The secret life of Hepburn Tindale

Tindale

A not very good picture of Hepburn, but the best we could find

Today we go down a rabbit hole. It starts with what we thought was a cute story about (possibly) the first Christian in Perth to convert to Islam and ends with lies at the inquiry into the Forrest River Massacre. If that’s not a rabbit hole, we don’t know what is.

But first, the story we originally thought we were going to tell.

In 1935, Hepburn Joseph Tindale underwent a ceremony at the William Street Mosque to formally convert to Islam. An old Guildford Grammar School boy, he had studied at Oxford University, before taking a degree in theology, working in South Africa, and then coming here as a freelance journalist for Sydney’s Bulletin.

Taking the new name Sadig Akber, he spoke about how all people needed to unite under one God, and this would eliminate war and racism. Which we thought was rather inspirational, even if it’s not a solution to world problems that particularly appeals to us.

So needing to know more about Hepburn’s spiritual journey, we looked him up in the archives. Which is where the Forrest River Massacre comes in, because he was one of the key witnesses during the inquiry in 1927. Only there he held a Masters in Anthropology from Oxford, was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and, as one of the leading experts on Aboriginal life, he was currently writing articles about them for the Manchester Guardian.

Which is a completely different story to the one he told eight years later.

As it happens, Hepburn was the cousin of Norman Tindale, whose anthropology is still considered masterful today. You’ve probably seen his map of Aboriginal language groups prior to European settlement. But Hepburn was not an expert on anything. In fact, he had no degree from Oxford, no Fellowship from the Royal Geographical Society, and had never written for the Guardian. To be fair, he had gone to Oxford in 1923 but left the same year with no qualifications.

But the inquiry didn’t know this and took him at face value as an expert on Aboriginal life in the Kimberley. Norman Tindale would have been. Hepburn Tindale was not. His testimony on how Aborigines lit fires and their cremation practices made it very difficult for the inquiry to prove beyond all reasonable doubt there had been a massacre.

So, it appears we have a Walter Mitty character, desperate to appear important in the eyes of others, and willing to do anything to be noticed. And the poor worshippers at the Mosque may have been the unknowing witnesses of yet another one of his fantasies. Certainly, we can’t find any more references to a ‘Sadig Akber’ after 1935, but the secretary of the Morowa Road Board in the 1940s was an ‘H. J. Tindale’. Could this be where our man finally ended up?

The times we need racists

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Market Gardener, 1893

Wait. What? Dodgy Perth is championing racists now? Of course not, but we must begrudgingly admit that bigots in the past have one good use: they give details about the lives of minorities which would otherwise be lost to historians. Don’t believe us? Let’s prove it.

Opposite the Brisbane Hotel is a patch of grass known as Birdwood Square. Most nights of the week you’ll find soccer players practicing there, and it hosts various events throughout the year. (Although it should be noted we mostly see it out of the Brisbane windows, rather than playing sport or doing non-drinking things.)

The original plan for the park was developed in 1917, and all sorts of exciting things were planned. It was to be laid out in avenues, lawns, shrubbery, and paths, with two hothouses and two shelters. Much more interesting than the current flat grass park which now exists.

The proposal also mentioned that in 1917 the land was currently a Chinese garden. And that’s all it said. To find out more we must turn to our racists. In this case, as so often back then, they were to be found among the journalists working for the scandal rag, The Truth.

How do we know the writer was xenophobic? Easy. The language used to describe the workers was ‘Chows’ and ‘heathens’, and a white woman who had a child with one of the Chinese market gardeners, and worked as their housekeeper, was ‘degraded’ by having a ‘half-caste’ kid. Pretty conclusive evidence we’d say. But what can we do with the information provided? We don’t want to discard it, because then we’d having nothing to say about the Chinese community living next to Beaufort Street in the early 20th century. But nor do we want to take it at face value. Instead, let’s pick it apart and see what’s of value.

According to our bigot, in 1903 there were four Chinese men running the market gardens, with sixteen men in their employ. A quick glance at the gardens, we are told, is deceptive. They can look beautiful with their spring foliage and fruit blossoms. And, of course, they provided food for the good (white) citizens of Perth.

But a peep ‘behind the scenes’ would disgust every right-thinking person, and probably put them off buying Chinese produce. The gardens were really a swamp, and there were piles of “evil-smelling manure, rotten old sacks, pieces of old matting, kerosene tins, old iron, and wire netting”. In other words, if not prejudiced against the workers, you might think this is like every other market garden. Ever.

The workers lived in rough housing on site, which revolted our journo, since he couldn’t imagine wanting to live in impoverished housing in a swamp. Naturally, this says more about the type of less-than-human the Chinese really were, than any socio-economic factors which might explain the choice of accommodation.

