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West, Ida (1919–?)

PUBLICATION: Ida West, Pride Against Prejudice: The reminiscences of a Tasmanian Aborigine, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1984, Canberra

SEX: Female

BIRTH DATE: 1919

BIRTH PLACE: Cape Barren Island Reserve

FIRST LANGUAGE: English

SIGNIFICANT LOCALITIES:

  • Cape Barren Island Reserve: Ida was born on the Cape Barren Island Reserve, but moved to Flinders Island when she was very young. She spent time with family, friends and relatives from Cape Barren when they came across for dances. (p.24) Ida notes that Aboriginal people were not allowed to drink at Cape Barren Island Reserve, and that they had to seek to permission of the Superintendent if they wanted to visit. (p.52)
  • Killiecrankie, Flinders Island: Ida’s father Henry bought a property on Flinders Island, where his family has been settled for generations, before she was born. (p.3) She lived at Killiecrankie as a small child, and associated only with her relatives. (p.3) The Armstrong family kept a number of pets on the property, including two horses, a cat, a wild pig and goats. (pp.18-19)
  • Lughrata, Flinders Island: When Ida was still young her parents decided to move from Killiecrankie to Lughrata so that she could meet other children and go to school. (p.5) They were forced to leave the area when their house burnt down, after five years. (p.12)
  • Robertdale, Flinders Island: After five years in Lughrata, the Armstrong family moved to Robertdale. There was a beach at Robertdale known as the “duck hole”, when Ida played as a child. (p.9)
  • Palana, Flinders Island: A town near Killiecrankie, where the Edens lived. Ida used to visit Palana when her father worked for the Edens. (p.16)
  • Tanners Bay, Flinders Island: Ida moved to live in a tent at Tanners Bay with her husband Marcus. (p.27)
  • Cat Island: Ida recalls passing Cat Island on her way to Babel Island 1937. (p.40) Cat Island is one of the few breeding grounds for Gannet birds, and the island was covered in them at the time. Ida described the scene as the most beautiful sight she’d even seen. (p.41)
  • Glenorchy: Ida lived in Glenorchy at the time of writing her book. (p.87)

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL:

  • N/A

EXPERIENCES OF EDUCATION:

  • Ida started attending the small school at Lughrata for three days a week. (p.5) She and her siblings were the only dark children at the school.(p.8)
  • The teachers at Lughrata were sent to Flinders Island by the Tasmanian Education Department for periods of six to twelve months. (p.7) Ida remembers that one, Mrs Dolly Barry, made her write with her right hand, even though she was naturally left-handed. (p.5) Another teacher, Mr Colin Thorn, forced Ida to say a word she couldn’t pronounce in front of the whole class. (p.7)
  • Ida remembers competing against schools from across Flinders Island in sporting carnivals. (p.7) She was awarded an Australian flag when she won a race. (p.7)
  • The Armstrong family left Lughrata after their house burned down, and Ida started working on the farm at Killiecrankie for her father. (p.9) Ida regrets leaving school early, but has also learned about the world and Aboriginal history from other sources. (p.46)

EXPERIENCES OF EMPLOYMENT:

  • Ida and her siblings worked with their father on the family farm from a young age. (p.15) They were given tasks such as ploughing, fencing, feeding cows, collecting firewood, carrying water, doing washing, and marking and dipping lambs. (pp.14-16) Ida often came across snakes while working, and on one occasions she believes she spotted as death adder. (p.15)
  • When she was a teenager, Ida’s father gave her a job threshing grass for two days a week. (p.17) Her mother decided this work was too dangerous when Ida accidently hit her cousin over the head with a pitchfork. (p.17) Ida then began skinning kangaroos to be sold to skin merchants in Melbourne, and received her first pay check of seven pounds.(p.17)
  • While Ida’s sister Esme liked to cook and tend to her appearance, she preferred to work outdoors. (p.16) Rather than leave home to work as a domestics, like her sisters, Ida chose to stay and help on the farm and in the garden. (p.17)
  • After marrying Marcus West, Ida’s time was largely consumed by caring for her husband and two children.
  • Ida used coupons to buy meat, sugar, tea, butter and clothes. (p.40) One of the meals she prepared most frequently was kangaroo tail soup, and mutton-bird, which her husband caught. (p.39)
  • She and the other women on Flinders Island also prepared breads and cakes for their husbands. (p.40)
  • Ida got a job as a cleaning lady when she left her husband and moved to Hobart. (p.92)

EXPERIENCES OF RELIGION:

  • Ida’s family were devoted Christians, and never worked on Sundays (p.63). According to their interpretation of the Christian doctrine, all people were equal in the eyes of God and should strive to live simply. (p.8)
  • Ida claims that all the Aboriginal people from Flinders Island are devoted Christians. (p.54)
  • Despite this faith, non-Aboriginal people still felt compelled to coerce Ida’s family into church. (p.56)
  • Ida recalls that her cousin Andrew Maynard once saw the Saviour on his boat, which he took as a warning not to overload. (p. 80) She also felt God’s presence at the site of a slaughter of Aboriginal people. (p.80)

IMPORTANT INSTITUTIONS:

  • Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre: Ida served as President of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre while living in Hobart. (p.85) She helped the Aboriginal Centre raise funds by selling homemade food, second hand clothing and books. (p.85)
  • As an active member of the Aboriginal community, Ida was invited to attend the closed service held for Truganini – known as the last Tasmanian Aborigines not of European descent – in 1976, and to open the park named in her honour. (pp.87-88)
  • Aboriginal Information: Ida was also travelled for the Aboriginal Information Service, collecting information about the Indigenous population of Tasmania. (p.85)
  • Salvation Army: Ida volunteered for the Salvation Army while living in Hobart. (p.85)

SALIENT LAWS AND POLICIES:

  • N/A

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • A bull attacked Ida when she was a teenager living as Robertson. (p.13) The animal was shot, and she was not badly injured, but the experience was traumatising. (p.13)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS:

  • Victoria Armstrong (Everett): Ida does not recount her mother’s life in autobiography. She only notes that Victoria had premonitions, and once predicted her sister’s death. (p.19)
  • Henry Isaac Armstrong: Ida’s father ran sixteen acres at Killiecrankie, where his family lived. He also did fencing and sheering for other property owners. (p.21) Henry worked alongside his children, and Ida was particularly drawn to farm life. (p.22)
  • Henry owned a boat called Possum Fat, which he rode up and down the creek at Killiecrankie in search of kindling. (p.66)

RELATIONSHIP WITH PARTNERS:

  • Marcus West: Ida married Marcus at Killiecrankie when she was twenty years old. (p.27) Marcus was employed in a road gang for the council and also fished, caught mutton birds and worked in dairies. (p.27) The couple lived in a tent at Tanner’s Bay, and Ida was often left alone to care for the children while Marcus was away working. (p.28)
  • Ida recalls that she and Marcus once got stuck in a rip and their boat lost its rudder. Ida became hysterical and Marcus was forced to slap her. (p.68)
  • Marcus was a hard-working man, but he squandered his earning. This was the primary reason Ida divorced him in 1960. (p.29)

RELATIONSHIP WITH CHILDREN:

  • Ida’s first child, Lenna, was born in Launceston in July 1940. She had her son Darrell at the same hospital on 25 April 1945, which marked the end of WWII. (p.27)
  • Lenna and Darrell lived with Ida in a tent at Tanner’s Bay, and often Marcus left her to care for them alone. (p.28) She took full financial responsibility for the children when she divorced Marcus and moved to Hobart.
  • Both Ida’s children were talented sportspeople. Like her mother, Lenna they left school early to start work in Hobart. (p.29)
  • Darrell continued his education at Albuera Street School in Hobart. He excelled at AFL, and played in the under-fifteens team for the Tigers. (p.33) Darrell went on to play AFL for Perth and North Launceston, and Ida attended all the club meetings. (p.33)
  • Once his football career had ended, Darrell worked as a coach in Irish Town on the North West Coast of Tasmania. (p.33)

