Tracking my family’s Aboriginal heritage – Gamillaroi or Wonnarua

When I was eighteen, an aunt commented on my nose – inferring I had an Aboriginal appearance in a less than polite way. My family lived in the Illawarra and my father came from Boggabilla in northern NSW – but back then I didn’t know that they had lived in Boomi, Collarenebri and Walgett – let alone Singleton – and that my great grandmother’s maiden name was Waters – across all of those areas Waters was  an Aboriginal name.

Years later some of Dad’s cousins shared photos of my great grandmother Matilda Adams nee Waters and her father Charles Waters – I was stunned how dark skinned they were. The relo’s shifted nervously – so to which Aboriginal group would we belong? Gamillaroi – maybe. But my great great grandfather Charles Waters had been born in Singleton – I didn’t know too much about Aboriginal people in the Hunter Valley.

Matilda was born at Eurie Eurie Station near Walgett – it was then owned by the Glass Family who also had business interests (Ironmongery and Singleton Budget newspaper) in Singleton, Matilda’s father Charles was born – records of Eurie Eurie Station are held in the University of Newcastle Library. Note – Walgett Historical Society – – Book list Walgett Historical Society Fox St  0268 28 1678 – PO BOX 242, WALGETT NSW 2832 – contactwdhs@walgett.org.au.

This is my journey to work it all out.

Doing some family history research revealed that Dad’s second cousin, Len Waters, was a Gamillaroi man – but did his Aboriginal heritage come from his grandfather Frederick Waters or only from his grandmother & mother ? It still all mostly pointed to Gamillaroi.

Frederick Waters b. ??-??-1878 Walgett d. ??-??-1945 Maitland West m. Agnes B Fuzzard m. 1905 Collarenabri d. 1940 – may also have married or been partner to Florence Wightman-Dennison beforehand

  • Donald Waters (son of Florence) – click for photo
  • Freda Waters  (daughter of Agnes) b. 1906 m. Archibald E C Donnell m. 1924 Manilla, NSW
  • Dorothy M V Waters (daughter of Agnes) b. 1908
  •  Ivy E Waters (daughter of Agnes) b. 1914

It’s a bit tricky when you’ve been raised white to investigate your Aboriginal heritage – you tended to get regarded with suspicion – even if you have no intention of asking for a handout.

A Waters cousin surfaced and confirmed that we probably came from an old mixed race family. Even some stories of an Aboriginal bushranger in there too ??

But then I discovered there were Waters at Singleton in the 1850’s belonging to the Wonnarua people. My great grandfather Charles Waters had been born in Singleton in 1843 ?

So having grown up in the Illawarra, I knew virtually nothing of the people from the Hunter Valley – who were they ?

  • Murrabay Cooperative – Wonnarua information
  • Old Singleton District information on Wonnarua mentions Waters – Aboriginal family
  • Sarah Water is recorded as born on the Allyn River in 1850 in the Hunter Valley and is a Wonnarua – A History of Aboriginal Sydney – this is the same time frame that my great great grandfather Charles Waters was born in the Singleton area
  • Another  reference to Sarah Waters nee Madoo born 1847 of the Wonnarua people in the Patrick Plains Singleton area – referring to Cawthorn’s Papers of 1825 – 1897 held in the Mitchell Library – mentions made of a list of Aboriginal people of 1830 and an 1883 muster of Aboriginal people in the Patrick Plains
  • Wonnarua Aboriginal Nation – Reclamation Committee visit to the Australian Museum

I discovered that Singleton had run an Aboriginal Family History workshop in conjunction with the NSW State Library – Indigenous Services Librarian Ronald Biggs had been quoted in news media stories, long with the coordinator of Indigenous Services Kristen Thorpe – it covered the Wonnarua people – people mentioned were Chrissy Frank and James Wilson-Miller.

Other information

Uncommon Ground – White Women in Aboriginal History – Anna Cole, Katherine Laskins, Fiona Paisley – mentions Wonnarua Woman Pansey Hickey who was a descendant of the Waters family from the Singleton area

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