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Interview - Thomas Ford

Thomas (Tom) Ford, 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. This recorded conversation between Thomas Henry Ford and Leonie Stella took place at Mr. Ford’s home in Yangebup on 31  May 2001. Full audio and transcript below.



This is an edited transcript of the interview with Thomas (Tom) Ford, speaking with Dr. Leonie Stella at Yangebup on 31 May 2001.

Leonie Stella (interviewer): So just to start with could you tell me your full name and date of birth, Mr. Ford?
Thomas Ford: Yes, Thomas Henry Ford, 16th of the 8th, 1934.

LS: The first question that I like to ask is how did your family come to be living in the Cockburn area?
TF: My kiddies were getting to the – they were growing up – I was originally in Kalgoorlie, and my kiddies were growing up, and so I thought well they would get a better education down Perth, so we shifted down to Perth.

LS: What year was that?
TF: Oh ‘74 I think, I am not so sure but I think it was 1974 that we shifted down here.

LS: And who came with you then?
TF: My wife [Maureen}, and all of my children: Verna, Joseph, Oswald, Enid, George, Freda, Matthew, and Rose and also we got a foster daughter, Melanie.

LS: And she came with you too?
TF: No we got her down here, yeah.

Involvement in Aboriginal organisations

LS: So have you been involved in any Aboriginal organisations in the area?
TF: Yes, I have, the Southern Suburbs Progress Association, I was President for 4 years I think, no 5 years, yeah.

LS: And what did you do in that association?
TF: Well we – oh, what did we do, we got a bus for the kindergarten, it was the Pine View kindergarten, and there was… my daughter was working there, my sister in law was working there, then they shifted to Hilton Park – the kindergarten. But we got the bus, we got a bus through there, and there was a lot of other things we got – but its been that long ago I forget …

LS: Do you remember the reason why the group was formed, or did you join it after it was formed…?
TF: Yeah, I joined it after it was formed, after it was formed and I was elected member, President … yeah.

LS: Was there a special reason that you joined, was there something you wanted to see done, or was it the kindie bus …?
TF: Well there was things that … oh, that wanted to be done for the blackfellows in Coolbellup, see, at that time – and I thought well if I get on there we can do these things and we got it done, you know the bus and things like that, yeah.

LS: So perhaps your primary interest was education for the kiddies?
TF: That’s right and they got a good education down here, yeah.

LS: Were there any other organisations that you belonged to?
TF: aah, no, [Mr. Ford remembered later that he had in fact been a member of the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Advancement Council]

LS: Not the footie club?
TF: No, I was with the football club, I was there as one of the parents, you could say I was there, I was there every football match…

LS: As a supporter?
TF: As a supporter yes, because my boys were playing there, yeah.

LS: And what about paid work, did you work for the Council or anything here?
TF: Oh yeah, I worked for the Council, yeah.

LS: What sort of work did you do?
TF: I was truck driver with the CDEP Scheme, and I was truck driver – planted all the trees around the different parks here, I did.

LS: Oh yes, like Manning Park, and … things like that?
TF: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, there was me and another bloke on off-sider of mine, Ian Goodall he was, and we planted most of the trees down there and down at … down there [indicated West of his home] I forget the name of that Park [?Peace Park] straight down the end of …no I forget it [?Spearwood Avenue] But all over Cockburn we planted trees, yeah.

LS: Was that in the 70s or the 80s?
TF: It would have been round about the 80s I think, yes…

LS: You had been here a little while?
TF: I had been here a little while, yeah. Ah, Yes, its – but then I also worked with the CDEP Scheme down at Coogee, doing the … [pause trying to think] at the lookout, up the top there and different things we were doing up there.

LS: So there is a lookout up at Coogee?
TF: Yes, yes, I think it is a lookout, well they’ve got a look out, its just above the shops – the Coogee shops, just above there right at the top, or this side coming this way, yeah.

LS: Have you ever been involved in the church?
TF: No, no …

LS: Just the footie clubs?
TF: Just the football club yeah.

