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Proper mixed-up: miscegenation among Aboriginal Australians.

Abstract: Early in Australia's history legislation was passed in most states to deal specifically with an "Aboriginal problem'. The perceived 'problem" involved Aboriginals, Asians and white people producing offspring that interfered with official aspirations for a "pure' white British race. In Western Australia from 1915 to 1940 the Chief Protector of Aborigines was AO Neville, who had become fixated with the idea of eugenics. Neville played a significant role by endorsing the misguided belief that Australia should be made up of 'white" citizens, by deciding who Aboriginal people under his control could marry. His folly eventually dissipated and following the Second World War authorities moved away from the notion of 'biological' assimilation to one of "cultural assimilation'. Mixed-descent families became the bane of such ambitious ideologies and Aboriginal Australians and migrants evolved as a significant part of Australian society.

This paper is written from an Aboriginal perspective and snippets from the author's Rodriguez and Fraser families' lives in the Derby region place the times in context. To explain the local history, this paper draws on Indigenous standpoint theory, which can be described as a paradigm in which commonalities of the underprivileged are analysed. It provides a viewing platform from which this story exposes everyday life of marginalised people by investigating the reality of the Fraser clan and its mixed marriages in Western Australia. The paper considers assimilationism, miscegenation and developmentalism that were played out during the middle of the past century.


On 16 July 1944 Frank Rodriguez, a 21-year-old Galician Spaniard, flew into Fitzroy Crossing in the West Kimberley to work as a station hand. Two-and-a-half years later he married Katie Fraser, a local Nigena woman. (1) It was a time when authorities were of the view that Australia should be a 'white' British nation. Between the war years, it was thought that Aboriginal people could be biologically absorbed into the dominant society through subtle miscegenation between Aboriginal women and white men. After the Second World War, however, the ideology shifted to cultural assimilation, while still entertaining the idea of a 'white' Australia. The only way, it was believed, for Indigenous peoples to survive in the 'modern world' was to raise their standards of education, employment and material wellbeing (McGregor 2011:59).

Katie Fraser, the eldest of eight children, was born into an institutionalised life in 1920 at Beagle Bay Mission on the Dampier Peninsula, 128 kilometres north of Broome. The NjulNjul people inhabited the area and the site was known locally as Ngarlan. The French Trappist monks had lived there from 1890 until 1901, when ongoing hardships forced them to leave; they were then replaced by the German Pallottine missionaries (Choo 2001:53). Today the small township is community managed and hosts around 300 people (Birrell 2011). Significantly, the first 20 of Katie's 26 years at Beagle Bay, 192040, were at a time when AO Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines (later Commissioner of Native Affairs), held office (Biskup 1973:69). (2) Neville held a firm belief that the best solution to a prevailing 'half-caste problem' was to breed out 'colour': 'This entailed directing persons of mixed descent into marital unions with white people, so that after several generations of interbreeding all outward signs of Aboriginal ancestry would disappear' (McGregor 2011:1).

This is the backdrop to the preferred British culture that Frank and Katie Rodriguez lived their lives under in the far north-west of Australia during most of the twentieth century, one that raises a series of questions: how were Frank and Katie able to embrace their respective heritages, Galician and Nigena, despite policies that sought to change their culture and transform their descendants into white Australians (McGregor 2011:3)? (3) Moreover, how was Frank perceived by his in-laws and others, given the history of inter-ethnic relationships since colonial times and, as a Westerner, how was he accepted by an Aboriginal family? Did Katie ever really understand the culture change that was taking place under an imposed law? Did she even realise what had happened to her parents, who were both children of the Stolen Generations, taken from Nigena country soon after the implementation of the Aborigines Act 1905 (WA) (Nailon and Huegel 1990:29-32)?

