David Huggonson is a former teacher with involvement in Aboriginal organisations as well as the author of numerous newspaper and journal articles, particularly on Aboriginal service in the First World War. He is the creator of the exhibition Too Dark for the Light Horse which toured South Eastern Australia in the late 80s and 90s.This collection of photographs of Aboriginal members of the AIF has been hugely influential in informing the Australian public of the neglected reality of Aboriginal war service.  

The following article, generously shared by David, on the problems encountered by Aboriginal children seeking education in Gayndah, Queensland – including children of men who had fought for their country in the AIF- highlights a situation replicated in other places and states.

Philippa Scarlett

2 August 2022

Vincent Law, Queenslander 1918


                                                     By David Huggonson                               

As early as 1913, the good white parents of Gayndah were complaining about a number of Aboriginal children attending Gayndah State School and the number of blacks camped in the neighbourhood of Oakey Creek.  The secretary of the school committee, Mr Coogan, telegraphed the Education Department threating a white boycott the school. [i] Furthermore, they called for the camp blacks to be sent to Barambah Mission Station where a school existed.

Inspector Taylor was sent to investigate and found that Mrs Law, a half-caste who rented a house near the camp had some children who attended school living with her.  Inspector Taylor also reported that a number of half-castes from the camp attend the Church of England Sunday School held in the Parish Hall. [ii]

On 13 August 1913, it was announced in the Brisbane Courier that the Chief Protector of Aborigines is about to make an interesting experiment in the Gayndah District. A number of intelligent half-castes, most of whom could read and write, were to be given small plots of land, which was heavily infested prickly pear, about three miles from Gayndah. The plan called for them to clear and fence their 10-acre plots and to become self-sufficient, in addition to continue to do clearing and fencing work for local farmers.  The Chief Protector foreshadowed an Aboriginal school if the proposed settlement proved a success.

In May 1918, the Department of Education agreed to establish a special school for Aboriginal children and a Mr William was asked to be the teacher.  In December 1920 it was reported that three hundred and seventy-one pounds had been authorised to erect a new school for the blacks.[iii]  Around this time the Department of education refused to reopen Bon Accord School near Wetheron and eventually moved the school building to another site. Bon Accord was one of the Cooperative Communities established on 2,350 acres northeast of Gayndah during the depression of 1993-94. [iv] The new Aboriginal school began operations in mid June 1924. 

It is interesting to note that the Aboriginal children denied entry to the Gayndah State School were offspring of men allowed to enlist in the Army of White Australia during World War One.  The 22-year-old horse breaker, Walter Couchy served with the 7th Field Artillery Battalion.  Vincent and Douglas Law, both served with the 2nd Light Horse Regiment. However, 26-year-old Robert Bond was discharged because he was deemed “not substantially of European origin”.  His attestation papers state that his father was a half-caste and his mother a full-blood Aborigine.

Reading through the Admission Registers for the Gayndah Aboriginal School, it encapsulates some Queensland Aboriginal History. [v] For example, George Carbine father of Walter most likely gained his surname from a Native Police Mounted Police officer who named his ancestor after the snider carbine used to deadly effect by the force.  Mi Mi and Cobbo are only two Aboriginal words, which became surnames.

The Aborigines of Gayndah went from annual blanket handouts on Queen Victoria’s birthday [vi] to integration into the Gayndah State School, for the school year beginning in 1949.  It took the Second World War and the Nazi holocaust to discredit eugenic theory and the service of Aboriginal men in the Australian Army in two wars to finally win a degree of acceptance and some citizenship rights.

[i] Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser 25 February 1913, page 2

[ii] Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser 6 March 1913, page 4

[iii] Brisbane Telegraph, 17 December 1920, page 6

[iv] Metcalf, Bill (1988) “The Gayndah Communes” Central Queensland University  Press and Maryborough Chronicle 30 April 1921 , page 3

[v] Queensland State Archives EDU/AA 428,  Film Z1447

children of men who had fought for their country in the AIF.

[vi] Maryborough Chronicle, 5 June 1879, page 2

About Indigenous Histories

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