Important Cockburn Nyungars

LS: What other people in Cockburn would you see as important Nyungar people? You might like to have a little think about that?
TF: No – In my time there was Fred Collard, there was Jean Collard, Marie, Betty Collard – I don’t know whether she got married ever but they were Collards, them days. Yes, and them days also Ivan Yarran, he was another important chap around here … yeah … he was like a, like a – activist, yes he was …

LS: So was he involved in the Southern Suburbs Progress Association?
TF: No,

LS: So what else did he do then?
TF: He was in … his line of work was in Perth, he had a hostel..

LS: Oh yes, I remember, was it Gladys and Ivan?
TF: Yes, Gladys was there with him, that was his wife.

LS: They lived here and worked in Perth?
TF: They lived in O’Donnell street I think, yes somewhere over there, yeah.

LS: Did they have anything to do with childcare?
TF: No, I don’t think so, though they might have, no, no I can’t [say] no.

LS: Anybody else come to mind?
TF: [pause] no not that I can think..

LS: You might think of someone later,
TF: Yeah, there probably was, but I just can’t think at the moment, you know…[Mr. Ford later remembered Joan Winch]

LS: I have got you on the spot a bit…
TF: Yeah, yeah, yeah… yeah.

Cockburn Aboriginal sites

LS: We are going to make sure that this project is available to everybody like your grandchildren, or people’s cousins so they can all see it at some time when its typed up or they can listen to the tape in the future, so given that its going to be on the shelf in the library, what I am saying is I don’t expect you to tell me any secrets… you know, but are there any places around Cockburn that have got …
TF: Any Aboriginal significance?

LS: Yes, or …
TF: Yes there is a couple that I know of but I mean there is more but I can’t tell you…

LS: No, you have to have permission…?
TF: That’s true, yes.

LS: Well let’s just say places that people like to go to perhaps, rather than special places.
TF: Yeah well one place they used to go to is Bibra Lake but they got Adventure World there, but see they are all built over now, yeah. The Aboriginals used to go and camp there years ago. There’s another place out here at Thomson’s Lake – its only just a water hole, its water but that’s another place of significance for Aboriginal people in the area..

LS: Do you ever hear people tell stories about the old days around here?
About who worked for who, or whether somebody helped the settlers when they came or …
TF: No, no, no… no, no.

LS: No stories about shepherds or ..
TF: No, my grandmother was a young girl in Perth, years ago but that’s all I know, yeah. But I, you know, they said I got descendants – [ancestor] Munga Bennell that’s my great grandfather – my grandmother’s father I think. I think it is somewhere along that line, anyway.

LS: Yes, Munga Bennell, so was your mum a Bennell?
TF: No, my mum was a Garlett,

LS: Oh yes,
TF: Yes, my mother was a Garlett.

LS: But they weren’t living in this area when you came here?
TF: No, no, no, no… no,no. I went to school in East Perth…

LS: Did you?
TF: Oh yeah.

LS: So where did you live as a little one?
TF: Ah, before we shifted down, my Dad was, we were in Corrigin, we lived in Corrigin and I was born at a place called Badjaling – Badjaling Mission, that’s where I was born. When the war [1939-45] started my father joined the Army and we shifted to Perth. Yeah, it was 1942 when we shifted down here, then I went to school in East Perth.

LS: Where did you live in East Perth?
TF: Royal Street, there is nothing left of it now…not a thing – yeah.

LS: No…
TF: Yeah, not a thing [sadly], not a thing left of it now…

LS: That would be fairly close to the Claisebrook area, wouldn’t it?
TF: That’s right, that’s right, just down the road, I used to go and play at …there’s a creek there – Claisebrook, I used to go and play as a boy, yeah.

LS: You didn’t ever know of anybody working at the Robbs Jetty or the slaughteryards here?
TF: [long pause to think] Oooh, no, no, no,no, no – Robbs Jetty [thinks] – I did know …[pause] Barassies…

LS: Barassi?
TF: Barrassi yes,

LS: And are they a Nyungar family?
TF: Yes, yeah, their father is I think he was Italian or something but he is like a blackfella –

LS: Yeah,
TF: They live at Paget Street, right on the corner of

LS: One of those little streets that runs of it…?
TF: No, no

LS: Winterfold?
TF: Winterfold Road going to Coolbellup, yeah, well there and Paget Street,

LS: Near the shops?
TF: Yeah right up there, I think it is a two storey place, I am not so sure, but its there, either the first house or the second house. Yeah.

LS: And he worked at Robbs Jetty?
TF: Well he used to work at there, the boys used to work there too and I think he used to work there, yeah.

LS: Don’t remember any of their first names?
TF: No, only the boys I know, David and Joe – David’s there living in Beeliar, and Joe I think he’s got a property down at … Hope Valley, Hope Road, somewhere over there… not Hope Valley, Munster Way somewhere over that way.

LS: I saw in the Fremantle Library there the other day – did you ever hear of the Ugly Land, or the Uglymen ? They are some … the Wadjellas used to do this club thing I think they used to raise money for people and they called themselves the Ugly Men,
TF: No, don’t know …

LS: They had a boxing troupe in Fremantle and there was an Aboriginal man there they brought down to work at the meatworks but they brought him down from Wyndham or somewhere, and his name was Wandi – you didn’t every know of him, hear about him?
TF: No, no, it must have been a while ago.

LS: Yes.
TF: It would have to have been a while ago.

LS: Yes, 1930s maybe.
TF: Yes, before my time, yeah.

LS: What about local families, or a man called Kimber a long time ago around Hilton?
TF: No, I don’t know Kimber.

LS: There was an old lady up there has said she knew an old man called Kimber who used to come to her house in Hilton, but it was a long time ago too.
TF: There was an old man who used to cut – oh what is it …

LS: Cut the trees for poles… props..
TF: That’s right, prop sticks, used to go round the area cutting prop sticks… old Wilfred Morrison..

LS: Wilfred Morrison,
TF: Yeah,

LS: So he went all around here?
TF: Yes, he used to go all around here cutting prop sticks. Sell them I think 2/6 each or something like that, two bob…

Lack of local knowledge

LS: Do you know why they called the area Spearwood?
TF: No,

LS: I just wondered if it was from the sheoaks growing around here?
TF: No, no, I just – see, [long pause] how will I put it … how will I put it, see, I don’t come from this area…

LS: No, I understand …
TF: I don’t come from this area, but if you were to ask me about a question out in around York, Quairading, places like that, I could tell you about it. But down here I can’t…

LS: I understand what you are saying…
TF: Yeah, so I don’t think anyone else will [either]…

LS: You are a visiting person..
TF: Yes, yeah – how will I put it, see there is not very many old people left here – Sullivan (Patrick) Humes – but then Sullivan is a … he was brought up as a white boy, he lived in … somewhere in South Fremantle, I forget the name of the Street, but he lived in there and his father was my mother’s cousin, Humes. See, so um … he couldn’t tell you much about it I don’t think, or he might be able to… but he would be the only one. He would be the only one. Yeah, but I …

LS: Yes, well like Len said that wasn’t our main purpose of us talking to you anyway, we just wanted to know who had done what work in the area really…
TF: No, but if things like that come round he would be the only one to tell you see, because I couldn’t tell you.

LS: No, I think it is good too that you have told me this on tape because when I type it up and it sits in the library and people read it they know then why we are not collecting the sorts of stories Wadjellas think they are going to hear …
TF: Yeah, they think I am gonna tell you all about the dreamtime…

LS: Yeah,
TF: You see that is something that I can’t tell you really, because I am not so clued up on it myself… you see I come from North.

LS: And people have special roles that way don’t they?
TF: Oh yeah, yeah, you see – I come from north – so if I was up North or out in the desert then I could tell you all about these things, but I don’t know, I am like a urbanised blackfella – as I say I was reared up here in East Perth. I went to school in Perth, and I know a lot about the law, the Aboriginal Law, I know about the culture, but the culture has gone, its gone through the door in that sense, that was gone long before I was born. Yeah, I mean, yeah… a lot of people say the culture is still there, but the culture’s not – they haven’t got any culture. Yeah, our culture’s gone…

LS: So what about your children, do they work in the area?
TF: Yeah, yeah, my boy, one of my boys he worked with Western Power, Oswald, but he doesn’t work [there] anymore, he worked since he left school and he was there till – I think 2 years ago, or last year I think, he gone [made] redundant, [slaps the table] see, so… . And then I have got another boy, George, he is the top spray painter down at Fairway panel beaters, he is the Leading Hand down there, he has been there – you might as well say he is one of the bosses, yeah, he’s down at Fairway panel beaters. So … yes. And my girls, one of my girls used to work for Melville Council, she was a librarian there, she’s left now, I am going back, and the other one – the eldest daughter – she was working for the kindergarten – Pine View and then she went to Coolangah [Kulunga], I think that’s the name of the thing they have got there now, yeah. Coolangah, over there at Hilton Park, and she went there – yeah.

