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Dutton, George (1886–1968)

by Jeremy Beckett

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

George Dutton (c.1886-1968), drover and Aboriginal elder, was born about 1886 at Yancannia station, north of Broken Hill, New South Wales, son of an English-born drover George Vicars Dutton (d.1890) and an Aboriginal woman. He called himself a Banjigali as he was born in that country, but his mother belonged to the neighbouring Wangkumara people; his Aboriginal stepfather was a Maljangaba who saw him through the milia initiation during which he was circumcised.

Young George embarked on what became a successful career in the pastoral industry. He worked mostly as a drover and mainly in the region where the borders of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia abut. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, he ranged as far afield as Adelaide, Maree, Birdsville and Windorah. On his travels he contacted local Aborigines and took part in their ceremonial life. While he was at Finniss Springs, some Arabana friends put him through the wilyaru, a form of which had also been practised in his home country. This rite made him an Aboriginal man of 'high degree' and his own people believed him to be 'clever'.

By three Aboriginal women, Ruby Ebsworth, Charlotte, and Alice Bates from Yandama station, Dutton had at least nine children. He had based himself at Tibooburra by 1914. The Aborigines Protection Board forced him to move with his family to its settlement at Brewarrina in 1938. Unable to find work there, he soon left; after moving around pastoral stations for a while, he settled at Wilcannia, on the Darling River, which became home for himself and his family until he died. He confined his travelling essentially to western New South Wales. In 1958 the Australian Aboriginal Affairs Council arranged for him to visit Melbourne (with his youngest son Charlie) to teach the rituals, dances and songs of corroborees to Victorian Aborigines; he also visited Coopers Creek in 1965.

In the places where Dutton lived there was little ritual activity after the 1920s. He retained his commitment to Aboriginal culture, and tried to pass on to the younger generation—including his grand-daughter Lorna Ebsworth—his extensive knowledge of languages, songs, stories and rituals, and of the country which he had travelled as a drover. From the 1930s he helped anthropologists and linguists to record his knowledge and life story, and revealed his rare combination of pride and humour. He delighted in the drama and the comedy of Aboriginal stories, but also communicated the solemnity of important rituals.

Dutton interested himself in the ways of other peoples, among them the Afghans, Indians, Greeks and Eastern Europeans whom he met. He took pride in his skill as a drover and horseman. Despite the climate of racial exclusion that clouded his later years, he claimed the right to be treated as an equal. Survived by his wife Alice, and by two of their three sons and three of their five daughters, Dutton died on 29 October 1968 at Wilcannia and was buried with Catholic rites in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Gilbert, Living Black (Melb, 1977)
  • Aboriginal History, vol 2, part 1, 1978, p 2
  • Oceania, vol 29, no 2, 1958, p 91
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Sept 1958
  • Herald (Melbourne), 12 Sept 1958.

Citation details

Jeremy Beckett, 'Dutton, George (1886–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/dutton-george-10079/text17783, accessed 26 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012