My Grandfather Hillary ‘Dib’ Thomas Devow, was a proud, hardworking Aboriginal and South Sea Islander man, who was born and raised in Cairns, having lived a simple but hard life riding horses, shooting and doing things that kids growing up in the small country towns do. This of course was in a time when Aboriginal people were not classed as citizens and thousands of mobs were removed from their country and placed into either missions or used a slave labour for rich Australian property owners, farmers, government officials and business people. Hillary Dib Thomas’ mother, my great grandmother (Granny Kinch) was the daughter of a full blooded Aboriginal woman from Stone River Ingham in Northern Queensland, and a Swedish father from the Nielson family who I believe were quite an affluent family also from that area.
My Great Grandmother was taken away and placed on a mission called Yarrabah near Cairns. The story has it that she ran away from the mission hiking though rugged bush and also swam some distance, making it to Cairns and then hiked up to the Atherton tablelands, where she had family that she reconnected with and who helped her stay undetected from the mission managers and government officials that were enforcing the policies of that day under the Aboriginal “protection” Act.
Much of the story from then on has not been told to me, however my Great Grandmother after giving birth to my Grandfather Hillary ‘Dib’ Thomas and his siblings made it back to her country in Ingham North Queensland, where my Grandad, from the age of about 12 or 13 worked on farms, cutting cane by hand along with many other South Sea Islander (Kanaka) and Aboriginal men. He also worked on farms looking after horses and livestock for rich Italian land owners, using horses to help plough the land for farming. My father also told me a story of how handy my Grandfather was so handy that he actually built a house from scratch by himself for his family down at Taylor’s Beach in Queensland.
He met and married my Grandmother Ellen Joyce Tanna, who was also both Aboriginal (TO from Palm Island) and South Sea Islander, (Tanna Island). They married and had four children, of which one was my Dad, Mark Hillary Devow, who also worked in the cane fields with his father from the age of 13. Hillary ‘Dib’ Thomas was known as a hardworking man and had a good reputation working in Ingham North Queensland (His Country). By today’s standards, he would have been considered poor, but he and my grandmother had strong faith, and although they passed at the ages of 56 and 62 years old, they were rich in that that had lots of family, and a lot of culture.
In thinking about this, although my Grandfather Hillary Dib Thomas, worked for other people, he actually was working for and on his own country, which is something I long to do. I will do this eventually, the only difference being is that me and my family, both immediate and extended will be the ones who actually profit directly from working on our country, not someone else.