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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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Banjo Clarke (1923–2000)

Wisdom Man, Banjo Clarke as told to Camilla Chance, Penguin Books, 2003, Sydney

NAME: Banjo Clarke

SEX: Male


BIRTH PLACE: Framlingham Mission, Victoria



  • Framlingham Mission: a ‘mission’ established in 1861 by the Anglican church, on what Banjo says is his ancestral land. (p.7) The Clarke family and one hundred others lived in bark huts at Framlingham surrounded by scrubland. (p.7)
  • Banjo moved to Melbourne at the age of eight. He enjoyed returning to Framlingham for brief stays during his youth. (p.54)
  • Banjo returned to live at Framlingham permanently in 1950s, when he married Audrey Couzens and raised a family. He promised his father not to leave the area, to ensure their ancestral lands would stay in Aboriginal hands. (p.230)
  • Even when his hut burnt down, Banjo did not consider leaving Framlingham. (p.22) With the support of his white friends, he petitioned the government and raised enough money to build a new house overlooking the river. (p.230)
  • Later in life, Banjo was involved in land rights battles over the Framlingham Forest. (p.240) He claims that other people from the community were trying to control the area, and preventing his family from enjoying it as they had in the past. (p.240)
  • Warrnambool: the nearest town to the Framlingham Mission. (p.12))
  • Melbourne: Banjo’s older sister Ettie moved to find work in Melbourne in the late 1920s, and lived with their aunt and uncle. (p.41) Their mother followed her when she was admitted to hospital with an eye injury. (p.42) During her visit she decided that Melbourne would be a better place to live during the Great Depression. (p.42)
  • Banjo’s family moved into their aunt and uncle’s terrace house in Fitzroy. (p.45) For the next few years he lived in Melbourne on and off. (p.45)
  • When he returned to Melbourne after a month in Framlingham, Banjo’s family had moved into a two-story house on Kerr Steer with a large backyard, where they accommodated Aboriginal visitors from across the country. (p.54)
  • Sylvan: When he was ten Banjo moved briefly from Melbourne to Sylvan, where his father was employed to build reservoirs. (p.77)
  • Tynong: Banjo travelled to Tynong with Johnny Green, and got a job working a sawmill for the Weatherheads. (p.99)
  • Cummeragunja Mission: an Aboriginal mission on the New South Wales side of the Murray River. (p.99) Banjo’s great-great-grandmother, Granny Briggs, moved to Cummeragunja from Coranderrk Station and his mother was born there.
  • In 1939, Banjo was visiting his relatives at Cummeragunja Mission when the residents staged a walk-off in protest against the missionaries. This is considered to be the first Aboriginal strike. (p.99)
  • Woolooga: Banjo spent six month working on a road at an army camp near Woolooga. (p.110)


  • n/a


  • Banjo had a limited formal education at the Framlingham mission, because he preferred to spend his time with the older generation. (p.13)
  • Instead of going to school, Banjo camped and worked alongside the older generation from Framlingham mission. (p.13) They imparted their knowledge of the tribe’s culture and history to Banjo. (p.15) Banjo didn’t know why he was chosen amongst the young men for this education. In retrospect, he believes that the Elders had the foresight to know that Banjo would be around for longer than his friends. (p.15)
  • When he moved to Melbourne Banjo continued to attend school sporadically. (p.49)
  • Banjo’s parents didn’t think formal education was valuable to Aboriginal people. (p.49)
  • Muriel Weatherhead later taught Banjo to read and write while he was working for her father in Tynong. (p.90)
  • Banjo gradually came to enjoy learning, and to cherish literacy. (p.91)


