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Pryor, Boori Monty (1950–?)

PUBLICATION: Boori (Monty) Pryor with Meme McDonald, Maybe Tomorrow, Penguin Book, 1998, Melbourne

SEX: Male

BIRTH DATE: 1950

BIRTH PLACE: Townsville

FIRST LANGUAGE: English

SIGNIFICANT LOCALITIES:

  • Townsville: Boori grew up in Garbutt, a poor suburb of Townsville on the east coast of Queensland. (p.77) He notes that the area was once owned by the Wulgurukabba people, but was first in Queensland to be depopulated by colonists. (p.81)
  • Garbutt was established after the Department of Native Affairs took over huts used by the Air Force during the Second World War. (p. 78)
  • Boori encountered many forms of discrimination in Townsville because of ethnicity. For this reason he was determined to leave his hometown after graduating from high school. (p.81)
  • Yarrabah: Boori’s mother’s family, the Kunggandji people, were some of the original inhabitants of Yarrabah: an Anglican Mission established near Cairns by Father John Gribble in 1892. (p.121)
  • The Pryors often travelled to Yarrabah on the weekends to stay at “the Bohle”: seaside property owned by Uncle Arthur and Aunty Joyce. (p.2)
  • The Bohle was taken over by a real estate developer following Uncle Arthur death. Boori’s brother Nick took his own life on their property in 1982. In his suicide note, Nick lamented the loss of the Bohle, which had since been sold off and developed. (p.2)
  • Yarrabah continued to play an important role Boori’s life, even after he left Queensland. (p.119)
  • Palm Island: An Aboriginal penal colony off the coast of Townsville. (p.54) Boori’s maternal grandfather, Eugene Stell, was sent to Palm Island in 1916 after being accused of inciting a riot. (p.123) His maternal grandparents were also transported to the Island, and his father Monty Prior was born there. (p.123)
  • Happy Valley: an Aboriginal camp in Townsville, where Boori’s Uncle Peter and Aunty Milda lived. (p.75)
  • Ayr: a town to the south of Townsville, where Boori’s Aunty Norma lived. (p.78) Boori spent time in Ayr during the school holidays, living with his relatives and working on a sugarcane farm. (p.78)
  • Adelaide: Boori moved to the South Australian capital to serve in the Air Force at the age of nineteen. (p.82)
  • Melboure: Boori worked as a DJ in Melbourne nightclubs for over a decade. (pp.84-94)
  • Perth: Boori moved to Perth when he was offered a job in a nightclub. He returned to Melbourne when the job fell through. (p.94)

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL:

  • New Zealand: Boori toured New Zealand in 1975 as the coach of the Aboriginal women’s basketball team. (p.113)
  • Ireland: Boori presented a paper on Aboriginal deaths in custody to the 23rd Annual Conference held by the European Group for Study of Deviance and Social Control in Dublin in 1995. (p.176) He observed many similarities between the challenges that Irish and Aboriginal people faced in resisting colonisation. (pp.179-181)
  • Italy: Boori spent time in Italy when he was invited to perform at a festival near Friuli. (p.184)

EXPERIENCES OF EDUCATION:

  • Growing up in Townsville, Boori received both a practical and formal education. (p.50)
  • Boori was one of the first Aboriginal students to study at the Pimlico High School in Townsville. (p.42) His transition to high school was helped by the fact that many of his football teammates also went to Pimlico, but he still got into fights in the first few months. (p.42)
  • Boori excelled at sport during high school: playing Aussie rules for Garbutt, and competing in the State Championships as a member of the Under 18s basketball team. (P.45)
  • Most of the teachers at Pimlico were good to Boori, except for one design teacher who pushed him against a wall and winded him. (p.46) When Boori’s father found out, he confronted the teacher and returned his physical abuse. (p.46)
  • Boori’s most memorable teacher was an English teacher. While he didn’t realise it at the time, this teacher gave him the skills necessary to survive in the white world. (p.46)
  • Boori believes that a multi-faceted education equips Aboriginal children for the many challenges they faced in mainstream Australia. (p.50)
  • Boori failed his leaving certificate upon finishing high school, and started working a builder’s labourer. (p.78) After three months he returned to school, and studied hard to pass high school. (p.79)