IMPORTANT/INFLUENTIAL FIGURES:

  • Syvlia Maynard (Ky): A childhood friend, who often played with Ida at the “duck hole” in Robertson. (p.10) They couldn’t swim, and on one occasion were almost dragged out to sea (p.10)
  • Ena Maynard: the older sister of Sylvia Maynard. Ena taught Ida and her younger siblings about human reproduction. (p.10)
  • Amy Wheatley: Amy was the wife of William Wheatley – a fisherman who moved to Killiecrankie when Ida was eleven. (p.11) Ida remembers that Amy was a strong and hardworking women who chopped wood, gardened and baked. (p.11)
  • The Edens: A farming family who lived at Palana near Killiecrankie. Ida and the family often camped on their property when Henry was working for the Edens. (p.16) The Eden daughter gave the Armstrong children lots of books and craft material. (p.16)
  • Girlie Armstrong: Ida’s older sister Girlie and her husband Tim lived in hut near their tent at Tanner’s Bay. (p.38) Ida recalls that Girlie once had to give birth at home, because she left it too late to go to the hospital. (p.48)
  • Madame Virieux: A white woman who lived on Flinders Island, who every referred to as “Madame” as a sign of respect. (p.19)
  • Billy Samuel: Billy was an Aboriginal boxer from Queensland who worked as a stockman on Flinders Island. He often came to the West’s house in the evening to listen to the wireless. (p.37) Billy was well liked by the family and played with the children at the beach. (p.38)
  • Johnny and Nellie Maynard: Ida stayed with the Maynard and their children at their home in Pinescrub during the school holidays. (p.40) Johnny was the MC at the local dances. (p.45)
  • Grandfather Neuto: Ida’s maternal Grandfather lived at Killiecrankie. (p.43) He was a great musician, and played a range of instruments. (p.43) Grandfather Everett also worked with the sick on Flinders Island. (p.73)
  • Grandfather Armstrong: Ida’s parental Grandfather owned a boat called the ‘Dora’. (p.66) The boat was used to take her mother to hospital in Launceston when she was giving birth. (p.66)
  • Great-Grand Aunt Lucy: Ida’s Great Aunt, who lived on Badger Island, was an excellent sailor. (p.81) She used to cook doughnuts for Ida when she was young. (p.83)

PREOCCUPATIONS:

  • Racial discrimination: Ida recalls the discrimination that she and the other people of Aboriginal descent experienced on Flinders Island. While many of the white residents were friendly in person, they often ignored her family in public. (p.23)
  • Because potential partners often rejected mixed-race women, Ida used to lighten her complexion when she attended local dances, (p.23)
  • Ida remembers one occasion when a white woman ran away from her family outside the school, because she presumed they were dangerous. (p.7)
  • Ida also believes that the person who burnt down her families’ house at Lughrata was racially motivated. (p.12)
  • In the face of this discrimination, Ida’s parents taught their children self-respect and self-reliance.
  • Aboriginal identity: Ida feels that Tasmanian Aboriginals occupy a difficult position between white and black worlds. She recalls some of the traditional Aboriginal practices that were passed down to the people of Flinders Island, such as woodwork, net making and weaving. (p.45) Unfortunately, Ida believes that much more was lost with colonisation.
  • Ida claims that this lack of traditional knowledge, and the degree of intermarriage, has left Tasmanian people feeling disconnected from the Aboriginal community. She is glad that the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and Aboriginal activists have challenged this prevailing feeling.
  • Ida’s tell how her daughter Lenna travelled to Arnhem Land on a research trip to visit the “tribal Aborigines”.  (p.30) She enjoyed the experience, which she shared with her family, because it affirmed her Aboriginality. (p.30)

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION: Pride Against Prejudice was written by transcribed by…..

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Citation details

'West, Ida (1919–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/west-ida-17832/text29418, accessed 23 July 2017.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012