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Lennon, Jessie (1926–?)

Jessie Lennon, I’m the one that know this country! The story of Jessie Lennon and Coober Pedy, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2000, Canberra

SEX: Female

BIRTH DATE: 1926

BIRTH PLACE: Wilgena station, South Australia

FIRST LANGUAGE: Matutjara, English

SIGNIFICANT LOCALITIES:

  • Wilgena Station: A sheep station near Kingoonya where Jessie was born. (p.7) Wilgena Station was established in the 19th century, and remains a pastoral lease with the McBride family today. (p.6)
  • Kingoonya: Kingoonya was a supply centre for the surrounding sheep stations. It had a large Aboriginal population. (p.8)
  • Jessie lived at Kingoonya for a number of years, and considers it her home. (p.9)
  • She left Kingoonya as a young girl to travel around South Australia with her father, and was relieved to return later in life. (p.27)
  • North Well Station: A sheep station near Kingoonya, also owned by the McBrides and managed by Jack Pick. (p.15) Jessie lived at North Well as a child while her mother worked for the cook. (p.15)
  • Ooldea: An important gathering place for Aboriginal people in the West of South Australia. Jessie travelled to Ooldea on a freight train with her father Nylatu, and stayed in a camp near Daisy Bates. She briefly attended school at the Ooldea Mission when it was established in the 1930s. (pp.22-24)
  • Coober Pedy: Jessie travelled to Coober Pedy in the North of South Australia with her father Nylatu in 1933. She remembers that their travelling party rode camels, and that they were amongst the first to arrive in the area. (p.5)
  • Opal mining had only just begun at Coober Pedy at this time, and the area was sparsely populated. (p.2)
  • Jessie returned to the Coober Pedy area with her mother and stepfather. She didn’t realise at the time that they had come in search of opals.
  • Jessie’s future father-in-law, Jim Lennon, sent her away from Cooper Pedy when she was in her early teens because she was living with his son Barney. (p.50) After Jessie and Barney married, they returned to Coober Pedy to live in a dugout in the area known as “Government Tank”. (p.83)
  • Tarcoola: A gold mining town established in 1902. Jessie lived in Tarcoola while her father was working on Bill Roberts’ station. (p.27)
  • Lake Pirinya (Phillipson): A lake about 100 kilometres from Coober Pedy, which provided a vital source of fresh water for the Aboriginal people of the region. (p.28) Jessie travelled with her father and the “old people” to Lake Pirinya for a month or two.
  • Bon Bon Station: Jessie travelled to Bon Bon station when she was 12, when her stepfather found fencing work there. (p.45)
  • Port Augusta: Jessie travelled to Port Augusta in 1945 with her partner Barney. (p.59) She returned to Port Augusta hospital while suffering from the effects of the Emu atomic bomb explosion in 1953. (p.98) Jessie spent time in this hospital again to have her fifth child, Billy Luke, in 1953 (p.150) and her sixth child, Joe, in 1956. (p.107)
  • Umeewarra mission: After being questioned by a police officer in Port Augusta, Jessie and Barney were made to marry in the church at the Umwerra mission. (p.59) Jessie’s son Stanley was sent to live at the Umeewarra Mission because he had a hairlip and she couldn’t breastfeed him. (p.91)
  • Jessie worked at the Umeewarra mission after Barney left, and her children attended the school there. (p.11)
  • Finniss Springs Mission: Jessie and Barney visited Finniss Springs mission in the north east of South Australia on their honeymoon. (p.60)
  • They returned to Finniss Springs in 1953, when they were forced to flee from Coober Pedy in the wake of the Emu atomic bomb explosion. (p.98) Barney got a job fencing outside of the mission, and Beaver, Emily and Bernard went to the mission school. (p.99)
  • Parakylia Station: Upon leaving Finniss Springs Mission, Jessie and Barney continued to Parakylia Station by foot. (p.65)
  • Wirraminna Station: After Parakylia Station, Jessie and Barney waited for a train at the Wirraminna Siding, located on the Station of the same name. (p.66) They camped with the railway workers while waiting for the train, which they caught back to Kingoonya. (p.69) Later, they both got work on the Wirraminna Station for about a year. (p.71)
  • Andamooka: The Lennons and their family all moved to the mining town of Andamooka in the late 1950s. (p.105)
  • Tallaringa: Tallaringa is the location of Jessie’s mother ancestral land. At the end of her book, she announces her interest in returning to the region. (p.147)

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL          

  • N/A

EXPERIENCES OF EDUCATION:

  • Jessie briefly attended Ooldea Mission School, which was established by the United Aboriginal Mission in 1936. (p.210) Her education stopped when she left Ooldea and moved around with her family. Jessie eventually settled in Coober Pedy with her mother and stepfather, but there was no school in the area. (p.45)

EXPERIENCES OF EMPLOYMENT:

  • When she was a child living in and around Coober Pedy, Jessie often helped Anangu to “noodle”: go through dirt left over by miners in search of overlooked opals. (pp.40-42) The opals were exchanged for food such as fruit. (p.41)
  • When she was in her early teens, Jessie was sent from Bon Bon Station to Kingoonya to work in the local pub. (p.55)
  • She also worked at Twinsfield station, and cared for her young relatives. (p.55)
  • Jessie left her job at Twinsfield station when she married Barney Lennon. (pp.61-69) After a year of travelling, the couple settled at the Wirraminna station. Jessie looked after the camp and hunted for kangaroo at Wirraminna while Barney did stock work. (p.71)
  • The Lennons returned to Coober Pedy when Barney was dismissed, and began mining opals. Jessie searched for opals from miner’s scraps, cleaned them and cared for her family. (p. 85)
  • Jessie was forced to leave their camp outside of Coober Pedy after an atomic bomb was exploded at Emu Junction, several hundred miles west of Coober Pedy in 1953. (p.111) After Barney left, she got a job distributing rations to the children living in the camps around the Umeewarra Mission near Port Augusta. (p.111)
  • After some years, Jessie settled back in Coober Pedy and her family continued to make money from opals. (p.127)
  • The opportunities for noodling increased as miners began using explosives, leaving large opal dumps behind. (p.133)
  • Jessie’s son Bernard took responsibility for classing, pricing and selling her opals. (p.131)

EXPERIENCES OF RELIGION:

  • Not mentioned

IMPORTANT INSTITUTIONS:

  • Not mentioned

SALIENT LAWS AND POLICIES:

  • Not mentioned

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Jessie gave birth to her first child without the assistance of a European doctor. Her father, who was a traditional healer, had to rotate the baby while it was inside the womb to straighten its foot. (p.87)
  • The British army exploded a nuclear bomb at Emu Junction, near Coober Pedy, in 1953. Jessie claims that the people of Cooper Pedy were informed about the test, but didn’t think it would affect them. (p.95)
  • Jessie was collecting water when the bomb went off, and a large cloud of smoke rolled towards her. (p.97)
  • The Lennon family immediately suffered from headaches and fled to the Port Augusta Hospital, and then on to Anna Creek. (p.99)
  • Later in life Jessie was diagnosed with cancer, which she believes was a side effect of the explosion. (p.135) She had an operation to have the cancer removed, but other women in Coober Pedy were less fortunate. (p.137)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS:

  • Kutin (Rosie Austin): Kutin was an Anangu woman born at Tallaringa in the north of South Australia. (p.11) She first encountered white mineral prospectors travelling by buggy in the early 20th century, before the railway was built to Western Australia. (p.10) By the time Kutin had Jessie, she was living at Wilgena station. (p.7)
  • Kutin remarried when Jessie was still young. (p.7) When her parents separated, Jessie’s father Nylatu took her on a long ceremonial journey around South Australia. She missed her mother while away. (p.27)
  • Nylatu eventually took Jessie back to Kutin in Kingoonya. She then moved with her mother and stepfather between cattle and sheep stations in search of work. (p.2) Kutin supported her family from domestic work, and in her spare time she took the children searching for rabbits.
  • Nylatu: Jessie’s father Nylatu was Anangu, from the north west of South Australia. He first encountered white people as a young man, and like other Anangu he was initially scared of the colonists. (p.13)
  •  In 1933, Jessie travelled around South Australia with Nylatu while he took part in ceremonies and sought work on various stations. (p.27)
  • Nylatu eventually returned Jessie to Kingoonya, because she missed her mother. (p.29) When she was older Nylatu took Jessie on another journey to Lake Pirinya. (p.31)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARTNERS:

