approach for resolving differences with Aboriginal people. This was clearly the case at Merton on the outskirts of Muswellbrook where a confrontation occurred on the land grant of Captain William Ogilvie. Peter Cunningham who was a neighbour of Ogilvie recorded the incident, which showed that resolution was possible and the nature of relations between the two peoples had a distinct variance from friendship to open violence:

The natives around Merton, the residence of Lieutenant Ogilvie, R.N., had remained all along on the most friendly terms with his establishment, but during his absence were provoked into hostility by a party of soldiers and constables, who had wantonly maltreated them.

Mrs. Ogilvie was at home, surrounded by her young family and a few domestics, when the loud threatening yells of the savages suddenly aroused her attention, and made her summon all her energies to face the impending disaster. They seized the two constables within a few yards of the door, whom they were shaking by the collars,... when Mrs. Ogilvie, rushing fearlessly in among the brandished clubs and poised spears, by firmness and persuasivessness(sic) of her manner, awed them and soothed them into sentiments of mercy.

Aboriginal resistance to colonization continued in the following years and further evidence of conflict is found in The Monitor, which reported on the 4th August 1828:

Dr. Little, of Upper Hunter’s River, resides about twenty miles on this side of the mountain range which separates his District from Liverpool Plains. He lately crossed that range, and on coming to a hut, found to his horror and astonishment, the bodies of some half dozen black natives ... He pursued his journey until he fell in with white people, stock-keepers and others. He learnt from them that a large body of blacks had suddenly made their appearance, but whether they paid their visit hostilely, or merely came in great numbers for self-protection, the stock-keepers admitted they could not tell. However acting in concert, our people commenced a destructive fire of musquetry upon them, and the blacks presently fled. Such were the circumstances of the fight, that some of the black fugitives on being pursued, ascended the trees in hopes of escaping, whence they were brought down by the balls of the assailants.

According to this report the colonists were following the orders of Governor Darling, taking the initiative and using ‘vigorous measures’ to take the offensive against Aboriginal people. However, resistance against the colonists continued in 1830 at Wollombi where Lieutenant Breton recorded an incident in his journal after travelling through the district. Breton wrote:

A neighbouring tribe killed, in 1830, more than 100 sheep belonging to a settler who has a farm near Wollombi; they than (check spelling) bound the shepherd hand and foot, left him upon an ant’s nest (a bed that Guatimozin himself would not have envied him), and then departed. The man was rescued before he sustained any injury, and most fortunately for him, for these ants sting and bite in a way that would astonish any one, as I know from experience, having twice suffered from their attacks, to, my great annoyance, for many days afterwards. The large black ant can cause a pain almost as acute as that of a wasp! A party of soldiers, or dismounted police, were sent after the offenders, of whom they killed several.

According to Breton several Aboriginal people were shot for killing the 100 sheep and tying the shepherd to a bed of ants, a rather harsh penalty which highlights the sorry state of relations at this time. Conflict eased in the upper Hunter Valley in the 1830s as the colonists gained ascendancy through force over the Aboriginal people. However in the upper reaches of the valley toward New England evidence suggests conflict had not entirely ceased.

Pp 18 - 24

Source:
Wannin Thanbarran
A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley
Greg Blyton, Deirdre Heitmeyer and John Maynard
Umulliko Centre for Indigenous Higher Education
The University of Newcaste
A project of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee

 

 

The Impact of Dispossession

From the middle of the 1820s colonization moved quickly into the upper Hunter Valley bringing major disruption to traditional Aboriginal society. According to the Historical Records of Newcastle a government account in 1827 revealed there were ‘25,540 horned cattle’ and ‘80,000 sheep’ in the Hunter Valley. The lush grasslands described a few years earlier by John Howe were being rapidly consumed by the beasts of the colonists and with it the environment of Aboriginal people was grossly disturbed.

With their food supply diminished Aboriginal people turned to the sheep, cattle and crops of the colonists to survive, but as stated this brought retribution from the colonists who reacted with violent force to what they saw as ‘incursions’ of their property. Without food the health of Aboriginal people naturally deteriorated and a reliance on the handouts of the colonists was precarious to state the least. Occasionally Aboriginal people did work of a seasonal nature by assisting in the harvest of crops in return for foods such as flour, pumpkins and sugar, but too often the payments included addictive substances such as alcohol and tobacco. And when the work ceased so did the payments leaving Aboriginal people in the unenviable position of trying to survive in an environment that was losing its vitality.

In 1846 a Select Committee of Inquiry was conducted to investigate the state of Aboriginal people in the Hunter Valley which revealed a number of negative aspects of the impact of dispossession. The following extract is from the reply by Reverend Joseph Cooper of the Church of England to the Inquiry and relates to the state of Aboriginal people in the upper Hunter Valley at Falbrook, Jerry’s Plains and Wollombi:

The probable number Aborigines in this district is about one hundred and fifty. The males are the most numerous; there is however a fair proportion of females; the number of children is comparatively small.