LS: And your wife, did she get involved in any of these organisations?
TF: No, no..

LS: She was too busy looking after all kids …
TF: That’s right, yeah, and we got a foster daughter she … we reared her up – she was 8 months old when we got her. She is 21 now.

LS: Well that’s all I had on my list unless you have anything else you’d like to talk about?
TF: No, nothing that I can think of, you know, yeah. One of my sons, George, as I said, he was there but he is involved in the football,

LS: Oh is he, yes,
TF: He is the coach of the 15s

LS: The Coolbellup under fifteens?
TF: The underfifteens now, and last year he coached the Coolbellup 14s and they were undefeated!

LS: They did well then?
TF: Yes, yes, but he is not doing well this year… they have played three games and they never won one yet! But then again he hasn’t got the boys he had last year. But he is doing alright he is in with the club and things…

LS: Did you play yourself when you were a young man?
TF: Yeah, in fact I played for York, Merredin and Kalgoorlie… my last game I played I was 58 when I played the last game – so I wasn’t too bad before they … yeah I didn’t do too bad. No there is nothing much more I can tell you.

Personal history

LS: Well I might just ask you some [biographical] details to put on this sheet to make sure we get the right identification on the tape – you are Mr. Thomas, and you have another name? Henry did you say?
TF: That’s right yeah [fills out date of birth etc.] …Born at Badjalling, Badjalling Native Mission they called it…
LS Was that run by one of the churches?
TF: Yes, I don’t know which church it was…

LS: [laughs]
TF: I don’t know [smiling]

LS: And your mum’s name?
TF: My mum’s name was Minnie Ford, and dad was Ted Ford.

LS: And your wife’s name is Maureen, and she is Mrs. Ford or does she have a different name?
TF: Yes, she is Mrs. Ford – for 43 years might be more, 44 I think.

LS: So as a married couple you have lived in Kalgoorlie…?
TF: No York first, that’s where we got married, Merredin,

LS: You remember the year you were married?
TF: Yeah, ‘58 in York. Shifted to Merredin and worked there…

Pipeline work in Kalgoorlie

LS: Didn’t work on the pipeline did you?
TF: Not in Merredin, and Kalgoorlie I did when I shifted up there.

LS: Did you,
TF: I done a number of jobs up there, the first job that I had was with the Shire council up there … I was the rubbish carter, that was a … it was when they had the old pan days up there…
LS Oh yes,
TF: And the little outhouses at the back, in them days, yes, and as I said it was 1964 I think, or 65, one of them years, yeah, we cleaned ‘em up anyway. We got all the septic tanks in … the system we put all them in yeah.

LS: And that was as a member of the staff of the council that you put those in?
TF: That’s right yeah.

LS: And what about the pipeline work, or pumping station work?
TF: Yeah, by then the water was on but the pipe was … when we went there what I was doing was I was the crane driver and we were putting the new pipes in – I used the crane [to put the new pipes in]..

LS: Was that right in Kalgoorlie?
TF: No, the first place was Southern Cross and the next place was Coolgardie.

LS: What years would they have been?
TF: Oh, you’ve got me beat asking me that!

LS: [laughs] After the war?
TF: Yeah, after the war, this was long while… all my kiddies were born then, just before we came down here…

LS: So 1960s perhaps?
TF: Mmmm[maybe] – after that, in ‘65 we went to Kalgoorlie, and we came back 67 or 68 and then I was on the Council then, and I was there for three years, so it couldn’t have been 65, nah … its …

LS: So with the pipeline stuff did you work in a team with Aboriginal people?
TF: Yes, there was a good few of us on there. Yeah, Oh yeah, there was a good few Aboriginal persons on there.

