Thursday, December 31, 2009

Births, Deaths and Marriages, but mostly Births.

It’s the last day of the year and I’m killing time, with my wife due to give birth at any tick of the clock. Maybe today, tomorrow, next week, who knows? I can’t wait. It’s a fantastic way to extend the family tree!

Yep, we know what we’re having, but we haven’t spilled the beans, and we’re not going to, until we’re holding a bundle of joy in our arms. My Dad has gone to great pains to find out the sex of the baby, having tried at every instance we’ve spoken. But, given that he’s correctly predicted the sex of some 14-15 babies in a row, both in and out of our family; I would imagine he’s trying to make me slip up for his own amusement rather than for information.

Beyond my Dad and every other joker trying to learn the sex of the baby, we’ve had to work through the issue of trying over the last month to confirm a name for the baby. This had to be done simply as a matter of courtesy, given that my wife and I chose a Koori (Australian Aboriginal) name for our child, and perhaps only one other person in the world has this particular name, a cousin whom I had never crossed paths with, until speaking over the phone two days ago, to confirm that persons comfort with the use of the name.

In the meantime, it’s been a quiet, but very enjoyable Christmas, and my genealogy has turned a corner, thanks to the efforts of the good folk behind the free Australian Newspaper Archive. Their digitised copies of the Sydney Morning Herald have revealed a number of new elements and hints to my tree, and will continue to do so, with each new week providing another decade’s worth of data to trawl through. Currently at 1922, the website’s SMH digitisation will be complete when they hit 1954, after which attention will turn to a multitude of interstate and small town newspapers, as listed here

In other news, the NSW BD&M website should have its index updated in the next few days, as it adds in births for 1909, deaths for 1979, and marriages for 1959, complying with limits as set out by the privacy act. Per usual at this time of year, I expect the site to become very sluggish during peak hours for a few weeks, until everyone has absorbed the new data and sent off for new certificates and transcriptions.

To everyone, I wish you all the very best and a safe and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Recently I ventured an hour west of Melbourne, to the small and pictureseque town of Healesville. There at the outskirts I visited what once was the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve. Today there is one building remaining, the Aboriginal cemetery and Worawa, the local Aboriginal college. I paid my respects at the cemetery to family buried there, and to William Barak, an Aboriginal leader who as a young boy witnessed the supposed 'treaty', where John Batman robbed the Wirundjuri and neighbouring tribes of their lands.

Coranderrk existed up until the 1920's as a hub of activity, where originally the Aboriginal inhabitants were productive to the extent that they farmed their own land, becoming one of the new nation's major hop producers, and enabling their children to gain an education, have medical care and other facilities not seen by other Aboriginal people during the 1800's.

Among those who called Coranderrk home were my great great grandmother Maggie, her son John (my great grandfather), and Maggie's three other children - Bella, Minnie and Jacob. Both Bella and Minnie are buried at Coranderrk. I have yet to find much of a trace of Jacob, and I believe he died as an infant.

For more on the history of Coranderrk, and its significance in Black Australian history, check out the Victorian Museum website dedicated to the settlement, here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Black Mag

I've had a major break-through in my research recently, concerning one of my great great grandmothers, Maggie SIMMS. I've located information pertaining to where she is buried, when she died, and of her background.

Maggie was the mother of my namesake, my great grandfather John PATTEN, b. 1874 Corryong VIC, d. 1942 NSW. Maggie's partner, or possible husband may have also been named John PATTEN, or as records hint - John or James PATON (a matter which might only be clarified via a DNA test, if I am able to a willing counterpart descended from Corryong PATON's).

Maggie is listed by my great grandfather on his marriage certificate as Maggie SIMMS. This is a name that she is never referred to in other records. She's only ever called "Black Mag", or "Black Maggie".

I have two photographs of Maggie. The first, shows Maggie standing garbed in a possum skin cloak, holding a baby and in the company of "Black Charlotte". They are listed variously as "the last two full-blooded Aborigines" of the Yaithmathang, Jaitmathang and Dhuduroa. Which of those names are tribes, and which are clans within those tribes, I am uncertain. Of Charlotte's relationship to Maggie I am also uncertain, save for the fact that they were related via being members of the same tribe. The second photo shows Maggie climbing a tree, holding an axe, hunting for possums. This is the photograph as mentioned in an earlier blog entry that forms a part of a somewhat derogatory postcard for the Corryong district.

The books and academic journals that I found these details in, range from being linguistic volumes and anthropology journals, to the ignorant and racist ravings of a self-inflated, big noter.

According to Aldo Massola, in his book - Journey to Aboriginal Victoria (1965), Maggie died at Corryong in 1883 of exposure after drinking through the night.

Given that Maggie and her four children were removed to state care less than a decade earlier, and potentially three of those children died not long after, and that Maggie was then removed from her remaining son.. I'm not really surprised at her sad ending.