Indigenous standpoint theory

This is a story that demonstrates the Fraser and Rodriguez lineage as inhomogeneous on several levels. From the late nineteenth century the Frasers can trace how they were infiltrated by non-Aboriginal people and, consequently, how they evolved into a mixed-descent family. Their experiences of education, work, accommodation and travel differed from one another and today their descendants live varying lifestyles. To understand the way in which their lives were constructed and lived, I draw on Indigenous standpoint theory, following Martin Nakata (2007), to underpin the way in which their lives were constructed and lived.

Indigenous standpoint theory is a paradigm within which commonalities of the underprivileged can be analysed. It serves as a useful tool to identify tensions and to demonstrate that although people may belong on the same level in society, their diversity is significant. Standpoint seeks to provide notional space for marginalised groups while locating the place of power in society (West and Turner n.d.). Metaphorically, standpoint is a vantage point with many viewing platforms for culture, sexuality, economic status and gender from which a 'knower' or observer can explain his or her worldview (Pohlhaus 2002:287). Nakata extended 'standpoint' to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander epistemology in the production of knowledge, which he termed 'Indigenous standpoint theory' (Nakata 2007:213). The paradigm is based on knowledge acquired through global interaction (Pohlhaus 2002:294) and from feminist efforts during the 1970s to articulate a worldview from feminist experience and knowledge. This is particularly relevant for Indigenous people, since Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are not homogeneous (West and Turner n.d.). Arguably, unless you have lived a similar lifestyle to those whose story you are presenting, there is the risk that people will be misrepresented. So, in order for me to adequately articulate on behalf of my predecessors, I draw on Indigenous standpoint theory to inform the 'micro-history' methodology in this study (Jordanova 2006:228).

Micro-history is small-scale history that does not embrace histoire totale, but is 'highly focused thematic or community studies on relatively restricted chunks of time' (Jordanova 2006:45). For instance, it could be the investigation of a small town or, as in this study, individuals of 'minor' importance. Dennis Foley offered a rationale for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers to engage with suitable theories when he asserted that 'Critical Theory, Standpoint Theory and Insider Outsider Theory are emancipatory and libratory epistemologies in their deconstruction process. They are guided by a vision that there is more than just one worldview and interpretation' (Foley 2003:45). Nakata sees Indigenous standpoint as an avenue where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars can disentangle from the contested web of knowledges at the cultural interface--a 'means to see my position in a particular relation with others, to maintain myself with knowledge of how I am being positioned, and to defend a position if I have to' (Nakata 2007:215-16). He cautions, nonetheless, that as an Aboriginal scholar, I cannot dismiss the dominant positions but I can better articulate my perspectives. He identifies three principles within an Indigenous standpoint theory relevant to the production of Aboriginal knowledges. First, it generates Aboriginal knowledges in contested spaces; second, it affords agency to people; and, third, it recognises the very tensions that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal accounts (Nakata 2007:217). Nakata provides the necessary viewing platform in standpoint theory from which this paper can expose the everyday lives of marginalised people by investigating the reality of the Fraser clan; and, specifically, Frank and Katie's mixed marriage in Western Australia. (4)


'Miscegenation' in today's language can be an uncomfortable word, but, for me as a product of a 'mixed-up' relationship, I have no issue with it. Most of my maternal kin members have similar heritage to me. Relationships between people of different skin colours have existed in this country for centuries. In fact, documented evidence shows that foreigners were visiting Australia's northern shores well before the arrival of the British invaders. Malaysian fishermen travelled to gather trepang (sea slug) and they visited both Yoblu shores, which they called Marege and Kayu Jawa, now called the Kimberley coast (Ganter 2006:xv). Aboriginal people inevitably interacted with Asians and very likely with Europeans whose ships were wrecked on perilous reefs further down the west coast. It is feasible that there were survivors and today researchers are seeking to determine whether Dutch seafarers merged with the local Nunda people around the Shark Bay region. Oral histories from the area tell of blond-haired, fair-skinned people, which have aroused the curiosity of both Aboriginals and city academics (Willis 2009). Oral histories from the far southwest of the state tell of women being abducted by European seal and whaling crews, and settlers in the Swan River colony interacted with the local Aboriginal women (Haebich 1988:48). Indian and Afghan cameleers (Rajkowski 1995), and African-American, West Indian and Maori whalers, and Chinese gold diggers in Victoria in the late 1800s also contributed to Australia's mixed relations (Haebich 1988:48; Rajkowski 1995).