LS: Do you remember there names, were they friends or relatives?
TF: Oh there was one nephew of mine, he was there Ray’s boy, he was on there, and Felix Hill the brother in law, he was working on there.

LS: What did you say his name was?
TF: Felix Hill, um, Bobby Barton, um… no I forget now …there was about 10 of us on there, then, two different gangs, in two different gangs, see yeah.

LS: So that’s York, Merredin, Kalgoorlie and then down here?
TF: Yeah.

Working in the Cockburn area

LS: Did you work for anyone else besides the Council down here?
TF: Oh, Coogee Chemicals, its over there in Rockingham there somewhere now, Kwinana. The Paper Mill, [on Spearwood Road] I worked for the Paper Mill, … down the Fremantle Council …

LS: Oh, did you, and what did you do at the Coogee Chemicals?
TF: Truck driving, had a semi-trailer there, I drove the semi, yeah.

LS: So what were you actually doing with the truck, moving stuff?
TF: Yeah, they were buying … how will I put it, well they were buying scrap metal, copper and that, and I’d go and pick it up. then I’d take – oh I don’t know what it was – some sort of stuff down to Kwinana to – oh, I know the place but I can’t think of the name, the company that I took the stuff too, some sort of chemical in drums it was, but it was like quick silver…

LS: Mercury…
TF: That’s what it was, mercury! Yeah, I think it was, no it couldn’t have been … oh it might have been. They reckon it had gold in it, because they would get it out of that, up at Coogee Chemicals, opposite … I don’t know whether you knew the place .. let me see now, you know where they pulled that old abattoirs down in Coogee, [near Ocean Road?], well it was up on the hill there – there, and that’s where the Coogee chemicals first started, they bought property down here at Kwinana near Yangebup that’s right .

LS: And the paper mill where was that?
TF: Just here – [indicates Spearwood Road[ – that’s right, and I was a truck driver there yeah.

LS: What did you do there, pick up papers?
TF: Yeah, I picked up papers, every morning we’d go round and pick the papers up or cardboards and that, whatever they had …

LS: So it was recycling stuff?
TF: That’s right, all the people had .. yeah that’s what it was yeah…

LS: So when did you do that, in recent years?
TF: No, or… I done that I think the second time we came back [from Kalgoorlie] no it couldn’t have been … I had left Fremantle Shire, and then I got a job there [at the Paper Mill] see…

LS: And with the Shire were you planting trees again?
TF: No, I was still driving a truck down at Fremantle, doing the road work and that, you know, with the engineering department. But here I was … on the Cockburn I was planting trees, yeah.

LS: And you went to East Perth school you said, did you go to High School?
TF: No, I didn’t go to high school – them days they wouldn’t let you go to high school.

LS: No.
TF: No, they did really you know you could – like my sisters went to High School, my sisters went to Perth Girls High School, because we never lived far from it, but one of my sisters did, my eldest sister that’s right she went to Perth Girls High School. But I was a bit of a rascal… in them days I was a bit of a rascal, I was – its like kids nowadays what they were doing, but what I was doing was I was [stealing marbles]

LS: So they wouldn’t let you go to High School or you didn’t want to go?
TF: No I left school at 14 – yeah, well mum and dad they parted, they separated, and I finished school at a place called Kwolyin – KWOLYIN [spells it out].
Yeah, that’s other side of Quairading between … on the Bruce Rock Road, yeah. There is nothing there now, the school got burnt down, the pub got burnt down and they got plaques there where the old school was and all that you know.

LS: So which languages do you speak? Do you speak Nyungar ?
TF: I speak the Nyungar language yeah, this boy Collard, Len he is some related to me, and he is some related to my wife in here, yeah…

LS: And so you all speak the same language.
TF: Yeah we all speak the same language yeah.

LS: Well I think that is about it then, thank you very much for your time.
TF: OK.. that’s about all I can tell you.

LS: And this is the little form that gives the council permission to keep the story so if you’d like to sign it…
TF: I just sign it…

LS: Down there and then I will sign it down here and send you a copy of that with the transcript and tape later on. Did you suggest we might speak to Aussie Hart?
TF: Yeah, well he is, because he was on the Council, he retired from the Council, he worked there for a long time, he had to be 65 when he retired, yeah.

