Jean Lewis interviewed for the City of Cockburn Aboriginal Oral History Project (2001)
The City of Cockburn Aboriginal Oral History Project records and summarises the oral histories of eleven indigenous people with a custodial or cultural connection to the Cockburn district. In this interview with Dr. Leonie Stella, Jean Lewis talks about her many connections to the Cockburn area, including her work as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer for the Southwell Child Development Centre. She also discusses the health and educational needs of Aboriginal chlidren.
This is an edited transcript of the interview with Jean Lewis, speaking with Dr. Leonie Stella on 5 July 2001.
Leonie Stella (interviewer): I just like to start, Jean with you stating your full name, date and place of birth, so that I can test the tape recorder…
Jean Lewis: My name is Jean Lewis, my date of birth is the eleventh of December 1939, and I was born in Three Springs in the central wheatbelt area.
LS: OK, that’s good. So were your parents from the central wheatbelt area ?
JL: No, mum and dad actually …. Dad came from York Quairading area, and my Mum came from Moora, New Norcia around that area. And they sort of got together about 1935 or some time, and they went to Carnamah, and they were married there. Then they settled down near Carnamah for a little while and then they went to Three Springs and that’s where we were all born.
LS: Were they Yuet or Balladong people, or Yamatji?
JL: No, Dad would have been known as a Noongah, down in that area, and my Mum was a Yamatji. My Dad had a job in Three Springs, he was a shearer so he worked for the farmers there, and that was in 1935.
LS: So how did you come to be in Coolbellup?
JL: Well, it is a long history – we sort of went from Three Springs – I was about 10 when we left Three Springs, and we went across to – well the house burnt down and Dad has to go and work for someone else out on a farm, so the three of us – my brother and sister and myself – we were the schoolaged children in the family so we had to go to school and so they put us in the Pallotine Mission in Tardun while they went to work on the farm. So we were there for about three months and then they got work in a little place called Canna [a siding] just out from Morowa, and we lived there for a while because that’s where Dad’s work was – do you need to know all of this?
Moving to Cockburn
LS: Well, just how you got to the Cockburn area..
JL: Oh, alright, OK. So yeah we went to Morowa and grew up there, spent all our teenage years there, that was really great, and then I got married and my husband and I were there for a while in Morowa and then decided to come to Perth because my daughter had ear trouble and she had to come to Princess Margaret Hospital to have an operation, so we came down and decided to actually stay because that’s where the doctor was and it was too expense going up and down. So then Bill [my husband] went to Fremantle Tech. and we got the house in O’Connell Street, Hamilton … – and we have had 6 children, and the last two were born while we were living in the house in O’Connell Street – that is how we came into the Cockburn district. Homeswest gave us a home in 32 O’Connell Street, and he went to Tech. and I just was home for a while. Then my husband got a job with Homeswest [State Housing] and our children went to the East Hamilton Hill Primary School. So then we were sort of there for ages – well we have been here for 30 years now – that is this year in March. And so we were just sort of around for a while – didn’t know … were just finding out what was available to us, like it was really hard when we first came – coming from the country to Perth was quite hard. It was March 1971 when we came to Hamilton Hill.
LS: And were you just working at home then?
JL: I was just at home until I think 1976, when I went to work in the little Aboriginal pre-school that started up. It was called Kulunga [Coolunga] – it wasn’t Kulunga at the time, it was a little pre-school off the Church of Christ Hall [next to present day Supa Value Winterfold Street] – We had a little room in there and we used to hold the little pre -school groups – well they were pre-pre-school at that time, because they were threes and fours. All the little Aboriginal kids used to come there, and there was also a sewing group, we started – the Church of Christ Ladies started a sewing group and we just all went to the sewing group and the kids used to be looked after out the back, and then all of a sudden there was a Pre-School Board – they came and opened up the little pre-school and so our kids used to go to that little pre-school while we did our sewing. So that was started, and we’d do all our own sewing, and we didn’t even think about going to work because we had too many kids! [laughs].
Then after about three years I suppose, just going to these sewing classes and my kids were in the group, and they had a bit of trouble with keeping staff members and an Aboriginal person, so they sort of asked me would I like to help out in the pre-school. And I said to them, ‘oh I don’t know’, um I said, ‘would it be worth my while, you know to give up my sewing to do that’, because you know we were just started learning to make all these things for your children, clothes without going and spending all this money on them, you know. So I was thinking to myself, I don’t know whether to give up my sewing to go and do that! [laughs] So, she said, ‘I think so, you will get paid and it will only be for two afternoons, or mornings’ – I think it was at that time. And I thought, oh well that is not too much to ask from me, but I thought, I will have to give up my sewing. But I had sort of learned enough by then – because we were making our own curtains, and our own pillow cases, and like all the kids clothes, that was saving heaps, and I am thinking well yes, maybe I will go and do this.
And so then I worked two mornings with the teacher, and we were working with two groups of three and four year old Aboriginal children, and we were teaching them all the kindergarten things, you know and that. So that’s how it started, and I was there for about 17 years and I went from there to – It got better because I took the basic child care course and sort of got myself qualified to do childcare, I did the course in the … Oh after that the Education Department took over the pre-school board, you see, and then they had this little course called the Basic Childcare Course, and it was run by the Education Department, and you would go and do three blocks a year – might have been two years, until you finished your assignments – it was like in three blocks or groups, and then you had two weeks to do your assignments, or however long it took you to do it. And I must admit, like I didn’t know how to write reports, and I didn’t know how to do much, and I didn’t really know how to… or why we were working with these children. But when I went to the Basic Childcare Course I sort of learnt why and how we were working with them, how they developed, and how teaching them their colours and how to cut out things, and do lots of things … why it was important. Why they painted and you know all that, so you were taught all that and that was quite inspiring.
LS: Yes, we think children just play don’t we?
JL: Yes, and the idea was that they came to us and we were just looking after them, but not knowing the background of why we were doing it. And then I found out that you know, the Aboriginal kids had quite a gap – like when I first went to work there, there was not one Aboriginal child going onto pre-primary – in the whole of Western Australia [kids were going to school] but not one Aboriginal child had been to pre-primary. You know how five year olds go to pre-primary before school – and our kids they weren’t doing that. There was a sort of a breakdown in there – a gap, and the pre-school board decided that they would do something about it. And then the Education Department took it on and carried it on further. And so yeah.
LS: Did you find out why there was that break – that the children weren’t going into the pre-primary?
JL: Yeah, well there wasn’t enough … like, the Aboriginal parents didn’t like [schools or see the need] Like for a long time Aboriginal people never went to school, and it wasn’t compulsory for them to go to school until the 1960s so you can imagine what sort of a gap there was, because if it wasn’t compulsory to go to school and they didn’t think that they needed to, well they didn’t have to, you know? So yeah, they just didn’t send their kids to school and nobody made them. But when it became compulsory for the children to go to school, then they realised that that was what they had got to do, and they’d do it. Then there was heaps of space between, and then they had to get the knowledge of how to then send their children to school because that was where they were going to learn and that was how they could get a better education to go out into the bigger society to cope. So because of that space the children when they got to school there was this great gap because they did not know how [to do what others could do].
You know, the teacher is there and she has got all these children and then she is saying ‘get out your black pencil with your red book because we are going to do this, this and this’, well many Aboriginal children didn’t even know what a red book or black pencil was. Because unlike the Europeans, Aboriginal children ‘look and learn’ they don’t get much vocal [informal teaching] Like if you are sitting in a room and you have got a picture on the wall you will – the European mother – will talk to that child and say what is in the picture and explain that this is this, and that …. but the Aboriginal mum will just sit there and the child will look, and he will say you know, look at that and say ‘that is that’ and she will just say yes, or no, or whatever. So the child – there is a different learning style there to the way that white people learn, to that of the Aboriginal people.
So that was all going on, and then after we’d been working there for a while we got – the hall was getting a bit cramped so they got us a little transportable to go onto the Hilton Primary School, and a bus. We have always had a bus because a lot of Aboriginal people haven’t got transport and they don’t like time very much, you know – they don’t like to keep to time [don’t like to be ruled by time] so they didn’t like the idea of bringing their child at a certain time, and going home and coming back to pick it up, so they realised that they needed a bus. So we’d go round with the bus and pick up all the kids, and bring them back and work with them there for that morning – give them something to eat and then take them home. Yeah, that’s was it … and the little hall that we had before we went to Hilton was the Church of Christ Hall, down on Winterfold Road there. At the back of what used to be Woolworths – its Supa Value now. And there were quite a lot of ladies there [at Church of Christ] then and they helped us quite a lot then.
LS: Could you tell us the names of the Aboriginal women who were leaders at that time?
JL: Yeah, the ladies that I went to the sewing class with there was Susan Pickett, can’t remember that other lady’s name… she was a Turvey, then there was Miriam Abdullah, and there was Ruth Bropho but she has passed away – she was in the same group, Del Corbett, Blanche Cox was around, Rosie Humes and they were most of the people, oh and Mrs. Ford – Maureen Ford – they were the main ones we knew. And of course there was old Mrs. Hill,
LS: Was she related to Felix ?
JL: I forget her name because you call her Mrs. But she was related to Felix, his sister I think – it might have been Rose.
LS: Alright, so if we go back to your career again, you went to Kulunga to work?
JL: Yes, it wasn’t called Kulunga at that time, it was just a little pre-school, when it went to Hilton, we decided we would give it an Aboriginal name, which Kulunga means small children – in Aboriginal language – it is sort of spelt Kulunga but if spelt how the Aboriginal people would say it, it would be Coolunga – they put a ‘U’ in it and it is often pronounced that way now – but it should be Cool’ngah – so I don’t know where they got Kulunga but it was Coolangah – and that meant the little children – like you would say ‘oh you cool’ngahs come here’ – that was ‘you kids come here’ so it meant small children. Yeah, but the spelling and the pronunciation is slightly different – but we decided we would have that Aboriginal name. And the little transportable was put on Hilton Primary School and we were there for quite a few years – about 17 years. And I did go to Willagee as well, going between the two centres. I would work at Willagee for the morning and go to Kulunga in the afternoon. When I started off it was two days and then it got to four days and I would have Friday off, and then all of a sudden it got full time, because I got transferred from Willagee to – at Willagee it was a big pre-school and so we could feed our kids into the pre-schools and have somebody working there, so that we might show our children that left Kulunga and were going to feed into the different areas, that they were going to go to school. So we would try and get them into that pre-primary at the school that they were going to go into. That way they would be getting those three years of development before they actually got into school.
LS: Did you have a title then, what was your professional title?
JL: Yes, we were called the AEW – Aboriginal Education Workers – first of all and then we were AIEW, adding in Islander because of the Islanders. And they might even have a different title now, could be officer added now or something [laughs] So yeah, we were AEWs, and so I went from Willagee in the morning and in the afternoon I was at Hilton. Then I transferred from Willagee to Hilton – the Hilton Pre School and I was closer then to come to work between the two centres, because the Education Department didn’t like me going from one to the other because of insurance … so I said I will go back to Hilton and just walk up into the school yard there. So that worked out really better, and I was there for about 8 years there, and then they started with the idea of Early Childhood [development work] for AEWs – but then it got really bigger and went into the primary schools as well, so then I went to the primary school and I was the AEW in the primary school there. But I still went back into Kulunga because I would work in the primary school in the morning and in the afternoon go to Kulunga. And that was heaps better for everyone. And I stayed and did that for about 8 years – the primary school and Kulunga. I worked there until 1994, and then I was offered this job here – just for 12 months!
Southwell Childhood Development Centre
LS: And what was the title here?
JL: It was just – and I really had to develop this job myself, because it was Aboriginal Liaison Officer for the Southwell Childhood Development Centre, because even though they had referrals they never ever got Aboriginal parents to come … so I was employed to come here and bridge the gap between the Aboriginal community and Southwell.
LS: And when you say Southwell you mean this centre?
JL: Yes, this Childhood Development Centre. First of all we came under Community Health, when I first started – we were under Community Health, Craigie House they used to work from, and then after I had been here a while the Fremantle Hospital took over so that we come under Fremantle Hospital now but we are still off-site. I was employed for one year to develop the … to bridge the gap between the Aboriginal community and do it in one year, so I had to come in and develop the job myself because there was no one here to say to me ‘right, this is what you have got to do, this is how it is,’ you know? Give you directions – like usually when you come into a job somebody is here, and you are taking over from somebody else, but when the job is being developed and you are doing it, well I had to come in and make it work. And I was thinking, oh golly I don’t believe this – but I suppose it helped me that I had already had experience in the community. I used to have to pick everybody’s children up, and I knew where they all were, and I knew a little bit about who their relies were, so if I couldn’t find them at one place I knew that there would be three or four other places where I might find them. It took me a couple of weeks to sort of sort out what tack I could take, and how I could go about it to make sure that they came in.
I work with a team of people here that includes psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physio and we had an M.O., and a pediatrician. Also at some stage children were being referred in but they weren’t getting here, and so that was my job then to get those children in so they could [be assessed] you know, see whatever was wrong with them and have them come in get seen by the people that they were referred to. So it worked well over the years, we did have an OT (occupational therapist) when I came but she has gone and we have got a physio coming, and another pediatrician.
