DON ELPHICK: HIS CONTRIBUTION TO ABORIGINAL HISTORY

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I was saddened to learn at Christmas of the death in September of Don Elphick. Don was known to the wider community for his role in rugby league football and described in an online obituary as ‘an instrumental part of the Canberra Raiders formation and entry into the NSWRL for their debut season in 1982, after a long and distinguished period with ACT rugby league.’ but his lasting legacy for many will be his publications, with his Wiradjuri wife Bev, of information relating to New South Wales and in particular Wiradjuri Aboriginal people. These include Riverina Aboriginals http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2903590?lookfor=d%20elphick&offset=4&max=40, Camp of Mercy http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3080605 and an index to Aboriginal people mentioned in surviving Protection and Welfare Board minutes http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/1906858?lookfor=d%20elphick&offset=9&max=40 . His research started as a project to locate the missing sister and brothers of his mother in law Flora, born Smith. The Smith children were taken from Warangesda mission and sent to Cootamundra Girls home in 1921 – the two boys then transferred to Kinchela Boys Home. Bev’s mother was able to survive – in itself a very difficult story – but knew nothing of the fate of her siblings. Don by brave and persistent research located Lillian Smith as a very old woman in a Katoomba boarding house – demented and living in the past she could not recognise or relate to Flora as the little girl she remembered as her 6 year old sister. The tragedy was that the Board had consistently untruly told relatives seeking information about her that there was none. Don did track down one brother Clarence but by then he was dead. He was never able to find Bruce Shannon (Fred) Smith. Despite this he continued to pursue his research in the interests of other Aboriginal people and there are many today both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal including me who have benefitted inestimably from his efforts. Just one aspect of this has been the identification of Aboriginal servicemen which in many cases could not have been achieved without his research.

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About Indigenous Histories

Author & Publisher of Australian history, art and culture.
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