During the late 1800s and early 1900s mixed relations were considered to be an 'Aboriginal problem', which, in turn, led to legislation being passed in most Australian states to deal with the swelling numbers of mixed-descent peoples. The 'problem' interfered with authorities' aspirations for a 'pure' white race, so official rhetoric turned to assimilation, best described for that period as abetting biological absorption. Historian Russell McGregor argues that biological absorption as a variant of assimilation was advocated in the interwar years, while social assimilation took on significance following the Second World War (McGregor 2011:2). Both Aboriginal and non-British migrant people's lives during the mid-1900s were sculptured by assimilation and development policies based on colonial logic. The idea of assimilation meant the 'right to be equal' (McConaghy 2000:152), while development embraced the 'west is best' mentality (Johnson 2010:38). Taking into account these trajectories, assimilationism has been a factor in the development of Australia since invasion.

Developmentalism, it could be argued, co-existed with assimilationism. Put simply, developmentalism is the shift from traditional (or primitive) to modern. It suggests that Third World countries would be better off if they developed in the same way as First World countries like the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Such views are argued by some as being ethnocentric, given they follow Western hegemony and have Christian connotations --'Providence recast as Progress' (Nederveen Pieterse 1991:15-17); others assert that developmentalism has as its core assumption economic, social and political development (Johnson 2010:19). Developmentalism was already at play on Aboriginal Australians before theories emerged in postcolonial times. White Australians as the dominant culture ignored the development of humankind and embraced a misguided belief in Darwinism and eugenics under the guise of progress, well before it was discussed as a theory for economic development (Breman 2004:24-6). Not only was 'the West is best' thinking aimed at Indigenous peoples around the world, but authorities even targeted the land. For instance, historian Quentin Beresford claims that West Australian authorities applied developmentalism not only to the advancement of the State but to the supremacy of rural life. Driven by their enthusiasm to rapidly develop farmlands from the early 1900s onwards, they ignored the science that warned of potential salinity problems in the wheat belt claiming:

Every man should have a chance to be a farmer, 'and in choosing such a life' a man showed himself more deserving than the parasites in the city, because he was attempting to add to the real productivity of Western Australia. It attracted to its cause men of action whose authoritarian streak suited the characteristics of a frontier society. (Beresford 2001:406)

Developmentalism aside, attempts to streamline Australia's identity have traversed various stages and, according to historian Anna Haebich, have come full circle. Variations of assimilation, she argues, have been watered down since the 1960s in favour of integration, multiculturalism, Aboriginal self-determination, Aboriginal self-management and, today, retro-assimilation. Haebich explains retro-assimilation as a blend of the 1950s dreams with today's spin on nationalism and identity (Haebich 2008), juxtaposing happy Australian families with scare tactics about people of Middle Eastern appearances, Muslims, terrorists, asylum seekers and native title. Assimilation gained momentum during the 1940s and after the Second World War, when Australia took seriously the concern that it was under threat from Asia. The authorities resolved that a larger population would not only protect the young nation, but would also provide bluecollar workers to progress development after the war. Subsequently, Australia engaged in intense immigration programs with Anglo-Saxon countries to bring displaced peoples from war-torn Europe to Australia. The 'new Australians' were expected to assimilate so as not to disquiet the national identity steeped in British roots--an identity dismissive of Aboriginal customs and traits (Castles et al. 1992). The preference for British migrants remained strong, and the title migrant was generally a reference to non-English speaking people who were expected to shed their existing cultural identities, including their languages, which would assist their rapid absorption into the host population. Assimilation would support the concept of development and afford Aboriginal people and migrants 'Shared values, visions and agreements where all citizens will be treated equally and the same and share fully in the benefits of Australian society, once they agree to cast off their differences and become the same' (Haebich 2008"8). Coloured people were barred from entering the country, while Aboriginals were segregated, making them invisible on the national landscape. Yet neither Frank nor Katie were about to rescind their cultural mores. On the contrary, despite the naive belief that Australia was a superior Anglophone nation, assimilation strategies ensured the 'demise of traditional forms of nationalism in Australia and the rise of multiculturalism' (Castles et al. 1992:2).