LS: I was going to ask you before when you said you had to go and look for the kids, how do they get referred to you?
JL: Well we have a meeting, we call it the Intake Meeting, and that’s when we see the referrals and we sit down with the whole team and we discuss who the child will be sent to and how the team will deal with the problem. They are referred by GPs, Communiy Health Nurses – parents are allowed to refer themselves if they wish to do so, and if somebody else sees the child we have to make sure the parents are in agreement to it – so they know that their child is to be coming into us.
LS: So they are Aboriginal children in need of some sort of specialist childhood illness or disability assistance?
JL: Yes but Aboriginal people never came, they didn’t go anywhere – they would go to the doctor but they didn’t know anything about whether they had a child with something like ADD, that was a big thing – they wouldn’t know, they would just leave it and say the child was naughty, they didn’t really know that there was a reason for the behaviour. They wouldn’t know that the child’s speech was down because it was coming through the schools – and late, after school age and sometimes it was too late. So at the schools they were picking them up but they were coming here sometimes too late, but it was my job to make sure that they came here.
I had to go out and sort of see where the problems were and come back and let the team know that there were a couple of families out there who don’t have a phone, they don’t have transport, they have got lots of little children, you know, and they can’t possibly come out – like coming from Coolbellup to here you’d have to go into Fremantle, then come out and then walk, and if you have got 5 little children that is pretty hard to do – just to get one child in here, for I think it would be about 30 minutes and then traipse all the way back there. That’s chronic – impossible. So I went out and found out the problems and came back and told the team. And then for me to get them in I would have to have the resources to do that – so they made available a car to me so that I could go out and do that, and if I had to I would bring them in, and also – you can send the letters out but they would be thinking why are these people sending me a letter? Because they didn’t understand what a Childhood Development Centre was for a start.
So what I used to have to do was go out and sort of sell the place and tell them that this is what it is for, and why, and why it was important for them to bring the child. And then they could see that there was help for them, and then they could come in – I would make appointments for them and I would have to ask them which days were favourable, they would tell me and then I would say right – give them a reminder or else go there the day before and say don’t forget the appointment for the child tomorrow at such and such a time, and I will be here to pick you up at that time. So that they more or less said yep, that’s fine – so [laughs] after a while I probably thought, oh, now they’ll go, but sometimes I had to go back there 10 times! before I actually got that person to get in here, that child.
LS: So you are a key person in the community…
JL: You don’t just go out there and say you have got to come in here, you have got to go out there and talk to them. Let them know as much as you can, what is going on in here, and what its all about, and what the child’s health needs are, and you know. Then after they got to know they realised that ‘oh yeah, that’s got results, that was what he was like, and I need to take him’. A lot might say, but he can talk – you know? When we say he needs speech [therapy], but they don’t realise that although they might be able to understand their child, he might be able to talk, but he might not be up to speed.
LS: And it’s often linked to hearing?
JL: Yeah, it is, and that is what they have found out, a lot of Aboriginal children have glue ears, and it has been a big problem for Aboriginal children and families. Half of them have got a hearing problem, and so that goes back to their speech – they have got to have work on their speech because of it. Then they would realise, oh yes, that is what he is like, and then they’d tell me that his ears have been painful and playing up, and they’d tell you lots of other things too! So there is a social thing too that you have to go through before you can get that child coming in. Sometimes I can go there and they will tell me, oh I have got problems with Homeswest – and that’s a big problem. Or I will go there and the child is staying with somebody else because they haven’t got a house, and so then I have got to try and sort of say well, you know, are you on the list?
LS: You were explaining to me the difficulties with Homeswest for some families…
JL: Sometimes when I go there, there are a lot of social problems, so then I have got to help – they will say to me ‘I have got no place to live and I am just staying here for a while’, and then I have got to try and find out if they’re on the Homeswest list, or if they are waiting, or if they can get on priority, because there is overcrowding in the houses. They will be staying with relatives – there might be 10 kids in the house sometimes – and so you have got to try and then see if they are on the list and if they have filled out the forms and if Homeswest can put them on priority listing, all those social things. Even down to like all the maintenance work, if something has happened in the house. A lot of them can’t – as you know, when I first came here there were a lot of phone boxes, you could go down the road and there would be one pretty close, but now because of vandalism and that it is hard to find one, and you have to walk miles, and sometimes there is only one at the shops or something. And when they’ve got a lot of little children you can’t walk miles to look for a phone box and ring up Homeswest and say ‘hey, I have got a door nearly falling off’ or a window is broken. And when they do ring up they get like …um you know, people talk to them in a really authoritative way – say ‘how come it did that?’, or you know aboriginal people don’t like that, or its not so much they don’t like the way they talk to them, its that they find they can’t handle that, when they start talking like authority to them. They don’t know what to say back, so they used to say to me, you ring up, and I would say, you come with me, you be in the room with me, because they will say ‘oh we can’t disclose anything via you’, so I said if you are in the room with me its better. I can say to them that you are here and they can talk to you, but they say – “I don’t want to talk to them because they are rude to me!” [laughs] They say – you talk to them because you know what to say. So that added another lot of things to do in the first two years – just reporting their maintenance, because they would rather go without than have that [hassle] you know – if your maintenance goes for too long it gets worse. And actually approaching that authoritative voice to say ‘hey, listen the hinges are off my door, or my toilet is blocked’ – it got right down to the blocked toilet, you know and they didn’t know what to do, couldn’t handle what to say – not knowing that they could report it and Homeswest would have to come out and pump it out, and stuff like that. Before the deep sewerage got put on that used to be a big problem and they didn’t know that you could ring Homeswest to come and pump it out, they thought that it was their own responsibility.
So it was like I was also educating them to know what to do and putting them in the right direction, ringing up a few government departments and helping sort out their problems. Homeswest was the biggest one, mind you! Family and Children Services was another one – they are really hard to cope with because the families are … you know, you’d get reports from families – that other old thing, we don’t want to talk to them because they will start talking down to me – that is what the people have said to me. And I have said what do you mean? And she’d say, ‘its like I am a liar, that I am not telling the truth about things’, and I would say so what are you saying? And she’d say, well I am just telling it how I see it, and that is how it is. But she says ‘they don’t believe me, so why do I waste my breath’ you know? She’d ring me up to tell me, and I am saying, you know you are the one who will have to tell them, but she says ‘no, I can ‘t tell them because they wont believe me – I have tried’. But it will be something about the children, somebody is abusing them and she didn’t like how they were treating the kids or something like that. They want something done but they don’t know how to go about it. So that’s another thing that you try to sort out, but then you have got problems with Children’s Services because they say well we want that person to report it, and we want facts, and we want times, and we want written reports, and all this and we realise that you have got to have a lot of that, but it would be better for Family and Children Services to say ‘well we will check it out’ and just make a visit to that place. I think that is all that they wanted, and then the perpetrators would know that somebody was watching out for those children, that they can’t do that – I think that’s all they wanted but Family and Children’s Services put those restrictions on them and so they just go back and … all that reporting of everything you know.
