Episode 11 | Brickwork

 Amanda - the not so hidden I of this story - makes a decision to become a nomad, which leads her to musings on a great-uncle she can relate to from the colonial past.

Amanda has come to realise that it might not be her time to put down roots....five months in a different house in a different part of Geraldton has not resulted in a desire to settle down. If fact when she looks at this five months she concedes that she is already spending a fair amount of time away from home and decides to go with what is actually happening rather than what she expects to be happening: thus the Conscious Nomad was born.


Interestingly, at the precise time that this idea was arising, Amanda, armed with a friend and a trailer, arranged to collect a large load of bricks to make an outdoor fireplace at the new house. As she was lugging bricks she was aware that her subconscious – if it had eyebrows – might well be raising them in the face of so heavily-weighted a metaphor. The hidden iceberg part of her personality might even find it tiresome to have to deal with such blatantly obvious efforts of the day-to-day mind to avoid a deeper reality – that of wanting to move on. Thus, the mindfully, mindless human mind in action!

The bricks might be a perfectly logical attempt to earth herself in face of the perennial problem: where to go. The problem was always where to go after Geraldton? Paris? Mt Magnet? She decides to leave the decision to her subconscious - always way ahead of the rest of her in the comprehension zone – and then immediately sets about second guessing the universe. 

The clue lies in the word nomad, perhaps. The thing about nomads is that they move seasonally, according to the availability of food and water, associated weather conditions and the needs of culture and ceremony, coming back to the same places for the same reasons. That works for Amanda. And really in some parts of WA how far would the traditional owners have moved? Imagine the Swan River pre-settlement…spectacular amounts of food, fresh water, gorgeous weather, the only reason to move around would be for trade, ceremony and a bigger coming together of the tribes or simply a desire to go to experience another wonderful place. Without getting too utopian about it all, imagine. When you think about it, the Aboriginal people were lucky to have had this paradise for the 60,000 years they did - they were always going to get done over by a colonising mob from the Northern hemisphere.

After some reflection, the thought comes to her that it is people she seeks. Relationships are definitely a motivating factor to take to the roads - the notion of meeting people involved in projects and efforts that resonate with her. People inspired by the regeneration of natural and social capital in food growing systems and those expanding the capacity of individuals to deal with their own wellness using systems based on the principles of consciousness.

The decision was made in the middle of March – and since then the confirmations of being on the right track have been coming in thick and fast in terms of phone calls answered, doors opening and connections made: including an offer from a friend to look after her house for 6 months. The deal was swiftly done, a bag of clothes and a swag put in the car and Amanda set off with a reluctant dog and a loose plan in place. The dog reluctant in the sense that despite being extravagantly fond of Amanda she is not a car dog, flatly refuses to get in anything that looks like a ute and can exhibit passive-aggressive tendencies when it comes to leaving anywhere – not great traits for a nomad’s companion.

Within the BodyTalk System, practitioners talk of the matrix – a spreading web of influence that strengthens when enough people are working towards similar goals, tapping into the same wavelengths – Amanda is now out there feeling the matrix as she follows her nose down different pathways as farm worker, trainee health practitioner and writer….


Amanda considers she has done her time in the big smoke. Melbourne delighted her in her 20s. She hopped off the bus at Flinders Street station in the early 1980s and knew she had arrived in a city she wanted to live in. This worked well until it dawned on her 15 years in that she had fallen out of love with the place: she was drawn to move to a small town north-west of the city. Here she was enchanted with the return to a more nature-connected life and the swelling of her social life from a bunch of similarly-aged artists to the full complement of babies, elders and other hitherto unexplored members of a community.

Being thoroughly regionalised, the subsequent move to Geraldton some 6 years later became a simple, even logical step –it was back to the arid land of her youth.She was swapping the dark, close, swampy, feminine zone of the Central Highlands of Victoria with the sun and wind-blasted plains of macho WA. The change was exhilarating and it carried with it the charge of undealt with family stuff when she took on a three month artist in residency in Greenough a tiny stone hamlet 20 kms south of Geraldton as a way to move to WA.


Her time on the ghost-filled flats of Greenough introduced her to a relative she could relate to and a way to understand and connect with the past.

In the Walkaway museum she was confronted by an old sepia photograph taken in the early 1900s that showed John Nicol Drummond and his wife Mary  sitting side by side. Both elders look out at the viewer, good humoured and twinkly. Mary looks like a woman of grace, humour and understanding… John sports an impressive amount of white facial hair, a solid looking citizen.

John and Mary Drummond 1900.jpg

Amanda was drawn to this couple and intrigued when she learnt that John was one of the first party of settlers that drove their animals up from the Avon Valley looking for new pastures as a consequence of the drought years of the late 1840s. She was actually treading the same ground as her great great great great great great uncle and the more she learned about him, the more interested she became.