The number has greatly diminished; within the last seven years the decrease has certainly been one-third of the number. About seven years ago I have seen eighty and ninety Aborigines encamped in the township of Paterson; the greatest number at the present never excedes twenty of twenty-five.

The decrease appears to me to have taken place mainly among the adults. The number of children observed among them... was so small that the decrease could not arise from casualties among them ... many of the finest young men, existing even three of four years ago, have now disappeared.

The causes are in my opinion two- The vice of drunkenness, to which they are, both male and female, very addicted; and disease contracted through their intercourse of their women with the whites.

Their condition is very wretched; their means of subsistence is lessened to a very great extent ... There are few or no kangaroo; they have either been destroyed, or they have retired far from the haunts of men. The kangaroo was the chief food of the natives.

Obviously traditional Aboriginal society of the upper Hunter Valley was experiencing major problems. In particular the winter times were harsh periods for Aboriginal people struggling to find a place in the sun away from the glare of colonization. The government occasionally distributed blankets as a means of helping Aboriginal people and it is interesting to note the comments of Reverend Cooper who requested in 1846 that the issue of such comforts be resumed:

I know of no bad effects arising from giving the unfortunate Aborigines blankets; we have, in a great measure, been the means of depriving them of the source from which they formerly derived their warm clothing in abundance, and it would seem cruel to withhold the blankets; I certainly think it would be highly advisable, both on the ground of principle and charity, to resume the distribution.

Pp 26 - 28

Source:
Wannin Thanbarran
A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley
Greg Blyton, Deirdre Heitmeyer and John Maynard
Umulliko Centre for Indigenous Higher Education
The University of Newcaste
A project of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee

 

Caroona and St Heliers

The Caroona Mission (originally Walhollow Station) was located about 20 kilometres from Quirindi and was established in the late 1870’s. There were usually around 200 Aboriginal people living in accommodation provided by the government under the control of the station manager. The mission had its own school which went to primary level and at one time was used as a showpiece of the fine work undertaken by the Aboriginal Welfare Board as the following extract written by Superintendent A.W.Lipscomb from The Dawn attests:

My first visit was to Caroona Station. This settlement is located about nineteen miles from Quirindi, and the same distance from Werris Creek. It is one of our oldest stations, and usually carries a population of over 200 people, although the number at present is somewhat less. Since the War this Station has been entirely rebuilt, and is now a modern up-to-date settlement with lovely homes, School, Hall, Church, Farm buildings and other amenities. A proud record of Caroona Station is that every family has been able to live independently of the Board’s assistance throughout the past five years, and not one ration has been issued. Even the old folk are being looked after by their young able-bodied relatives, who are in good steady employment. The homes are nicely furnished; many have wireless sets and refrigerators and nice gardens have been made around the homes.

This reference reveals that Aboriginal people were in ‘good steady employment’, but it is clear some degree of social alienation from mainstream society was active. The station was a significant distance from Quirindi and all the facilities such as a school, church and a hall reflects a people living in an isolated situation that could be described as sub-cultural and institutional.

St Heliers is located on the outskirts of Muswellbrook towards McCullys Gap and was originally a property occupied by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dumeresq who was part of the colonial force who went to the Upper Hunter Valley in the late 1820’s. A section of the property of around 450 acres was purchased by the government in 1945 and served as a child welfare institution until its closure in 1986. As an orphanage this institution has been identified by members of the Wanaruah Local Aboriginal Land Council as a place where Aboriginal children were taken from their parents and was very much a part of the Stolen Generations.

The removal of Aboriginal children from their natural parents was commonplace during the 20th century. It is has been estimated that around 8,000 Aboriginal children in New South Wales were taken from their parents and placed into state institutions. It is widely regarded from an Aboriginal perspective that not one Aboriginal family has escaped from the trauma of having children torn from their parents. As a result thousands of Aboriginal children lost their cultural identity and became alienated from their natural families. Such government action leaves Aboriginal people with no doubt that the process was one of pre-meditated paternalism. The taking of Aboriginal children from their families and placing them in an Institution to weaken resolve would remain at the forefront of government policy well into the late 20th century.

The following extract reveals that the sentiments of the early decades of the twentieth century were still impacting upon Aboriginal life many decades later. The Superintendent of the Aboriginal Welfare Board A. W. Lipscomb in December 1953 reflected this policy:

The Board recognises the generally accepted principle that a child’s natural heritage is to be brought up in its own home, under care of its natural parents. There is no wholly satisfactory substitute for this. Unfortunately, some parents, despite all efforts on their behalf, prove themselves incapable or unsuitable to be entrusted with this important duty, and the Board is forced to take the necessary action for the removal of the child.

The best substitute for its own home is a foster home with competent and sympathetic foster-parents. Failing this, the only alternative is a Home under management of the Board’s own offices.

The Aboriginal children that found their way into St. Heliers have a special place in this infamous chapter in Australian history. A retired schoolteacher from Muswellbrook recalls that in the 1960’s the average number of Aboriginal children who attended Muswellbrook South Primary School from St. Heliers averaged about eight. According to sources the children were always ‘neatly dressed’ and travelled to and from the orphanage by bus. It was the role of the teachers to integrate them into mainstream society and to this effect “ I think we were successful. A few of them became very good football players and gained employment.”

pp65-57

Source:
Wannin Thanbarran
A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley
Greg Blyton, Deirdre Heitmeyer and John Maynard
Umulliko Centre for Indigenous Higher Education
The University of Newcaste
A project of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee

 

 

St Clair (Mount Olive), Caroona and the Aborigines Inland Mission

At the turn of the nineteenth century there were few outward signs that aspects of traditional Aboriginal society had survived in the Hunter Valley. Small groups of survivors lived at places such as Reddonberry and Glennies Creek, while others had become integrated into mainstream society and lived in the towns. But for the majority of Aboriginal people in the Upper Hunter Valley life revolved around missions and reserves under the paternal umbrella of the Aborigines Protection Board.

In the Upper Hunter two areas were set aside as reserves for Aboriginal people in the late nineteenth century. One was located on the outskirts of Quirindi called Caroona and the other between Muswellbrook and Singleton at Carrowbrook called St. Clair, (later Mount Olive Station). In 1890 land set aside at St. Clair amounted to about 60 acres where Aboriginal people quickly adapted and combined European farming with traditional means of subsistence. They successfully grew and harvested a variety of vegetables, including corn, potatoes and cabbages. A number of Aboriginal people at Singleton and Muswellbrook remember their parents and grandparents living at these places during the twentieth century. From the archival records it is apparent that St Clair was the centre of Aboriginal life in the first half of the century and Caroona succeeded this position in the second half of the century. In 1905 St Clair came under the control of the Aborigines Inland Mission (A.I.M.). A Baptist missionary Retta Dixon founded the Aborigines Inland Mission in 1905, after a split with the Australian Aborigines Mission (A.A.M.) A year later Dixon was instrumental in establishing a female orphanage for Aboriginal girls and these premises were located in George Street Singleton and a second mission at Redonberry on the banks of the Hunter River. The mission at St.Clair became a place for missionaries to recruit. These missionaries came from a variety of religious denominations, including Baptists, Uniting Church, Anglican and Brethren. The A.I.M.’s evangelical role with Aboriginal peoples in New South Wales extended to many communities.

The St Clair Mission operated under the control of the Aborigines Inland Mission until 1916 when control was taken over by the Aborigines Protection Board and a station manager was appointed to operate the reserve which became known as Mount Olive. The Aboriginal people at Mount Olive were subjected to the absolute control of the manager and a significant number were expelled for failing to adhere to the strict regulations. As a result the number of Aboriginal people living at Mount Olive declined during those years. It was completely swallowed up by the Board and closed off to Aboriginal people altogether in 1923. One Aboriginal woman from the Singleton district recalls that her mother and grandparents relocated to the other side of Carrowbrook following the closure of Mount Olive:

When my mother, and my grandmother left the mission, my grandfather got a piece of land across the creek from the mission. They had their own vegetable garden farm down on the creek flat, then it was sold off. When I go back there I always feel welcome. It’s a feeling I can’t explain to people.

Tom Phillips was a prominent and highly politicised individual who had settled and farmed St Clair reserve outside Singleton during its heyday. James Miller identifies that:

Tom Phillips, an uncle of Jack Miller, chose not to accept the white man’s religion. During the 1900s Tom Phillip’s name was a very significant one in the Singleton and St Clair areas. His name appeared in several editions of the Singleton Argus in the 1900s while nothing was said of him in the Inland Mission’s journal Our Aim. Had Tom Phillips been a Christian, the latter publication would have most certainly written about him’.

The savage experiences of this second “dispossession”, including the loss of St Clair and the impact of that event on Tom Phillips was one of the significant catalysts that would trigger Aboriginal political mobilisation and revolt in the mid 1920’s.

pp57-60

Source:
Wannin Thanbarran
A History of Aboriginal and European Contact in Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Valley
Greg Blyton, Deirdre Heitmeyer and John Maynard
Umulliko Centre for Indigenous Higher Education
The University of Newcaste
A project of the Muswellbrook Shire Council Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee