Joan Martin (Yarrna): A Widi Woman

Joan Martin (Yarrna): A Widi Woman

by Joan Martin, Bruce Shaw


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The life story of Joan Martin is that of a fierce Aboriginal woman who fought for the rights of her community and her autobiography also tells of the Aboriginal experience in general since World War II. Born in the country town of Morawa, Western Australia, in 1941, Martin led an exciting and adventurous life filled with great challenges—including her efforts to avoid Native Welfare, so as not to be shipped to a mission, and her later very public battle with Homeswest for the right to live in peace in her own home. Joan played a central part in the native title claim of the Widi, which unfortunately proved unsuccessful. Her stories reveal the interconnected themes of family, teaching bush lore to her children, and celebrating the Widi culture through her art, as well as tales of conflicts with mining companies and white bureaucracies. Both artist and activist, Martin was a significant figure in Western Australian history and politics and this book captures both her unique life story and that of the Widi people since white settlement.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780855757779
Publisher: Aboriginal Studies Press
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Joan Martin is a Widi woman and artist whose work includes a large mosaic in the foyer of the Center for Aboriginal Studies at the Curtin University in Australia. Bruce Shaw is an Australian writer and anthropologist. He is the author of Our Heart Is the Land and When the Dust Come in Between.

Read an Excerpt

Joan Martin (Yarrna): A Widi Woman

As Told to Bruce Shaw

By Bruce Shaw

Aboriginal Studies Press

Copyright © 2011 Errol Martin and Bruce Shaw
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85575-828-8


Reading the genealogies

I was born in Morawa on 2 March 1941 to Jane Margaret Lewis. That's née Phillips, but she married Bill Lewis five years before I was born. That's in the Midwest. All except two of our family were born in Morawa. Our camp was down from the pub. It was only a small town.

My family comes from the Midwest and goes back probably to the beginning of time. It comes from Dongara, from the west coast and Jindi up to the boundary in the north, to somewhere further down the coast down south. Anyway it goes east after Dongara, Eneabba down from there to the east, Cue to the north-east, and somewhere near Lake Darlot, and probably close to Coolgardie. All the tribal people from there spoke the same language.

What I'm saying too the way is, my family even though they were born on the Irwin River and came from that area, how would they be able to talk to people as far as Paynes Find if they didn't speak the same language? You know, there's groups of people and that's where they get these skins from, that they could marry or have partners. But then again they had wife stealing as well.

Widi was made up of different tribes, groups and that's where you get your skin groups, the ones you're allowed to marry and the ones you're not. You certainly weren't allowed to talk: mother-in-laws to son-in-laws and uncles to children, girls in particular. There was no incest in that way. When they went through the law and they were given girls, those girls were from a different skin, men probably of a different group, right across here.

You weren't ever allowed to marry somebody within the tribe. You had skins and that and you could marry different ones from small groups. I don't know my skin name. When my mother was young, I can remember a long way back, she was very afraid of talking about Aboriginal law and her blood parents, because when she went to the Moore River Native Settlement they hoped to stamp out Aboriginal culture and law and forget about the Aboriginal ways.

The Phillips family

The genealogies really start with Ginny of Irwin and Tom Phillips. Whatever her name was I don't know, but that's years before this Charlie Cameron come onto the scene [grandmother's stepfather]. They only came in contact with him because of her son Tom, when he came from there. They lived on the Irwin River.

My Mum's father was known as Tom, and Ginny of Irwin was the great-grandmother [Tom's mother]. She came from the Irwin River. The name Phillips came from one of the white settlers' names. They called them Ginny and Tom Phillips. They were all full-blooded people and belonged in the Wageral tribe or thereabouts. Only had Ginny and Tom, as far as I know, but this is at the time of white settlement and the people gave them the name. Her name could have been anything. She would have had an Aboriginal name.

I rush when I come here instead of giving the things out properly and get prepared with these genealogies. The genealogies really start with Ginny of Irwin and Tom Phillips, this maluka. He was called maluka, not Tom Phillips.

These early farmers and settlers that were given land gave him that name Tom Phillips, but they didn't give Ginny another name. She was just Ginny of Irwin. So you know, people when they've got an English name, it's unusual because these are old people born in the 1800s. We estimated Ginny to have been born around the 1850s but we don't know. She came later to be called Jenny instead of Ginny. On the birth certificate of Ginny of Irwin they put Jenny but it was never any more than Ginny. Those people who gave her a name were settlers.

This is the funniest part about it. You know, Jackie and Jenny were typical of the early settlers to call them what they wanted. They said she was about seventy-four when she died on 23 May 1925, so she must have been born around 1851. I'm not aware of her Aboriginal name but the old feller — the old great-grandfather of mine — he was known as maluka. His son, young Tom, was Ullamara. In those genealogies that the government have they've called the old feller Ullamara, but it was young Tom that was that. Something happened to his hand one time. Part of it was sunken in and all his fingers were back. That's why his Aboriginal name was Ullamara — that's referring to his sick hand, mara is the hand. When he had to fight the police and that he'd have to close that hand, cos those days, when they were in the missions and things, they had to fight for their rights. So of course they end up in jail. But he was a very strong old bloke and he went to my grandson and said, 'You right.'

My grandfather and great-grandfather were very high in the law there, so they had a great big space all over the place in that area, as people that went around to check on the law ground and the sacred sites, everything like that, and they knew everybody. They'd go from groups of people that belonged to the same tribe, all around in the large area [around Morawa and Widi country in general]. People all spoke the same language.

From the Mount Magnet police station Tommy and John Phillips [mother's brothers] were black trackers some years and years ago. I got their report one time from old Native Welfare days and here I am running around looking for proof of John Phillips being a black tracker, and I remembered — cos my sister's got the same things — she said, 'Oh I saw Uncle John's. He was a black tracker.' 'Oh God,' I said, 'and I've been running around looking for police reports, but it was there all the time!' I just never touched those boxes for a long time. They're up at Errol's now. I've had them the best part of ten years. But you know a lot of information is there, and a lot of information that's unnecessary, a lot of VD [Venereal Disease] talk and sex life of people when what were more important was their journeys. They were only there keeping a count of all the black sheep more or less. That's how you could name it. Cos we weren't voting till '67. We were nobodies. We were branded. All they had was a number name, all my family.

The death of a stockman. A sudden collapse of Tom Phillips [Senior] near Mingenew. On Sunday morning last an Aboriginal known as Tom Phillips age 70 years died in sudden circumstances on the Depot Hill Road about four miles from Mingenew. Deceased was well known in the district and had the reputation of being an excellent stockman. As a boy he was employed by the late Sam Phillips who at that time resided at the Grange, Irwin and was the owner of most of the land in this district, Mingenew being merely on an out camp of the station.

This came of a research at the Tribunal [National Native Title Tribunal].

* * *

My mother's mother was Amy, and Amy's mother was Julia. Julia Cullaweri. I think it's more like Gullaweri but I saw it spelt as C-u-l-l-a- w-e-r-i. Julia took up with Charlie Cameron after her and her sister were over in Perth and she took that name.

Going back on one side of my mother's family was Julia. That was her grandmother Julia Cullaweri and the daughter being Amy. Then from Amy, when Julia had Amy and Kitty — that was before she was with Charlie Cameron — and Charlie Cameron then fathered Ned, Bill and Fred Cameron, the three men. From there Julia went on and she got with Bill Flannigan, and Bill Flannigan was the father of Bill (William) and Jimmy as we know. But there was also a Bobby Flannigan and Ruby. I'm thinking that they were probably William Flannigan's sister and brother. Because Bobby was a law maker — he carried the law — and him and Amy's father Toby are buried in spiritual belief in the hill east of Morawa, west of Paynes Find, south-west of Yalgoo. It's a big hill there where their spirits are among other people. That was the Widi Mob. The last one to uphold Widi law in that area was Bobby. I don't have any history on him.

Julia's two daughters were Amy and Kitty. Kitty slept with Slavin and Amy with Tom Phillips [Junior]. Amy's father was Toby Leech. Leech or something like that but his name was Toby. I don't know who Kitty's father was, could have been the same. Amy and Kitty could be half- sisters. Then Amy got with Tom, but Julia also got with a William Flannigan, a full-blood Aboriginal. I guess his name was given to him through somebody Irish or something like that. They had children, Bill and Jimmy. So that would be another generation of men. Now there've been other names come up. That was Ruby and Bobby Flannigan. I don't know whether they were Julia's kids or her brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

I don't really know what Kitty went as, Phillips I guess. Very little was known about them only just till recently. Recently I found out that she went with a partner from Mullewa who came from Kununurra — his name was Jack Simon — and from there they went to work for people, non-Aboriginals down in Collie. They were living at Slavin's Hill. They searched everywhere for her father. Officially they called it Slavin's Hill. I think that's where they lived and died, in Collie, and I don't think any children came out of that marriage. But they didn't come from there. One came from Kununurra and the other one came from Mullewa. That's my grandmother's sister.

I used to listen to my mother's stories — and when she [Amy] ran away from the old feller and was taken to Moore River Settlement she had to be punished because old grandfather was a pretty high person in the law — Amy's husband Tom Phillips Junior. My grandfather was also called Tom Phillips. He used to go away a lot. He had to go and do the rounds of all the sacred sites. They apparently sent this man to take care of Amy because she did run away. She and Mum had a terrible time in Moore River Settlement. He was there to witness (to cause) her death. The man's name was Charlie Chookenau That's what they called him, but Mum called him Charlie Chookener. It's the same man as in these papers.

Well the funniest part about it was when my grandmother died the papers say that she ran away from Tom, the grandfather. She was a bit of a run- around and she left Mullewa with three men. They said her boyfriend was Ned Papertalk. He didn't come from there but they sent him because of Tom being one of the big elders. My Mum told me this. Tom was really a big elder. Well he must have been one of the spokespersons and the main man there. Because she broke that law, he sent one bloke, and his name was Charlie Chookener. Well Mum told me this when I was a kid that he was playing hockey with her in Moore River Settlement and he kept hitting it out to the reeds, the bulrushes. He hit it [the ball] in there and she had to go in there and they waited on her, and they killed her. This old Charlie Chookener was there, but there was a group they call djinigubbies. That was their name because djina is foot and gabi is water.

They were punishing her for running away with that man Ned Papertalk, and they sent Charlie Chookener to kill her, or get her done in as they say. Anyway she only lasted three days after that hockey. Charlie Chookener was one of the tribe. Whether they made him go and punish her or what, but he was there. The story is that he was there. Mum told me.

So when I started this Native Title I had the story on it and of course he's Charlie Chookenau they call it in the [Native Welfare Department file], the white man's spelling. His name was on it to help the grandfather Tom bury his mother, Ginny of Irwin. So he's still within that tribe when Amy the daughter-in-law died in Moore River Settlement. But when they took her, the Welfare and that, she was pregnant and it was only just after that baby was born that they killed her. They let the baby be born with my Uncle Frank. But then they took the villain, Ned Papertalk, and they pushed him through the law for twelve months punishment. He didn't really come from there. He came from Wadjari people and they killed him anyway in the end.

The reason they called them 'papertalks' is because he had no name and he was delivering the mail up in the station out of Mullewa. He was a mailman and I guess all these neddies (horses and things) they gave them their name papertalk, because he was bringing the mail, the 'paper talk'. That's how that name came. Well you're reading paper. The white people did it. He'd ride with that mail and he was bringing the paper talk, letters and things. They'd say, 'Oh papertalk coming,' I suppose. It wasn't our word really.

That was strange. My mother told me this story about Charlie Chookener more than fifty years ago. I must have been only six when I knew the story, so it would have been sixty years ago she told me the story. Then blow me down, when Native Title started — that's ten years ago — I looked in the papers and his name is on the death certificate of her grandmother Ginny of Irwin.

My uncle told me lots of things in a roundabout way, and my aunty. They were going to kill her when she was born because she was fairer and perhaps not Tom Phillips's daughter. So they were going to kill her as a baby and this other old lady, Fanny Comeagain, saved her and took her and reared her up and she lived in Mullewa. Comeagain's another invention for names, 'come again'. Well they were all Biddies and Ginnies and Marys and Jackies weren't they? I mean that was common. But they had an Aboriginal name.

Jane Margaret Phillips

I was thinking that I didn't even mention my mother, what sort of person she was. A very strong person she was. She was a big strong woman. My mother's background is from the Wageral tribe. They're on the Irwin River. Some of it's pronounced differently because it's an Aboriginal name, and it's hard to put that proper spelling into those names. But all the ancestors, that was their area. My mother's name was Jane, and her nickname was Wogera, her Aboriginal name of that Wageral tribe. I never knew those names were necessary until Native Title came up. I think she was given the name when she was born because they were born in tribal first, covered in ashes, ash powder like talcum powder and born there on the river. The only one born in the hospital was Frank. They were all tribal people reared up to speak the language, eat the food and obey the law. There was no other.

Eva was the eldest. The next was Horace, Jane third, then John, Tom, Reg and Frank. Reg died when he was about ten or eleven years. They lived with us. More like a cousin, Tom's [mother's brother] daughter Irene. I don't think it's a cousin. It's a strange thing. You can pick it up through the history, Welfare work. I'm not sure whether she's a full- sister. There's a question mark about Irene, because it mentions that Tom's daughter Irene could have been a mistake.

My mother was a full-blood and she was born on the banks of the Irwin River, about ten kilometres south of Mullewa and west of Gutha Siding. In the history done by the old Native Welfare she was born in Mullewa, but it wasn't, it was on the river as were her brothers and sister, except one and that was Frank. He was born in Moore River Settlement. My mother was taken away to that settlement when she was twelve with her mother and brothers. She was quite big and strong in her young days, but I don't think she was any more than five foot six [167 cm]. They had no names and were just known by different places. They would have had Aboriginal names, but those names went with the passing of the elders.

At that time you see my mother wasn't allowed to talk about the law and culture, only the old feller when he came, Tom Phillips Junior. He used to come every now and then. He used to go round and round and that. This was at Karara Station where we're doing a lot of site clearances. He had work there, and my mother worked there too as a housemaid, but only during the holidays from Moore River Settlement. But he got mixed up with one of the old people there and there was a daughter. Her name was Gladys. She was younger than Mum I think. Gladys got married. She married a wajela [white man]. Kennedy, Gladys Kennedy. Her children are like my first cousins because it's Mum's sister. But that's where he picked up with Ada. Her mother's name was Ada Mudigu and she was living in blackfeller way married to old Albert Kennedy. Old Ada had different families. They were Widi people as well.

* * *

My old Dad he was an old whitefeller you know and he was going out to work in the farm. He got a shilling off the boss to just go and have a drink before he went and the police ran across. He said, 'I'll have you Bill.' 'What for?' 'Begging alms.' But it was funny because the blooming farmer was a JP [Justice of the Peace] as well. He said, 'He'll never go to jail for it, I can tell you now, cos he's working for me, and if I choose to give him money he can have it.'


Excerpted from Joan Martin (Yarrna): A Widi Woman by Bruce Shaw. Copyright © 2011 Errol Martin and Bruce Shaw. Excerpted by permission of Aboriginal Studies Press.
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Table of Contents


Genealogical Sketch,
Chapter 1 Reading the genealogies,
Chapter 2 In the bush,
Chapter 3 Raising a family,
Chapter 4 My country,
Chapter 5 Caring for the land,
Chapter 6 Dreaming stories,
Chapter 7 Spirit life,
Chapter 8 Yarrna,
Chapter 9 'Since ever the white man came',
Appendix The Homeswest incident,

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