LS: Do you recall anyone else working at the council?
TF: Blackfellas no, white fellas, yeah…

LS: I thought there would be a few Nyungar people working there now..
TF: No, Aussie was the only one I know, he was working when I was working, but I don’t know whether … they wanted the blackfellas to work there or not, I don’t know. But I had a bit of a blue with … and a hard time with one of the Leading Hands at Cockburn and I bopped him – and he hit me and I docked him, but I got …, they sacked me.

LS: Do you go fishing? You got a big freezer there?
TF: No, that… I used to work up there … in Kalgoorlie, I used to work on the rubbish, tip controller I was, and one day I got up there and this was there, they had put it down and they never threw it, just stood it up, and I went down and stood it up, and I went there and looked at it, and it was on the nose because they turned it off and forgot to get the things out. So I said, oh I will take it home, so I took it home and I cleaned it out, or did I clean it and I left it for 12 months it was in the air, standing there in my shed for 12 months before I used it and then one Christmas we wanted another freezer, we had a little one, so I switched it on and away it went. There it is. That was at least 10 years … Then the boys go fishing, and I go shooting roos and rabbits and that and I put them in there. See…

LS: Can you eat the rabbits you catch?
TF: Yeah,

LS: I thought they’d make you sick,
TF: Nah, they don’t … even that myxomatosis, its not …

LS: Harmful to humans?
TF: No, and the rabbits are immune to myxomatosis now.

LS: Where do you go to get them?
TF: Oh way out in the bush,

LS: Not locally,
TF: There is a lot here, where old Robbs Jetty used to be,

LS: Is that why I hear guns going off at night? I live down near there.
TF: Well it could be too,

LS: I live near Manning Park and sometimes I hear guns and I think that’s funny,
TF: Well it could be too because there is a lot of rabbits there, but they wouldn’t shoot there…

LS: You wouldn’t think so would you… too close to people…
TF: There is a bloke goes there with his dog goes there, he catches them with his dog,

LS: Oh?
TF: Yeah,

LS: Aboriginal man?
TF: No, white bloke – got a white station wagon, and his dog catches rabbits, but there is a lot there, right along the beach. But I used to catch them with traps but … I dunno, my grandson has got my traps and I don’t know where they’ve gone. But then you are not allowed to use the traps now, they cry over it…

LS: Catch people’s kids and dogs maybe?
TF: Oh, well I don’t know…

LS: [laughs] I quite like a rabbit, my mum used to cook them a fair bit.
TF: Yes, I go way out to Bruce Rock and you know… and there are hundreds out there, I don’t know… its like it was years ago – rabbits – but aren’t they are lovely, yeah?

LS: Yeah.
TF: I put them in the ashes…

LS: Cook ‘em in the coals?
TF: No in the ashes,

LS: Cook slowly in there?
TF: Yeah, like a … yeah, slowly, and its lovely.

LS: Thanks a lot, its very nice meeting you.
TF: That’s alright.

About Tom Ford

Mr. Ford was born at the Badjaling Mission on August 16, 1934. His mother was Minnie (nee Garlett) and his father was Ted Ford. Thomas Henry Ford has been married to his wife Maureen for 44 years and they have 8 children and one foster daughter. They married in York and have lived in Merredin, Kalgoorlie and the Cockburn area. In this interview Mr. Ford recalls being a member of various Aboriginal organisations and being involved in a variety of occupations in the Goldfields and the southern suburbs. This includes reference to working for the City of Fremantle and the City of Cockburn in Parks and Gardens.



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Cockburn Nyungar moort Beeliar boodja-k kaadadjiny. Koora, yeyi, benang baalap nidja boodja-k kaaradjiny.
Ngalak kaadatj dayin boodja, kep wer malayin. Ngalak kaadatj koora koora wer yeyi ngalang birdiya.

City of Cockburn acknowledges the Nyungar people of Beeliar boodja. Long ago, now and in the future they care for country.
We acknowledge a continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to the Elders, past, present and emerging.