There is a move afoot in Australia these days to deny the truth of the destruction of aboriginal culture and the wholehearted massacre
of their people by the Europeans who settled here in the 18th century.
The deniers can find fault with numbers of casualties quoted and maybe are correct, but they cannot deny the terrible repercussions that resulted amongst
both the white and black races as a result of the taking of aboriginal land and the destruction of their tribal life.
Jimmy Governor was one such tragedy of the take over of the land by the white race. The difference with Jimmy though, was that he
was treated so badly as a result of believing the white propaganda, that the blacks should behave like whites and they would be accepted, that he
exacted a terrible revenge.
He took for his totem the goanna, it's long tail being the representation of masculine virility.
He carved his totem into every tree and outlined it with a sturdy stick in the grass and dirt wherever he threw bark over a hooked branch and called it
He carried himself with assurance and the self-belief that he had much to offer in this strange new world of mixed races on the oldest continent on earth.
His name was Jimmy Governor and he was three quarters full blood black and one quarter Irish.
He was handsome and strong and clever and he knew it and was proud. His fiery red hair clearly established his Irish heritage, but his black body and flat
nose declared his aboriginality.
His took upon himself the challenge to convince the white people around him and the other blacks of his tribe, all of whom considered him to be of no defined
race, polluted on the one hand by his Irish mother and on the other hand by his aboriginality, that he was as good if not better than any of them.
Jimmy knew his worth compared to the white men. He worked for them, he played cricket with them and was hired by the police force
of the day as a tracker.
He achieved well at everything he did, but was treated with contempt by some of the white people because he did it so well and dared to declare he was their
Modesty was not Jimmy's strong point. He noticed when he worked for the Police that the white men were useless at tracking and if left to their own devices
would invariably make a mess of police matters requiring intelligence and cunning at which he excelled. He felt it his duty to inform them of this failure
on their part.
His father was Tommy Governor, famous and respected black leader of his time who discovered a silver mine which made a few white
men very rich.
His mother told him stories that her Irish mother had told her as a child of how badly the aboriginal and Irish races were treated by the English.
After Tommy died, Jimmy married a white woman, Ethel Page, a timid, plain, impoverished woman who later said that if Jimmy had not
married her no one would have. This led people to assume that Ethel was carrying a white man's child; she wasn't. It was Jimmy's baby in her womb.
Ethel fell in love with Jimmy's beauty, his kindness to her, and as she herself said, the thought of having someone of her own.
For Jimmy it was his right to marry a white woman, and he treated her with affection and acceptance, and love for the baby boy to whom she shortly after
He carried her on his arm like a trophy and displayed to the whites that he could do as he pleased.
Jimmy was a very hard worker and an amiable person, well liked by most of the white people with whom he associated.
His childhood friend Francis Boyce with whom he fished and swam, hunted and speared, was later to be appointed by the Crown to defend him in the appalling
charges of murder that were to be laid against him.
While Tommy Governor was still alive, some sort of order was maintained in the family, but on his death, the Governor boys Jimmy
and Joe went their own ways.
Jimmy gave up horse breaking and went to work fencing for squatter John Mawbey at Breelong outside Gilgandra in 1899, the year before Federation in 1900,
taking with him Ethel and the new baby.
Members of Jimmy's tribe lived in these lands and were known as the Breelong Blacks.
Jimmy and his wife and child lived in a bark humpy with few possessions and subsistence rations, with little time or energy to hunt traditional food.
Tribal culture of the aborigines insisted on equal distribution of food and hunting equipment amongst their own tribe and also trading of these items amongst
other tribes. This kept relationships and rations of food on an equal level.
The white people though did not understand this, and accused Jimmy of using his allotments of flour and sugar in a careless manner,
that is, feeding his own people.
Ethel, Jimmy's wife, worked for no pay for the Mawbey family and suffered daily the taunts and ridicule of the entire family for
marrying a black man. These insults she carried home to Jimmy, who daily suffered the jibes from his own people for his marrying of a white woman.
Ethel, young and inexperienced, grew ever angrier about her conditions compared with the fine home and benefits enjoyed by those who considered themselves
It was a situation that could only lead to disaster, and when provisions ran out one wet and freezing night, and Mawbey had quite
openly cheated Jimmy saying he and his family had inadequately supplied him with fence posts, Ethel goaded Jimmy into going to Mawbeys pub and demanding
more rations, or she would take to the roads as a bushranger, a more or less common threat uttered in those days of near starvation at Mawbey's hands
by Jimmy and his family.
Jimmy, exhausted from a lifetime of seeking acceptance and seeing only the wrong done to him by the white people set off with his
brother Joe, his wife Ethel and his friend Jackie Underwood.
What also accompanied him was a home made axe and a rifle.
First they approached Mr Mawbey and asked for flour and sugar to be sent to their camp the next day. Mawbey, anxious at the look
and voice of Jimmy agreed to do so.
They then went to the house to see Mrs Mawbey and seek an apology for the dreadful things said to Ethel.
Mrs Mawbey and her friend Miss Kertz laughed in Jimmy's face. How dare a nigger come to their house and demand an apology.
It was the one taunt too many.
Before anyone could react, Jimmy rushed at Mrs Mawbey with the axe and struck her repeatedly, before turning on Miss Kertz.
Joe and Jackie Underwood hacked to death two of the Mawbey children in the house, but the two youngest girls escaped and ran towards the river, with the
young Mawbey boy also escaping and running to his father's pub to raise the alarm.
Jimmy caught up with both girls and clubbed them to death with his axe.
The two brothers and Underwood took to their heels, with Jimmy first taking Ethel back to the camp and admonishing her to mind the child.
This was only the beginning of their murderous spree.
On another farm they murdered an old man who had once scorned Jimmy's attempts at white acceptance and critically injured his wife.
And on the next farm a pregnant woman and her small son were killed and two more critically injured for a similar reason.
In all, nine men women and children were horribly slain and three were critically injured, never to fully recover.
Then followed the biggest manhunt that Australia had ever seen.
Jackie Underwood was caught within a few weeks and hanged.
It took three months to hunt Jimmy down, and during this time he left taunting notes for the police.
He was shot in the mouth on one occasion but still managed to escape.
This was where Jimmy excelled, his aboriginal heritage taking precedence over his white blood, allowing him to leap from rock to rock like a kangaroo, to
crawl into hidden places to lie low like a goanna, and to double back on himself all the time to confuse his followers.
It needed other blacks to find someone of his talents.
Finally he was found asleep in a paddock, suffering from hunger and exhaustion and pain.
He was taken back to Gilgandra where he was put on trial.
His brother Joe lasted a few more weeks at large and was finally shot and killed in the bush.
Jimmy's defence lawyer, Boyce, his old childhood friend, attempted a defence of manslaughter but it was rejected outright by the
Ethel appeared in court with her child and pregnant with another one and declared she was no where near the Mawbey's place the night of the murders.
Jimmy was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged, just as soon as the celebrations for Federation were over.
He seemed to accept his fate, and saw Ethel and the child one last time before he died, though blaming Ethel for the appalling events
that had taken place a few months before.
The newspapers of the time, and the entries in the history books loudly declared that the aborigine was inherently violent, that
kindness shown to the Governors was returned by the ghastly massacres that they committed, and thus no pity should ever be shown for the Governors
But Jimmy's case is a little different from other cases involving murder for no apparent reason.
Jimmy was born on a Mission run by the Anglican Church, baptised at an early age, and had white values instilled into him, along with an entirely false
assertion that to be accepted by the whites, you only had to behave like them.
Jimmy's open and accepting manner led him to believe this, and to spend his life in an attempt to belong to that elusive group, but even as he struggled
to belong, he was breaking their moral code.
He married a white woman, an irredeemable crime, and he harboured his black tribal brothers.
No where, at any time, was there ever an attempt by these same white people who had lied to him, to show him any pity for the pain of his life, or any feeling
of empathy for the way he had to keep his white wife and their child in a humpy far away from any of the niceties of life, or any of the kindnesses, and
without adequate food and basic human rights.
No one talked about the Governors for many years although the township of Gilgandra uses the massacres as a tourist attraction, until
in the seventies author Tom Kenneally wrote Jimmy's story and called it The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, which was later made into a well-accepted film.
Keneally with his Irish wisdom saw the truth about what had happened to Jimmy Governor, and how he had been programmed from birth into acceptance of a false
By seeing the situation from the position of the black community Kenneally earned himself some strong criticism.
But who is right?
The people who maintain that Jimmy Governor was an ignorant murderous mixed race person, who, given the trust of the Europeans, never the less turned on
them, or the ones who say that circumstances drove him to a situation in which he ultimately snapped.
The Stolen Children
Little black baby playing in the sun,
Do you miss your mother while you play and run?
Do you ever get the feeling that some part of you has gone?
And how much loving do you ever get to grow upon?
Piccaninny is what they call you, little black boy,
With your flashing white teeth and eyes that should be filled with joy.
Hearts are broken daily, white people cannot see
Your tribal yearning for extended family.
Your mother died the other day, her body wracked with grief,
And statistics tell us surely your own life will be brief.
Run little one, run, take the only way,
Go and find your people and be happy while you may.
This world of ours' was never made for little ones like you,
Little black babies, motherless and homeless too.
Copyright: Bernie Pattison
The Didjshop has received permission by the author to publish the above text on this web site.
Disclaimer: The Didjshop is not responsible for the accuracy of the above material and the opinions expressed in the above
text are the views and opinions of the author.
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