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Wilson, Norah Magdalene (1901–1971)

by W. H. Edwards

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Norah Magdalene Wilson (1901-1971), Aboriginal community leader, was born on 12 August 1901 at Bookabie, South Australia, daughter of Jack Boxer, an Englishman, and an Aboriginal mother of Kukata descent, who subsequently married Steve Hart, an Aborigine. Norah took his surname. As a child she spent some time in the bush with her family, learning traditional stories and food-gathering skills.

Koonibba Mission, established near Ceduna by the Lutheran Church in 1901, provided a base for local Aboriginal families. While many of the adults worked on nearby farms their children, including Norah, lived at the mission in the children's home. At school she learned to read and write, became proficient at needlework and crochet, and played the organ. She was baptized on 12 September 1915 at Koonibba, and confirmed on 26 May 1918. On 8 June 1921 at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Koonibba, she married Ernest Roy Wilson, a labourer, who was of Wirrangu and Irish descent.

In the early years of married life, Norah moved around with Ernest who was working on stations. After he found employment with South Australian Railways as a fettler, the growing family spent happy years at small coastal settlements—Kyancutta, Warramboo, Yantanabie and Minnipa—in the western region of South Australia. Ernest was a noted Australian Rules footballer in country leagues. In 1942 the Wilsons, keen for their ten children to have a good secondary education, moved to Adelaide where Ernest continued to work for the railways. The family lived with other Aboriginal people in rented accommodation at Goodwood, before buying a house in the city. Their home was a centre for Aborigines visiting from the west coast and other outback areas. Young men who had enlisted or worked in the defence forces were welcomed; Pastor C. V. Eckermann described '12 to 20 men ''camping'' there, men asleep on every square inch of floor, and in every room'. The family attended Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Flinders Street. When a worship centre for Aboriginal people opened in Franklin Street, Norah became a leader of its community activities, played the organ, and worked for the Aboriginal Lutheran Fellowship.

After seven years in Adelaide the Wilsons moved to Largs Bay and Ernest worked on the Port Adelaide wharfs. Norah continued her involvement in community and church life. A much-respected matriarch, she provided open house for Aboriginal guests from rural areas, and also conducted meetings for women. To keep in touch with aspects of traditional life, she stayed from time to time with relations at Port Augusta and occasionally participated in ceremonies. She visited Aborigines in hospital and children living in the United Aborigines' Mission's Colebrook Home, supplying a link between people in rural areas and their families in Adelaide. Government workers sought her guidance in cross-cultural matters and her assistance as an interpreter.

Ernest and Norah moved again, to their own house at Cheltenham, and attended the local Lutheran Church. In 1962 they gained certificates of exemption from the provisions of the Aborigines Act (1934-39). Suffering from diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, Norah Wilson died on 7 July 1971 at Woodville and was buried in Cheltenham cemetery. Her husband, three of their four sons and their six daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Harms and C. Hoff (eds), Second Koonibba Jubilee Booklet, 1901-1951 (Adel, 1951?)
  • C. Mattingley and K. Hampton (eds), Survival in Our Own Land (Adel, 1988)
  • private information.

Citation details

W. H. Edwards, 'Wilson, Norah Magdalene (1901–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-norah-magdalene-12049/text21611, accessed 26 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hart, Norah Magdalene
  • Boxer, Norah Magdalene
Birth

12 August 1901
Bookabie, South Australia, Australia

Death

7 July 1971
Woodville, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation