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Morgan, James (Jim) (1901–1968)

by Stephen Wild

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James (Jim) Morgan (c.1901-1968), Aboriginal singer and activist, was born about 1901 at Casino, New South Wales, son of Aboriginal parents Ralph Morgan, labourer, and his wife Alice, née Williams. Jim was educated at South Kyogle Public School. From the age of 13 he worked in the district as a farm hand before moving to Queensland cattle-stations. Although proud of his ancestry, Morgan accepted the need to have a good command of the English language 'in what was rapidly becoming an English-speaking world'. As a young man he enrolled in a correspondence course in English, and later earned a reputation as a writer and public speaker. Having overcome disadvantages in early life by diligence and determination, he was equally proud of his intellectual achievements (his favourite author was Charles Dickens and his favourite book, Pickwick Papers) and of his ability to 'compete with anyone doing ''hard work", such as splitting fencing posts'.

Morgan was living at Lismore when he married with Anglican rites 18-year-old Eileen Anderson on 21 June 1937 at Cabbage Tree Island Aboriginal Station. He spent the years of World War II on cattle-stations in Queensland. Returning to Kyogle, he soon moved to Coraki where he was employed as a maintenance worker by the Department of Public Works in 1947-67. He described his appointment to permanent employment in the Public Service as 'the proudest moment of my life'.

Considered to be knowledgeable about his ancestral culture, Morgan spoke his native Bundjalung language and was 'well known as a storyteller and singer' of Aboriginal legends learned from his grandfather 'King Morgan'. Through the Richmond River Historical Society, he made a number of broadcasts about Bundjalung culture with the journalist Mildred Norledge on radio-station 2LM, Lismore. Dawn magazine published the texts of two of his broadcasts, as well as articles by Morgan, among them 'The Old Women who turned into Birds' (1956), 'Aboriginal Folklore and People' (1958), 'Aboriginal ''Criminal Law"' (1960) and 'Aboriginal Place Names: Nimbin—What it Means' (1961). He contributed twelve legends of the 'Dryaaba' people to Norledge's Aboriginal Legends from Eastern Australia (Sydney, 1968) and was an occasional lecturer for the University of New England's extension courses.

In 1964 Morgan was elected to the New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board as one of two full-blood representatives. In 1967 he was re-elected unopposed. His manuscript entitled 'Report to the Aborigines of New South Wales', dated 27 October 1964, criticized the existing assimilation policy, called for greater government commitment to Aboriginal advancement, and recognized the need for Aboriginal ownership of land.

Morgan died of cardiac infarction on 10 July 1968 in the Civic Hall, Casino. A Christian who also retained Aboriginal beliefs, he was buried with Pentecostal forms in Casino cemetery. His wife, five of his seven sons and two of his three daughters survived him. The large number of people (including the president of the Kyogle Shire Council, the mayor of Casino, the secretary of the A.W.B. and a local member of parliament) who attended his memorial service at Box Hill Aboriginal reserve, Coraki, indicated his standing in the community.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board, Dawn, 1959, vol 8, no 1, 1964, vol 13, no 3, 1967, vol 16, nos 10-12, 1968, vol 17, no 10
  • Richmond River Historical Society, Bulletin, no 47, 1968
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Feb, 2, 3, Nov 1964.

Citation details

Stephen Wild, 'Morgan, James (Jim) (1901–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/morgan-james-jim-11165/text19891, accessed 26 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012