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Hughes, Timothy (1919–1976)

by Robert Hall

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Timothy Hughes (1919-1976), by unknown photographer

Timothy Hughes (1919-1976), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 067723

Timothy Hughes (1919-1976), soldier and farmer, was born on 28 April 1919 at Point Pearce (Bookooyanna) Aboriginal Station, South Australia, son of Aboriginal parents Walter Stanford Hughes and his wife Gladys, née Adams (later Elphick), both agricultural labourers. His father was of Narangga descent and his mother of Kaurna; his grandfather Alfred Hughes had testified before the 1913 royal commission on Aborigines. Tim was educated to fifth grade before working for his father (who was by then a share-farmer on the station) and as a contract shearer. He was an unemployed labourer at Stenhouse Bay when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 4 December 1939.

Posted to the 2/10th Battalion, Hughes served in Britain in 1940, took part (April-August 1941) in the defence of Tobruk, Libya, and fought in the battle of Milne Bay, Papua, in August-September 1942. In December the unit joined allied forces assaulting Buna. On the 26th, during the advance along the old airstrip, Hughes's platoon was pinned down by machine-gun fire. He volunteered to climb on top of a dispersal bay and, despite coming under concentrated fire from three directions, engaged two Japanese posts with grenades. Armed with a sub-machine gun, he protected his comrades while they took cover; he then made three sorties to silence the enemy's weapons, enabling the platoon to consolidate its position. For these deeds he was awarded the Military Medal.

Usually 'in the forefront of any action', Hughes was wounded at Sanananda on 19 January 1943. He returned to Australia in March, was promoted substantive corporal in June and joined the 31st Employment Company in August. After several spells in hospital with malaria, he was discharged on 5 September 1945. His brother Alfred served (1951-54) in the regular army and fought in Korea with the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

Tim Hughes resumed share-farming for four years at Point Pearce. He was subject to South Australia's Aborigines Act (1934-39) which limited his people's freedom of movement and their access to the benefits of citizenship. As a result of his application, on 18 May 1956 he received exemption from the Act, but deeply resented this 'dog licence' and remained critical of the way in which Aborigines were treated. At the office of the principal registrar, Adelaide, on 2 August 1945 he married Eileen O'Donoghue.

After attending a course at Wingfield Rural Training Centre, near Adelaide, Hughes was involved with the War Service Land Settlement scheme in the south-east of the State. At the urging of his wife and (Sir) Cecil Hincks, in 1953 he leased a soldier-settler block of 979 acres (396 ha) at Conmurra. A staunch Methodist, he insisted on Sunday observance and held services in his home before the local church was built. Throughout his life he believed in the value of careful planning and in sticking to his plans. He encouraged his children to gain a good education. Hughes made friends easily, joined in community activities and was highly regarded by his fellow soldier settlers. At first he ran a dairy herd, but soon switched to sheep and trained as a woolclasser. Hard work and determination helped him to make a modest success of his block over a period of twenty-two years, but his stock and plant remained mortgaged to the Lands Department which controlled his finances, allowing him living expenses of only £18 per week. His marriage broke down in 1967. In September that year he suffered a heart attack. A stroke in 1968 prevented him from performing heavy tasks on his property. He and his wife were divorced in 1970.

In 1966 the South Australian government had passed an Act establishing the Aboriginal Lands Trust to ensure that Aborigines held title in their existing reserves and that royalties from mining on these reserves passed to Aboriginal control; the funds were to be used to acquire additional land and to develop land vested in the trust. Hughes was appointed its first chairman. He served until 1973, by which time the trust had grown to include ten members, administering assets worth over $250,000. In 1970 he was appointed M.B.E. Survived by his son and daughter, he died of a coronary occlusion on or about 1 April 1976 at Ardrossan and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery; his estate was sworn for probate at $73,100. His mother Gladys was appointed M.B.E. (1971) and was South Australian Aborigine of the Year in 1984.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Mattingley and K. Hampton (eds), Survival in Our Own Land (Syd, 1988)
  • P. and B. O'Connor, In Two Fields (Millicent, SA, 1991)
  • Sabretache, Oct 1977
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 Oct 1954, 17 Oct 1970, 7 Apr 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Hall, 'Hughes, Timothy (1919–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/hughes-timothy-10567/text18767, accessed 18 November 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Timothy Hughes (1919-1976), by unknown photographer

Timothy Hughes (1919-1976), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 067723