Government policies enacted for the betterment and protection of Aboriginal people were nothing less than racist. Discussions focused around breeding out 'offending' Aboriginal characteristics in successive generations, while fulldescent people were isolated on reserves to die out. It was believed that Aboriginality as a separate identity would become extinct (Haebich 2008:71). As already discussed, even before legislation to control us was ratified, authorities were at work creating a white Australia. Haebich claims that during 'the 1840s marriages between young settlers and mission-trained Aboriginal women were even officially encouraged' (Haebich 1988:48). It was believed that assimilation would work in two ways; first, through 'survival of the fittest' and, second, Aboriginal physical characteristics would be absorbed through miscegenation with white people. Of the latter, Katherine Ellinghaus noted that they 'relied on the dubious scientific idea that Aboriginal genes would not create any "throw-backs" or children who physically resembled stereotypes of "the Aboriginal", after a few generations of "inter-breeding"' (Ellinghaus 2003:188-9). However, miscegenation in tribal marriages in the Kimberley was not part of Aboriginal law, therefore other ethnicities, Asian or European, were not even taken into account, as West Australian historian Mary Durack (1969:197) pointed out:
   This meant that half-caste half brothers
   and sisters could still be reckoned 'straight'
   marriage partners in native law, which not
   only defeated its original purpose of preventing
   the marriage of close relatives but made
   the untangling of genealogies a task for the
   specialist. The Aborigines themselves were
   never confused by this, but for the missionaries,
   it was a nightmare.

At Beagle Bay missionaries were concerned, so they pressured the government to introduce law for the removal of 'half-caste' children from their parents. By the 1920s comprehensive personal files were being maintained, leaving a very useful paper trail for future researchers, while administrative primary sources highlight the mentality of the day in journals, records, letters and files. Charles F Gale, Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia, 1909, left his legacy in a letter to the Commissioner of Police:

As you are aware, it is my desire to send all half-caste children of tender years to institutions provided for such, in order that they may be properly cared for and educated, but my inspectors report that during their travels they come across numerous half-caste children of whom I had no knowledge, and who should have been sent to such institutions. (Manne 2006:86)

And James Isdell, a Travelling Protector to the Kimberleys in 1909, wrote to Gale, claiming:

I am convinced that the short lived grief of the parent is of little consequence compared to the children's future. The half-caste is intellectually above the aborigine, and it is the duty of the State that they be given a chance to lead a better and purer life than their brothers. I would not hesitate for one moment to separate any half-caste from its aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic her momentary grief may be at the time. They soon forget their offspring. (Manne 2006:85)

Isdell was proved seriously mistaken. Phillipena Fraser reflected on her parents, who visited their daughters at Beagle Bay. In This is your place, she declared, 'They used to go back and forth to Beagle Bay. When they come to pick us up, sulky cart and horse' (Fraser 1990:29-32). Clearly, they did not forget their offspring.

The Fraser file

AO Neville was adamant that interbreeding Aboriginal women with white men would phase out black people, but he was frustrated by those missionaries who did not support his view (McGregor 2011:4). Some had decided that inmates should find suitable partners within the mission. Such was the case for Fulgentius Fraser, who was taken from his mother at Liveringa Station and 'admitted' to Drysdale River Mission (later moved to Kalumburu) on the most northern point of Western Australia early in 1910 (State Archives 1871-1913). Here, he and other young Aboriginal men helped the Benedictine missionaries to bring local people into the mission. Later, they were sent to Beagle Bay to find wives (Choo 1997:25). Fulgentius married Phillipena Melycan, a young Nigena woman, on 5 August 1919 (Department of Native Affairs 1940) but it is not clear whether couples formed mutual relationships or whether partners were selected for them. Descendants of Beagle Bay inmates living in Broome in 2007 asserted the latter: 'The missionaries just matched them up, people had no choice', they claimed. (5) The Frasers' file accessed from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs includes information about Fulgentius, Phillipena and their children and reveals the often insensitive and careless manner in which information was documented. Administrative detail on personal files is largely contumely, as shown on citizenship exemption certificates. The abbreviations HC for half-caste and FB for full blood depict ethnicity, while the full-descent mother's European name is listed, denying Aboriginal names and tribal affiliations:

Native Name Fulgentius Fraser

Alias Fred Fraser

Age at 28 in 1940

Caste H.C.

Parentage Father: Walter Fraser, White

Mother: Brumby F.B. of Liveringa

Married (Legally) on 5.8.1919 at Beagle Bay Mission

His wife is Phillippina Fraser H.C. whose parents are:

Father: James Melycan .. Indian

Mother: Lucy F.B.

(Department of Native Affairs 1940)

Elsewhere, Phillipena's father is recorded as Jimmy Kassim by resident Beagle Bay priest Father Francis Huegel, and as James Melycan on Fulgentius' exemption application in 1940 (above). Contrary to official rhetoric, Kassim, a station cook at Yeeda Station, lived with his two Aboriginal wives and he never abandoned his children (Aggie Puertollano, pers. comm., 28 August 2003). Phillipena's mother is recorded as Lucy on the application and as Muninga by Huegel (Fraser 1990:29) (confirmed by their daughter Edna Fraser, pers. comm., 28 August 2003). Fulgentius' native name is Eulla (Torres 1987; Choo 2001; Aggie Puertollano, pers. comm., 28 August 2003). (6) The file also lists the names of their eight children and the date and place where they were born. Katie Fraser obviously impressed the authorities with her good behaviour, given the condescending comments on her file when she applied for citizenship in 1948 (Department of Native Affairs 1943a):

1. The applicant has dissolved tribal and native associations and has adopted the manners and habits of civilised life.

2. Lives according to white standards in a good dwelling adjacent to Police Station.

Amidst copious detail, discrepancies are blatant in the files. For instance, Fulgentius is listed as being 28 in 1940. This is clearly wrong, since his eldest child, Katie, was born in 1920, it would have made him only eight years older than her. Furthermore, it is recorded in the Benedictine monks' diaries at Pago Pago that Fulgentius was a lad when he fired a shot into the air and frightened off attacking Aboriginals and 'saved' the missionaries' lives in 1916 (Perez 1977:19). Dubious, too, is the claim that Walter Fraser, a station hand at Liveringa and Myroodah Stations (Godbehear 2011:83-5), was his biological father. Fulgentius is likely to have been born around the turn of the twentieth century, and is reputedly the son of Liveringa Station manager, Justice of the Peace and Protector of Aborigines, Percy Rose (Aggie Puertollano, pers. comm., 28 August 2003; Department of Native Affairs 1940). Family oral histories 'record' Percy Rose as his biological father, while Walter Fraser is documented as Fulgentius' father in Fraser's personal file until 1963, then 'Percy Rose' is named as Fulgentius' father on a social security application (Department of Native Affairs 1940).

At the time of the marriage of Frank Rodriguez and Katie Fraser in 1946, miscegenation would have been of no real concern to the authorities. Neville and his fixation with eugenics were long gone and the national focus had turned to cultural assimilation. This 'proper mixed-up' family of Nigena, Galician, Indian and English heritages remains a proud legacy for Katie and Frank's descendants.

