I once interviewed pioneer woman aviator Nancy Bird. She’d been recruited by Rev Stanley Drummond for his Far West Children’s Scheme to fly nurses out of Bourke to remote villages further West in the 1930’s. She spoke in glowing terms about the wives and mothers who raised families on stations out there. ‘The heroism of some of the outback women was inspirational. Their courage was sustained year after year in terrible conditions’.
In a recent interview, Jodi Sontag talked to me about her challenges as a modern day ‘woman of the west’. Go to Read More to WATCH the interview.
You know you're near the end of the 380 km stretch of Mitchell Highway from Dubbo to Bourke when you break out of the mulga and box tree scrub onto the wide Darling flood plain. My first reflex is to sight the Mt Oxley mesa, often floating in the heatwaves on the Eastern horizon. It's a ritual that locates me somehow - a fixed point on the inner landscape composed of stories I have collected over four decades.
I’ve just completed a memoir tracking my journey as a historian and storyteller. The publisher asked about images for the cover and instinctively I thought of this lonely, flat-topped outcrop where the first European explorer had stood and surveyed the vast stretch of plains spreading West 190 years ago. Like Charles Sturt, I had arrived in Ngemba territory ignorant of the ancient songlines etched into the face of the country. And I knew little of the narrative overlaid by the wave of European settlers that followed Sturt’s footsteps.
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Strange how old melodies suddenly come to mind. And if they are hymns, somehow those cadences are not only locked into our grey matter, but into our souls as well. A childhood memory bubbled up of wheezy notes from an old pedal organ, leading our little congregation through a hearty rendition of ‘Tell me the old, old story of Jesus and his love.’
The words were there in my memory, but there were foggy patches so I googled. As I read them through I thought, ‘whoever wrote this understood storytelling.’ The fusty hymn came to life when I discovered the author was Kathryn Hankey, a girl with a passion for teaching children all across 19th century London. She was a social activist teamed up with the group fighting for the abolition of slavery with William Wilberforce. Her heart for sharing the story of Jesus saw her head overseas to serve as a nurse in South Africa.
Sydney in the 1890’s. Picture a Chinese man with a broad Scots accent, quoting Robbie Burns poems with gusto to appreciative audiences of Sydney’s leading citizens. He might pump out a skirl on the bagpipes! Mostly he appeared in public dressed as a dapper English gentleman, but on special occasions, adopted the full regalia of a Mandarin of the Fourth degree granted him by the Chinese Emperor.
As I read the story Mei Quong Tart, I became convinced he must be one of the most extraordinary characters in Australian history. Arriving with a band of coolies on the goldfields at Braidwood in Southern NSW in 1859, nine-year old Quong Tart quickly adapted to his new surroundings by picking up the language, poetry and music of the Scottish miners.
The wealthy Simpson family took an interest in the eager lad and advised him to invest in gold mines. By the time he turned eighteen, he was the wealthy employer of a team of men and an advocate for the Chinese on the diggings. Before long he was playing cricket, sponsoring race meetings, elected a member on the local school board and helping to build an Anglican church. He was naturalised in 1871. READ MORE ...
(image courtesy of Society of Australian Geneologists)
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.