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Moseley, Percival (Percy) (1880–1942)

by Barry Morris

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Moseley (c.1850-1938) and Percival Moseley (c.1880-1942), Aboriginal farmers, were father and son. John was born at Rollands Plains, New South Wales, in the Macleay River valley, the territory of the Dhan-gadi. His father was said to be a prominent local pastoralist, and his mother Elizabeth, née Bullock, an Aborigine. Moseley's bagar (totem) was the Jewfish at Crescent Head. About 1878 he married Elizabeth Jane Robinson. They had twelve children, Percy being born near Kempsey about 1880.

John's skill as a tracker led to service with the local police. By 1884 with his wife and five of his children and his half brother Jimmy Linwood (c.1850-1935) he was farming corn on a gazetted Aboriginal reserve on the Fattorinni Islands, having cleared the land of bushes and vines. After the big flood of 1892, the Moseleys moved to Burnt Bridge, Euroka Creek, clearing the land once more and like most European smallholders growing maize. In 1900, when Aboriginal children were excluded from Euroka Public School, John (who signed with a mark), Percy and others petitioned for a provisional Aboriginal school, which was set up in 1905 at Burnt Bridge. Percy was a labourer when he married with Presbyterian forms Rachel Sapphira Russell in the mission hall, Purfleet, on 3 November 1909.

Under the Aborigines Protection Act (1909, amended 1915), the Aborigines Protection Board was given a responsibility of care for Aborigines. The A.P.B. policy was to establish stations run by European managers but many Aborigines were reluctant to reside on them. Established reserves were often revoked, and the land sold or leased to non-Aboriginal farmers. By 1914 Percy and Rachel were farming at Ballengarra, near Port Macquarie. When the land they occupied was leased to a white farmer in 1915, Percy protested, refusing to accept 'out of pocket expenses' to move to Rollands Plains. He visited Sydney to put his case to the A.P.B. Unsuccessful, he nevertheless returned to Ballengarra. While living on the nearby reserve, in an arrangement with the new lessee, he share-farmed part of the land he formerly occupied. From 1919, five of the nine reserves in the Macleay valley were revoked and previously autonomous Aboriginal people came under the control of A.P.B. managers. The lease of Fattorinni Islands was revoked on 20 March 1925. In October that year, in their own language, John Moseley and Jimmy Linwood addressed a meeting at Kempsey showground as part of the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association's campaign for Aboriginal rights.

About 1930 Percy and Rachel joined John and other family members on the farm at Euroka Creek. In 1937 the A.P.B. secured gazettal of a large block adjoining the Moseley farm for Burnt Bridge Aboriginal station. Aborigines from various communities were accommodated there without adequate housing or a satisfactory water supply. The Moseleys refused to move and on 30 June the manager arrived at their cottages and the school and began to demolish the buildings. Percy nailed up the gate to stop him returning, so the manager called the police and with their assistance removed the family's water tank. The Macleay Chronicle published John's letter:

I made a protest . . . and . . . was told that I own nothing . . . not even the land which I spent the best part of my life working and improving for the past forty-five years . . . I served my State with honesty. The very thing I took pride in, the Police Force, two days ago made me feel as small as a slug under an elephant foot.

When the manager began to erect a fence across what Percy regarded as the family's land, he chopped it down and reputedly fired a shotgun to warn off the workers. After Michael Sawtell's intervention, and the visit to Sydney of one of John's sons, the board directed that the old man was 'not to be removed' without authorization.

John Moseley died on 3 July 1938 at Burnt Bridge and was buried with Methodist forms in the Anglican cemetery, East Kempsey. One daughter and two sons survived him. Percy persisted with his claim to the land. The manager's response was to threaten expulsion. Although Percy was refused title to the property, he was granted permissive occupancy of eighty acres (32.4 ha) of the old reserve in June 1939. His continued protests provoked further threats of expulsion. Percy Moseley died of acute pyelonephritis on 10 May 1942 in the Macleay District Hospital, West Kempsey, and was buried with Anglican rites at East Kempsey. Childless, he was survived by his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Morris, Domesticating Resistance (Oxford, UK, 1989)
  • H. Goodall, Invasion to Embassy (Syd, 1996)
  • Macleay Chronicle, 26 May 1937, p 5, 7 July 1937, p 4
  • Aborigines Protection Board, minutes, reel 2792, 6 July 1934, 12 Sept 1934, 7 July 1937, 5 Aug 1937, 14 June 1939 (State Records New South Wales)
  • Premier’s Dept, correspondence, A37/193, reel 1862 (State Records New South Wales)
  • school files, 5/15854, Euroka, 5/15182.1, Burnt Bridge (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Barry Morris, 'Moseley, Percival (Percy) (1880–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/moseley-percival-percy-13277/text23727, accessed 18 November 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012