A lesser child of God and a Benedictine monk

The concept of developmentalism, as already explained, was clearly embraced by the Catholic Church, which continued to ignore the established customs and traits of the Aboriginal inhabitants. Cultural assimilation meant that the Frasers and their children received some formal education but, importantly, they were trained as domestic staff and labourers to satisfy the dominant group's requirements of a workforce. The Fraser sisters, as part-Aboriginal women, were considered less intelligent than Westerners yet more intelligent than their full-descent peers because they had 'white' blood in their veins (Hetherington 2002:181). They were trained as domestics by the St John of God Sisters and Katie became a novitiate in the convent for 'black' nuns. The missionaries believed that the mixed-descent women were best suited to evangelising their own, so they established an Aboriginal ministry (Choo 2001:17283). Katie became Sister Agnes. Despite being one of the original four novitiates, she was a lesser child of God than her European counterparts. In a letter written by the Commissioner of Native Affairs to the Honourable Minister for the North West, he explained that the young 'black' novitiates' vows were 'in no way comparable to those taken by the members of the Order of St. John of God' (Department of Native Affairs 1943b). The novitiates wore distinguishable habits and were separated from their own families to the extent that no one knew what their daily routine was (Choo 2001:176). They trained as domestics to serve the priests and their consecration into the blacks' convent was celebrated as a significant achievement in the region:

While the structures and routines of religious life gave the girls status within the Catholic Church in the Kimberley, the girls were still low in the hierarchy in relation to the European priests, brothers and nuns who worked in Beagle Bay and Broome. The girls who became Daughters of Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles, bore a heavy burden of the expectations of so many people who had a vested interest in their success as nuns. (Choo 2001:177)

Developmentalism was somewhat successful, given the strong following of Catholicism in the Broome region today, despite the Aboriginal convent only surviving for 11 years. Its demise in December 1951 was likely a direct result of foreign cultural values that had been forced on the women. Most opted out of the convent, married and raised families, but remained loyal to the Church and catechist work: 'in this way, the women reclaimed their own spiritual lives and their own freedom from what must have been quite intolerable personal constraints' (Choo 2001:183).

Frank Rodriguez, too, had similar experiences in terms of a limited education. As a 13 year old his mother had sent him to a religious institution during upheavals in Spain that led to the Spanish Civil War. His mother had refused to allow her children to be educated under nationalist sentiment; therefore, Frank's elementary education was severely stalled until he arrived at the Benedictine monastery at Samos, 100 kilometres from his village, in 1934. In 1937, at the age of 16, the young Galician accompanied the Benedictines to New Norcia in the Victoria Plains north of Perth, where he continued his training as a monk. However, unlike Katie, who was a second-generation Catholic, Frank's religious belief system was centuries old. Different, too, were their formative years. Katie completed her schooling when she was 13 (Katie Rodriguez, pers. comm., 1990); Frank commenced his schooling aged 13. He spent three years at Samos and four years at New Norcia before choosing to part company with the Spanish monks. Abbot Catalan of New Norcia granted his request for dispensation from monastery life and he was 'free' to practise the life of an el mundo --common in the world (IA Catalan, personal letter, 15 July 19417). Like the Aboriginal novitiates, there was no notion of apostasy and both eventually left their confined, strict lifestyles and remained lifetime devotees of Catholicism.

Mixed relationships

By the mid-nineteenth century the only white companions for emancipists were female convicts, who were scarce in remote areas, so companionship was sought with Aboriginal women: 'Within a few years there were marriages or permanent liaisons between white men and Aboriginal women. There were also other mixed-race marriages, such as the union of Chinese free settler Mark O'Pong and Englishwoman Sarah Jane Thompson in 1823' (Owen 2002:23). Into the twentieth century and following the Second World War, Australians' unease with non-Westerners shifted as they began to accept Asians, including the Japanese wives of Australian military personnel. But Aboriginal people and their partners still found themselves on the outer. A small-town mentality was reflected in perceptions of Aboriginal media identity Rhoda Roberts' white mother, who went from being a '[r]espectable young lady to cheap trash' when she married an Aboriginal pastor. As a teenager, Roberts was humiliated when a visiting minister preached that the children of such marriages were 'the spawn of the devil' (Owen 2002:39). Aboriginal people have had their heritage denied with claims that they lack authenticity as demonstrated in this comment:

