Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bringing Bessie Flowers Home

Something special is happening on Sunday in Albany's St John church gardens ...

Welcome to the country of the Minang people. The homeland from where Bessie Flowers and five other girls left 146 years ago. They left not knowing how long they would be gone or if they would ever return. We at last welcome them home.
Uncle Ezzard Flowers.

Bessy Flower, or Bessie Flowers, she was a clever girl, spoke fluent French and once defeated the Victorian chess champion at his own game. She left Albany in 1867 for Gippsland, where she worked as a teacher, an amanuensis for her new Aboriginal community and as a domestic servant. Bessy always anticipated her return to Albany. She missed her home-country and wrote, 'never mind, I won't have very long to stay'.*

Bessie married in Gippsland and had eight children, two of whom died. She never returned to Albany. She died in 1895, aged 43. This Sunday her Koori descendants are coming from Victoria and Up North to congregate in the gardens of the Anglican church, the same church where Bessie once worked as an organist. 

So if you are in town, join the local Noongar community for a moving ceremony of song, smoke and sand as they welcome home the spirit of Bessie Flowers.

1.50 pm, Sunday, 24th of Feb. St John's Anglican church lawns. After that we'll walk up to the town hall where Ezzard Flowers, the Aunties and Sharon Huebner from the Monash Indigenous Centre will be talking about Bessie's life and sharing some stories about their own.

 * http://www.noongarculture.org.au/noongars/bessy-flower.aspx


  1. Hard to find an appropriate response. It will be a powerful moment. All the best for the day.

    1. Thanks Mr Hat. We are getting some beach sand for the Aunties and Uncles to sit their feet on, some of the Noongars will do the smoking ceremony and there will be a welcome to country all round - for the local writers festival and to Bessie's descendants. It will be powerful, yes.

  2. I'd go to that, shame it's not in a month's time.
    I'm very glad it's happening and I hope it goes well for everyone.

  3. I wrote something about this photograph. It's not about Bessie, it's about the writer Anthony Trollope. Trollope visited Ann Camfield, who ran the school where Bessie excelled, when he came to Albany in May 1872. Gus Hare was the resident magistrate at the time..

    "Hare, holding the highest public office in the district, was responsible for regional promotion. Dropping the subject of his writing -as if what he’d said about it was of absolutely no consequence- the Resident had handed over a list of appointments. Amongst them was one with the widow of a former official who had run a school for native children in the town. Following the natural train of his thoughts, Trollope recalled the visit, picturing himself walking up the gouged and debris-strewn York Street hill and turning left into Serpentine Road.

    Mrs Camfield had been boisterous and colourful and he was entertained by her until she took down a daguerreotype portrait of her prize student and begun elaborating upon the native girl’s many qualities.

    ‘Quite an achievement,’ he conceded when she had finished. The girl in the photograph was dressed extravagantly, holding an ornate hat in a subdued pose. The portrait seemed wrenched from some strange place and he found it impossible to say anything more about it.

    ‘There were natives at the jetty when we came ashore,’ he offered, for the sake of saying something. ‘Asking for ‘sicpens’ in exchange for souvenir spears and a show of their dance.’

    Mrs Camfield was instantly indignant. ‘I do wish the council would put a stop to it,’ she said. ‘It’s soliciting, and they’re so dirty. Good lord, what an eyesore.’ Her intensity was unctuous. ‘Whatever about the men and their nakedness,’ she continued, ‘there is not in nature, I think, a more filthy, loathsome, revolting creature than a native woman in her wild state. Every animal has something to recommend it, but a native woman is altogether unlovable.’

    Trollope considered the school teacher’s words. He had handed the picture back but it still felt as if it were in his hands and he gazed down at them, turning over the sinews running out to the backs of his fingers so that his broad pulpy palms faced up. It was not that his views on the civilising of a primitive race were any different, Mrs Camfield’s achievements were to be commended. It was more that her words mingled with Hare’s and the picture of the girl, so incongruous and forced looking, caused the image of himself to appear; an unentitled ill-fitting schoolboy forced to match it with the disapproving gentry of the day."

    1. That is great writing Ciaran. Really good juxtaposition of people and cultures. Beautifully done.
      Yes, I reckon you like to attend. I'll take some photos for you.

    2. I'm really sorry I'm going to miss it, just a month later and I could have been there. Photos will be amazing, I'm sure.

      What Ann Camfield said, about there not being a more filthy, loathsome, revolting creature than a native woman in her wild state, is an actual quote of hers. But the event is not about any of that, or her, it's about honouring and recognising Bessie Flowers and her achievements and that's a great thing..

  4. i am looking for any famliy of Bessie Flowers who may being living in Vic.

    please contact me: George.Currie@wathaurong.org.au

  5. I am a the great great great great grand daughter of Nora White who was one of the women with Bessie. I only found out recently by accident and am trying to find her family for my elderly mother and family. Nora has a huge family in Victoria consisting of hundreds of descendants its such an extraordinary story and so sad what happened to all the young women. I wish l could find Nora Whites family my great Great Grans family xoxoo

    1. Hi Tracey, thank you for contacting me. Get back to me via drumms dot com dot au and I will try to put you in contact.