  • Barney Lennon: Jessie met her first boyfriend Barney in Coober Pedy when she was in her early teens. (p.51) They were forbidden from living together, because they were too young, and so Jessie and Barney decided to run away. A Tarcoola policeman discovered the couple, but he allowed them to stay in their camp. (p.51)
  • When they did return to Coober Pedy, Barney’s father Jim Lennon sent Jessie to live with her mother at Bon Bon Station. (p.53)
  • Jessie was sent onwards from Bon Bon to Kingoonya. After some years, Barney found Jessie working at the Twinsfield station and asked her to marry him. (p.57)
  • Jessie agreed to his proposal, and eloped with Barney after collecting her last wages. (p.59) While the couple considered themselves married according to Aboriginal law, the authorities in Port Augusta (police and Minister) made them formalise their union. (p.59)
  • Jessie married Barney Lennon at the Umeewarra in 1945, when she was about 19. They honeymooned by travelling around the state – travelling by foot, camel and train. (pp.60-69) Eventually the Lennons settled at the Wirraminna Station for a year or so, before moving back to Coober Pedy. (p.93)
  • In Coober Pedy, Barney spent a lot of time “noodling” with Jessie: searching through miners’ scraps for overlooked opals. Later Barry purchased his own claim to land. Jessie believes her husband didn’t understand how to mine it properly at first, but after a time he made ‘big money’ from opals. (p.93)
  • After an atomic bomb was tested at Emu Junction in 1953, Jessie and Barney moved to Andamooka together. Barney then moved to Port Augusta, leaving his wife and children behind. (p.109)
  • Barney went on to remarry and settle in Coober Pedy with his new wife Dorothy. (p.112) They cared for a number of children as well as their own, including some of Jessie and Barry’s offspring, who they collected from the Umeewarra mission. Jessie initially resented having her children taken away by her ex-husband and his new wife, but became accustomed to the idea over time. (p.113)
  • Jessie later lived with Barney and Dorothy in Coober Pedy. (p.121)
  • Leo Strangways: Jessie met Leo at Andamooka. (p.115)
  • Leo and Jessie had a child together named Judy Strangways. (p.115)
  • Having established that he was Judy’s father, Leo was a very affectionate parent. (p.115) He and Jessie soon separated, and Judy was left in care of his mother Eva. (p.117) When Jessie saw Leo later in life his body had suffered from years of alcohol abuse. (p.117)
  • Tilly Waye’s Brother: Jessie fell in love with another man in Coober Pedy and had Clem Lennon in 1964. (p.123)
  • Ricky Brown: Jessie later married a younger Anangu man name Ricky Brown, who she refers to as “the one I lately lost”. (p.142) In 1958, Ricky had worked as a tracker in a famous South Australia murder hunt, and was awarded for his services. (p.142) Ricky was also sick because of the atomic bomb, and he campaigned with Jessie for compensation. (p.143)

RELATIONSHIP WITH CHILDREN:

  • Jessie had her first son Bernard at Eight Mile near Coober Pedy in 1946. (p.87) There were no doctors present at the birth, only female family members and Jessie’s stepfather, a traditional healer, who was called to rotate the baby in the womb. (p.87)
  • There were no such complications when Jessie gave birth to Emily and Beaver, in March and November of 1949. (pp.90-91) However, Jessie’s fourth child Stanley was born with a hairlip and was unable to feed from Jessie’s breast. (p.91) Ma Wilson sent Stanley to Umeewarra mission, and he never returned to Coober Pedy. (p.91)
  • Jessie had a baby at Port Augusta Hospital. (p.105) Jessie returned to Port Augusta again to have Joe in 1956. (p.106)
  • After Barney left, Jessie moved with her children to the Umeewarra Mission. (p.111) When he remarried, Barney and his new wife Dorothy were allowed by Welfare to take his and Jessie’s children to live with them in Coober Pedy. Jessie was sad to see her children go, but still did not resist her ex-husband. (p.113)
  • In 1962 Jessie had a baby girl named Judy with Leo Strangways.  She left Judy in the care of Leo’s mother Eva. (p.115)
  • Jessie fell in love with another man in Coober Pedy and fell pregnant in 1964. (p.123) The pregnancy made her ill, and Jessie had to be flown to Ceduna hospital where her baby was born premature. (p.123)

IMPORTANT/INFLUENTIAL FIGURES:

