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Charlie McAdam (1935–?)

PUBLICATION: Boundary Lines, Charlie McAdam and Family, as told to Elizabeth Tregenza, McPhee Gribble Publishers, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, 1995

SEX: Male

BIRTH DATE: Around 1935 or 1936 (exact date unknown)

BIRTHPLACE: Springvale Station



  • Springvale Station: Charlie was born at Springvale Station: a property owned by his biological father, Jimmy McAdam. (p.6) He lived at a camp with his mother and stepfather, under a carbeen tree. (p.6)
  • Charlie enjoyed living at Springvale station, where he had plenty of time to play with his friends and go travelling with his family. (p.7)
  • Charlie returned to Springvale in 1952 after he was kicked out of the Beagle Bay Mission. By this stage, Jimmy McAdam had sold the property to Tom Quilty. (p.95)
  • Wyndham: Jimmy McAdam took Charlie to Wyndham on one of his droving trips. (p.22) While in Wyndham, Charlie saw his first picture show: ‘Tarzan’. (p.22)
  • Moola Bulla: Moola Bulla was WA Government-owned station where Charlie and other mixed-raced children from the district were taken. (p.59)
  • Beagle Bay: Beagle Bay was an Aboriginal Mission established by the Pallotine Pious Society to the North of Broome in 1901. In 1947, Charlie and the thirty other mixed-race children at Moola Bulla were all put on a truck and taken to Beagle Bay.
  • Elliott: Charlie spent one month with his father in Elliott after droving with David Skeen. (p.125)
  • Alice Springs and Mount Isa: During the wet season, when the droving stopped, Charlie earned money boxing and rodeo riding in Alice Spring and Mount Isa. (p.133) He later moved to Alice Springs permanently with his family. (p.155)
  • Mt Dare: Charlie worked at Mt Dare breaking in horses. (p.144)
  • Lake Nash: After resigning from Mt Dare, and meeting his wife Valerie, Charlie moved to Lake Nash to break in horses. (p.148)

Less significant localities:

  • Townsville, Sydney and Melbourne: cities that Charlie travelled to for boxing matches, and to visit his sons. (p.134)


  • n/a


  • Charlie did not attend school at Springvale Station. His father, Jimmy McAdam, later claimed that he was going to send him to school in Perth: but he was taken to Moola Bulla by Native Welfare Department. (p.23)
  • According to Frank Byrne, there was a dormitory for children at Moola Bulla but no school. (p.60)
  • Charlie attended school for the first time at Beagle Bay Mission.  He recalls that he and the other mixed-race children from Moola Bulla were given uniforms; taught to read by nuns; and allowed to play lots of sport. (p.83) Charlie remembers enjoying school, because he had a “good time with the kids.” (p.83)


  • When Charlie was kicked off the Beagle Bay Mission in 1952 (when he was 15 years old) for visiting the girls’ dormitory, he got a lift to Broome and started working on a Cargo boat. He was paid 3 pounds 10 a week to take water and food out of the pearling luggers. (p.95)
  • Charlie eventually got a lift back to Springvale, and started working as a stockman for the new owner, Tom Quilty. During the dry season, he mustered cattle. (p.106) Tom also sent his stockmen “poddy-dodging” – or stealing the neighbour’s cattle – but they weren’t aware, at the time, that they were mustering others’ cattle. (p.108)
  • After they returned from mustering, Charlie and the other stockmen were given just a few days break before they had to return to Springvale. (p.106) He then began working “daylight to dark” on the station: cleaning and repairing stockyards; branding cattle; making saddles and rope; and shoeing horses. (p.100)
  • Charlie was paid five pounds a week. (p.106) He and the other stockman were never allowed sick leave: “If you got sick you were only pretending, keeping away from work.” (p.105)
  • Tom Quilty threatened to beat Charlie, and often called him a “black bastard” (p.111) This treatment eventually led him to resign. (p.112)
  • Charlie got offered a job working for Darkie Green: “old half-afghan feller” who mustered cattle from stations to the meatworks in Wyndham. (p.113) Tom was angry that Charlie was leaving Springvale Station; and so refused to give Darkie any work in the future. (p.114)
  • When Darkie ran out of work, Charlie got another job droving cattle to the Northern Territory with David Skeen. (p.123) The trip took around four months, and – although it was very hot and dry – things went smoothly. (p.123)
  • When they arrived in the Northern Territory, things became more difficult for Charlie. David Skeen and some of the white drovers “got on the rum”, and left Charlie and two other Aboriginal stockman to look after the cattle. (p.124)
  • When they had finished the droving in Elliot, David paid Charlie with a cheque that bounced when he tried to cash it. With the help of his father, Charlie took the matter to the police, and they impounded David Skeen’s horses and packsaddle until the cheque cleared. (p.129)
  • After staying with his father in Elliot for a month, Charlie continued droving “here and there and everywhere.” (p.133) During the wet season, when there was no droving work, he went to Alice Springs or Mount Isa and made money as a boxer. (p.133)
  • According to Charlie, boxing was the favorite sport of Aboriginal people at that time. He claims that many Aboriginal men who couldn’t find work in other areas would pursue a career in boxing. (p.134)
  • Charlie didn’t enjoy violence, and avoided fighting outside of the boxing ring. (p.136) For this reason, he used pseudonyms while fighting, and he never told his family or friends that he had taken up boxing. (p.134)
  • Charlie was quite successful in the ring, and travelled to Mt Isa, Townsville, Sydney and Melbourne for fights. (p.134) He never made significant earnings, however, because white manager took a large percentage of his profits. (p.134)
  • Charlie was praised by many of his trainers, was told that he could make it as a professional. (p.136) Nonetheless, he decided that the risks of sport – including brain damage – were not worth the meager income, and he gave up boxing. (p.136)
  • At the same time, Charlie also made money as a roughrider at the rodeos. (p.136)
  • After a few years of droving, boxing and rodeo riding, Jimmy McAdam got Charlie a position at Alcoota Station. (p.141) The station manager was a mixed-raced man named Bill Turner. Charlie describes Bill as a great boss, who understood his Aboriginal workers and treated them with respect. (p.141)
  • After working for a year at Alcoota, Charlie applied for a job as a horse breaker at Mt Dare, near the Northern Territory, on the south Australian side.  He impressed the manager, Ted Low, by breaking in four purebred Arab stallions in three weeks. (p.142) Ted then employed Charlie to break in thirty more horses, and then as stockman. (p.144)
  • Charlie left Mt Dare after witnessing the Ted Low’s son treating horses inhumanely. Because he didn’t want to waste bullets, Rex Low disposed of the wild brumbies on Mt Dare by running them through stockyards full of sharp, low-lying string. The brumbies had their stomachs ripped open and died slowly. (p.145)
  • After he met Valerie in Alice Springs, Charlie got a job as a horse-breaker in Lake Nash. (p.147) The manager, Gordon Jago, was very impressed with Charlie’s work and gave him a job at the head stockman. (p.147) This put him in charge of the Aboriginal stockmen from the Alyawarre clan. Charlie had difficulties working with many of these men. In retrospect, he admits that he thought himself better than them because he had European ancestry. (p.151)
  • One of Charlie’s disputes with an Alyawarre stockman broke out in violence, and he threatened them with a shotgun. (p.152) After this, the Alyawarre people refused to work for Charlie, because they thought he was a “cheeky yellerfeller”. (p.153)
  • Charlie received a warning from the management about his performance. He eventually managed to get a good team and stayed in the position for two or three years, and received about two to four hundred pounds bonus per year. (p.154)
  • As there was no accommodation for married men at Lake Nash, Charlie had to build a camp for Valerie and their two children. (p.148) He later decided the conditions were not good enough, and sent his family back to Alice Springs. (p.148)
  • Charlie enjoyed his life at Lake Nash, but soon decided it was time to join his family in Alice Springs. (p.155) His first job when he returned to Alice Springs was working as a sanitary truck driver. Charlie didn’t like this dirty work, and resigned after a week or two. (p.156) He then got a job working for the Department of Works on bore maintenance. In this role, Charlie travelled throughout Western Australian, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
  • After a couple of years with the Department of Works, Charlie got “itchy feet” and started droving again. (p.159) He got another position as head stockman, working for a man named Dick Smith. (p.159) After that, he got a position breaking in horses at a sheep station called The Grove for ten days, and got paid 40 pounds. (p.160)
  • Charlie then got a job as a truck driver and crush operator for South Australian Industries. (p.160) His next job was working for the Alice Springs Town Council as a truck driver in a bitumen gang. (p.161)
  • In 1973, Charlie was offered a position as a field officer at the recently established Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALS). His role was to assist Aboriginal people who had been charged with a crime. (p.161) This work made Charlie aware of the difficulties Aboriginal people had comprehending the “white man’s law”, and led him to reflect on his own family’s experience. (p.162)
  • Charlie, along with rest of his team, were later accused of syphoning funds from CAALS. (p.164) He was fired, and then asked to reapply. Even though he enjoyed his work at CAALS, Charlie refused to reapply for his position out of principle. (p.164)
  • Charlie then got a job working at McMahon Constructions. He didn’t get along well with his colleagues, and so resigned and got a job at Ord River Station. (p.173)
  • Charlie returned to Alice Springs because Val was sick with gallstones, and their marriage was breaking down. (p.174) Their relationship did not improve while he was in Alice Springs, and so he took a position at the Institute of Aboriginal Development: helping the Pitjantjatjara people to cull their cattle herds of TB and brucellosis. (p.174)
  • When Charlie returned to Alice Spring, he was forced to work as a taxi driver. (p.174) When he split with his wife Val, he got a job working as a field officer for the Central Land Council. (p.224) After three years with the Land Council, he began working as a stockman again at Tanami Downs. (p.224)
  • Charlie retired after breaking his arm in a horse accident while working at Tanami Downs; while being treated in Adelaide hospital, he had a heart attack. (p.224)


  • The WA Native Welfare Department: Charlie described being removed from his mother by the WA Native Welfare Department in 1943. (p.55)
  • Royal Flying Doctor: evacuated Charlie after a horse accident at Tanami Downs in 1992. (p.224)
  • CAALAS and Central Land Council: which employed Charlie in the 1980s.


  • Tregenza described the effects of the 1905 Aboriginal Act, which provided the framework for the Government’s relations with Aboriginal people in Western Australia up until after the Second World War. (p.35) She points out that the Act gave the Chief Protectors of Aboriginal people the power to remove Aboriginal people from towns, and to place them in reserves. It became an offense for a non-Aboriginal man to enter an Aboriginal reserve; live with Aboriginal people; or marry an Aboriginal woman. (p.53)
  • Tregenza also recalls that the Act made the Protector of Aborigines the Guardian of all “illegitimate” Aboriginal children. (p.53) The Native Administration Act of 1936 extended this legislation, by making the State guardians of all Aboriginal children. (p.54) The policy of “protection” was also replaced by biological and cultural “assimilation”.  It was this legislation that enabled the Native Welfare Department to take Charlie from his mother in 1943. (p.55)
  • Tregenza also describes WA’s 1944 Native Citizenship Act, which gave the Western Australian Courts the ability to award Aboriginal people citizenship at their discretion. Charlie never applied for citizenship, and so when he went to the Derby Hospital with suspected appendicitis he was placed in the segregated Native Hospital. (p.106)
  • Charlie notes that, when he was young, Aboriginal people were prohibited from drinking. Personally, he never broke this law, and didn’t drink until his mid-thirties. (p.117)


  • Charlie almost cut his toe off when he trod on a glass bottle while trying to chase a goat out of the Beagle Bay mission garden. (p.87) He was taken to hospital, but the wound still got infected. After two weeks, he couldn’t walk or eat. (p.87)
  • While he was working as a stockman at Springvale Station, Charlie was horned in the side by a Friesian cow. (p.105)
  • Charlie was also flown to Derby hospital with suspected appendicitis while at Springvale. He claims that the doctor at Derby was more concerned about whether or not he had citizenship rights than what was wrong with him. (p.106)
  • They eventually placed him in the Native Hospital, but they still couldn’t diagnose his illness. (p.106)
  • When he was working for Darkie Green, Charlie rolled his horse into a creek and broke his arm. There was no medical treatment available, and so one of the drovers used bark and a blanket to make a sling. (p.114)
  • When he was working at Tanami Downs in 1992, Charlie had another accident on a horse and broke his knee and wrist. He fell unconscious; was evacuated by the Royal Flying Doctor; and awoke in hospital in Alice Springs. (p.224) He continued to have problems with his arm when he returned to the station, and so was recommended to an orthopaedic surgeon in Adelaide. (p.224) While in Adelaide Charlie suffered a heart attack, and had to give up work. (p.224)


  • Jimmy McAdam: Jimmy was a Scottish man who did the (bullock team) mail run between Birdum and Tennant Creek and hawked goods along the route. (p.4) Jimmy later bought the Commercial pub in Katherine, and then the Six Mile Hotel in Wyndham, before buying the Sringvale Station lease in 1931. (p.4)
  • Jimmy was married to a woman name Clara, who ran the Six Mile Hotel. Regardless, Jimmy took many Aboriginal mistresses, including Charlie’s mother Burrel. (p.5) Charlie believes his father exploited Aboriginal women for labour as well as sex. (p.5)
  • Charlie describes his father as a very violent man. When he was an adult, Charlie’s sister told him that Jimmy had tried to kill him as a baby. (p.3)
  • When Charlie was a child, Jimmy caught him killing a rooster. As punishment, he forced him to eat the entire rooster. (p.15)
  • When he was older, Jimmy took Charlie droving with him. (p.19) He witnessed his father’s harsh treatment of the Aboriginal people. Charlie recalls one time when Jimmy caught some Aboriginal men eating a bullock, because they were hungry, and he made them run in front of the truck for four miles. (p.20) When they gave up running, he tied them to the side of the truck and dragged them home. He then whipped them, and called the Aboriginal trackers, who took the men away in chains. (p.20)
  • Charlie also recalls that his father tried to kill an Aboriginal man named Arthur, who was “muckin’ around” with the same woman as him. (p.21) Arthur got word of the threat, and escaped, but was later killed by a man named McNamara “for the same reason”. (p.21)
  • Jimmy was not only violent towards Aboriginal people. When he discovered that his wife was having extra-marital affairs, he beat her as well as her partner. (p.22)
  • By the time Charlie had returned from Moola Bulla and Beagle Bay Mission, his father had sold Springvale Station to Tom Quilty and bought a bottle shop in Elliott. When Charlie was droving in the area, Jimmy sent a message through his boss David Skeen that he wanted to meet up with him.
  • While they were staying together, Jimmy told Charlie that he had planned to send him to school in Perth, before he was removed by Native Welfare Department. (p.23) Jimmy also claimed that he shouldn’t have sold Springvale Station, and should have left it for his children: including Charlie. (p.25)
  • Burrel: Charlie’s mother was a Kija woman, who worked as a cook for Jimmy McAdam at the Springvale station. (p.4) Burrell was a “tall, good-looking woman”: who had a relationship with Jimmy from a young age. (p.5)
  • When she gave birth to Charlie, Burrel was forced to run away from Springvale station, because Jimmy threatened to kill her child. (p.3) They returned after some months, and Charlie lived with his mother and his stepfather Warragunye in the Kaji camp. (p.7)
  • Charlie was taken away from Burrel in 1943. He never understood why he was taken away, and missed his mother dearly while he was at Moola Bulla. (p.59)
  • When Charlie returned to Springvale Station, he reunited with his mother and her family. (p.98)
  • Burrel died in the 1980s, and was buried at Halls Creek. (p.221)
  • Warragunye, Burrel’s husband and stepfather to Charlie. He taught Charlie many traditional skills needed for living off the country and prepared him for his initiation ceremony (pp.9-13). Warrangunye helped Burrel to hide Charlie from Jimmy McAdam, who wanted to kill him at birth. (p.4) He and his brother Yunguntji used to take Charlie for trips around the Kija country to go fishing. (p.4)
  • Warrangunye prepared Charlie for initiation (which later took place at Moola Bulla). Warrangunye tied two turtles to Charlie’s waist and let them scratch him. (p.11)


