MARGARET of the AWABAKAL (c.1829-1894)
by Vicki Grieves
Little is known of the circumstances of Margaret’s birth, her parentage and the fate of her forebears. As a child, the Rev Lancelot Threlkeld had introduced her to Christianity and English education at Bahtahbah Mission on the shores of Lake Macquarie at present day Belmont. She retained some association with him over her lifetime.
Margaret also had an association with the family of Edward Hargreaves at Bungaree’s Norah, now known as Norah Head and it is believed that she lived with the family in her early years (Hunter District Historical Society [HDHS]). Her son William Henry (also known as Buckhaun) and daughter Ellen were baptised at the Hargreave residence in January 1860, by the Rev Alfred Glennie of the Church of England. The ceremony was witnessed by both Aboriginal and British people (Turner and Blyton 1995:44).
Margaret’s husband and father of her children, Ned, was commonly known as “old Ned”. They were also referred to as the Aboriginal King and Queen of the district. It is not known how long they had been married when Margaret had her first child Ellen in 1859, when approximately 30 years of age. It is possible that she was in domestic service with the Hargreaves for some time, delaying her marriage.
She is known for having been a fringedweller of Swansea, with her husband Ned, “about half a mile south of the Swansea Bridge and on the western side of the road” and was known locally for being an “excellent” woman. She was a diligent domestic worker, her home was “spotlessly clean” and she was “most courteous” to visitors (HDHS). She was also reported as a woman of “irreproachable character”, who did not indulge in alcohol and had Christian instruction, her daughter able to recite the Lord’s prayer and the Creed (Shaw 1871).
Ned and Margaret were in possession of a garden plot, pigs and poultry. Ned was a favourite guide for hunting and fishing parties at Lake Macquarie and was considered “the only native ever known to adopt civilised and domestic habits” (Shaw 1871). Ned “a hard working, inoffensive old man” maintained himself by collecting honey and wax, growing corn, vegetables and tobacco and attending hunting parties on the lake (Shaw 1871, HDHS). Margaret contributed significantly to the family economy with domestic work in the neighbourhood. She was reportedly a fine needlewoman, who made all the clothes for her family, and made cabbage-tree hats, a particularly good source of income. Ned’s blind and aged mother was living with them as well as several children (Shaw 1871).
In 1871, the Newcastle Chronicle complained that her family were threatened with the loss of their “squattage” by a liberal land act and called for a government enquiry into the matter. The Rev John Shaw of Scone quickly followed up with reports of the validity of Ned and Margaret’s claim to this land, he referred to as Naboth’s Vineyard, next to what is now known as Margaret’s Bay. Shaw reported that Ned’s home “was everything to him” and without it he would be “something like a ruined man” losing proximity to the lake and fish, cabbage tree, honey and fresh water. He suggested that the Governor might intervene as a “portion of his oath of office expresses that he will protect the Aboriginal inhabitants of the country, and here is a case where such protection is clearly required” (Shaw 1871). All indications are that they were in fact forced off this land and as the editor feared: a free settler was able to “reap the benefit of [Ned’s and Margaret’s] labours” (Newcastle Chronicle 1871).
There are reports of a reserve being set aside for this family in 1871 in the proximity of what is now known as Black Ned’s Bay (Nilsen 1985: 84) and they may have lived there while Ned was alive. Ned died c. 1877 and was buried in the ground marked off by The Australian Society of Patriots in the Aboriginal reserve on the opposite side of the road from their “old” home, at Naboth’s Vineyard (HDHS).
Mr James Hannell and others were advocates for Margaret’s welfare in this period and requested the Minister for Lands, Mr J S Farnell to secure land for her and the Minister promised that Margaret would not be disturbed “even if the land were selected”. Margaret was settled at Catherine Hill Bay on land that was consequently selected by a Mr Talbot (Newcastle Advocate 1879).
Margaret was living in a little hut with a garden in early 1879 when men pulled her fence down and were going to destroy the fruit trees “at the instance of Mr Talbot” (Newcastle Advocate 1879). Mr Hannell then wrote to the Minister, appraising him of the circumstances of the case, and requesting protection:
*…for the poor old creature. It would be an act of wanton cruelty to dispossess her of the small block of land that she now occupies, especially when it is considered that the whole of it was at one time the patrimony of her tribe: and we therefore hope that Mr Hannell’s kindly interventions will result in the way desired (Newcastle Advocate 1879)
Talbot apparently hurt and feeling much maligned, protested his innocence and claimed that the real villains were connected to a miner’s lease taken up on his selection. Margaret too wrote to the paper in support of him.
Thomas Hungerford, the local member of the New South Wales Parliament was taken to visit Margaret by the local councillor, Mr Fleming of Wickham. He found her residing where she had been for some years, in a four roomed house built with the aid of her now grown children, and earning a living from garden produce and poultry. Mr Hungerford put her case for the land she was living on to be “dedicated to her and her children for life”. The Newcastle Morning Herald reported in March 1880 that he handed to them a letter from the NSW Secretary for Lands approving of the reservation of 40 acres of land “for the use of Margaret” (Newcastle Morning Herald 1880).
Margaret gave testimony at a magisterial hearing before Mr Talbot JP at Swansea in 1894 after the accidental death by burning of her seven year old great grand-daughter Lizzie Milton. The child’s dress had caught alight from an outside fire. Once again Margaret was fringedwelling at Swansea and her household included at least Ellen’s children, Sarah and Willie, as well as Sarah’s children. Clearly dispossessed and impoverished, Margaret was in receipt of rations and clothing from the Aboriginal Protection Board at this time. (Newcastle Morning Herald 1894).
Margaret died later that same year in Newcastle Hospital from a long-term hydatid infestation of the liver and lung. She was interred in the Primitive Methodist section of the Sandgate Cemetery. She had been predeceased by her son Buckaun in 18? though no detail remains of the circumstances. Her daughter Ellen, mother of seven, died in 1902, eight years after her mother, at the age of forty-two years, from starvation. Her last rites were performed by the Church of England.
"A Case for a Governmental Enquiry” Newcastle Chronicle 2 September 1871
Boon Louise “The Last of Her Race” Newcastle Morning Herald 6 February 1880
“Burning Fatality at Swansea” Newcastle Morning Herald 18 July 1894
Hungerford Thomas MP letter to Newcastle Morning Herald 20 March 1880
Nilsen Laurie (Ed) Lake Macquarie: Past and Present Lake Macquarie City Council 1985
Hunter District Historical Society (HDHS) “When the Blackman Ruled” newspaper and date unknown, Swansea Museum
“Margaret of Lake Macquarie” Newcastle Morning Herald 20 March 1880
Shaw John Rev “Naboth’s Vineyard at Lake Macquarie” letter to Newcastle Chronicle 7 September 1871
Talbot R F letter to Newcastle Advocate 24 April 1879
“The Last of her Race” Newcastle Advocate 18 April 1879
“The Old Aboriginal ‘Margaret’” Newcastle Herald and Miner’s Advocate 20 February 1880
Turner John and Blyton Greg The Aboriginals of Lake Macquarie: A Brief History Lake Macquarie City Council, 1995