  • When Banjo was a small child he learnt to build bark huts and hunt with spear, wooden clubs and dogs to catch possums, rabbits and kangaroos. (p. 8,16) Banjo also learnt to create channels to trap fish. (p.24)
  • The food that Banjo and the other children caught supplemented the meagre rations provided by the missionaries. These supplies were particularly important during the week, when many adults spent their days cutting fence posts for local farmers. (p.20) Banjo attended school sporadically, preferring to hunt and work with the older generations. (p.13)
  • When the Clarke family moved to Melbourne, Banjo continued to contribute to the household income. (p.49) At the age of eight he got a job in a shoe factory. (p.49)
  • After leaving the factory Banjo worked as a cleaner for an older woman and worked in a shop. (p.49) He also collected bottles from alleyways and sold them for a penny each, helped men haul flour bags to the baker for a few shillings, and delivered firewood. (p.50)
  • When Banjo was about ten he started doing promotion work for a ballroom-dancing school in Melbourne city centre. (p.77) His job was to stand outside, wearing a uniform and cap and carrying a cane, and direct people towards the school. (p.77)
  • Banjo brought in a lot of customers, but quit the job when he left Melbourne for Sylvan. (p.77) In Sylvan Banjo built reservoirs with his father as part of temporary government work scheme. (p.77) His father returned to Melbourne when he found a permanent position, but Banjo preferred to travel and so left home at the age of twelve. (p.79)
  • Banjo travelled between jobs by sneaking onto the back carriages of trains. Sometimes these carriages were left at remote stations, and he and his companions had to walk great distances to the nearest towns, stopping in at farmhouses to request food. (pp.80-82)
  • After returning to Melbourne Banjo went onwards to Tynong, where he felled timber with his parent’s friend Jacky Green. (p.87) His employers, the Weatherheads, were wonderful people who treated everyone with respect. (p.90)
  •  When Banjo left Tynong he returned to Melbourne and starting boxing at a gym on Russell Street. (p.91)
  • When Banjo was fifteen he started travelling with Harry Jones boxing troupe. (p.92) Banjo boxed professionally under the name Harry Armstrong on and off for the next twenty-five years. (p.92)
  • When Banjo was nineteen and his friend Herb enlisted for the Australian army. (p.104) The officer in charge advised them to apply for the Allied Work Council instead, because he didn’t see the point in Aboriginal people fighting for a country that denied them citizenship. (p.104)
  • The Allied Work Council sent Banjo to a staging camp in Brisbane, and then to Eidsvold to work on Banana Road. (p.106)
  • On one occasion the overseer falsely accused Banjo and Herb of being loud and intoxicated in the middle of the night. (p.107) He threatened to fight them, but ran away when Banjo chased him with a kitchen knife. (p. 108)
  • After this incident Banjo was told he would be transferred to another camp in Woolooga. (p. 108) A union representative who knew that they had been wrongfully accused offered to strike in protest against the transfer, but Banjo decided he didn’t want to stay in Eidsvold. (p.108)
  • Banjo spent the next six months in Woolooga, making a road from Maryborough in Queensland. (p.110)
  • After being examined and found fit enough to work further north, Banjo was given two weeks holiday and then sent to a camp between Mount Isa and Camooweal. (p.117) He spent some months doing shift work to lay bitumen on the roads for American convoys. (p.118)
  • Banjo was then sent onwards to Darwin, to clean up after air raids. (p.119) In 1998 Banjo and Herb were belatedly awarded the World War II Civilian Service Medal for their work with the Allied Works Council. (p.129)
  • When Banjo returned to Fitzroy, he and Herb worked a range of jobs in the city: labouring on building sites, digging trenches and delivering briquettes from the railway yard. (p.126)
  • At the end of the war Banjo returned to Framlingham mission and married Audrey Couzens. (p.132) He made some money wood chopping near the mission, but often had to travel great distances to find work elsewhere. (p.133) Eventually he got a job crushing stones at Coleman’s quarry five miles from Framlingham. (p.137)
  • Banjo was imprisoned a number of times for drunkenness, and also because he took the blame for other people’s crimes. (p.164) While locked up he liked to work in the prison garden (p.164)
  • After some years at the quarry, Banjo was forced to go part time because he developed pneumonia from the dust. (p.157)
  • Eventually Coleman quarry paid Banjo compensation for his suffering. He used this money to buy the horse and wagon he had promised his son Ian before he died. (p.209)
  • As well as taking groups for barbeques in the bush, Banjo travelled around local schools and taught children about Aboriginal culture and the history of colonisation. (pp.188-189)
  • In addition Banjo made bush crafts and did some television acting, appearing on The Flying Doctors and Rush. (p.212)
  • Banjo helped organise the Songlines concert every year at Warrnambool since 1996, and opened the Tarerer concert and Port Fairy Folk Festival since 1995. (p.221) He also spoke at the opening of Tuuram Cairn at Deakin University. (p.221)