If people can identify themselves as Aboriginal with only a minute [sic] of Aboriginal blood, then my 50 per cent Australian blood certainly allows me to identify as an Australian. Actually my husband has a tiny proportion of Aboriginal blood but he considers himself to be Australian, and so do his sisters, though their mother claims Aboriginality. I think all Aborigines, in fact everyone who lives here as an Australian should think of themselves as Australians. (Owen 2002:64-5)

Aboriginals are generally inconsequential or invisible in Australian outback stories. Fiona Probyn-Rapsey suggests that white men with Aboriginal wives and families have not been of interest to academic scholarship in the twentieth century because they illuminated social stigmas: this 'could be the result of a number of factors, not least being the sense that such relationships were/are shameful, smaller versions of colonialism itself' (Probyn-Rapsey 2007:173). White men were labelled 'degenerate men', 'black sheep' and 'combo' (Probyn-Rapsey 2007:175-6). Biographer Marion Nixon (1978:99) gives some credit to Kimberley pastoralist Frank Lacy, who, after calling off his engagement to the Matron of the Wyndham hospital because they agreed she would not enjoy life on an isolated cattle property, deliberately sought a wife who could be a good helpmate to him and find station life palatable. Nixon neglects to mention, however, that his wife, Teresa Bardwell Lacy, was of mixed descent. White men as partners were rarely given credit, but Arrente man Bob Randall described Bill Liddle, who is probably his biological father, thus:

My people formed a close relationship with Bill Liddle because he was good to them, but many white people were very prejudiced against white men such as my father who formed close associations with Aboriginal people. I think it is important to distinguish between those white men who just used and abused Aboriginal women, and retained their racist attitude to Aboriginal people and others who, like Bill Liddle, sought to relate to Aboriginal people in a way which integrated Aboriginal and European ways. (Probyn-Rapsey 2007:187)

Frank Rodriguez established a good rapport with Aboriginal people and his attraction to Katie Fraser was her outwardly Western manner and Catholic belief system. Moreover, he did not come from an established well-to-do white family, so there was no social status at risk, and neither Frank nor Katie came with any wealth. Furthermore, as a black woman, social and financial status was not part of Katie's psyche. In fact, Frank was an outsider and while he did make friends with white people, they dropped him when he arranged to marry Katie:

Making small preparations to start work on the church and it's the last day of the races. Had a small conversation with Arthur Millard and his wife. They were not pleased with the idea about my oncoming marriage. God have mercy on me. (Rodriguez 1944) (8)

So why did Frank Rodriguez marry outside of his cultural group? Clearly, he was living far from his home country and Galician women were not living in remote Australia during the 1940s (nor even today). Back home, his nieces and nephews found partners within or near their local villages. Even those who had come to Australia had returned home, married their sweethearts and returned to work in Australia. Katie, meanwhile, was at the forefront of young Aboriginal women seeking suitable partners outside of the mission environment who were suitable as determined within the Christian ethos. The young women were conditioned to view Western men as desirable, whether they were instinctively attracted to them or not. Earlier in the century, missionaries in the Goldfields had a 'Western romantic' view about marriage that discouraged Aboriginal marriage customs. Their idea of wedded bliss was different to Aboriginal ways of arranged marriages, effectively disrupting Aboriginal kinship patterns (Rajkowski 1995:30). In Central Australia anthropologists claim that white men were responsible for the disappearance of polygyny and gerontocracy practices (Probyn-Rapsey 2007:176). Even today, though Aboriginal people are not always distinguishable from Europeans, we embrace 'out' marriages and after several generations we pride our Aboriginality over other ethnicities. In terms of religion, Frank and Katie married 'within' the group and adhered to Catholic ideologies: 'the family that prays together stays together' was the chant constantly offered by the Pallottine Catholic priest of the West Kimberley for 40 years, Father Werner Lorenz.


