Friday, February 3, 2012

"I Rode a Horse Up Stony Hill."

She always wore a flowered frock, sensible shoes and a blue beanie, cowled almost to her eyes. Every time I saw Aunty she was in the same uniform. Tiny, stooped and ancient. Sometimes during the winter she may have added a cardigan and some socks.

I feel that the passing today of this beautiful and unique Noongar woman at 91 years of age should be marked somehow but of course just writing about it is troublesome to both Noongar sensitivities and also to the knowledge of how much has already been taken. In Otago, a Maori man said to me, "The difference between the Australians and us Maori is that all of our ancestors are on the page, on the wall. Every marae you walk into, the ancestors are up there, carved on the wall." It's different here.

I first met Aunty in the Centrelink office when she used to hold my babies while we all waited in line. She was an old lady even then. Sometimes I would drive her home from the supermarket when I found her at the bus stop laden with shopping bags. Later, I knew that she grew up working on the soldier settlements east of here. To this day, there is not a lot of credit given to the Aboriginal families who did so much work out there in twentieth century clearing, fencing, shearing and shepherding.

"Mum rose each day at daybreak and made breakfast for us, which was often porridge. She would soak the porridge oats over night so it would be soft in the morning and easy to cook. Sometimes we ate kangaroo meat, onions bacon and tomatoes and damper. We dipped our damper into the juices. Farmers often gave us mutton, tomatoes and vegetables. Mum used to snare rabbits and shoot kangaroos with a .22 rifle when dad was away." 1

Aunty was born and lived through the era of the West Australian 1905 Act, similar to Victoria's Aborigines Protection Act. She may not have noticed it as a kid but her family's life was quite controlled by this piece of legislature.

One day, out of the blue, Aunty turned her milky eyes to me and said, "I rode a horse up Stony Hill." She said it like she'd done it the day before and perhaps in her mind, she had. But later someone told a story about Aunty when she was a young woman. There was a wild black horse that nobody was game enough to ride. Aunty got on that horse. Her hair was long and black. She was wearing a black skirt and a yellow sash around her waist. She stayed on that horse and galloped it all the way up Stony Hill!
Aunty, sixty years or so later, was in the same room as that story was told and she cried and cried. Later, she told me it wasn't true. I have no idea. I don't think it matters.
Godspeed Aunty.

1. Winnie Larsen, Memories of a Noongar Childhood, R.M Howard, Albany, 2005, p. 27


  1. I'm missing Aunty already, and I never met her. When I was a kid at school in about 1959, there were no black pupils at all - save for an Australian Aboriginal girl who turned up out of the blue, halfway through a term. I fell in love with her, but she hated me for some reason. I don't know how she ended up in England, but she was a real rarity.

  2. Nyorn...fond memories, great tribute ST

  3. A fantastic little window into an extraordinary life.

    God bless Aunty.

  4. Sara, thank you. That was such a lovely blog post about an amazing lady.

  5. I knew this old lady too. She was at the Aboriginal Heritage Group meeting I attended. She was very wise and unmoved by the emotional politics in the room. This is very sad, but at 91, she has outlived many of her people who die way too young. Amazing lady.

    Perhaps this is why I have not heard from my Aboriginal students. I wondered if there had been a death in the community, and this lady was a true and respected elder. I will feel really bad if my students haven't enrolled because of this and we have cancelled the course in their brief absence. God, white culture just doesn't get this.

  6. A lovely tribute, Sarah. I remember this lady well. She had a double in another well-loved and respected lady I'd known in the Pilbara. Deepest sympathies to her loved ones and friends.

  7. She was probably just shy, Tom.
    Thanks Wadjella Yorga, Chris and Molly.
    And thanks to MF and Barbara fo your goodbyes. I felt a bit funny about writing this at the time, but it feels okay now. She was a lovely woman. The last year, I have missed seeing her around town. Just to clarify, Winnie, whose quoted in this post, is her sister.

  8. I haven't got that book yet but I'm going to. Definitely.

  9. Lovely tribute Sarah. The lives of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters are so often right there in the middle of our lives but seemingly, too often,invisible.

    I've just finished reading Gillian Mears 'Foals Bread' which is set in the Lismore/Grafton area of NSW. It has family and horses at the centre of the story. It's a truly magical evocation of life in the tough rural back-blocks of that area in the 40s. I highly recommend it.

  10. It may be out of print Ciaran but I'll ask around for you.
    Mr Hat, that book sounds really good. I've heard interviews with Mears on the radio. I think it was the wild day I drove to Windy to visit that fisherwoman. Speaking of weather, how are you going, over there?

  11. Beautiful weather here in Brisbane. We just missed the big rains of january - arrived back the day after it moved on.
    The west is being hit hard. Towns being drowned in floodwaters for the third year in a row while the sun shines on the coast. Pretty awful really. Years of drought and then years of floods.
    Lake Eyre will fill again.