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Indigenous Australia

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Matbar, Lallie (1905–1970)

by Pamela Rajkowski

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Lallie Akbar, Renmark, 1930s

Lallie Akbar, Renmark, 1930s

family photograph

Lallie Matbar (c. 1905–1970), Wangkatha (Wongutha/Wongai) woman, also known as Nilba, was probably born in a dry creek bed on her mother’s country like her mother before her; the date was not recorded. A 1926 government record lists her date and place of birth as 23 May 1905 at Laverton, Western Australia. Her mother was Tjirrgulu, also known as Chilgo, Chilgooloo, and Polly Jilganoo, and her father was an unnamed European man. She had an older brother, Snowy Bradley (b. c. 1902), also known as Snowy Lowe. Her childhood was influenced by three systems: Wangkatha customs and laws, the Western Australian Aborigines Act 1905, and Christianity. Having mixed parentage made Lallie subject to the Aborigines Act, and the government considered the chief protector her legal guardian until the age of sixteen. The State’s policy was to send mixed descent children, especially girls, to institutions. Her childhood was lived in bush camps, on pastoral stations, and at Mount Margaret mission, moving with her mother and her mother’s people, the threat of capture and forced removal ever-present.

During the 1920s Lallie began a relationship with Akbar Khan, also known as Jack Akbar (c. 1880–1954), a Muslim storekeeper at Mount Morgans who was born in Peshawar, Punjab, India (Pakistan). Formerly a camel driver, Akbar delivered supplies throughout the region in his truck. He befriended the Wangkatha and learned some of their customs and laws. Around 1925 he approached Wangkatha Elders and requested permission to make Tjirrgulu’s daughter his wife. It was customary for marriages to be arranged with the parents or family of a bride in his homeland, so he appreciated the importance of gaining such approval. Yet permission could not be given, as Lallie was already promised to an Aboriginal man, Burtville Jackie, who lived in remote country and avoided government depots. He, however, found Lallie unsuitable and returned her, thereby offending tribal law. Although some Elders subsequently consented to Lallie and Akbar’s marriage, the couple were still not free to marry. Under the Aborigines Act, Aboriginal women needed permission from the chief protector to marry non-Aboriginal men. In mid-1926, at the Mount Morgans police station, Akbar applied for permission to marry Lallie, but the constable in charge denied the request, declaring their relationship illegal. Akbar subsequently engaged a solicitor at Kalgoorlie to petition A. O. Neville, chief protector of Aborigines (1915–36; commissioner for native affairs, 1936–40), for special permission to marry Lallie, but that request was also denied. Akbar’s repeated requests brought the couple under intense scrutiny.

Neville issued a warrant for Lallie’s arrest and removal to Moore River Native Settlement, more than five hundred miles (900 km) away, but the police failed to find her, as Tjirrgulu had taken Lallie to the Australian Aborigines’ Mission at Mount Margaret. The missionaries Rod and Mysie Schenk were fond of Lallie and contemplated marrying her to an Aboriginal man of mixed descent at the mission. Those Elders who had consented to her marriage to Akbar had withdrawn their consent as a consequence of repeated police raids. However, as some Elders still believed her rightful husband was Burtville Jackie, and that her relationship with Akbar was therefore adulterous, the Schenks were fearful of Wangkatha retribution. Lallie was liable to be punished by the Jinagarbil (Wangkatha spearman) and her presence at the mission placed other Aboriginal people at risk. On 13 October 1926 she was arrested for breaching the Aborigines Act and removed to Moore River, where she became inmate 873.

According to Lallie, at Moore River she ‘had to work hard at washing and scrubbing’ and was ‘given only bread and dripping and black tea’ (News 1928, 26). The girls and young women wore ‘rough khaki dress[es],’ ‘slept six in a bed,’ and ‘did not receive any schooling’ (News 1928, 26). Three times Lallie ‘ran away and joined [Akbar]’ (News 1928, 26), walking hundreds of miles to return home. She was recaptured and returned twice. In November 1927 she made her third and final escape from the institution. Travelling on foot and evading police search parties, she stayed at various Aboriginal camps and learned from her mother that Akbar was on his way to Eucla. After ‘two months on the track’ (News 1928, 26), she arrived at Eucla first and waited for Akbar. Later she told reporters: ‘He thought that I was being persecuted on account of our attachment and was making for South Australia alone. I persuaded him to take me’ (News 1928, 26). To avoid detection, Lallie hid in a trunk on the back of Akbar’s truck. When they drew close to the State border, she sat beside Akbar dressed in male attire. In this way they evaded trackers sent by Rod Schenk, a police search party, and the Jinagarbil. Goldfields sympathisers wasted police time by suggesting that the couple had headed north to Leonora and the Murchison. Following their arrival in Adelaide, where the laws regarding interracial marriages were different, they married at the registry office on 23 May 1928. A second ceremony was performed according to Islamic law at a camel camp at Farina.

Neville believed Lallie’s flight could incite violence among Aboriginal people. Civil fighting could erupt in the Laverton area among Wangkatha who believed she had committed adultery and those who believed she was free to marry whom she chose. Moreover, her avoidance of punishment for repeated absconding could incite unrest and insurgency among Aboriginal people more broadly who might attempt to emulate her actions and flee Western Australia. Neville’s stated goal was to control and institutionalise all Aboriginal people of mixed descent, resulting in the eventual ‘elimination of the black’ (SLWA 1926/0379). Therefore, he believed it was essential to bring Lallie back to Western Australia to show ‘the three hundred and fifty inmates of the Moore River Native Settlement that the Government must be obeyed above all’ (SLWA 1926/0379).

After engaging help from the South Australian police, Neville soon learned of Lallie Akbar’s whereabouts. In October 1928 she was arrested at her home at Enfield and charged with absconding from Moore River. Her husband was also arrested and charged with ‘having abducted a half-caste aborigine’ (News 1928, 21). Lallie rejected that her actions were criminal. She stated: ‘I lawfully wedded a man of my own choice with whom I am happy, without doing harm to anyone’ (quoted in Reynolds 1928, 10). The couple’s extradition to Perth was decried in the press as a ‘waste of public money’ that made the ‘authorities … look ridiculous’ (Mirror 1928, 1). This proved to be true as the charge against Jack Akbar was ultimately withdrawn and Lallie’s sentence was deferred on the payment of a bond by her husband. Jack agreed to ‘keep [Lallie] properly and look after her [so that] she will not become a burden on the state’ (SLWA 1926/0379). As a further punishment he also had to ensure that ‘she did not leave the Commonwealth or return to Western Australia’ (News 1928, 26). After signing a surety of £500 to guarantee this condition, Jack, with Lallie, was free to return to Adelaide. To cover court costs, Jack had ‘had to sell nearly everything [he] owned at a heavy loss’ (News 1928, 26). Consequently the couple could not afford the sea passage, so the Western Australian Aborigines Department paid their fares on the condition that the loan be repaid within six months; it took nearly seven years. From the first year Neville repeatedly asked the South Australian police to visit the Akbars to acquire repayments.

Lallie and Jack Akbar settled at Renmark where they had four children: Mona (b. 1930), Shirley (b. 1932), Jimmy (b. 1934), and Johnny (b. 1939). The children adhered to the Islamic traditions of modesty and gender segregation enforced by their devout Muslim father, who believed it was the man’s role to protect the family and the mother’s responsibility to hold ‘the family up’ (Mona Wilson [née Akbar] quoted in Stephenson 2010, 126). Lallie and the children sometimes accompanied Jack on his trips to Adelaide to buy produce to sell in Renmark, and also to visit the mosque on Little Gilbert Street.

In 1939 Lallie wrote to Mysie Schenk pleading to visit her ‘home sweet home’ and be ‘among [her] people’ (SLWA 1926/0379). She asked the missionary to write to Neville for permission. Schenk’s request was denied. Lallie wrote to the missionary two more times, seeking permission to visit her people, but Neville was adamant that ‘the terms of the bond must be adhered to’ (SLWA 1926/0379). In 1946, after eighteen years in exile, and wearying of Jack’s ‘strict religious views and cultural inflexibility’ (Stephenson 2010, 143), Lallie broke the terms of the bond and re-entered Western Australia with her fourteen-year-old daughter Shirley. By then Neville had retired. The new commissioner for native affairs, Francis Illingworth Bray (1940–48), instructed police to place Shirley in an institution, so Lallie sent her back to Renmark.

Lallie remained in Western Australia and formed a new relationship with a Wangkatha man, Arthur Newland; they had two daughters, Anne Joyce (b. 1948) and Margarie (b. 1950). On 17 January 1956 Lallie, then a respected Aunty and Elder among the goldfields Wangkatha, was granted a certificate of citizenship under the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944. This meant that she was no longer subject to the Aborigines Act. She died of cancer at the Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital on 3 June 1970 and was buried in Kalgoorlie cemetery. Anne Joyce, Margarie, and Mona accompanied the forty-eight-vehicle cavalcade that travelled through the streets of Kalgoorlie to her burial site, where, as requested by Lallie, a Wangkatha ceremony was performed. Her police file, commenced in 1926, was closed upon her death.

 

Pamela Rajkowski is a European woman. She consulted with descendants of Lallie Matbar and Jack Akbar and with Wangkatha community members in researching and writing this article.

Select Bibliography

  • Haebich, Anna. For Their Own Good: Aborigines and Government in the Southwest of Western Australia, 1900–1940. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 1988
  • Mirror (Perth). ‘Akbar and His Bride.’ 10 November 1928, 1
  • Morgan, Margaret. A Drop in a Bucket: The Mount Margaret Story. Box Hill, Vic.: United Aborigines Mission, Box Hill, 1986
  • News (Adelaide). ‘Aborigine before Court.’ 11 October 1928, 21
  • News (Adelaide). ‘Walked 500 Miles to Marry.’ 22 November 1928, 26
  • Rajkowski, Pamela. Linden Girl: A Story of Outlawed Lives. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 1995
  • Reynolds, Victoria. ‘The Woman’s World.’ Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 November 1928, 10
  • State Library of Western Australia. Consignment No. 1351, Item No. 1926/0379 [DCS File 379/26], ‘Half Caste Lallie Matbar—Marriage to Jack Akbar’
  • State Library of Western Australia. Consignment No. 1351, Item No. 1946/0138 [DCS File 379/26], ‘Lallie Akbar—Personal File’
  • Stephenson, Peta. Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2010
  • Wilson, Mona (née Akbar). Interview by the author, 1988, and personal communication
  • Wilson, Shirley (née Akbar). Interview by the author, 1989, and personal communication

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Pamela Rajkowski, 'Matbar, Lallie (1905–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/matbar-lallie-30056/text37296, accessed 30 October 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Lallie Akbar, Renmark, 1930s

Lallie Akbar, Renmark, 1930s

family photograph

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Matbar, Lalla
  • Matbar, Lali
  • Akbar, Lallie
  • Nilba
Birth

23 May 1905
Laverton, Western Australia, Australia

Death

3 June 1970
Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation
Key Places