The other thing is Aboriginal people don’t worry about what somebody else is doing – that’s their business. I have found that everybody is reporting that an Aboriginal family from wherever is doing whatever, but they don’t report on other people – that’s their business. They are a bit like that, because they know they are not angels and so they don’t want to report somebody else. But I have found that a lot of the neighbours around the place will report them for the least little thing and I don’t know where they get the time! But one lady had to shift out because something happened and she said she cleaned up the place, and I sort of believed her, but the neighbour had written to Homeswest that she had seen people in there, even down to what colour jumper they had on and how many got out of the car, and I said – where on earth do they get their time to look out the window and note how many people went into the house, how many came out and what colour clothes they had on! I couldn’t believe it! So a lot of that goes on too, and they get into trouble for lots of things. And I said to them well it is about time you started making some complaints, you know, about the neighbor’s dog barking all night, or somebody throwing something over your fence … but you are not saying anything so you have not got this big list of stuff against you because everybody is saying you are the bad person. Because it looks on paper as if you are the only bad person, or bad tenant because you are not reporting anything – Everyone else is reporting you – I say to them it doesn’t pay to shut up, but they say to themselves, we are not really little angels so we can’t go telling anybody what they do…
Southern Suburbs Progress Association
LS: So just going back to the general discussion about Aboriginal Leaders in the area, did you have anything to do with Southern Suburbs?
JL: Yes, I actually did, we … well before it got started there was this group of us who got together to be the – what do you call it do the rules – constitution – yeah, I worked on that with them. So I was one of the first there, one of the founders, and Jean and Fred Collard, myself, the Fords, Tom and Maureen and we got help from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs as it was in those days before ATSIC, the Commonwealth – state never picked up anything – even from the AEWs the Commonwealth paid them as well, the state didn’t pick up any of the Aboriginal stuff until later on – even the houses, the Homeswest houses that were for Aboriginal people, even the one we went into was bought by the Commonwealth. I can remember when we went in there we were only paying about $3 a week rent, when we first moved in, and every year it went up a dollar, and I remember having a light bill for $2 or something, and I thought this is astonishing. And now I look at the light bill or the rent and I think, oh my goodness. But a lot of the houses were built by the Commonwealth, in and around Cockburn Shire, ours was and a few others – more Hamilton Hill and Coolbellup than Hilton – weren’t many in Hilton at all – they be Homeswest. But most were Commonwealth funding for Aboriginal Housing.
LS: Can you recall how it came about that you decided to establish Southern Suburbs Progress Association.
JL: I don’t know, somebody must have explained to the group of us – you know somebody in Aboriginal Affairs had to go out and make sure that we could make it better for Aboriginal people, and I think somebody came out and spoke to the Aboriginal group here – explaining that this could happen, they could be involved … funded…
LS: How would you describe that ‘group’ at that point –
JL: I think it was just everybody that was in the Shire at that time I suppose, in the Cockburn shire…
LS: But you don’t remember how it happened – like there wasn’t somebody said could all the Aboriginal people come to a meeting or …
JL: No, but I don’t know if you have heard of the Aboriginal grapevine!?
LS: Oh yes, I see what you mean – somebody was working in the area and word spread?
JL: Yes, we have got a grapevine, and then it just went from there – can we come to this meeting because the Aboriginal Affairs Department is going to be there, and someone from DEET – it wasn’t called DEET then – they would’ve been involved too – and then they came from Perth…
LS: So it was encouragement for Aboriginal people to form organisations and become incorporated bodies?
JL: Yes, to get funding and set up projects yeah, before they used to just go and have a meeting and that … I think it was in the Uniting Church in Coolbellup we had that meeting, or that was the constitution meeting, but I think the first meeting I went to was – you know that oval in Coolbellup where they used to have a scouts hall – and a football oval or something – we had a meeting in that hall – I think it is Waverley Road that runs down the side, and Coolbellup Avenue on the other side and the oval near the library – we had a meeting there. I had started up a little youth group in that Hall. We used to have that same Hall – hired that for one night a week, a Thursday, and I would just have all the teenagers there – we’d call it the youth group, and I would just have something like I learnt in the country [when I was younger]. I sort of modelled it on that, just to see if it could work with our Aboriginal kids. And it was going really well, but we couldn’t get anymore funding, so I tried to make the kids do things themselves. You needed to really have a bus, but I used to pick them up in my own car, and I didn’t want them walking home on their own after dark – we’d have it from 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock, something like that. Those that lived real close walked, but if kids were any distance I would take them if they were going my way, and somebody else would take them another way. That was just Verna Ford and myself started that little group up. When we started off – the group where I started going when I was a young girl, we used to go and have a sort of a bible lesson first, and then we would have some games, and all the kids would play all these games and then we would have supper. And we used to have like a roster for who was going to get the supper and that was the sort of model that I organised.
LS: So was that when you were a member of a particular church?
JL: Yes, that was through the Church in Canna, remember when I said I grew up there? The Lutheran church there where I used to go had a youth group going and that’s where we used to go, all the young people in the town would get together, and there was just me and my sister and brother and we used to go to that. We were the only Aboriginal kids there, so we went with all the other young people in the town. It was only a little siding, you know the little sidings? A little town with the little railway siding that had a shop and a post office and in those days of course it was a steam train used to go through and they had to fill up with water and coal and so they had these little sidings. And we had this youth group, and so when I came down here I saw a need for something – that the Aboriginal kids needed something like that. So I said, well look there are heaps of our people in Hilton and Hammie Hill, and young kids just doing nothing, no where to go, nothing to do, and they were all good kids. They weren’t into crime or anything bad at all, they were just hanging around with nothing to do. So I said, OK lets all [get together], start it on a Thursday night, be here at half past seven, they said yep. I said all have tea first and then come here and we’ll all get together and sit here and talk about religion for a while, you know about the bible, it wont go for long, just 20 minutes, and get to know a few stories from the bible. I never used to quote, just tell them a few stories from the bible. Then we will break up and play a few games and have music, and learn how to dance. We’d play musical chairs or soap hockey, I don’t know if you have ever played soap hockey?
JL: We’d have, you know the old bars of soap, Signal and Velvet, we’d have one of those and we’d put up goals at each end and have two teams down the side, and a bit of hose, two bits of hose, and you’d given them all numbers and the two numbers you’d call out and they would have to grab the bit of hose and try and get the soap into the goals down the end, so the kids just loved that!
LS: So they had to hit the soap with the hose?
JL: Until they got it in, and the other one would have to try and stop them… And they thought that was great and had a pretty good time but we were always pushed for money. But we all put in for biscuits, we didn’t like to get elaborate things, we just got biscuits, and got some tea and coffee – And then I would say I will bring biscuits if you bring tea and coffee – so they all brought that. And then I said, well what about we have a raffle – so it was coming onto Easter time and so they said yeah, and I said well what we have got to do is everybody has to bring an egg, so that if you’ve got some pocket money, or mum might buy you one, and we can put them all in a basket and raffle that and they did that, and did it quite well. So we had some money then for our tea and bickies. [laughs] So yeah, they were learning new things too. And then I said well we need to draw up a roster too, and they said what’s that? I said well it is up to you to organise who is going to do the supper for the night, or clear the hall so we can play our game and set it up for sitting down – if people are going to talk, and then clear it after – and who is going to do tea and coffees for the night, and biscuits. They had a ball there for a while but we run out of money, and somebody was trying to help us too – oh what was his name, an Aboriginal artist gave us this painting to raffle – one of the Kellies – Oriel or something like that, so we raffled that and that kept us going a little bit longer. But it got too much when Verna went away and I didn’t have anybody to help me, and we didn’t have much transport. And the kids kept saying, oh when are we going to start our group up again, and we said well we’ll have recess for winter because there are no cars, and I didn’t want them walking around in the rain. But they got really good and said what they could do for other nights – like one said I can bring a TV and video, and we can have a movie night, and they got quite creative you know. Then they made posters … it was just an Aboriginal Youth Group, we called ourselves, we weren’t into names at that stage, if it had gone on longer it probably would have.
LS: So what year were you doing that?
JL: Well it started – and I think we went for about 3 years, it was about the late 70’s – and it was 3 or 4 years before Verna went, and then I didn’t have anybody to help me so … yeah – nobody else was interested, but we were already working in the area for the young kids, and so Verna and I thought well let’s work with the youth as well, and that’s what we did. But we couldn’t get any support at that stage.
LS: Can I ask you about local history, given that you have come in from another area, you might not know it, or there might be protocols that mean you can tell me anyway, but do you have any knowledge of the local history? Like where did people work in the area, like down at Robbs Jetty or …
JL: Oh yes some did work at Robbs Jetty, or the Shire. My husband went to Tech. but he got a job at Homeswest. Homeswest just starting employing people and he was one of the first ones they employed to work, they took in about four or five [Aboriginal people] first into Plain Street, that’s William Lewis and he went to work there at Homeswest with Ken Colbung, Lorna Humes – that is another lady that – she lived in this area…
LS: She was Patrick’s wife – Sully Humes’?
JL: Yes. She was one of them, and there were a couple of others I think – and they worked in different areas, Ken Colbung was in this area, Bill was down this way, and Lorna was round this way as well, so that’s how they started, yeah. And it wasn’t Plain Street actually it was in St. George’s Terrace – you know the old building ? They knocked it down after and put that big place there …
LS: Do you remember the names of people who worked at Robbs Jetty?
JL: I didn’t really know any of them, but I do know that Austin [Augustine Oswald – Ozzie] Hart worked at the shire – and he retired. And there were a few others that went in but didn’t sort of stay.
LS: Any special places around the place where people prefer to go for leisure or pleasure?
JL: Oh Coogee Beach was our main thing, and South Beach. We went there because the bus used to go to South Beach, and it was after we got a car that we went to Coogee – but South Beach, we always took the kids there – we had lunch on the lawn, and places like that. And good old Coles restaurant up the top – I miss that place! I know Red Dot is there – but its not the same, me and the kids used to go in the school holidays and have our lunch, we went there. We used to go down to the jetty sometimes, the Coogee Jetty, the old one – the new one down there now is really good but we used to go to the old jetty and go there fishing. Or Woodman’s Point, went there quite a bit as well, fishing – and I remember the first time I went to Woodman’s Point we saw these quandongs there, and I said, oh, they can’t be quandong trees there – must be something else, quandongs dont grow in Perth – quandongs are up where we come from. And my husband said to me, let me have a close look, so we pulled up on the side of the road and looked, and he said – they are quandongs alright! I said, I wonder who grew them?[laughs] – but they weren’t very big but I had to go and have a look.
LS: I thought they were native to that area – you might be right but I have a book that says they grow up around Manning Park…
JL: But they’d be planted wouldn’t they?
LS: I don’t know, but they are not near the Lake but in the bush on the hill – and I think they are native to that coastal bush …
JL: They don’t taste as nice as ours up there though.
JL: But they were still quandongs …
LS: Yes, I knew they were supposed to be there but I can’t find them, because I don’t really know them as well …
JL: Yeah, didn’t taste as nice as ours up the bush, but they were quandongs, couldn’t believe it – and we’d go there quite often and do our fishing.
LS: Where did you say Bill’s family was from?
JL: Originally he was from Morowa too – we were sort of Three Springs and went to Morowa, but his family was from Morowa and his family was from there, he was born there – they came from Mullewa really, his mother did, she was from around that district …
LS: Alright, I would like to ask you some biographical details now, so that the children of the future if they see your name in the library they can see how you fit into their family or whatever…Your mum’s name was …?
JL: Eva Mary Frances WYATT… not White…Wyatt,
LS: As in Cedric?
JL: Yes, Cedric is actually my first cousin, his mother and my mother were sisters …
LS: And then she married Mr. Roland William Bartlett, and your brothers and sisters?
JL: Got 14 of them! Oriel, Rubin, Jean, Neville, Richard (dec’d 1998), Judith, Gloria, Marie, Barry, Moya, Roland, Philip, Charmaine, Kingsley. Kingsley the youngest one was born the same time as my own son! My mother and I had a baby the same time!
My children are: Julie (1961), Kimberley (1962) William – Bill (1963), Vaughn (1966), Nathan (1971), and Sheldon (1974).
Bill and I bought a little house in Yangebup but we separated about 15 years ago and we sold it. We lived in Morowa and Northampton but in Cockburn for about 30 years.
Canna / Carnamah and the Pallotine Mission
LS: Jean you were just saying that you wanted to speak about what you referred to as ‘another side to the story’ and talk about how resourceful and self sufficient your parents were, how your Dad had a strong work ethic and didn’t avail himself of ‘handouts’. You also mentioned that when the house in Carnamah burnt down he received no financial assistance, but was helped by members of the local community.
JL: Yes, like when I look at how things are today, when working with the people in the community and thinking back about how the knowledge that we were taught, compared to what they are taught today, and I didn’t know at the time – when mum and dad were sort of doing all these things and helping us do these things – that they were teaching us to do these things, to be more resourceful and to be able to go out and do what we had to do in the community. Because when we were living in – I suppose this goes back to when we were living in Canna and we’d come out of the Pallotine Mission [Pallotine’s Tardun Children’s Mission, the Pallotines were a German order of Missionaries] for the school holidays, and we were to go back. But my Mum and Dad didn’t want to send us back to the Mission, they wanted to look after us themselves, but the Welfare stated that they had to have certain things, there were certain things that they needed to do before they could keep us – I s’pose – and they sort of knew this so they were trying to stay ahead of the Welfare.
In those days as you know the Aboriginal people were sort of ruled by the Welfare quite a bit. They, we were living in tents when we were living in Canna because they had just got there [after the house burnt down in Carnamah] and had just got work and so we were on Crown Land and living down near where the water was, so that it wasn’t too far from the water we were living in tents, but they must have known that they couldn’t stay living in the tents because when school started, and if the Welfare came and we were still living in them tents, well all the school kids would be going. Everybody who was going to school would have been taken and put back in [the Mission]. And we didn’t want to go back in because it wasn’t a very good experience being in Pallotine, for us after being with our parents, and then being put in this home where – you know – it was like, nobody cared about you so long as you were clean and tucked into bed at night, and were given some food and you never got much education anyway, you had to sort of work. So we didn’t want to go back either, so what Mum and Dad had to do was they had to get up a home. Homeswest was nowhere around in those days so they had to decide what to do, and so the farmers that Dad worked for around the place they sort of got together and helped too. They got permission to stay on that Crown Land and they got some timber together, because Dad worked on the Bin [wheatbin] in that season and then he’d do the shearing for them when it was shearing time.
LS: Can you name any of those farmers?
JL: Oh yeah, there was the storekeeper, his name was Mr. Ossanker [?] Offsanka, and he had the shop in Canna, and all the farmers out there, there was Mickeys – they were the ones that Dad really … there was two families of Mickeys that Dad worked with quite a bit, and he was going away for them, and doing the shearing, and then he would work on the Bin because you know when the wheat was brought into the bins? Onto the weighbridge they used to call it, where they had to weigh it, the wheat – and then it got put into the little silo. So he worked on that during the summer and then during the winter he did the shearing for them or went out and did the seeding. So there was Kowalds, Mickeys, Lannigans, and the Cruits some other people in Canna, who else ….? But Mickeys were the main ones, you know, that Dad worked with. So they helped him get to… Roy Mickey was one of the ones that got Dad some timber and corrugated iron for the roof and the walls, so they cut some posts, like cut the tall trees down for the – what do they call that in the houses –
LS: I don’t know, but I suppose the uprights or corner posts?
JL: [laughs] yes, something like that, so they had that from the bush, and they had the corrugated iron and so they built this three room place. And my Dad and my Uncle and a couple of other guys came and helped, and Dad had to put this up, and they put up the roof. And so what they did was they had this – like a long kitchen and dining room and whatever, and just the two bedrooms. I remember they started this when it was really stormy and I remember Mum saying ‘you better hurry and put this damn house up or we are going to get wet!’ [laughs] But anyway, we still had the tents, but yeah, they went on and they got this place. And what they had was the hessian bags, and then you whitewashed them for the inside, and then they got from the Bin there … there was this black stuff – I don’t know if you have ever seen it, it is like black lino – that they used to have in the bottom of … They had got some of that, and what they did was they got the ant-hills, they got some ant-hill [dirt] and they made the floor with that – like they had a piece of wood on another thing [like a tamper with a long handle] and they bashed it, and then sort of compacted it down all over the floor to make the floors inside and put that black lino stuff on it. Then he bought some things – like sometimes the farmers were selling up, and they would have a little sale to get rid of their old furniture or whatever, or they were getting new stuff up from Perth, and so he bought a metters stove – and he sort of built it in with a chimney and that. The old wood stove, of course, and I can remember how they did all that, and he got some beds – remember the cyclone beds that we had? But he needed just a bigger bed so what they did was they got – they were quite resourceful I think, those old people – he got four – you know, the prongs [forked branches] and he put them into the dirt and made a bed out of that with the hessian bags slung over long poles until we got some more beds [he made a bush bed]
LS: When you say prong things you mean like a forked branch ?
JL: Yes, sitting like that [indicates with hands the fork being used to hold a long pole for the sides] and then you’d roll the bags over and put the mattress on like that. And they had been put into the ground so they …[stood up and were firm.] So that’s how we had a couple of our beds until we could get some other beds. Then later on …. And that all had to be done because I can remember they had just had that done, and we had been enrolled in the school in Canna. They had this little school that was like an old Hall, a tin hall, and we had school in there – and we had one teacher from Grade 1 right up until Year 7, all in this one little Hall – because there would only be about two or three kids in one class, and then two or three kids in another, but we were all in that Hall going to school, yeah. So we were already enrolled up there, and then I can remember the Priest coming from Pallotine to pick us kids up, and Mum said, ‘no, they are not going back’ and he says, ‘oh, well they have got to come back’ and she says ‘no they don’t because I am looking after them and I am sending them to school’ and he said, ‘oh well I will…’ what did he say to her? [thinks]… ‘Oh, well I will just have to go and get the Law to make you send those kids back’ and she said ‘you can go and get whoever you like, but you are not getting my kids’. So he came back with a policeman, from Morowa, a couple of days later, and I can always remember my Mum – she was a pretty forceful person, you know, and she didn’t let anybody put it over her much, and she went to the door, and there they were. So she has a broom in her hands – and my Dad he was quite …. – he was a peacemaker my Dad, he never ever argued with anybody or said anything [harsh], he sort of preferred to talk it out. So [he was quiet] while she was saying to the guy – ‘you aren’t taking my kids, you take my kids over my dead body’ – I can always remember her saying that, ‘because’, she said, ‘I have got a home for them, and I have enrolled them in the school’ and she said, – ‘my kids stay here, they are my kids and they stay here with me’. So I suppose if you look at it we were sort of saved from being a stolen generation really, from being taken away from our mum, and dad.
LS: How many of you were there then?
JL: There was 7, 8 about 9
LS: Of the 15 …?
JL: Yeah, about that. So yeah …
LS: How did they persuade your parents to let you go to the Mission before?
JL: It was only because … the only reason we got sent to Pallotine was because the house got burnt down in Three Springs, and they had to go right out onto a farm – because there was no where else to live, right out on the farm to stay out there, and the three school kids wouldn’t have been able to go to school.
LS: Did they have to go there for a house to live in or to get work?
JL: They had to go to Canna to work, that’s where the work was, and the farm was down at Latham I think they were. Then they came up and got us and they were there [at Canna] because he was doing the shearing around that area, so they pitched their tents there and stayed there. Then the farmers sort of wanted them to stay because he was pretty resourceful you know, they could come and get him to shear and go out to the farm and help them do whatever, drive the tractor, do whatever, my Dad used to be able to do … so.
LS: Can you remember what years this was, I know a lot of Aboriginal people don’t treat the date as so important, but have you any idea, say what age you were?
JL: I am trying to think, I was 10 or eleven, and I married in 1961 – I was born in 1939 –
LS: So it was about 1949 then… or 1950.
JL: Yeah about 1949 about that [Tardun Mission started in 1949].
LS: Fits in with that time [taking children ‘for their own good’ and the assimilation policies] doesn’t it?
JL: Yes, and when we look back we think well we could have been a stolen generation but for our Mum and Dad being able to be resourceful enough to know that if they didn’t get off their butts and do whatever, that they would take – not just us three [school aged kids] but the others that were due to go to school as well, and also like they [Pallotine Priests] didn’t really want my sister and I, not really, they just wanted my brother because he had learned how to milk the cows, and he knew how to drive a tractor – because he used to go with my Dad you know – and he sort of taught him …
LS: I was going to ask you about that, you said you hadn’t got much education at the Mission because you had to work, what did you have to do?
JL: Yeah yeah, we had to work, even though we were only small – I was really small – there was a lot of younger kids, and we had to pack up all the dishes and you know scrape the rubbish out after everybody had had breakfast or their meal, and help stack them and whatever. And we had to do all that before we went to class, and when we went to class sometimes we didn’t really get taught how to read or write or whatever, we were taught sewing, and things like that.
LS: So you think it was more about domestic service training?
JL: Yes, yes. It really was, and then we’d go and clean the Nuns’ quarters and things like that. So it really was – it wasn’t really [about schooling], they didn’t see education as a priority. And after lunch then we never went back into school anyway – so we had the whole afternoon just doing work or playing or whatever. We’d do the working first and then the spare time we could do whatever we had to do. And we had to clean the church, like they had a church there as well and so we had to clean that. The bigger girls had to clean the dormitories, make the beds under supervision of the Nuns, and we had our different jobs to do. But yeah, that’s what I can remember. And I suppose we were lucky enough to have parents that had a bit of knowledge about what they could do and what they couldn’t.
LS: And what about your Dad, where did you say he was from?
JL: They were from – my grandmother was a Jacobs – Dad’s mum, she was Laura Jacobs and they came from Quairading/York all around that area, through Northam, all through there…
LS: So were they Balladong people?
JL: I am not sure what they called them, I think that is what they were called, but my Dad was born down in Quairading somewhere, because I can always remember when my Grandmother was still alive we would go down there every holidays because my dad – like when we were in Three Springs we were quite well off for a while because my Dad never drank – he only started to drink later when things were going wrong. He had a business, he carted all the stuff from the train station to the Co-op – there used to be a Three Springs Co-op, and all the stuff used to come up on Thursday on the train, get put off the train there and he would cart it [horse and cart] to whoever it belonged to. Then he worked on what was called the Night Cart but we used to call it the Shit Cart of course, you know. And he also used to do that, and we used to have to go along and prop up the flap at the back so that he could just put the clean one in and take the dirty one out. But he would say to us make sure there is no one in there, knock on the door – but we wouldn’t knock on it, we would just throw a stone in there and if no one came out we were right! [laughs] He used to say, just remember, knock gently on there so no one is in there – but we used to just throw the stone – then we’d be right and we’d prop it up and go to the next one.
LS: Did you say your mum was Yamatji?
JL: Yes, and her Dad they came from around Moora, Mum was born I think she said in Dandaragan, yeah that’s a little place near Moora, so she was born there. They did a lot of clearing in the town, my Dad worked in Morowa, Three Springs, like wherever there was things to do – like he was always working, my Dad. I think that is where we got the time – [learned] like look at the time, and checked … like we always had to be doing things, and he always worked.
LS: And … Sorry, I interrupted…
JL: That’s alright …
Speaking Aboriginal language
LS: I just thought you would like to talk about your grandad speaking the language…
JL: Oh yes, my grandad – like we didn’t know at the time, but he was losing his eyesight a bit at that time and so he came [Henry Wyatt from Midland to live in Morowa] – they rang mum so see if she could look after him, and she said yes, send him up to her and she would … So he came to us to live – and I think I was a teenager when he came, and he would be talking to us in Yamatji, and we’d be saying ‘oh grandad, can you talk properly, ‘cause we can’t understand you’, and he used to say to us, ‘this is Yamatji talk – alright – you need to know, you should talk it’, and we said, ‘no, we can’t understand you, you gotta talk properly grandfather’. And of course he gave us all nick-names too, and he called us all grandfathers’ – because we belonged to him. So yeah, he would say ‘grandfathers’ – come here’ or ‘I want you to do something for grandfather’ – and sometimes he’d say it in Yamatji and we’d say you better talk properly grandfather because we don’t understand what you want’. But yeah, he could talk English quite OK, but he often [spoke his own language]… and I just wished that I had just sat there and listened and learned.
My husband’s Auntie, she could talk it too, so they used to have these really great conversations talking about whatever. Her name was Eva Harris, she was Eva Phillips before, and Cameron was her line. But they would sit on the verandah and talk, have a good conversation, and we used to laugh and say ‘oh yeah, there they go – they are probably talking about us’, you know. And my Mum couldn’t talk it either you know, and she’d say yeah there they are talking about us. But we learnt little words like baa-la, that means lookout – and mainitch was the policeman, we learnt all those little words, and different other words. And sign language, you know, we are pretty good on our own sign language. We can talk to one another just without words sometimes – and we were pretty good at that. And I can remember in the school [where I was working later] they would say ‘well how do they all know what is happening’, and I would say well because they are telling one another under your nose probably. And she’d [the teacher] say ‘How’? And I’d say ‘body language’ – and she’d say ‘what do you mean body language?’. And I’d say well they can talk with their eyes, and they know [nods her head away] that they are going to go there, and they are going to go over there – you might not pick it up but they will – and she said ‘I never knew that – now I do I will look out for it’, she said. But you know, she said later ‘I have been watching and I can not pick it up’ – and I said, well after a while you will get used to it. At the end of the year she said, ‘you know I have just about got control of that body language’ [laughs] So yeah. They have signs, body language – with their hands, or their eyes or whatever.
But we did learn a few words [from the old people] – but they’d use the arms or legs, eyes all the rest of it. Or uncles and aunties, grandmothers brothers and sisters, we called them grannies, we never ever called them auntie or uncle – yeah our grandmothers’ brothers and sisters were our grannies, so it would be our grannie Mark, or grannie Tommy or who ever it was, it was always grannie.