  • Banjo attended the Anglican church that stood on the banks of the Hopkins River while living at the Framlingham mission. (p.53)
  • As well as adopting aspects of the Christian faith, Banjo believes that he and the other Aboriginal people at Framlingham mission continued to live according to traditional religious principles. (p.225)
  • Primary among his Aboriginal religious views was a feeling of connectedness with the land. (p.242)
  • The Framlingham people also upheld the tradition of not speaking the name of deceased peoples. (p.10)
  • Banjo also believed that spirits send messages to guide Aboriginal people. He was often visited by the spirit of an old woman who looked like his mother.(pp.162-163)  Banjo passed this faith on to his children. (p.160)
  • Banjo worried that these principles and beliefs are not being passed on to the younger generation, who are suffering as a result. (p.226) During his land rights battles over Framlingham forest, Banjo came to doubt that these views were still held by younger Aboriginal people. (p.233-244)
  • In July 1975 Banjo spent time with a group of Baha’i people visiting the Framlingham Mission. (p.2)
  • The second time the Baha’i visited they gathered with the locals in the mission church and sang songs. (p.181)
  • Banjo joined the Baha’is in 1975 and stayed with the faith until his death. (p.181) He attended many conferences with Baha’is of different nationalities, and felt accepted by the inclusive international community. (p.181)


  • n/a


  • In 1886 the Government passed the Aborigines Protection Act. (p.37) According to Banjo, this drove mixed race Aboriginal people out of Framlingham mission and forced them to assimilate to white society. (p.39) While some of these people denied their Aboriginality and entered the mainstream, others camped in the scrub outside the mission. (p.39)
  • The Aborigines Protection Act also drove mixed race people from the Coranderrk Station, where Banjo’s maternal ancestors lived. (p.67) This halved the population and led to the closure of the local farm. (p.67)
  • In 1910 the Victorian Premier John Murray amended the Aborigines Protection Act, but no one informed the residents of Framlingham mission for a few years. (p.39)


  • When Banjo was a small child he was bitten on the throat by a ferret. (p.9) His father was going to take him to the doctors in Warrnambool, but decided it would be safer to treat Banjo himself. (p.9) He sewed up Banjo’s throat with a sowing needle and thread dipped in kerosene. (p.9)
  • As a child Banjo also suffered from weakness of the knees from rheumatism, which prevented him from going to school. (p.48)
  • Later in life Banjo developed chronic pneumonia from working in a basalt quarry for many years. (p.2)
  • Banjo also started drinking heavily while working at the Quarry, and it had a negative effect of his emotional and physical health. (p.158) He gave up alcohol for sixteen years, when he realised the negative effect his drinking was having on his children, but started again after his wife Audrey died. (p.179)
  • Banjo was able to overcome his alcoholism when he became a Baha’i in 1988. (P.216)


  • Mum: Banjo’s mother’s ancestors originally came from Bruny Island, off the South-East Coast of Tasmania. (p.58) She grew up on the Cummeragunja Mission before moving to Framlingham mission with her husband. Banjo’s parents raised four boys and five girls at Framlingham: Norman, Frank, Bert, Banjo, Alice, Amy, Ettie, Gladys and Ellen. (p.7)
  • Banjo’s mother advised the family to move to Melbourne during the Depression. (p.169) She visited her husband when he returned to Framlingham in the 1970s, but stayed in Melbourne for work. (p.169)
  • Banjo’s mother was almost one hundred when she passed away in 1985. (p.172)
  • Dad: Banjo’s father was a hard-working man. (p.29) Sometimes he would take Banjo with him when he went fence post cutting, and make his son a bed out of leaves. (p.28)
  • Sometimes Banjo’s father worked all day on an empty stomach, so as to leave the family's small supplies to his children. (p.29) Often he collapsed from exhaustion, and the children were sent to collect him with a homemade stretcher. (p.29)
  • Banjo’s dad often treated people’s wounds by stitching them up with a sewing needle dipped in kerosene. (p.9)
  • When Banjo was ten he moved from Melbourne to Sylvan to build reservoirs with his father as part of a government employment scheme. (p.77)
  • During the 1960s Banjo’s father returned to live in the Framlingham mission after thirty years in Melbourne. (p.169) Banjo received a message one day while working on the quarry that his father was in hospital, and was not expected to live. (p.170) On his deathbed Banjo’s father made his son promise he would never leave their tribal lands. (p.170)


  • Audrey Couzens: Audrey’s wife was only a baby when the Clarke family left Framlingham mission for Melbourne. (p.94) When Banjo returned some years later, he got a lift with Audrey and her brother Ozzie who were delivering cream from their dairy. (p.94)
  • Banjo fell in love with Audrey when he returned to Framlingham at the end of the War, and endeavoured to prove to her parents that he was a suitable husband. (p.132)
  • By the time they were married, two years later, Audrey was pregnant with their son Vernon. (p.133) They moved in with the Couzens until Banjo built their own home, and Audrey started working as a teacher’s assistant at the mission school. (p.141)
  • After the wedding Banjo was away for a long period of time working, and the couple missed each other dearly. (p.133) Eventually he found a job in a stone quarry near Framlingham, but he couldn’t do it permanently because the dust gave him pneumonia. (p.157)
  • Banjo started drinking heavily when he was alone, and he and Audrey started to fight. Eventually she left him, but they remained friends and Banjo continued to support the family. (p.157)
  • Banjo had a dream that foretold Audrey’s death in 1973. (p.172) Their youngest daughter was only nine at the time, and the family was mortified by the sudden loss. (p.175) Banjo had nightmares about Audrey’s death every night for the next three years, and was driven to start drinking again. (p.179)
  • Agnes: a young girl from the Gippsland, who Banjo met in Melbourne in 1942. (p.130) Agnes was alone when they met, and she and Banjo had a brief relationship before he left on a boxing tour. (p.130) When he returned to Melbourne Agnes was back in the Gippsland. (p.130)
  • Years later Banjo learnt that Agnes had had his daughter. (p.130)


  • Banjo learnt that he a child with Agnes only years after his daughter Helen was born. (p.130)
  • Banjo communicated with his daughter through a friend that worked in Gippsland. (p.130) After a few years he learnt that Helen had left the area and was travelling around the state with her aunt, picking beans. (p.131)
  • Helen’s foster family saw her as their own child, and constantly moved towns for fear that she would be taken from them by the authorities. (p.131) For the same reason she only attended school sporadically. (p.131) Constant life changes, and the absence of a father, took its toll on young Helen. (p.131)
  • In 1975 Banjo reconnected with Helen through his son Lenny, who was working in Bairnsdale. (p.183)
  • Banjo had his first child with wife Audrey soon after the war. (p.133) Their son, Vernon, died from a throat infection when he was only sixteen months old. (p.133) After Vernon came Patricia, Leonard, Ian, Elizabeth, whose twin sister died at birth, as well as Bernice, Karen, who only lived for six hours, and Fiona. (p.137)
  • Banjo continued to support his family financially after he split with Audrey.(p.158) He was drinking heavily at this time, but gave up for sixteen years when he realised it was having a negative effect on children. (p.158)
  • Their youngest daughter Fiona was just nine years old when Audrey died. (p.179) The children were traumatised by their mother’s death, but managed to overcome their loss and discrimination to complete post-school studies. (p.179)
  • Their older son Lenny went on to work with the Commonwealth Employment Service and as an advisor on Aboriginal matters to the chief commissioner of the police force. (p.179) Lenny was also an active campaigner for Aboriginal land rights, and travelled around the country meeting politicians and other decision makers. (p.198)
  • Patricia also worked at the Commonwealth Employment Service, and then at the Ministry of Conservation, and later enrolled in a teacher- training course. (p.179) After teaching in primary schools around Warrnambool, Patricia lectured in education at Deakin University and studied part-time for a Graduate Certificate in Natural and Cultural Heritage Interpretation. (p.180) Pat’s daughter Nancy died in a car crash in 1989. (p.202)
  • Bernice Clarke worked for more than twenty years as an Aboriginal liaison officer to hospitals. (p.180) This job involved travelling all over South-Western Victoria to liaise with Aboriginal clients. (p.180)
  • Ian worked for Social Security in Mildura, and was the Aboriginal cultural officer and Director for the Gunditjmara Aboriginal Co-operative. (p.180) On one night, when he had driven to the pub in Warrnambool to pick up his friends, Ian got in a fight with a man who had made a racist comment. (p.193) He felt deep guilt when his opponent hit his head on the concrete curb and died in hospital. (p.194) Ian pleaded not guilty to the charge of manslaughter and was acquitted. (p.195)
  • Ian also made the front cover of the Warrnambool Standard News by blocking the road near Framlingham mission used by trail bike drivers in a land rights protest. (p.197) Ian died of a heart attack when he was just thirty-nine, leaving behind his six children. (pp.205-208)
  • Elizabeth did family history research, and Fiona became a painter and textile designed. (p.180) Helen worked as a kindergarten assistant and then became an Aboriginal liaison officer at Bairnsdale Hospital, and Lee-Anne was the secretary of the Gunditjmara Co-operative and later at a law firm. (p.180)


  • Camilla Chance: Banjo met Camilla when she and other people of Baha’i faith visited the Framlingham Mission in the 1970s. (p.2) They became friends, and soon afterwards Camilla visited Banjo when he was in hospital with pneumonia. (p.2) He believes other patients and nurses were surprised by the sight of a respectable white woman visiting an Aboriginal man. (p.2)
  • Camilla asked the doctors to discharge Banjo so that she could care for him at her home. (p.4)
  • Banjo spent a lot of time looking after Camilla’s children, Ruth and David. (p.187) Banjo once carved David a snake from wood he collected from hedge trimmings. (p.187)
  • When David and Ruth grew up they remained in close contact with Banjo. (p.188)
  • Grandfather Frank: Banjo’s paternal grandfather was born to the Killitmurer Gunditj – or Framlingham – clan of the Kirrae Whurrong tribe. (p.34) Grandfather Frank had a big moustache and travelled around agricultural shows with his sons, watching and participating in athletic events. (p.34) His speciality sport was tossing the caber – a Scottish test of strength. (p.34)
  • Grandfather Frank built the first house in the Framlingham mission in the 1860s. (p.34) He also travelled the area as an assistant to missionary-manager, Daniel Clarke, and took his last name. (p.36)
  • Grandfather Frank didn’t like the ration system in place in the mission, and so applied to the government to grant him forty acres of farmland. (p.36) He and his wife Alice kept cows and sent the milk to the local dairy. (p.37)
  • Granny Bessie Rawlings: Banjo’s grandmother-in-law. (p.35) Granny Bessie was one of those who campaigned to get the Framlingham mission reopened after it was closed in 1867. (p.35)
  • Daniel Clarke: An Irish missionary with the Anglican Church who was the first manager of the Framlingham mission. Banjo’s grandfather Frank helped Daniel to establish the mission, and in recognition of his assistance the mission gave him his last name – Clarke. (p.3)
  • Billy Paul: a boy who lived near Banjo’s house in Fitzroy, who was his first white friend. (p.47) Billy’s father was an alcoholic and he later became a criminal. (p.47)
  • Bessie: The head of the group prostitutes who lived in Fitzroy. (p.51) Bessie used to send Banjo and his siblings on errands for a penny, and give them food. (p.52)
  • Only when he was older did Banjo understand the nature of Bessie’s employment. (p.52)
  •  Grandmother Alice: Banjo’s paternal grandmother. (p.53)
  • Truganini: Banjo believes that Truganini, known incorrectly as the last Tasmanian Aboriginal, was his maternal great-great grandmother. (p.57)
  • He retells the story of her life, which was told to his mother by Truganini’s daughter, Granny Briggs. According to Granny Briggs, Truganini was the daughter of Chief Mangana of Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania. Colonisers of the island killed Truganini’s mother, and kidnapped her father’s second wife. (pp.58-60)
  • When she was fifteen, Truganini was rowing home to Bruny Island when white men pushed her promised husband in the ocean to drown. (p.60)
  • When she gave birth to a daughter she hid the child and smuggled her from Bruny Island to Victoria. (p.60)
  • In spite of her bitter personal history, Truganini tried throughout her life to bring peace between black and white Tasmanians. (p.58)
  • Banjo’s father took him to see a replica of Queen Truganini’s skeleton in the Melbourne Museum when he was a child. (p.57)