  • Bill Austin: Kutin remarried Bill Austin when Jessie was young. Bill cared for Jessie as a child, and also fathered her younger brother Willie Austin. (p.9)
  • Jessie remembers that her father and her stepfather were once friends, but their relationship has since soured. She suspects that this was because Bill Austin, not Nylata, was in fact her biological father. (p.7)
  • Daisy Bates: An Irish born philanthropist who lived with Agangu at the Ooldea Soak. (p.16) Jessie camped with Daisy when living with Nylatu. (p.17)
  • Jessie remembers that the women were fond of Daisy. (p.17)
  • Mr and Mrs Roberts: “Old Bill Roberts” was station owner at Tarcoola Station, where Jessie lived for some time with her father Nyatu. (p.27)
  • Vic Williams: “Old Vic Williamson” was a German man who ran the only store in Coober Pedy, know as “Vic’s”. (p.43) Jessie and her family used to buy fruit, biscuits and the occasional lolly from his store. (p.43) When she returned Coober Pedy as a married woman, Vic teased Jessie affectionately, as if she was still a child. (p.81)
  • Archie Badenoch: Jessie’s playmate at Bon Bon station. The two used to build cubby houses and pretend to cook food together.(p.45)
  • Eileen Allen (Wingfield): Jessie’s niece, the daughter of her sister Winnie. (p.47) Jessie and Eileen grew up together in Coober Pedy. (p.47)
  • Tottie Turner: An older woman who lived in Coober Pedy, known to Jessie as “Aunty Tottie”. She was the first person to discover opals in the area, which heralded the start of the mining rush. (p.48)
  • Aunty Tottie often brought her five kangaroo dogs and four lambs to camp with Jessie’s family, and hunted for kangaroo and rabbits. (p.49) She told Jessie how Coober Pedy got its name, which is derived from the Anangu words meaning white man’s hole in the ground. (p.47)
  • Jim Lennon: Jessie described her father-in-law, Jim Lennon, as a very strict man. (p.51) He was of Irish descent and had fought in the Boer War. (p.53) He objected to Jessie living with his son Barney, because they were too young, and so sent her away from Coober Pedy to live with her mother at Bon Bon Station. (p.53)
  • Jack Dolmyer: A friend of Barney and Jessie’s at the Finniss Springs Mission, known to her as “Topsy Jebydah’s Uncle”. (p.61) Jack led the couple back from Finniss Spring to the Parakylia. (p.61)
  • Jack was an essential guide, because Jessie and Barney were not familiar with the area. (p.610
    • “Dad (husband) didn’t know that country, coming back from Finniss Springs… Topsy Jebydah’s uncle, he knew the country.” (p.61)
  • Old Jim Lennon: Barney’s grandfather, who lived in Kingoonya. Old Jim Lennon got Barney a job working at Wirraminna Station, and later led them back to Coober Pedy in search of opals. (p.73)
  • Ethel (Ma) Wilson: Ma Wilson took over the store in Coober Pedy in 1947. She treated sick people and ran a wireless for contacting the Royal Flying Doctor. (p.88) Ma Wilson nursed Jessie after the difficult birth of her first child. (p.89)
  • Mr and Mrs McWilliam: “Mr and Mrs Mac” became the supervisors of the Umeewarra mission during the time Jessie worked there. (p.11) The McWilliams provided diversions for the young people. (p.111)
  •  Eva Strangways: The mother of Leo Strangways and paternal grandmother of Jessie’s daughter Judy. Eva and Leo raised Judy at their camp in Port Augusta. (p.117)
  • Jessie took Judy to live with her in Coober Pedy for a year when she was a baby, without asking Eva, but returned her after a year. (p.119)

PREOCCUPATIONS:

  • Colonial contact: Jessie retells the Anangu people’s first encounters with pastoralists and miners.
  • She also witnessed the Antikirinya and Pitjantjatjara people making their first contact with Europeans at Ooldea. (p.19)
  • Anangu culture: Jessie recalls how she and her Anangu kin travelled to significant areas in South Australia for ceremonies and hunting.  She described the gendered division of labor in Anangu society: while the men hunted, the women and children gathered food including witchetty grubs, honey ant, and swan and duck eggs. (pp.30-31)
  • Jessie believes that the residents of Coober Pedy today do not understand or appreciate this traditional Anangu way of life. (p.31)

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION: Jessie Lennon’s autobiography was transcribed and introduced by Michele Madigan. (p.vi)

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Lennon, Jessie (1926–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/lennon-jessie-17802/text29382, accessed 24 November 2017.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012