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Morgan, Anna Euphemia (1874–1935)

by Joanne Bach

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Anna Euphemia Morgan (1874-1935), Aboriginal leader, was born on 7 October 1874 at Ebenezer station, a Moravian mission in north-western Victoria, daughter of Aboriginal parents Nathan Bowden, labourer, and his wife Margaret, née Murray. At the age of 11 Anna was placed in domestic service and worked in the Wimmera area. In her early twenties she moved to New South Wales, near Cumeroogunga (Cummeragunja) Aboriginal reserve, where she was a servant. Here she met Caleb Morgan (c.1874-1943), a labourer. They married with Baptist forms on 1 May 1899 at Echuca and were to have three children.

The son of Alfred Morgan, tracker, and his wife Caroline, née Malcolm, Caleb had been born on Coranderrk station, Victoria. His father had given evidence before an 1881 inquiry into Coranderrk and, like many other residents of that reserve, moved his family north to the Maloga mission and, later, across the Murray River to Cumeroogunga. In 1888 farm blocks were allocated to the residents of Cumeroogunga, enabling them to become self-sufficient. Caleb had thirty acres (12 ha) of this land. However, the Aborigines Protection Board (New South Wales) revoked the agreement in 1907, with the result that profits were to be directed to the board and the residents were to become farm labourers for the government. Those who refused to accept these conditions were branded agitators and expelled from the station. If they refused to leave, they were charged with trespass. Caleb was among those expelled and the Morgans departed immediately, leaving many of their possessions behind. When they returned to collect them several months later, Caleb was charged with trespass and gaoled for fourteen days.

The family then moved to Wagga Wagga where Caleb worked as a farm labourer. In 1927 they went back to Victoria, first to Swan Hill and then to Coldstream, several miles from Coranderrk. In 1930 the Morgans applied to the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines for assistance. Refused on the basis of their classification as 'half-castes', they applied to the Sustenance Department for rations. Again they were refused. Anna then applied for a Commonwealth pension but was unsuccessful due to her classification as an Aborigine.

Following this experience, Anna became active in her campaign for equal rights for Aboriginal people. She published an article in Labor Call in September 1934: 'Under the Black Flag' told the story of a life constrained by government regulations, and articulated demands for justice and equality. 'We have not the same liberty as the white man, nor do we expect the same justice', she said. In an occasional series on Melbourne radio station 3LO, as 'Ghingobin' ('the name my mother called me'), she told stories that had been passed on by her grandmother. She was able to use her public prominence to draw attention to her political messages.

A member of the fledgling Australian Aborigines' League she took part in a delegation to the minister for the interior in January 1935, pleading for education for Aboriginal women: 'If we get the same education as the white girl we could stand alongside white people'. She also addressed a meeting of the International Women's Day Committee that month. Anna Morgan died of acute renal infection on 1 August 1935 at Coldstream and was buried in the new Melbourne general cemetery, Fawkner. A daughter survived her, as did Caleb, who died on 18 May 1943 in Melbourne and was buried in Fawkner cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • T. S. Epstein and D. H. Penny (eds), Opportunity and Response (Lond, 1972)
  • H. Goodall, Invasion to Embassy (Syd, 1996)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Jan 1935, pp 1, 10
  • Board for the Protection of Aborigines, correspondence files (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • Chief Secretary, in-letters (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • Board for the Protection of Aborigines, correspondence files, B313 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Joanne Bach, 'Morgan, Anna Euphemia (1874–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/morgan-anna-euphemia-13108/text23715, accessed 19 November 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bowden, Anna
Birth

7 October 1874
Jeparit, Victoria, Australia

Death

1 August 1935
Coldstream, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation