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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Gordon Briscoe (1938–2023)

PUBLICATION: Gordon Briscoe, Racial Folly: A Twentieth Century Aboriginal Family, Canberra: ANU ePress and Aboriginal History Inc., 2010

SEX: Male


BIRTH PLACE:  Old Telegraph Station Native Institution, Alice Springs NT


  • English


  • Alice Springs: Gordon lived at the Old Telegraph Station Native Institution in Alice Springs until he was four years old. After the bombing of Darwin in February 1942, the residents of the Aboriginal institutions were evacuated from the Northern Territory, because the authorities feared that they would collude with the Japanese in the event of an invasion. (p.18)
  • However, because his mother was working in Adelaide while he was a child (in Adelaide, see below), Gordon did not develop an association with the place of his birth. (p.51)
  • Mulgoa: When the residents of Aboriginal institutions were evacuated from the Northern Territory (p.21), Gordon and his mother were initially evacuated to Mulgoa near Sydney, but after the birth of his brother they were sent to the South Australian town of Balaklava for the remainder of the Second World War. At Mulgoa, the evacuees lived in a large house that had been donated to the Church by a wealthy pastoralist. (p.24) After the Second World War, some of the boys left at Mulgoa were sent to St Francis House. (p.58)
  • Balaklava: The evacuees from Alice Springs who were not baptised were placed in an internment camp at the Balaklava racecourse with Chinese, Italian and German people. (p.21)
  • Adelaide: In 1945 Gordon’s mother left him the in the care of Reverend Percy Smith at St Francis House: an institution for mixed-race children, based in an old private hospital in Kensington Gardens, Adelaide. (p.47)
  • Port Lincoln: After a short time working at Murray Bridge, Gordon moved to Port Lincoln to work on the railways in his later teens. (p.92)
  • Sydney: Gordon and his family moved to Gladesville in Sydney when he returned from England in the mid 1960s.
  • Canberra: Gordon and his family moved to Canberra in 1969, when he was accepted to study at the Australian National University. (p.116)


  • Gordon moved to England to pursue his soccer career in 1962. He first lived in Hemel, and then transferred to Preston in 1962. (p.99-101)
  • In 1976 Gordon was employed by the government for three months to manage a team of Aboriginal dancers participating in the Festival of Black and African Culture in Nigeria. (p.187)


  • Before living at Mulgoa, Gordon attended the Kirribilli Primary briefly while staying with his mother in Sydney. (p. 26)
  • Later Gordon attended a one-teacher school at Mulgoa, but did not learn to read. (p.26)
  • In 1945 Gordon’s mother sent him to live at St Francis House in Adelaide. The supervisor at St Francis House, Reverend Percy Smith, had hoped to send the boys to the local private school, but was able to raise only enough funds to put them through the public system. (p.47)
  • Gordon attended kindergarten and then primary school at Marryatville Primary. (p.48) He could speak and draw well, but still had difficulty reading. (p.48)
  • While at school Gordon developed a love of Australian Rules football, cricket and boxing. (pp.48-50) This sporting prowess enabled him to defend himself against the older boys at St Francis. (p.48)
  • In 1947, St Francis House was relocated to an old mansion on Military Road, Semaphore. The Aboriginal boys changed schools to Ethelton Primary, and were met with resistance from white parents. (p.56)
  • Towards the end of the 1940s, many boys who had been living at Mulgoa were sent to St Francis House. As the number of residents increased, the character of the House changed. (p.62)
  • Gordon felt abandoned when Reverend Percy Smith left St Francis in 1949. He continued to struggle in school, and repeated Grade Three. (p.78)
  • When he left school at eighteen, Gordon was barely able to read and write. (p.89)
  • In 1965, Gordon took correspondence courses in history, English, geography and Science, and obtained his fourth form certificate on his second attempt. (p.105) In the following year, he passed fifth form by attending night classes at the Bankstown Technical College. (p.107)
  • In 1968, Gordon was approached by the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Council and offered a scholarship to attend Sydney Technical College on a full time basis. (p.116) He matriculated at the end of the year, and was accepted to study liberal arts at the Australian National University in Canberra. (p.116)
  • Gordon left university to take up a position at the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, but returned to finish his degree in 1982: studying history, prehistory and politics. (p.191)
  • Gordon’s marks were good enough to gain entry to Honours, and he completed a history thesis about the effects of capitalism on Central Australia. (p.194) He hoped to study a Master of Arts in the History Program when he finished Honours, but didn’t obtain a high enough grade and was told he needed a Masters qualifying degree. (p. 196)
  • Once he had completed the qualifying degree, Gordon began a Masters thesis looking at the transformations of post-war Aboriginal society in the area north of Port Augusta. (p.199)