EXPERIENCES OF EMPLOYMENT:

  • On top of his strenuous housework, Boori had a number of part time jobs during his school years. (p.78) As well as packing crates at a soft drinking factory, he worked stripping sugarcane near Ayr. (p.78) When he was sixteen he started as a butcher at the Ross River Meatworks. (p.78)
  • After failing his leaving certificate, Monty organised a job for Boori as builder’s labourer. (p.78) He only stayed in the role for a few months, because he couldn’t stand the sound of mixing cement. (p.79) Boori then returned to school and obtained his higher school certificate. (p.79)
  • When Boori graduated he applied for electrician apprenticeships. He was disheartened when local electricians refused to take him on, while accepting his less qualified white friends. (p.79) Eventually, Boori gave up and found work as a driver and storeman at a company called Cable Makers. (p.80)
  • At the age of eighteen Boori left Townsville, a moved to Adelaide with the Air Force. (p.82) He learnt a lot at the training camp and enjoyed a strong sense of camaraderie with his colleagues. (p.82)
  • Boori played for the Air Force football team in Victoria, and was offered a position in the Hawthorn Football Club. (p.84) He decided not to take the offer because he wasn’t ready to live independently, having become accustomed to the company and routines of the Air Force. (p.85) After having this realisation, Boori decided not to re-enlist in the Air Force. (p.85)
  • Boori began working part time as a catwalk model before he was discharged from the Air Force. (p.86) While doing promotions at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, he was the offered a job as a DJ at the Albion Charles Hotel. (p. 87)
  • Boori left the Albion Charles after two years, but continued to work as a DJ in Melbourne nightclubs for the next twelve years. (p.89) It was a competitive industry, but Boori kept his job because he drew in large crowds. (p.90)
  • After a decade of DJing in Melbourne, Boori was offered a job in a nightclub that was reopening in Perth. (p. 94) When he arrived in Western Australia, however, his potential employers retracted their offer because of his ethnicity: while they sought a black DJ, they didn’t want to attract an Aboriginal clientele. (p.94)
  • Boori had difficulty overcoming feelings of embarrassment and rejection when he returned to Melbourne. (p.95) His father contacted a friend at the Human Rights Commission, who took up his case against the club. (p.96) After a year and a half the Commission was successful, and Boori received compensation for his mistreatment. (p.96)
  • After his brother Paul died, Boori took over his role performing in schools with their cousin Joe Geia. (p.6) He spent more that six years in the role and performed for all ages across Australia. (p.22)
  • Boori took pride in, and drew strength from, his performances, and learnt a great deal from the children he worked with. (p.39)
  • Boori particularly enjoyed performing at schools with Aboriginal students. (p.34)
  • In contrast, he found it difficult to work in schools with predominantly Anglo-Saxon students. (p.57) Often he became frustrated because they distrusted him, or didn’t listen when he tried to educate them about Aboriginal culture. (p.56)

EXPERIENCES OF RELIGION:

  • Boori was brought up in a Catholic household, and his father went on to become a deacon of the church. He also holds many Aboriginal spiritual beliefs. Central to these convictions is a feeling of connectedness with the earth, particularly his ancestral lands near Yarrabah.(p.162)
  • As well, Boori recalls the role of missionaries in suppressing Aboriginal culture, laments the loss of many traditions. (p.54)
  • Boori believes Aboriginal people are able to communicate with each other and the natural environment in a non-verbal way. (p.163) He claims that his method of communication was particularly strong in the past, but has been weakened by the influence of drugs and alcohol in Aboriginal society. (p.161)
  • On one occasion, a pair of kite-hawks hovered over Boori him while he performing their namesake dance. (p.166)
  • This experience assured Boori that he had not lost his connection to the natural world by living in the city most of his life. (p.168)
  • The Pryor family believed that their Aboriginal religious views were compatible with Catholicism. (p.188) Boori’s father pointed out the similarities between Aboriginal religious beliefs and Christianity, while his mother stressed that Aboriginal people have an innate urge to embrace spirituality, no matter what form. (pp.187-188)
  • While the Church was originally opposed to this syncretic approach, Boori’s experiences working in Catholic school led him to believe they are increasingly open to diversity. (p.189)