There is one factor more than any other which keeps coming up in accounts of Chinese market gardens. It is mentioned so often, it may even be true. Allegedly, and this sickened our white writer, one source of fertiliser was the water closets on site. The vegetables and fruit were being fed with human waste.

This topic is still controversial today, and the merits and dangers of biosolids (as poop is now euphemistically known) are debated over and over, with some claiming it’s the future and others decrying it as poisoning the crops. We don’t claim to have an opinion on the issue, but we do know that journalists working for The Truth wanted to expose this ‘crime’ as evidence no one should buy Chinese veg.

Worse, the workers, we are told, delighted in being surrounded by filth, “even if they know it will kill them”.

None of this would be easy information to come by, if it wasn’t for racists writing up lurid accounts, trying to discourage people from buying from the Chinese. Sure, it might be buried in a tedious government report, but the purple prose of a bigot can give an insight into the lives of those who aren’t usually documented in the history of our city.

Co-ed schools, free love, and suicide clubs

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Guildford Grammar First XI (1900)

With the news that Guildford Grammar is going co-ed, we feel it is only fair to warn the school of the potential dangers. At least, the dangers outlined at a lecture in the nearby Midland Town Hall in 1928.

Miss E. Stafford Miller had returned to Australia after spending twenty-five years in the United States. What she had seen of co-educational schools over there sent shivers down her spine:

The lecturer drew a lurid picture of the effect of the Modernist movement in the United States. “The youth of America is in revolt.” There were night clubs, and suicide clubs, dancing and all manner of clubs, where every kind of passion was indulged, while one of the greatest evils in existence was the co-educational schools where the elder youth of both sexes fraternised, and free love was discussed as an ordinary topic of conversation, so that the young men and young women asked themselves “Why undertake the responsibility of marriage?”

The lecturer concluded with a fervent appeal to those present to hold fast to the traditions of their fathers, and with all their might, mind and strength oppose any and every effort to introduce the co-educational school and any institution subversive of the moral interests of the race.

Dear teachers at GGS, don’t you have the moral interest of the race at heart? We must stop this madness now before one of your students dances.

How WA invented Pommies

pomegranates

A picture of whining poms

Western Australia is famous for many things but, up until now, it has not received credit for its greatest contribution to Australian culture. We invented the word ‘pommy’. Dictionaries like to say the origins of the word are obscure, but they aren’t. It started here.

On the goldfields they liked to play with words. Immigrants got called ‘Jimmy Grants’ because someone thought that was funny. Then it was taken too far. From ‘pomegranate’, Jimmy Grants became Pommygrants. And after that it quickly became the word Pomegranate itself, before getting shortened to Pommy. All this in Western Australia in the first years of the 20th century.

Dictionaries are also wrong when they claim Pommy first appeared during World War I. It is much earlier than that, and even appears in print in WA in January 1912 when immigrant British policemen were referred to as Pomegranate Johns, or Pommy for short. The word quickly spread around the whole country, and by 1913 the whining Poms were claiming it was a racially abusive word and should be banned. A joke from that year went like this:

A canvasser visited a house in Perth, and was referred by the good wife at the door to the “Old Man”, in the garden. He found that the “Old Man” was a Chinaman. “Do you mean to say you’ve married a Chinaman?” he said incredulously to the woman. “Why not?” she replied, “the woman next door married a Pommy.”

Before he died in 1950, John Jones of Leederville used to boast he had invented Pommy while perving on English girls on Hay Street. This is unlikely to be true, but does show that Western Australia has always claimed to be the origin for the word. It is time we were once again proud of our heritage.

My oath!

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William Street mosque, complete with traditional Islamic bullnose verandah

Bloody Muslims, coming over here with their history of centuries of trading with Western Australia before Europeans arrived, having been an accepted part of local society since the birth of the colony, and demanding to be treated with the respect the law has always shown them.

Wait, that last one can’t be right can it? Well, yes it can.

The earliest reference to someone swearing on the Quran is from 1833 when Sumud Alli did so to testify against his racist attacker, the appalling John Velvick. The newspaper report didn’t make anything of this oath, other than to mention it in the same way it noticed anyone else who was sworn in, so the journalist didn’t think this was very unusual. By the way, Velvick got his comeuppance at the hands of the law and later met his death at the hands of Yagan.

By the early 20th century, the Supreme Court respected Islamic tradition by ensuring its copy of the Quran was first wrapped in canvas and then covered in colourful silk handkerchiefs. This way, it could be handled by court officials and still be considered acceptable to Muslim witnesses taking the oath.

And in 1918 the Supreme Court was even willing to allow a case between two Muslims to be adjourned so it could be settled using customary processes. A dispute over who owed what for a sale of camels was resolved when the defendant went to the William Street Mosque, washed himself in the presence of his Imam, put on clean clothes and then swore on a certain passage of the Quran. The judge accepted this and was happy with the outcome.