  • Gordon’s first job when he left St Francis was loading and driving trucks at the Port Adelaide harbour. (p.91) Soon after he was offered work with the railways, and moved into the Rosewater boarding house. (p.92)
  • In 1957, Gordon passed the entry exams to work as a fireman on suburban and country trains out of Adelaide. (p. 92) Soon after he was transferred to Murray Bridge, and helped the children to attend school during a flood. (p.92) Gordon moved to Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula in 1958, and continued to work on the railways and play for the local rugby league team. (p.92)
  • Later that year, Gordon resigned from the railways and started playing for the Exeter Aussie Rules Football Club in Adelaide alongside many of his friends from St Francis. The Club also found him a labouring job at a government foundry on the Port River. (p.98)
  • In 1959, Gordon was also selected to play for South Australia in the National Amateur Australian Rules Carnival in Perth. (p.98) At the end of the season he left Exeter and joined the Beograd soccer club along with John Moriarty from St Francis House. (p.98) While at school, he and other boys from the House had played for the Port Adelaide Thistle team. (p.78) When Charlie Perkins returned from playing soccer in England, he convinced Gordon to sign up with the Croatia Club for the winter competition. (p.97)
  • Gordon transferred to Polonia Club in 1961. He moved to England in October of that year, and began playing for the Hemel Hempstead Club. Gordon found his game was hampered by the British weather. (p.99)
  • Gordon transferred from Hemel Hempstead to Preston North End in 1962. He played for the third division team, and also worked in a factory near the training grounds. (p.100) Gordon gave up soccer when his wife became pregnant, and worked in a steel fabrication factory in Hemel. (p.101)
  • When Gordon returned to Australia, he lived in Gladesville and worked for the Canterbury Council in Campsie. (p.104) He obtained his driver’s licence and was taught clerical tasks by his colleague George McGrath. (p.106)
  • In 1965, Gordon took correspondence courses in history, English, geography and science, and obtained his forth form certificate on his second attempt. (p.105) In the following year he passed fifth form by attending night classes at the Bankstown Technical College. (p.107)
  • In 1967 was moved from building to the Council’s paymaster’s section. At the end of that year he took a years leave without pay and attended the Sydney Technical College on a full time basis. (p.116) After matriculating Gordon was accepted to study at the Australian National University. (p.116)
  • Gordon was involved in Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs and FCAATSI while living in Sydney, and he continued his political involvement in Canberra.
  • He travelled widely and attended conferences with the magazine Identity, the Aboriginal Housing Panel, and student political groups. (p.121)
  • Gordon was part of the group of activists who split from the FCAATSI, to form the National Tribal Council. He was the Tribal Council’s inaugural Minister for Health in 1971.
  • Gordon’s extra-curriculum commitments began to negatively affect his studies, and he failed University in that year and had to attend the Canberra College of Advanced Education. (p. 130)
  • Gordon found it difficult to support his family while still studying, and so he applied for a Liaison Officer position at the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs in Sydney. (p.130) He was fired from the Foundation after being involved in a protest with the other Aboriginal staff members, who were unhappy with their pay and conditions. (p. 132)
  • Gordon continued in his role at the National Tribal Council, and also began volunteering for the Aboriginal Legal Service Committee. (p.133) To his relief, the Legal Service offered him a paid position as a Liaison Officer. (p.153)
  • At the Legal Service Gordon worked as a community advocate and trained to become an articled clerk. (p.153)
  • While working for the Legal Service Gordon helped start the first Aboriginal Medical Service. (p.160) The AMS not only provided tailored medical services, it also raised funds for people to participate in protests such as the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. (p.161)
  • In 1972, Gordon accepted the nomination in the Northern Territory election with the Australia Party. (p.165) He resigned from the Aboriginal Legal Service, moved back to Alice Springs, and campaigned across the Territory. (pp.165-168)
  • Gordon didn’t win a seat in the 1972 election, but was glad that the Labor Party came to power, and that he received enough votes to get his deposit back. (p.175) He stayed in Alice Springs and worked as a researcher for the National Population Enquiry for the next year, before returning to Canberra in 1974 to work as a Senior Liaison officer in the Commonwealth Department of Health. (p.176)
  • In 1975, Fred Hollows established the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program, and asked Gordon to be the Assistant Director. (p.180-182) In this role, Gordon oversaw extensive field surveys. His evidence qualified the high incidence of Trachoma among Aboriginal people due to poor living conditions. (p.182)
  • In the late 1970s, Gordon was co-opted by the government for three months to manage a team of Aboriginal dancers participating in the Festival of Black and African Culture in Nigeria. (p.187) He then returned to the Department of Health, but soon began to find his work there unrewarding. (p.189)
  • In the early 1980s Gordon applied for a secondment to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, where he worked on another inquiry into Aboriginal health. (p.189) When he returned to the Department of Health, he decided that he had limited scope for influence in his current position, and that his lack of tertiary qualifications was preventing his promotion. (p.193)
  • With the help of Gloria Brennan, Gordon received a scholarship to finish his liberal arts degree at the Australian National University. (p.191) He went on to study a Master of Arts, and was given a Visiting Fellowship at the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. (p.198)
  • After submitting his Masters Thesis, Gordon returned to the public service: working at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. He found the work unappealing, and returned to the Australian National University as a doctoral candidate in 1992. (p.201)
  • In 1996, Gordon finished his PhD thesis about the impact of disease patterns on Aboriginal population. (p.208) He stayed at the Australian National University’s Department of History, working on a post-doctoral project about Aboriginal historical demography. (p.209) In 2002, following a review of the University’s Aboriginal education programs, the Centre for Indigenous History was established and Gordon was appointed as a Research Fellow for three years. (p.210)
  • As a Research Fellow, Gordon worked on a “Frontiers Histories” project with American historians. They took a strong interest in Gordon’s personal history, which inspired him to write a memoir. (p.211) His subsequent position as the Visiting Fellow in the Department of History gave him a change to research his family’s past and the institutionalisation of Aboriginal children. (p.211)
  • Gordon was awarded membership of the Order of Australia in the second highest grade of Officer in 2002 for his work on the Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal Legal Services, the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program and his academic achievements. (p.211)


  • Gordon received a religious education at St Francis House. While “The General” was in charge, from 1952 to 1953, he and the others boys were made to go to confession every night. (p.81)


  • Australian Board of Missions: the Anglican church’s mission organisation which purchased Granville House, the old mansion on Military Road, for Reverend Percy to re-establish the St Francis House in 1947. (p.52)
  • Aborigines’ Progress Association: a political organisation established by Malcolm and Aileen Cooper (“Coop”), which appealed against the conviction of Gordon’s uncle Max. (p.96)
  • At that time, Aborigines’ Progress Association was one of the few organisations that campaigned for Indigenous welfare. Gordon’s peers from St Francis preferred it to the Aborigines’ Advancement League, which they saw as basically an arm of the Presbyterian Church. (p.97)
  • Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs: An organisation established by Harry Hall from Walgett in the 1960s. (p. 106) According to Gordon, the Foundation had strong socialist roots, but became more liberal as it grew and gained the support of the church. (p.106)
  • The Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs offered a number of services to Indigenous people: including shelter, information for those who had recently arrived from the country, support for alcoholics and funding for Aboriginal sportspeople, artists and activists. (p.105-106) Gordon went to the Foundation’s George Street premises every lunch break in 1968 to listen to the biographies of older Aboriginal activists. (p.106)
  • Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI): Gordon became involved in FCAATSI in the 1960s through his friend Charlie Perkins. (p.112) He described the division that arose in the 1970s between those who wanted greater Aboriginal control in FCAATSI, and those who saw it as a multiracial collation aiming for economic and social equality. (pp.121-125) Gordon was part of the former group, who eventually broke from FCAATSI to form the National Tribal Council. (p.126)
  • New South Wales Aboriginal Education Foundation: the organisation that provided Gordon a scholarship to attend Sydney Technical College on a full time basis in 1967. (p.116)
  • National Tribal Council: An Aboriginal organisation established in the early 1970s by a group of activists who split from the FCAATSI. (p.127) Gordon was the Council’s Minister for Health in 1971. (p.127)


  • The Aboriginal Ordinance Act of 1918 gave the government the authority to remove Gordon’s mother Eileen from her Aboriginal family.
  • The Chifley Labor government introduced a new interpretation of Social Services Act in 1941, which enabled Aboriginal people of mixed-decent to receive child endowments and pensions because they were “non-nomadic”. (p.56)
  • Gordon was a ward of the Northern Territory and South Australian governments until his twenties, when he obtained full citizenship. (p.92)


  • Gordon contracted life-threatening pneumonia while living in Mulgoa during the Second World War. (p. 24)
  • Gordon drank heavily with his political peers, and this led to back and knee pain and digestive problems. (p.186) His alcohol consumption increased when he went to Africa in 1976, as he had spare time and money. (p.188) Gordon decided to give up alcohol altogether later that year because of his chronic illness and violent behaviour. (p.188)
  • While doing research for his Masters Thesis in South Australia, Gordon began to experience cramps and pain in my lower abdomen. (p.199) He was diagnosed with a bowel infection, caused by a cancerous growth that he later had removed. (p.200)


  • Eileen Briscoe: Gordon’s mother was born in 1918. She was the daughter of Kanaki and the white rouseabout Billy Briscoe.(p.2) Eileen spent her early life travelling around the Western, Gibson and Great Victorian deserts with her mother. (p.2)
  • At the age of nine, the Northern Territory Police removed Eileen from her mother’s care at Crowns Point cattle station. (p.4) She was taken over 300 kilometres to Alice Springs, to live in an institution called The Bungalow, run by Ida Standley. The conditions at the Bungalow were very poor, and Gordon suspects his mother and others suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. (p.8) Members of the church and media complained about the standards at the Bungalow, and in 1932 Eileen and the other children were moved to the Old Telegraph Station. (p.8)
  • Gordon believes that Eileen’s experiences in the Bungalow left her ill prepared for puberty and parenting. (p.17)
  • Shortly after giving birth, Eileen left Gordon and Old Telegraph station and went to work at Granite Downs Station. (p.18) During the War they were both evacuated to New South Wales, but Eileen was sent away to work for an American naval officer in Kirribilli, while Gordon was again left with his aunts in Mulgoa. (p.28)
  • Gordon stayed with his mother briefly in Kirribilli, and remembers seeing her with an American soldier. (p. 26) Eileen returned to Mulgoa to have her second son, Bill. She never told Gordon who Bill’s father was, but he presumes it was the soldier. (p.26)
  • In January of 1945, Eileen was identified as one of the “problem” mixed-race women, who were not desired by employers because they had multiple children. (p.27) She was subsequently sent back to the alien’s camp in Balaklava, until Reverend Percy Smith obtained her release. Eileen left Gordon in Reverend Percy’s care in October 1945, and she went to work in the laundry of the Repatriation Hospital at Victor Harbour. (p.29) From then on Gordon only saw his mother a few times a year. (p.48)
  • Gordon believes that, as a single mother with limited resources, Eileen had little choice but to leave her children in the church’s care. Nonetheless, her decision had negative effect on his personal development. (p.31)
  • Eileen had a third son, Dennis, with her new husband Reginald Wickman. (p.58) Eileen and Reg moved back to Alice Springs in 1950, and stayed in St John Hostel. Gordon couldn’t afford to visit his mother in Alice Springs, so he stayed at St Francis over the break. (p.62) Eileen later split with Reg and had two more children, Sandra and Sam, with Allan Kunoth and Syd Kunoth from the Utopia cattle station. (p.169)
  • In the 1960s, Eileen asked Gordon to take care of her youngest son, Sam, because he had been banned from attending school in Alice Springs. (p.105)
  • Ron Price: Gordon’s father died before he was born, and he didn’t learn his name until late in life. (p.10) Ron Price’s father was a telegraph station manager and his mother was a pastoralist. (p.10)


  • Norma: Gordon met Norma at a local ball while playing for the Hemel Hempstead Club in England. She was one of twelve children originally from London. One of Norma’s older brothers lived in Australia, and had praised the country and it’s people. (p.100)
  • Norma and Gordon were married within the year at the local medieval church. (p.100)


  • Gordon and Norman’s first child, Aaron, was born in England in 1963. (p.101)
  • In the 1960s, Gordon also became the carer for his youngest brother Sam, who had been banned from attending school in Alice Springs. (p.105) Sam was initially an unruly houseguest, but he soon settled in and began to succeed in school.
  • Sam also attended the Australian National University, and became an archaeological consultant in Mardu country. (p.201)
  • Norma and Gordon had two more children together, Lisa and John. (p.189) All his children were keen sportspeople. One of the reasons Gordon decided to give up drinking in 1978 was because he wanted the strength to participate in their activities. (p.189)
  • John went on to become a bicycle mechanic and Lisa a lawyer with the Aboriginal Legal Service. (p.212)


  • Kanaki:  Gordon’s maternal grandmother, Kanaki, was born west of Kulkara: an area unexplored by Europeans at the time of her birth. (p.1) She travelled around the Mardu lands to forage and participate in ceremonies. (p.1) Kanaki’s traditional husband was Wati Kunmanara, but she conceived Gordon’s mother with a white rouseabout named Billy Briscoe. (p.2)
  • Billy Briscoe: Gordon’s grandfather was a white rouseabout, who was involved in the 1928 Coniston massacre. The massacre occurred after Warlpiri men murdered a dingo trapper named Fredrick Brooks, because of his relations with Aboriginal women. (p.12) Billy Briscoe was friends with Brooks, and joined the party of the white men who sought retribution by murdering a large number of Warlpiri people. (p.12)
  • Millie Glenn: Gordon’s aunt, who also lived at Old Telegraph Station. Eileen cared for Millie and her sister Nora when they were brought to the Old Telegraph Station. In turn, Millie took responsibility for Gordon when his mother left to work at Granite Downs Station. (p.17)
  • When they were evacuated to New South Wales during the Second World War, Gordon lived with Millie and Nora in Mulgoa while his mother worked in Sydney. (p.23-28)
  • Millie later became the cook at St Francis House, and then worked as a hostel manager for Aboriginal girls at Millswood. (p.96) She was heavily involved in the Aborigines’ Progress Association, and protested again the unfair trial of Gordon’s uncle Max. (p.96)
  • Sister Dove: A missionary at Mulgoa, where Gordon was taken during the Second World War. (p. 23) Gordon remembers Sister Dove as a short, kindly woman, who shaved the children’s heads to de-louse them, and taught Sunday school. (p.23)
  • Reverend Percy Smith: an Anglican missionary who established St Francis House. Reverend Percy was dismayed with the conditions he saw in Aboriginal institutions while serving as a military chaplain in Alice Springs during the Second World War. Particularly, he was concerned with the claims of sexual harassment, the lack of education, and racism. (pp.38-40)
  • Father Smith subsequently established St Johns Hostel on the land attached to his rectory in Alice Springs. After the war he transferred many of the mixed-raced Aboriginal boys from the Hostel to St Francis House in Adelaide. (p.30) In 1945, Reverence Percy obtained Eileen Briscoe’s release from the alien camp in Balaklava, and received her permission to take Gordon to live at St Francis. (p.31)
  • In Gordon’s view, Reverend Percy was motivated by both religious and racial convictions. (p.31) He believes that his approach to Aboriginal welfare was well intentioned, but ultimately misguided. (p.32)
  • Reverend Percy was a father figure for Gordon in his early years at St Francis House. Gordon stayed with the Smith family over Christmas, when the other boys went home, because Eileen was working in Adelaide. (p.52) Reverend Percy also built a birdhouse with Gordon, and took him along when he did relief work at other parishes. (p.54, 51)
  • Reverend Percy was a keen cricket player, and taught all the boys at St Francis to play well. (p.50) He also had influential connections through the Freemasons, which he used to get the boys seats in the members’ stands at the South Australian Cricket Club. (p.50)
  • Gordon believes that Reverend Percy’s dream came undone when the numbers increased, and discipline disintegrated. (p.65) His family was unable to cope with the pressure of running St Francis House, and he resigned after the birth of his first child in 1949. (p.63) Reverend Percy’s departure filled Gordon with a strong sense of loss. (p.77)
  • Gordon reconnected with Reverend Percy in the 1980s, when the St Francis boys had a reunion to celebrate his 80th birthday. (p.120)
  • Mrs Smith: Reverend Percy’s wife helped care for the boys at St Francis House. (p.48) Gordon remembers Mrs Smith comforting him on his first night away from his mother. (p.48)
  • Charlie Perkins: Charlie was a prominent Aboriginal activist from Alice Springs who was also part of the first intake of boys at St Francis.
  • He was part of the group of tough, older boys known as the “big four” at St Francis. (p.77) Charlie had more sympathy for Gordon than the others because of their mutual interest in soccer. (p.77)
  • Charlie also travelled to England to play soccer. When he returned, he was the captain of Adelaide’s Croatia Club, signed Gordon to play for the team. (p.97)
  • After marrying Eileen Munchenberg, Charlie applied for a job with the Northern Territory administration. (p.98) Gordon believes that he was affronted when the Department only offered him a job as a mechanic.
  • Charlie later convinced Gordon to move to Sydney, where he was attending university and was involved in Aboriginal politics. Charlie led the Freedom Ride through rural New South Wales in 1965, and Gordon was part of the crew that welcomed him back to Sydney. (p.106)
  • While many people claimed Charlie was a Liberal supporter, Gordon believes his friend’s beliefs transcended party politics. (p.112)
  • Charlie went on to become the Assistant Secretary in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1972, he announced that he would be running in the Northern Territory elections for the Australia Party. Charlie was later forced to withdraw because of chronic kidney problems, and asked Gordon to run in his place. (p. 163)
  • John Palmer: Gordon’s older cousin, who was one of original boys at St Francis House. John protected Gordon from the older boys, and taught him how to box and play football. (p.48)
  • When John Palmer returned to the Northern Territory, the “big four” boys at St Francis bullied Gordon. (p.77)
  • Miss Murphy: an older woman, who owned two houses in Kensington Gardens: one that she lived in, the other that she lent to Reverend Percy for the St Francis House. (p.49) Gordon was allowed to stay with Miss Murphy on occasion because he was the youngest boy in the house.
  • Mr and Mrs Bath: A Christian family who were connected with Reverend Percy through the Anglican Church. Gordon often stayed with Mr and Mrs Bath when the Smiths were away.
  • Vince Copley: One of Gordon’s friends from St Francis House, who was originally from the Point Pearce Reserve. (p.55) Vince’s sister, Winnie, worked with Eileen at the Victor Harbour Repatriation Hospital and was a significant figure in Aboriginal politics in the 1960s. (p.55)
  • Sargy Jarvis: An officer who made friends with Reverend Percy in Alice Springs during the Second World War. (p.80) Sargy took the St Francis boys to see Don Bradman play at the South Australian Cricket Club. (p.81) He became friends with Gordon, and often took him from St Francis to watch the cricket or football. (p.81)
  • Reverend Taylor: an Anglican missionary who took over as superintendent at St Francis House after Reverence Percy left in 1949. (p.80) Gordon describes Reverend Taylor as an authoritarian who didn’t have the same empathy with Aboriginal people as his predecessor. (p.80)
  • Reverent Taylor never ate meals with the boys, and beat them for minor indiscretions. (p.81) They nicknamed him “Squizzy”, after the infamous Melbourne gangster. (p.80)
  • Reverend Goff Sherwin: an ex-Australian army commando, who was sent to take over as Superintendent at St Francis in 1952. (p.81) Reverend Goff Sherwin was known as “The General”, and like Reverend Taylor he was very strict. (p.81)
  • Mr and Mrs Morris Wilson: the supervisor at St Francis from 1953 to 1956. (p.83) Mr Morris was a personable man, who tried to improve the conditions at the House. He found it difficult, however, to cope with boys of working age. (p.83) On one occasion Mr Morris became angry and slapped Wally McArthur in the face, and from then on the St Francis boys showed him little respect. (p.83)
  • Wally McArthur: one of the older boys at St Francis, who grew up in Mulgoa. Wally was a champion runner and rugby league player, and the others at the House all admired him greatly. (p.83) He left the house after Mr Wilson slapped him in the face. (p.83)
  • John Moriarty: one of Gordon’s friends from St Francis. John also joined the Beograd soccer club in 1959, and they spent their weekends together at soccer club cabarets or dances in the hotel saloon bars.  (p.98)
  • Malcolm Bald: a tradesman and local scout leader who worked at St Francis. Malcolm was promoted to superintendent in 1956, despite the fact that a government inspector had recommended his dismissal. (p.85)
  • Malcolm later served two prison terms, and Gordon recognised in retrospect that he behaved in a predatory manor. (p.87)
  • Dennis and Bill Briscoe: Bill and Dennis both came to St Francis in 1952. (p.82)
  • Mrs and Mr McGee: Mrs McGee worked in the laundry at St Francis House. When Gordon left the House, she offered him board in the room on her back veranda. (p.91) Her husband, Bill McGee, worked on the wharfs and was a heavy drinker. (p.91)
  • Maxwell Stuart: Gordon’s uncle, who had been cared for by his mother at Bungalow. (p.93) In 1958, Max was charged with murdering a nine-year-old white girl on a beach at Ceduna. (p.93) His case attracted national attention, and the South Australian government appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the violent means that the police used to extract the evidence that led to his arrest. (p.93)
  • Beatrice and Ernie: Gordon’s parents-in-law, who had twelve children together in Hemel Hempstead, England. (p.99) Gordon lived with Beatrice and Ernie and their son John in Hemel, and was readily accepted by the family. (p.100) They were both sad to see Gordon, Norma and their grandson Aaron leave England to return to Australia. (p.100)
  • George McGrath: a colleague at the Canterbury Council, who tutored Gordon in reading, writing, spelling and clerical work. (p.105)
  • Jack Kendall: a friend of Gordon’s who had graduated in chemistry from the University of Sydney. (p.106) Jack helped Gordon to pass his High School Certificate and also leant him $200 to buy his house in Greenacre. (p.107)
  • Chicka Dixon: a waterside worker and reformed alcoholic, who was involved with the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs in the 1960s. (p.106)
  • Faith Bandler: a woman of South Sea Islander descent, who was on the executive of the FCAATSI in the 1960s. (p.112) Gordon met Faith through Charlie Perkins. He claims that there was tension between Faith and Charlie, because she was a strong Labor Party supporter. (p.112)
  • Gordon criticises Faith for trying to prevent Aboriginal people taking control FCAATSI in the 1970s. (p.122)
  • Gary Foley: an Aboriginal political activists original from Grafton. (p.131) Gordon met Gary at a conference on Aboriginal drug and alcohol in 1970, when he was working for the adult education employment program at the University of Sydney. (p.131) Gary encouraged him to return to Sydney and work for the Foundation of Aboriginal Affairs. (p.131)
  • Shirley Smith (Mum Shirl): An older Aboriginal women, who was involved in social services and activism in Redfern. Gordon met Mum Shirl in 1965 while working as a volunteer at the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs. (p.153) Gordon got to know Shirley while working for the Aboriginal Legal Service because they both provided support for Indigenous prisoners. (p.153)
  • Jim Thomas: Gordon’s pilot when he was travelling between Northern Territory communities, campaigning for the Australia Party.
  • Aileen and Malcolm Cooper (Coop): one of Gordon’s friends at St Francis House, who was originally from Alice Springs. Coop worked as an Aboriginal liaison officer at the Department of Social Security, and helped establish the Aborigines’ Progress Association with his wife Aileen. (p. 96, 173)
  • When Gordon was campaigning for the Australia Party in 1972, the Coopers invited him to celebrate the handing over of a cattle station to a Yungantjatjara group.(p.173) Aileen was related to the Yungantjatjara people, but they had not seen her since she was taken to the Oodnadatta orphanage in the late 1930s. (pp.173-174)
  • Len Smith: Gordon’s campaign manager when he ran in the 1972 Northern Territory elections. (p.174)
  • Fred Hollows: an ophthalmologist who was involved in the Aboriginal Medical Service. In 1975, Fred established the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program, and asked Gordon to the Assistant Director. (p.180-182)
  • Gordon became Fred’s close friend: he was best man when he married Gabi Hollows, and godfather to their daughter Rosa. (p.185) Gordon’s son Aaron lived with Fred and Gabi Hollows while studying for an Arts degree at the University of New South Wales. (p.196)
  • Trevor Buzzacott: a central Australian man of Arrernte and Adnyamathanha descent, who Gordon met when he worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Gordon hired Trevor as the Aboriginal liaison officer of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. (p.182)
  • Gloria Brennan: An Aboriginal public servant from Western Australia. Gloria helped Gordon to obtain a government scholarship to finish his liberal arts degree at the Australian National University. (p. 173)

Themes/ preoccupations:

  • Colonial history: Briscoe describes the devastating effect of colonisation of the Mardu people of the Northern Territory. He claims that the early colonists were predominately men, who opened telegraph stations, properties, small stores and railway stations. (p.3) While many of these men were married, they also fathered children with Aboriginal women, which they left with their mothers in the camps. (p.4) When these men began to bring their wives to live with them, from 1890 to 1914, the growing mixed race population was a source of major concern. (p.4)
  • Gordon describes the subsequent policies that led to his mixed-race mother being taken from her parents, and placed in institutions known as the ‘Bungalow’. (p.9)
  • Gordon also recalls the events surrounding the Coniston Massacre in 1928, when a group of white men murdered a large number of Aboriginal people in retribution for the death of a dingo trapper. Both sides of Gordon’s family were implicated in the Coniston Massacre: his Warlpiri relatives were victims, and his white grandfather was a perpetrator.
  • Racial discrimination: Gordon first experienced racism while living in St Francis House in Adelaide. He remembers that he and the other mixed-race boys were made to leave the training sheds, swimming pools and theatres early so as not to upset white people. (p.61) Gordon also recalls his mother being asked to leave Balfour’s Cake and Coffee Shop. (p.61)


  • Racial Folly was written by Gordon Briscoe.

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Briscoe, Gordon (1938–2023)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 June 2024.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012