IMPORTANT INSTITUTIONS:

  • Human Rights Commission: Monty contacted the Human Rights Commission on his son’s behalf, after Boori was fired from a Perth nightclub because of his race. (p.95) The Commission took his case to court, and after a year and a half the club was forced to offer Boori compensation and an apology. (p.96)
  • Girrakool Detention Centre: a maximum-security juvenile detention centre. (p.113) Boori spent time working with the Aboriginal inmates, who make up the majority of the population at Girrakool. (p.133)
  • Yubana Ooloma Council: a social justice group comprised of Aboriginal elders from the Townsville areas, including Boori’s parents. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs Family Service established the Yubana Ooloma Council in the hope of curbing juvenile crime. (p.152)

SALIENT LAWS AND POLICIES:

  • Boori points out that his parents came under the ‘Queensland Act’ while living at Palm Island and Yarrabah in their youth. (p.77)
  • For the first eight years of his professional life, Monty Prior’s earnings went into an Aboriginal Trust Fund administered by the government. (p.92) Boori notes that this discriminatory system was in place in Queensland until 1971. (p.93). He writes of his father:

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Because of the suffering he witnessed in the Aboriginal community, Boori made the decision not to drink or smoke at a very young age. (p.77)
  • Late in life, Boori was deeply disturbed by the suicide of his two brothers. Paul’s death was particularly painful, as it was Boori who found his brother’s body. (p.192) At one point the torment became so unbearable that Boori considered taking his own life. (p.192)
  • The agony of this emotional suffering was greater than any physical hurt Boori had experienced. (p.98)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS:

  • Mum: Boori’s mother was a Kunggandji woman from Yarrabah. (p.9) Her great-grandfather, Bert, was the son of the first Anglican missionary John Gribble. (p.124) Bert’s father expelled him from the mission for having an affair with an Aboriginal woman, but decades later his relatives embraced Boori’s mother as family. (p.124)
  • She moved to Townsville after meeting Monty Prior, and they had seven children together: three girls and four boys. (p.9)
  • Boori’s mother withheld her grief when two of her sons committed suicide, but broke down when her daughter Kim also took her own life. (p.132)
  • Monty Prior: Boori’s father was the son of a Birri-gubba man from the Bowen area and a Kanak woman. (pp.9, 123) Both of his parents were transported to Palm Island, and Monty was born there. (p.1230)
  • Monty was expelled from Palm Island for fighting with Native Troopers, who attempted to punish him for refusing to address a young white man as ‘sir’. (p.124) He was sent to work for an Italian sugar cane farmer near Ingham who was very kind to him, and later became his godfather. (p.124)
  • Monty continued to work on sugar cane farms and cattle stations for eight years. (p.92) Most of his earnings were placed in Aboriginal Trust Fund, and his meals were served on a woodpile [this may be metaphorical] outside the station. (p.92)
  • Boori father was a good employee and also talented sportsman, particularly skilled at boxing. (p.19) He could have become a champion fighter, but choose to focus on his family instead. (p.20)
  • Monty worked on construction sites in Townsville when Boori was a child. His strong work ethic won him the respect of his peers and the local community. (p.20)
  • Monty’s good standing in the community helped Boori when he started at the predominantly white Pimlico High School. (p.42)
  • Later in life Father Mick Peters recruited Mick for a job visiting prisons and hospitals on behalf of the Catholic Church. (p.20) Monty had been raised Catholic, and was an altar boy as a child, and wanted to give back to his church. (p.21) After four years in this role the bishop encouraged Monty to train to become a deacon. (p.21)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARTNERS:

  • n/a

RELATIONSHIP WITH CHILDREN:

  • n/a

IMPORTANT/INFLUENTIAL FIGURES:

  • Diedre Mahon and Alesha Warburton: two women who worked for Catholic Education: training primary school teachers in Aboriginal Studies. (p.22) Boori believes that their work made an invaluable contribution to increasing children’s understanding of Aboriginal history and culture. (p.22)
  • Mervyn: Boori’s cousin. Because he was the eldest in his own family, Mervyn served as Boori’s big brother. (p.40) He looked out for his younger cousin, and also led him to mischief. (p.40)
  • Danny Underwood: a friend who Boori met while playing football for the Currajong football team. (p.45)
  • Despite their differences, Boori and Danny remained close friends after school. (p.45)
  • Vince Toohey: Boori’s friend from Armidale, who he describes as his “yubbah”, or brother. (p.69) Vince’s mother was a primary school teacher who taught him the value of Aboriginal culture. (p.69)
  • Vince later became a high school history teacher, in the hope that he could change the attitudes of his students. (p.69)
  • James Valentine: A friend of Boori’s who worked for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The met when James interviewed Boori and taped his high school performances. (p.75)
  • Andrew Richards: an aircraft mechanic from Healesville, who played on the Air Force football team with Boori. (p.84)
  • Tom Mae: A friend of Boori’s who became the Secondary Curriculum Adviser for Catholic Education in Sydney. (p.100) In 1993, when Tom was still a teacher, he organised seventeen hundred students from four different schools to attend workshops held by local member of the Aboriginal community on issues that were important to them. (p.101)
  • Nick Pryor: Boori’s describes brother Nick as a “beautiful, strong, young man.” (p.1) He claims that Nick had difficulty fitting into “white society”, but was at peace in the bush. (p.1) Boori claims that this was the reason that Nick committed suicide in 1982, at the age of just 28. (p.2)
  • Paul Pryor: Boori’s younger brother. Paul was an actor, dancer, didgeridoo player and storyteller in Aboriginal productions. (p.3) He studied theatre for three years at the Victorian College of the Arts Drama School. (p.154) Boori recalls one New Years Eve when his brother turned up at the nightclub in Melbourne where he was working, and impressed the crowd with a performance on didjeridoo. (pp.89-90)
  • Paul had repeated problems with the police while living in Yarrabah. (p.136) Boori claims they often provoked his brother to violence, so that they had an excuse to take him into custody and abuse him. (p.136) At one stage, Paul was charged with assaulting a police officer and sentenced to three months community service. (p.137) He decided to flee to Melbourne rather than endure continued harassment. (p.137)
  • Paul was arrested again after a number of incidents in Melbourne, and was sent to Fitzroy prison, where he faced further harassment. (p.137)
  • Boori believes that, like his brother Nick before him, Paul found the pressure of living in white Australia too great. He committed suicide in Boori’s apartment in Melbourne in 1988. (p.136)
  • After Paul died Boori took over his role performing in school with their cousin Joe Geia. (p.6)
  • On one occasion, after three performances in one day, Boori found himself speaking like his brother Paul during a show. (p.74)
  • Kim: Kim was an artist. Boori claims that Kim struggled professionally because it is difficult for Aboriginal women to be successful in the art world. (p.3)
  • Like her brother, Kimmy committed suicide by hanging herself. (p.129) She was still alive when her body was discovered, but died in hospital before Boori could make it back to Townsville from Melbourne. (p. 129)
  • Aunty Val: Boori’s maternal aunt. (p.198) Aunty Val passed important information to Boori about their family’s history and culture. (pp.198-199)
  • Cilla Pryor: Boori’s older sister studied Commercial Studies after graduating, in the hope of becoming a secretary. (p.80) But like Boori, Cilla had difficulty finding a job in Townsville and was forced to join the Air Force instead. Later in life she became the Assistant General Manager of the Townsville Aboriginal Media Association. (p.79)
  • Uncle Peter and Aunty Milda: Boori’s paternal uncle Peter Prior was the oldest member of the Birri-gubba clan. (p.107) Boori often stayed with him and his wife, Milda, when he was a child. (p.108)
  • Nanny Susie: Boori’s maternal grandmother was the daughter of a Yarrabah woman, Granny Jinnah Katchwan, and the missionaries’ son Bert Gribble. (p.121) Nanny Susie’s birth was a scandal, and her father was sent away from Yarrabah as a result. (p.121) She was taken from Granny Jinnah when she was just an infant, and brought up in the mission dormitories. (p.123)
  • Eugene Stell: Boori’s paternal grandfather. (p.123) In 1916 Eugene was accused of inciting a riot and sent to Palm Island in 1916. He died there when Boori was a baby. (p.12)

PREOCCUPATIONS:

  • Aboriginal culture: Boori gives his account of traditional Aboriginal culture, and the way it has changed since colonisation. He points out that in pre-contact period, strict laws bound Aboriginal clans together. (p.11)
  • While Aboriginal tribes were united in this sense, Boori also emphasises the variety of pre-colonial Indigenous society. (p.24)
  • Boori recalls some of the practices specific of his mother’s clan, the Kunggandji people. The Kunggandji had a spirit dance called the Katcha, which invites spirits to come down to earth and bless the dancers. (p.25)
  • Boori explains how dances like this enable Aboriginal people to communicate with each other and members of other clans. (p.26)
  • Boori also describes the Kunggandji practice of hunting turtle and dugong, and gathering other food from the sea. (p.27)
  • He points out that killing animals taught Aboriginal people to respect them, because they are giving up their life for you. (p.28)
  • Boori recalls the role of missionaries in suppressing Aboriginal culture, laments the loss of many traditions. (p.54)
  • He points out that Aboriginal people on Palm Island were forbidden from practicing many traditions, except for when dignitaries paid visits to the penal colony, when they were told to perform traditional dances. (p.108)
  • He believes that this tradition of treating Aboriginal culture as a curiosity for white people is carried on by the tourist industry today. (p.109)
  • Aboriginal Identity: Boori shares his views about contemporary Aboriginal identity. When Boori’s students asked him if he was a full-blooded Aboriginal, he pointed out to them that the distinction was irrelevant and offensive. (p.68)
  • He also challenged the idea that some Aboriginal people are more authentic that others because they conform to stereotypes. (p.31)
  • Boori also questions the assumption that people of full Aboriginal descent are more genuine than those with mixed heritage. (p.32)
  • Social Problems: Boori describes the negative effects of government policies on Aboriginal society in north Queensland. He claims that authorities went against the wishes of the Yarrabah people when they built a pub in the town in the 1980s. (p.54)
  • In Boori’s view, many Aboriginal people turned to alcohol to numb the pain of historical suffering. (p.55) However, he rejects the typecast of Indigenous Australian as alcoholics, pointing out that most have no experience of substance abuse. (p.55)
  • Boori also claims that the government provided houses for Aboriginal people in remote communities, without taking into out their nomadic, outdoor lifestyle. (p.62)
  • Sport: Boori recalls his successes in various sporting codes. As a high school student his teams won the premiership while playing Rugby League for South Townsville and Australian Rules Football for Currajong Club. (p.113) Friendships with teammates and the pride of winning helped Boori to endure the discrimination he experienced in Townsville. (p.113)
  • When Boori moved to Melbourne he played in the Victorian Basketball association, and later coached the first Aboriginal women’s team (p.113) He learnt a lot from the sport, and also enjoyed the sense of equality on the court. (pp.114-115)
  • His sporting career had helped Boori to stay both physically and mentally healthy during difficult periods of his life. (p.114)
  • The White Aboriginals

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION: Boori Pyror wrote Maybe Tomorrow with the assistance of Meme McDonald.

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Citation details

'Pryor, Boori Monty (1950–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/pryor-boori-monty-17822/text29407, accessed 23 July 2017.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012