  • Granny Louisa Briggs: Granny Truganini’s daughter Louisa was born on Bruny Island and smuggled to the Australian mainland as a baby. (p.60) While living with an Aboriginal family on the Victorian coast, Louisa was kidnapped by a white sealer, and taken to Preservation Island in the Bass Strait. (p.60)
  • On Preservation Island Louisa met and married John Briggs, the son of a white sealer and the Aboriginal wife he captured from Chief Lamanabungarrah, in 1844. (p.62)
  • By 1853, when John and Louisa moved to Coranderrk Aboriginal Station near Healesville, they had had ten children together. (p.66) Granny Briggs became a midwife and then the matron of the station, and acted as a representative for the residents. (p.66)
  • After the introduction of the Aborigines Protection Act, the Coranderrk Station declined and Granny Louisa moved to Cummeragunja Mission. (p.67)
  • Cyril Austin (Uncle Pompey): Banjo spent time with his friend Cyril, whose nickname was Uncle Pompey, whenever he visited the Framlingham mission. (p.83) He was a great singer and storyteller, who was especially loved by children. (p.84)
  • Cyril was the one who gave Banjo his name, because he was always making verses like the poet Banjo Patterson. (p.84)
  • The Weatherheads: Banjo’s employers in Tynong. Mr Weatherhead owned a timber mill, and treated all his employees as equals. (p.88) Banjo ate at the same table as the family and accompanied them to dances. (p.89) He became particularly close to Mr Weatherhead’s daughter Muriel, who taught him to read and write (p.88)
  • Muriel later became a teacher and writer, and remained friends with Banjo for the next sixty years. (p.91)
  • Helen Baillie: a retired nurse who assisted Aboriginal people living in Melbourne. (p.127) Miss Baillie took people into her home in South Yarra, drove them around, paid for their lawyers and took their children to hospital, and once travelled as a delegate to Canberra to advocate for Aboriginal people. (pp.127-128) If she ever ran out of money, Miss Baillie would take to her room, and her Aboriginal friends knew not to bother her. (p.128)
  • In the 1930s Miss Baillie started the Aboriginal Fellowship Group, which travelled to missions around the country. (p.129) In the 1940s she joined with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders to form the Aborigines Advancement League. (p.129)
  • Bella Couzen: Banjo’s mother in law. (p.137) Audrey’s parents were initially hesitant to let their daughter marry Banjo, but after the wedding Bella became a great supporter of his. (p.137)
  • Archie Roach: Banjo’s nephew. (p.142) Archie was taken away from his family when he was a baby because the authorities presumed he was neglected. (p.142)
  • Archie grew up in foster homes, and didn’t learn about his mother until she had died. (p.143)
  • Archie later became a great musician, but never felt at home in the Aboriginal community. (p.143)
  • Bert Clarke: Banjo’s youngest brother, who got the nickname Gunboat because he had the mannerisms of the African-American fighter, Gunboat Jack. (p.169) Bert fell ill and lived with their father while he was dying. (p.169) He tried to give Banjo his earnings, but his brother refused. (p.170)
  • Frank Clarke: Banjo’s brother Frank was also a boxer. (p.172) Banjo took up boxing because he used to spend time with him at the gym in Melbourne, before Frank left for Queensland with a boxing troupe. (p.92) Frank settled in Queensland and had a family with a local Aboriginal girl. (p.172)
  • Lenny Lovett: Banjo’s friend, who was the caretaker of sacred paintings in the Grampians. (p.203) Banjo attended the World Indigenous People’s Conference in Darwin with Lenny, where he died in the taxi on the way to the casino. (p.203)


  • Racial discrimination: Banjo recounts his own experiences of racism, and the ways that he handled this discrimination. From an early age, the older generation at Framlingham taught Banjo not to harbour grudges. (p.13)
  • Because of these early life lessons, Banjo never became angry with racist people. (p.14) He recalls that, when the patrons of pubs laughed at him if he entered looking for work, he left immediately without responding. (p.1)
  • After these incidents, the police often followed Banjo out of town and questioned him. (p.1)
  • When Banjo was working with the army near in Woolooga he was refused service at the local pub on his day off. (p.111) The publican later apologised and explained that he thought that Banjo was from the nearby Murgon Mission, where alcohol was prohibited. (p.111) When he learnt that Banjo was from Victoria, the Woolooga publican offered him service and friendship. (p.111)
  • Later, when Banjo was at a local dance with the publican and his wife, an American serviceman accosted him for no reason. (p.111) Banjo’s local friends encouraged him to defend himself, and cheered him on when he fought and beat the American. (p. 113)
  • Experiences such as these lead Banjo to believe that white Australians were not all unquestioningly racist towards Aboriginal people. (p.113)
  • While he was living with Framlingham mission, Banjo was often arrested for getting drunk with his workmates. (p.138)
  • Banjo’s perception of white Australians changed after he met Camilla Chance and the other Baha’i people. (p.2) They told Banjo that he was special because he was an Aboriginal Australian: a people with a beautiful culture. (p.3)
  • Mission Life: Banjo describes the conditions at the Framlingham Church of England mission. His family and the other one hundred residents lived in bark huts surrounding by forest. (p.7) Banjo’s Grandfather Frank helped missionary Daniel Clarke to establish Framlingham, and built the first hut back in 1860. (p.35)
  • While the Framlingham administration was relatively liberal, the staff still forbade the residents from speaking their native tongue and addressing each other by tribal names. (p.35)
  • The state government took control of the Framlingham mission in 1867, when it fell into financial difficulties. (p.35) They closed the mission and encouraged the residents to move to Lake Tyers. Those who refused were threatened and denied food. (p.35)
  • Banjo’s Grandmother in law, Bessie Rawlings, was amongst those who campaigned to have the Framlingham mission reopened in 1869. (p.36) The new administration established a ration system: granting flour, sugar and tea to Aboriginal people, and forbidding them from working. (p.36)
  • Hunting still played an important role in life at Framlingham during Banjo’s lifetime. The children spent their mornings hunting with spears, waddies and dogs. (p.16). Their spears where made of ti-tree wood, which the older people split and hardened in the fire. (p.20) According to tribal customs, the children would always kill kangaroos quickly and painlessly, and would throw back small fish so that they could grow and reproduce. (p.20)
  • At lunch they would generally cook what they had caught, usually fish, possums, rabbits or kangaroos, in a coal pit with potatoes. (p.18) The children often stole these potatoes and fruit from neighbouring farms. (p.19) In the evening they would return to the mission, and swap anything they had leftover with other children. (p.19)
  • During the week most of the adults at Framlingham cut firewood. On the weekends they joined the children, and sometimes took them on expeditions to Wangoom Lake to find swan and duck eggs. (p.20)
  • On special occasions the young men would light a bonfire and people would congregate for a sing-along. (p.23) There was also singing at the mission church every Wednesday night. (p.23)
  • Social Change: Banjo had important connection with the older generation at Framlingham mission. They nursed him when he was a baby, and as he grew older they taught him a great deal. (p.10)
  • Banjo believes that many of the older generation’s principles and stories have not been passed onto today’s youth. (p.13) Instead of sharing everything, he believes young Aboriginal people tend to be greedy and individualistic. (p.233)
  • Banjo also says Aboriginal leaders are blaming white Australians for their problems, and creating conflicts and power struggles within their groups. (p.233) Aboriginal people have become suspicious of one another, and have attempted to take each other’s land. (p.234)
  • Some of these issues became apparent to Banjo when he was embroiled in disputes over the use of Framlingham forest. He established a committee to try and resolve the conflict and bring reconciliation within the Aboriginal community. (p.236) But on one occasion, when his family were attending a funeral, their opponents duped Banjo into endorsing the exclusion of the Clarke family from the committee to manage the forest. (p.237)
  • Soon afterwards the committee prohibited Banjo from travelling by four-wheel drive to the Framlingham forest and collecting firewood. (p.238)
  • Colonial history: Banjo tells of his own family's destructive encounters with colonists. According to his Grandfather Frank, a local pastoralist poisoned members of his tribe by offering them porridge laced with strychnine. (pp.31-32)
  • Banjo also tells the story of his mother’s ancestors, who lived on the Bruny Island of the Coast of Tasmania. (p.58) According to his mother, white men approached his great-great-great-grandfather, Chief Mangana, and slaughtered his wife.(p.58) Following tribal custom he took another wife, but she was taken by convicts who had mutinied aboard the Cyprus. (p.59) Despite this, his daughter Truganini became a great advocate of racial reconciliation. (p.58)


  • Wisdom Man was transcribed and edited by Camilla Chance.


Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Citation details

'Clarke, Banjo (1923–2000)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 May 2024.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Armstrong, Harry

23 October, 1923
Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia


13 March, 2000 (aged 76)
Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
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