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Indigenous Australia

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Crow, Jim (c. 1825–c. 1884)

by Ray Kerkhove

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Jim Crow (c. 1825–c. 1884), guide, host, and symbolic figure, also known as Jimmy, was born in Queensland’s Darling Downs region in the 1820s. While some confusion exists over his identity, he was most likely a Jarowair man. He may have earned the name ‘Crow’ through his crow-like appearance or it may have been his moiety. The town of Crow’s Nest (Crows Nest), Queensland, established in 1878 on Jarowair land, was probably named after him. Though there are conflicting accounts, it is widely believed that Jim Crow’s distinctive home was central to the town’s origins. It was fashioned by him from the interior of an enormous tree stump. ‘Stump houses’ were built in several areas around Australia during the colonial era, particularly by people involved in timber-working.

Crow’s Nest originally had stands of very large rainforest trees and became a major timber-getting area. Jim Crow’s home lay along an important Aboriginal pathway that became a major colonial transport route between the upper Brisbane valley, Cressbrook, and the Bunya Mountains, and was the first permanent residence in the region. Located on a customary Aboriginal camping site near a waterhole, Jim Crow’s home boasted a large bush kitchen, fireplace, and pantry. Its size and centrality made it a landmark and a base for early European visitors to the area. As well as offering directions, information, food, and other assistance, Jim Crow hosted and assisted European teamsters, shepherds, and timber-getters, running what was effectively a transit point and popular overnight camp. This traffic eventually attracted farmers and settlers to the area.

The name ‘Crow’s Nest’ first appeared on maps in 1848, which suggests that Jim Crow began his operation shortly before then. Like other Aboriginal men in the area, he may, at times, have worked on timber-getting and bullock teams and thus become familiar with Europeans. He probably died sometime after 1880 but details about his final years are vague, especially because ‘Jim Crow’ was a common and sometimes derogatory nickname given to Aboriginal men. From the 1830s in the United States of America, the name was used pejoratively to refer to black people and its use spread to Australia. Consequently, there were several men called Jim/Jimmy Crow or King Jimmy in the Crow’s Nest and Dalby region during the 1880s–1910s. For example, Jim Crow may have been King Jimmy of Juan Juan (Emu Creek) who was well known in Crow’s Nest and wore a breastplate. King Jimmy died in Toowoomba Hospital in 1884 after either a fall or a fight. Another famous Jim Crow, also known as Bunda Crow, spent his final years hunting wallabies and selling their pelts at Jimbour and Dalby, and appears on a blanket list in 1881. Married to Giddy (or Kitty) Crow, with whom he had two children, Molly and Eva, he died at Bell in around 1912 and was buried in Dalby cemetery. However, this could be Jim Crow’s son rather than Jim Crow himself, and may or may not be the same person as the Jim Crow (born c. 1874) who lived on Barambah (later Cherbourg) reserve in 1904. Such confusion and conflation forms part of the Jim Crow legend.

In 1969 Crow’s Nest celebrated its centenary and Jim Crow’s role in the town’s establishment by commissioning a statue and memorial in his honour. A life-size sculpture of an Indigenous man, it perhaps tells of the origins of the town rather than honouring an individual. Notwithstanding this symbolic representation, many Queensland Aboriginal families trace their genealogy back to Jim Crow of Crow’s Nest. They remember him as an exceptional tracker who, in choosing to live in the same camp for much of his life, was able to influence the tide of settlement enveloping his homeland. The current stump memorial is not Jim Crow’s original stump home, which stood in a spot past the town’s police station.

 

Ray Kerkhove is a European man. He was living on Turrbal, Yagara (Jagera), Nalbo (Kabi Kabi) land when he wrote this article.

Select Bibliography

  • Beattie, Adrian. Personal communication
  • Brisbane Courier. ‘Genesis of Crow’s Nest.’ 21 December 1929, 11
  • Gisbon, Lisanne, and Joanna Besley. Monumental Queensland: Signposts on a Cultural Landscape. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2004
  • Smith, Robin. Crow's Nest History. Crow’s Nest, Qld: W. R. Smith, 1958
  • Thomson, Madonna. Personal communication.

Citation details

Ray Kerkhove, 'Crow, Jim (c. 1825–c. 1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/crow-jim-29715/text36787, accessed 30 October 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012