What’s with these people demanding the respect we used to accord them all the time?

The WA head hunter

Frank Hann

Hero or villain?

Today we would like to introduce you to the two faces of explorer and pastoralist Frank Hann. First up is the face you get if you read the, normally reliable, Australian Dictionary of Biography. To our regret, the article was written by one of our favourite local historians.

In the ADB you will read about his amazing feats of “bushmanship and endurance” and how he traversed into one of the most difficult areas in Australia which was “peopled by unwelcoming Aboriginals”.

Un-fucking-welcoming? You’d probably not welcome someone who decided to steal 2,590 sq km of your country either. But you won’t find that in the ADB, for there is not a single criticism of this great hero in the article. To discover more you have to keep scrolling down to the ‘Additional Resources’ section.

Readers are advised that the following contains a scene which may be distressing, particularly to Aboriginal people.

In 1909 Hann boasted of his exploits in shooting at some Aborigines who were resisting the invasion of their land:

Had I shot the black with a red band I would have cut his head off and sent his skull to Mr. F. Brockman, of Perth, who asked me to send him one, as a friend of his in London wanted one. I was very sorry that I could not send him four, but later on I got him a splendid one.

WTF? Hann is proud he decapitated an Aboriginal warrior and sent his head back to Perth. And it was gratefully received by Frederick Drake-Brockman.

Such boasting might have played well with Hann’s mates in the Kimberley, but it was too much for the residents of Perth. The Aborigines Department demanded a police investigation, and the Premier announced that Hann was to no longer be paid by the Government.

The Anglican Bishop, Charles Riley, was outraged as well. He demanded a full inquiry, for which Hann vowed never to speak to the bishop again.

But then Hann tried to back down, claiming anything and everything to take the heat off. He’d been joking, he’d acted in self-defence, he loved Aborigines and would never hurt any of them.

Various friends also came to his aid, claiming he was man who really liked Aboriginal people, and it had all been just a campfire yarn really.

And what of Frederick Drake-Brockman? He rapidly wrote to the media and was forced to admit he had received a skull, which he had posted to England “for scientific purposes”. After all, it was difficult to get hold of Aboriginal body parts where the dead person’s blood hadn’t been mixed with other races.

But, he said, it didn’t look fresh to him. It was probably an “old man, dead some years.” Oh. Well that’s all okay then. And guess whether you’ll find any mention of Fred’s collecting habits in his ADB entry? Did you guess right?

From this distance it does appear probable (but not certain) that Hann did not actually murder anyone for their skull, but that is not our key point here. We want to draw attention to the whitewashing of WA ‘heroes’, whose real natures remain buried under romantic talk of bushmanship and exploration.

A little fair play

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Quairading School. Image shamelessly lifted from State Heritage Office site.

Depressing news that the heritage-listed Quairading School burnt down last night. As a piece of architecture it was completely average, but this was a key battleground in ensuring Aboriginal children received the same right to education as white kids.

For those who’ve seen the movie Rabbit Proof Fence, you will know the head of the Aborigines Department, A. O. Neville, was demonised in the film. But he turns out to be the good guy here, fighting the Education Department for the admission of Aboriginal kids to Quairading School when they had been excluded on racist grounds.

If you want the full story on the school check out this link.

But the real hero was John Kickett who simply wanted his offspring educated, and kept moving his family in the 1910s, struggling to find someone who would teach them. In a heart-breaking letter he sent to his local MP, John set out the reasons why Aboriginal children deserved better.

We have left the original spelling in the small excerpt below to show that John was barely literate, and writing a lengthy letter with all the formalities required in his day must have been a real effort. But his passion for ensuring the next generation did better shines through.

I wont a little Fair Play if you will Be so Kind Enough to see on my Beharfe since reciving the Letter from the Department Dated 30th April 1918 that My Children Cannot attend school at Quairading.

I see that the Education Department as let Johnny Fitzgeralds Children enter the State School north west of Quairading. They are attending the school four months just now this is not Fair at all. They were turned out of the Quairading State School for some reason and let them enter another. What I here is that Baxter made it right for them Because one of them is at the Front Fighting.

Well Sir I have Five of my People in France Fighting. Since you were up here in your Election one as Been Killed which leave four. Cannot my Children have the same Privelige as Johnny Fitzgerald…

Would you Be so Kind Sir see if they can goe to Dangin or the same school north of Quairading if I send them their? Sir I Cannot see why my Children could not attend here at Quairading.

My People are Fighting for Our King and Country Sir. I think they should have the liberty of going to any of the State.

I had Fifteen Parents of whos Children are attending the State School have signed the Petition knows my Children well so they could goe to School here But was refused By the Department.

My Childrens Uncles are Fighting. Could you do some thing for the little ones.