LS: So it is not just your mothers’ grandmother but all her brothers and sisters and
JL: And either side, fathers’ too. But we knew more Mum’s people I think because there were there close and they would come … and I can always remember that wherever Mum and Dad were they would always turn up, and we would never know but all of a sudden they would come. We had one uncle that he could go away for years and we wouldn’t see him, and then all of a sudden one day he would just turn up. That was Uncle Mark, and mum’s first cousin Uncle Johnny, he was another one who would do that, he was like that, he would go off and you wouldn’t see him for ages, and the next minute they’d be there.
LS: And your Mum’s parents, what were their names?
JL: Remember I told you the old who talked Yamatji was Henry Wyatt – and her mother was Carmel Ryder – yeah she was a Ryder. And Dad’s mother was a Jacobs, and his Dad was a white-fellow – he was Andrew Bartlett, I think he was William Andrew Bartlett was his name – he came from the Eastern States, two brothers Bartlett – they were two white-fellows – and so our other grandfather [Bartlett] he was white. So his line sort of stops and goes another way.
LS: Have you ever thought of writing your story?
JL: I have, thought about it, but I am not too sure how to go about it. I would like to because I would like to write another side of the story of how Aboriginal people lived rather than just like … As I say, we never lived on a Reserve, so I don’t know that life, like I read other people’s stories – and I know they were there, and I knew where they were in the towns and that, but [my experience is different].
LS: Do you know Anna Haebich’s work?
JL: Yeah, I actually done some research for Anna, you know when she was doing the family trees …
LS: Oh …
JL: You remember Anna and that other lady… whatsername?
LS: Lois Tilbrook?
JL: Tilbrook yes, they started it off and then what they did was they got us to do the families, so I did my own family, and the Harris family and my husband’s lot.
LS: Yes, and what I was going to say – like what you are saying there about your story as you are telling it to me is I think how Anna has written it up [see For Their Own Good] – she suggests that when you have a father like yours who works for the farmers and is useful to the farmers there is a relationship develops there between those kinds of Aboriginal men and the farmers. This means that they get to stay on the land there and not end up in the Reserves…
JL: That’s right, yeah, that is probably how it was. But also in Three Springs they did that … for my Dad. You know in those days you had to have an exemption certificate to say you could go into the Hotel. Not that my Dad cared about that, the hotel, at that stage, I mean my Dad did end up alcoholic but he didn’t drink in those days, but lots of the citizens around there, the people, the farmers around there wanted to protect him and said, right we think you need to apply for this exemption [as] it was called in those days – it got to be a citizenship thing in the end – and so he did apply and Mum had to apply for child endowment as well, and so the farmers sort of backed him. And then they sort of pushed him to make sure he got it, because they said ‘we need to protect you, because if you have to go somewhere they might refuse you but we know we can give you the backing’. They knocked him back I think, a couple of times, but in the end he got it.
LS: Do you think that the farmers did that because they were good mates, or because they needed him as a worker, or both?
JL: No. They respected him, my Dad had a lot of respect in the town. And they sort of helped him because they knew he was such a good worker, and he had like horses, a horse and cart in those days, and I remember that he had these horses and different carts – for the night work, and a different cart to go and pick up the stores and that from the siding to take to the co-op, and that probably helped him a lot. But he did work hard for it, and I suppose they knew that – and he bought two blocks in Three Springs, for them to have a little place built on it, and that was before he started drinking, and he was pretty resourceful. Like he kept horses and chickens, and he used to grow all his own fruit and vegies, I can remember always having a dam, and watermelons and rockmelons and all that to eat, we never went ….[without fruit and vegies] And I think, I s’pose, I can’t [quite] remember, but I s’pose he used to sell all the eggs – and at Christmas time you couldn’t just go in the shops and buy a chicken – he used to sell the turkeys at Christmas time and that’s probably how he got money as well. He was sort of a wheeler and dealer, my Dad, as well as resourceful.
When he was out on the farm he used to pick wool for extra money, the farmers used to say yeah, Rolly and Mary you can go and pick it. We used to have a – you know, the woolbuyers used to come round in those days from Geraldton, and he had this one special old woolbuyer, and he would come and he would say to Dad, I will give you threepence, and Dad would say, “No, I want more because I had to get somebody to help me cart it over here”, and so he and this guy … I think his name was Epstein, I can’t quite remember, would be there with his truck, come to pick up Dad’s wool – he would have it all piled up ready for him to come and buy it. And if he didn’t give Dad the proper price Dad wouldn’t have it, he would say I want this price. And I remember he’d be putting it on the truck saying threepence, and Dad would be throwing it down saying 10 pence, [laughs] and so on. And then the man would get wild and say, ‘oh, alright, 10 pence’!
LS: So there were no ‘handouts’ for your Dad,
JL: No, no, so yeah, and Mum was ….[fiesty], and even though Dad was a bit calmer we never saw any violence in them. My Dad never ever touched my Mum at all – but she would carry on, and if you were ever going to get stick she handed it out – it wasn’t Dad. I can’t ever remember getting the stick from Dad, I think the only time we got the strap – or the switching stick it used to be, from Dad was we were – in Three Springs there used to be over the hill, you know how all the little shrubs used to just grow [indicates little circle of shrubs with hands] and we were sitting in the middle of that smoking bamboo – right – and he came home and he saw us and well we copped it – my brother and I. And we nearly died, and afterwards we were saying, to one another [whispering] ‘how did he know we were there smoking’ – not realising you know that the smoke was rising [laughs]. So we often have a laugh about that, but that was the only time I can remember, yeah, Dad ever touched us – Mum dealt the stick out [laughs]
LS: You think that’s a good place to stop,
JL: Yeah I think that’s a good place to stop.
LS: Thanks very much for your story Jean.
About Jean Lewis
ean was born at Three Springs, Western Australia and spent her early childhood with her family at Camamah, Canna, and Morowa. Some of her early childhood was also spent at the Pallotines Mission in Tardun. In this interview she pays tribute to the 'resourcefulness' of her parents, Mary and Roily Bartlett. After her marriage to Bill Lewis in 1961, Jean eventually moved to the Cockburn district where she has been for the last 30 years.
Jean had fourteen brothers and sisters, and has six children. She has spent about thirty years working with Aboriginal children in the Hilton, Hamilton Hill and Southwell areas. In this interview she recalls growing up in the Central Wheatbelt area and living in the Fremantle and City of Cockburn areas. She refers to the Aboriginal Women's Sewing Group, the Aboriginal Children's pre-pre-primary school group, the founding of Kulunga at the Hilton Primary School site,and to many Aboriginal Community Leaders.