John arrived as a boy with six siblings and his parents James and Sarah Drummond on the Parmelia with Captain Stirling, at the fledgling colony of Perth in 1829. James was hired as the colony’s naturalist and became the head gardener for the colony. John, at 13 years old was the perfect age for a big adventure.

He took to the Swan River, roaming through the bush with his younger brother Johnston, making connections with the local Aboriginal kids, learning how to read the bush and hunt and fish. I imagine the first meetings between the children of the boat people and the children of the Nyoongar people as being full of mutual curiosity and fascination. The Aboriginals, already fluent in different tribal languages were natural linguists and would have picked up the new language in a flash and the young Scottish boys were of an age to absorb new knowledge like sponges with the language of play as a common ground.

Am I overly romanticising? Possibly. The hardships and deprivations these first boat people suffered were just as real and terrifying as must have been the horrors inflicted on the first peoples as the advance of the colonialists lead to the disintegration of their way of life. But John was the right age to take the lack of a built environment and its manifest fears and discomforts in his stride. I imagine him indifferent to the plight of pianos sitting incongruously on the sand and equally blasé about the lack of civilised life in the form of newspapers, shops, familiar landscapes, family members left in the old country, that must have led to much despair amongst the older arrivals as they attempted to grow food and create liveable spaces in an alien environment an impossible distance from everything they knew.

As the Drummond boys roamed through the bush with the tribal people we can speculate they had as their first loves, the Aboriginal girls they met and as they grew up they had two things that would have impressed the tribal people no end – a gun and a horse.

If John wrote of his experiences they have not survived to the present day. What Amanda gleans about John is collected from a Drummond history commissioned by family members in the 1970s, with strong input from Amanda’s Aunt Judy (born in 1912) and the generation of her mother’s mother, born Margaret Rose Drummond.

Connections with the Aboriginal people are sketchy at best – Amanda’s mother told her that her Aunt Eileen was appalled that the stories of the Drummond boys and their dubious connections with Aboriginal people, especially woman, were even recorded. Sadly, the heart and soul of the stories I want to hear have not survived, no doubt because there was too much that needed to be hidden.

By the time Amanda arrived on the scene the Drummonds were foundation family nobility. James had a seat named after him in King’s Park and the descendants lived in the best spots along the Swan River and were comfortable with their first arrival status and the label of brave pioneers.

By all accounts available James Drummond snr was a benign presence – he arrived poor as a church mouse, but educated and ready and eager to engage with the new world in his role as naturalist. He was a man who spent long days wandering in the bush in company with a white pony and two Irish wolf hounds collecting plant specimens to be pressed and sent back to the collections in Kew Gardens.


These were the stories Amanda heard, but out of the corner of her eyes she was aware of flickering, black shadows that started to take shape in her consciousness. She was protected from the realities of colonisation via an education geared to certain sanitised aspects of history and life in a suburb removed from the majority of Aboriginal people– but there was enough to make her question her family’s right to ascendency in the small world of Perth.

Of all the stories of displacement, violence, disease and resistance, there are some that haunt Amanda. Rottnest, beloved isle of her childhood. Amanda was in her late teens when the Aboriginal relationship to Rottnest broke through to her conscious mind – this was not a conversation she found she could have with her beloved Aunt Judy, fierce guardian of local history and admirable champion of native flora and fauna, but considerably less flexible on attitudes to the Traditional Owners.

And what of Fanny Balbuk, the Nyoongar woman born in 1840, the early days of the colony, on an island near the present day Causeway in Burswood on the Derbal Yaragan (Swan River). From her camp a straight track led to a swamp where once she had gathered gilgies and plant food. The swamp, named Lake Kingsford by the colonists was eventually drained to make way for the Perth Railway Station.

Daisy Bates describes how Fanny Balbuk – a formidable woman - would break through and climb over fences, continuing to walk her traditional bidi (track) to gather bush foods at Lake Kingsford. When a house was built in her way, she broke its fence palings with her wanna (digging stick) and forced her way through the rooms. She was often arrested. She would “stand at the gates of Government House, cursing everyone within, because the stone gates guarded by a sentry enclosed her grandmother’s burial ground” (Bates 1938). These acts of resistance remind us of what has been lost. Info from the Battye Library

Soon after Amanda moved to Geraldton in the early 2000s, Aunt Judy told her that her grandmother Margaret Rose Drummond, who died in the 1970s when Amanda was a teenager, met John Nicol Drummond in Geraldton when he was an old man and Maisrie (as she was always known) was 16 years old. Time collapsed in a sci-fi rush when she realised that in her own lifetime, her Gran actually met one of the first settlers who disembarked from the ship in 1829.