This paper highlights the ongoing struggle by authorities to create a 'white' Australian culture during the early and mid-1900s. Although they embraced ideologies of assimilation and development to change Aboriginal and non-English speaking migrants' cultures, the existence of mixed-descent people prevented a complete British culture from emerging. Insights are provided into miscegenation based on the marriage of Frank and Katie Rodriguez of Derby in the West Kimberley, and snippets from the 'Fraser file' provide a backdrop to the direction that was being taken by missionaries and government officials early in the twentieth century. Mixed-descent families became the bane of their existence and Aboriginal Australians and migrants evolved as a significant part of Australian society. The Rodriguez's mutual values and morals developed alongside government control. However, it was the couple's affinity with non-urban lifestyles, a limited education and their devotion to Catholicism that cemented their 'proper mixed-up' relationship.


This paper came about from a writing and publishing workshop conducted in July 2011 that was offered to Indigenous postgraduate research students by the Indigenous Research Higher Degree Project based at The University of Sydney. I am grateful for the invitation to attend and to those who provided comments, suggestions and ongoing support for this paper: Toni Schofield, workshop convener; Ann Curthoys and Mark McKenna, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, The University of Sydney; Andrea Gaynor, my supervisor; and the AIATSIS anonymous reviewer. The paper has been enhanced by their very helpful input.


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Cindy Solonec

The University of Western Australia


(1.) The spelling of Nigena has several variants including Njiena (valid variant), Nigena, Njigina, Nyikina, Nyigina, Nyi-gini, Njikini. Norman Tindale, N.B. Tindale's Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974) (SA Museum: Norman Tindale, 1974 [accessed 26/10/2013] available from <>. The choice to usethe spelling Nigena in this paper is deliberate because it best phonetically represents the local pronunciation.

(1.) Neville was a senior public servant from 1915 to 1940 in Western Australia.

(2.) According to McGregor (2011), while biological absorption was never enshrined in law, it was official policy in both Western Australia and the Northern Territory; senior public servants AO Neville and Cecil Cook initiated the policy.

(3.) Sources critical to this study include family oral histories, government and station files, and Frank's personal diaries. These bring to the social history of the region local perspectives with insights gleaned from the personal files of Fulgentius and Phillipena Fraser, Katie's parents.

(4.) Anecdotal evidence at a 'Stolen Wages' meeting I attended in Broome in 2007 segued into Stolen Generations issues. Some participants claimed that their parents had no choice in who they courted; they were matched as the missionaries saw fit.

(5.) Fulgentius' Nygkina name can be found spelled differently, as Eulla or Ulala in various sources, depending on how the writer 'heard' the name pronounced. Later in life, he became known as simply 'Fraser' or 'Fred' (Department of Native Affairs 1940).

(6.) Catalan's letter to Francisco Rodriguez, dated 15 July 1941, is held by the author.

(7.) White men frequently associated with black women with few or no consequences, since they could live in denial of their actions and not be concerned. Their behaviours were tolerated, whereas white women who became pregnant to black men were '[l]literally left holding the baby' (Probyn-Rapsey 2007:57). Consequences of such relationships are discussed elsewhere (Ellinghaus 2006).

Jacinta (Cindy) Solonec hails from Nigena country in the West Kimberley. She has worked as the Co-ordinator of Recruitment and Promotions at Kurongkurl Katitjin, Edith Cowan University, and as Team Leader in the Indigenous Management and Community Development program at Curtin University, and has lectured in Aboriginal Studies at various Western Australian universities. She is a fulltime PhD scholar at The University of Western Australia. The title of her thesis is '(e)Merging cultures: an interracial marriage in the West Kimberley 1944--1994'. The research uses micro-history methodology and a life-stories approach to investigate her parents' social history under the policies of assimilation and integration. Assimilation policies are of particular interest because they were not fully repealed until the early 1970s and have ongoing consequences for Aboriginal people that still reverberate powerfully today.

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Author:Solonec, Cindy
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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