Margaret Rose Maxwell Drummond ( Amanda's maternal grandmother) age 16 in 1900

Margaret Rose Maxwell Drummond ( Amanda's maternal grandmother) age 16 in 1900

The Drummonds were atypical settlers in that they had close relationships with the Noongar people: they relied on their ties with the local people to be successful collectors. Johnston was the son most aligned with his botanist father in the work of gathering plant and animal specimens and his relationships with tribal people was an entrée into worlds of knowledge denied to those who failed to connect with the traditional owners.


John, through his connections fell into the role of go-between for the boat people and the local tribes people as the former spread inland from the coast; clearing land, building fences, establishing food crops and pasturing animals as they claimed sovereignty over the fertile flats and valleys along the Swan and Avon rivers, eventually building townships of York and Toodyay east of Perth.

It became the custom to call on John Drummond to persuade the Aboriginal people from firing the land before harvest and to talk them out of spearing the animals that arrived in numbers to eat grasses that until this point in time had been nurtured season after season by land management techniques established by the Traditional owners.

That the brothers chose to have Aboriginal women as travel and sexual companions was an open secret, one which apparently created a rift between them and their father and definitely scandalised white society.

On 12 July in 1845, Johnson was speared to death as he lay sleeping in his Moore River camp. Kabinger, the Aboriginal man who did the deed had been accused of stealing sheep, and Johnston was sleeping with his wife, so there was trouble brewing between them. The death was given little to no public attention even though Johnson was on official business, collecting bird specimens for the famous naturalist, John Gould, presumably because Johnston was young and just beginning on a career and because the thought of a young white man fraternising with an Aboriginal woman was simply too appalling to talk about in public.

John in turn tracked down his brother’s killer and killed him. The then Governor Hutt, trying to impose order on such lawless behaviour ordered John to be captured and bought to trial for the crime – but John went to ground, fading into the bush to live with Aboriginal friends. In the Drummond family history, it was reported that when he finally resurfaced 6 months later his ‘own mother didn’t recognise him’. Hutt eventually reinstated John as a policeman- the Inspector of Native police, when the settlers, sick of having their crops burnt out and animals taken, begged Hutt to let him return to his role as mediator.


In Geraldton, by 1854 battlelines between black and white were drawn as the whites took over freshwater sources for themselves and their stock, started felling trees and fencing the land indifferent to or oblivious to the way Aboriginal people held and worked their land in ancient patterns of management.

Rumours of a large gathering of battle-ready Aboriginal men in the dense bushland around the Bootenal Springs, a favoured watering and food gathering place for the local people, led to a posse being formed. John was one of the settlers, mounted on a horse and carrying a gun who went in to clear them out. That there was a massacre seems certain, but no record remains to tell us of the body count.

It was not until recently, about 5 years ago, that local historian Gary Martin and artist Peter Damean worked with the council and Aboriginal descendants of the massacre to put up a modest monument to the First People’s resistance, some 15 kms south of Geraldton.

John, now a police Inspector of Natives for the area, eventually acquired a big parcel of land from White Peak, inland from Drummond’s Cove (formerly Smugglers cove, about 20 kms north of Geraldton) down to the sea. He built a four-room stone cottage that is still a family home and married Mary – surely a long suffering and forgiving type of person - who became one of the first white woman to live in the Midwest.

When Amanda turned up 150 years later, claiming kinship, she was delighted to learn that the house and part of this land was owned by her friend Indre’s family and was able to visit the house and talk to Indre’s parents who had lived there for years and learned what they could of its history.

At some point before Aunt Judy died she gave Amanda a pillow cover embroidered with a flower motif that was the last thing that Mary Drummond was working on as she lived out her days in a house in Nedlands – she died in the early 1900s in her 90s. I still have the pillow-case, the embroidery is unfinished and not particularly skilful which somehow makes it all the more precious. The scrap of fabric is a genuine relic, something to aid an imaginative connection to the past.

As a strange addendum to this story, in the Drummond history book there is mention of an altercation John has when in his 60s with a white man working on White Peaks that landed him a year in Fremantle jail on an assault charge. The argument, it is recorded, was over treatment of an Aboriginal man.

That John had strong friendships with Aboriginal people and respect and understanding for their way of life is not in question– how could he not considering the intimate connections he made as a young boy that lasted into his adult life?  That he was part of the story of their dispossession and destruction is also not under dispute. This was the contradiction that Amanda was drawn to the Midwest to explore.

Mary and John Drummond. Picture by A. Rowland ( chalk, white snails, ochre and blackboard paint)  2001, Greenough, WA

Mary and John Drummond. Picture by A. Rowland ( chalk, white snails, ochre and blackboard paint)  2001, Greenough, WA