  • Charlie’s first sexual experience was at the Beagle Bay mission, with a young Irish Nun. (p.95) He points out that the nuns were not much older than the residents, and he was free to fraternize with them when the older nuns went away on retreat. (p.95)
  • After that time, Charlie’s used to sneak into the girls’ dormitory, by slipping under the paper bark roof. When he was caught doing this, he was expelled from the mission. (p.95)
  • While camping near the Six Mile Hotel, Charlie “got very friendly” with a white woman named Shirley. Because of his skin colour, he couldn’t go to the parties with her, so they sat outside the hotel together.  (p.116) When Charlie and Shirley were spotted together, she was asked how she “got mixed up with a nigger like that?” Fortunately, Shirley was immune to these racial slurs. (p.117)
  • Valerie Stokes: Charlie met Valerie in Alice Springs, when he was staying with her neighbors. (p.145) She was of Samoan and Aboriginal descent, and, like Charlie, was taken away from the Arrernte people at Yamba Station and sent to Adelaide. Val was also an excellent sportsman, and played hockey at state level. (p.157) Charlie thought she was very attractive, and they began dating soon after. (p.145)
  • Val and Charlie were together for twenty-eight years and had eight children. Charlie admired her for her attractiveness, as well as her kind and abstemious nature. (p.145) He describes her as an excellent mother and housekeeper. (p.145)
  • Charlie’s relationship with Val soured in the mid 1970s. He went away to Ord River Station while she was sick with gallstones. She wrote him saying if he stayed in Ord River, he needn’t bother coming back. (p.173) Charlie returned to Alice Springs, but their relationship did not improve. (p.174)
  • Val and Charlie separated in 1987, when she announced she was moving to Adelaide. (p.177)
  • Charlie regretted the breakdown of his marriage. However, after 18 months of not communicating, he and Val became friends again. Charlie continued to visit Val in Adelaide. (p.178)


  • Charlie had eight grown children with his wife Valerie: Margaret, born 1958; Greg, born 1961; Pamela, born 1965; Elizabeth, born 1966; Gilbert, born 1967; Michelle, born 1969; Adrian, born 1972 and Ian, born 1973. (p.147) He also had two sons who passed away: Graham, who died of pneumonia as a baby, and Elliot, who ran out in front of the school bus and was hit by a car. (p.156) Charlie was deeply disturbed by Elliot’s accident. (p.156)
  • Charlie and Valerie were very strict parents. Unlike many other Aboriginal children in Alice Springs, their children had set chores and a curfew. (p. 166) Both parents encouraged their children to play sport in an effort to “keep them out of trouble.” (p.157) Valerie took the girls to hockey and other sports, and Charlie focused on the boy’s cricket and football games. All of the McAdam children excelled at sport from a young age.
  • Charlie was away from home about fifty percent of the time, and Val had to raise the children on her own. She also adopted her cousin’s grandchild, Ian, who was left in a caravan in their backyard after his mother started drinking. (p.165)
  • When Charlie was in town, he used to coach cricket and take his children to the bush surrounding Alice Springs on hunting trips. (p.11) Hunting was not only an enjoyable family activity: it also supplemented their diet. (p.168) During their trips, they also collected a number of pets, including an eagle, a joey, a calf and a pig. (p.169)
  • Their oldest son Greg was selected to play in the All Australian football side in the 1970s. Val and Charlie were pleasantly surprised by their eldest son’s achievement. After this, all the McAdam children represented the Northern Territory in their chosen sport, and most played for the All Australian team. (p.172)
  • While living in Adelaide with his uncle Elliot McAdam, Greg started playing Australian Rules football for the North Adelaide side, and then for the South Australian side. (p.181) Greg was selected to play for the St Kilda football league in Melbourne in 1985. (p.183)
  • Charlie’s second son, Gilbert McAdam, was picked for the South Australian Under 16 side, and later also played for South Australia. (p.184) In 1989, Gilbert was the first Aboriginal player to win the Magarey Medal for the best and fairest player in the South Australian league. (p.185) Weeks later, Gilbert was selected to play for St Kilda in Melbourne, alongside his brother Greg. (p.186)
  • Charlie and Val’s third son also excelled at football, and at the age of sixteen he played for North Adelaide in the Escort Cup. (p.186) He was later selected for the North Melbourne team, and moved to Melbourne like his brothers Greg and Gilbert. (p.188)


  • Bert Dwyer: One of the cooks at Springvale Station, who used to give the kids cordial and homemade foods. One day, after they had been stealing from his vegetable patch, Bert gave the children at the station a mixture of cod-liver oil, Epsom salts and vinegar, disguised as cordial. It made them sick, and when their parents found out, they “almost killed the poor old fella”. (p.19)
  • Bruno Smith:  Bruno was Charlie’s half brother, who was also the son of Jimmy McAdam. Bruno treated Charlie as his brother, and organized his initiation at Moola Bulla. (p.62)
  • Frank Byrne: Like Charlie, Frank was taken from his family to Moola Bulla, and then to Beagle Bay mission. They were close friends, but lost contact when they both left Beagle Bay. Charlie and Frank reconnected when they both got jobs at Alcoota Station. Like Charlie, Frank enjoyed life as a drover on Alcoota Station, and he stayed on to become head stockman. (p.141)
  • Alf George: The station manager at Moola Bulla. Alf George was a very tough man, and he beat Charlie when he ran away from Moola Bulla. (p.62) After leaving Moola Bulla, Charlie heard that Alf George bought a banana plantation in Carnarvon, but it was destroyed by a cyclone. (p.68)
  • Darkie Green: Charlie describes Darkie as an “old half-afghan feller”, who did the mustering from Springvale station to the meatworks in Wyndham. (p.113) He gave Charlie a job when he decided to leave Springvale. (p.114)
  • Bill Turner: the manager of Alcoota Station, where Charlie’s father got him a job when he was in his mid-twenties. Charlie describes Bill as a “part-Aboriginal bloke and a great man”. (p.141) He was frequently invited to dinner at the managers’ house with Bill and his wife Peggy, who was also a “wonderful woman”. (p.141)
  • Elliot McAdam: Elliot was Charlie’s half brother, who was also the son of Jimmy McAdam. Elliot was a leading member of Aboriginal health movement in Adelaide, and also a keen follower for Australian Rules Football. When Charlie’s eldest son Greg was selected for the All Australian team, he lived with Elliot in Adelaide. (p.181)


  • Kija traditions: Charlie was born at Springvale Station, and spent his early life with his mother’s family: the Kija people.
  • Charlie recalls that Warragunye taught him how to make spears. (p.9) He also took Charlie hunting and gathering during the wet season, when there was no stock work. (p.7)
  • Despite being removed from Springvale Station at an early age, many Kija traditions stayed with Charlie throughout his wife. He taught his own children to hunt, and claims that he was the “only blackfeller who had a hole in the backyard for cooking kangaroos.” (p.11)
  • Charlie also describes the traditional Kija marriage system. He explains that it was inappropriate for his sister to run away with a man named Clifton from Bedford Downs, because he was of the wrong skin group. (p.13) This violation of the marriage system led to a violent conflict, for which the Kija has a special type of spear called a nguni. (p.13) Charlie’s family travelled to Bedford Downs to confront Clifton’s family. (p.13)
  • Charlie also describes how, after Clifton had conceded defeat, by turning his back, his stepfather beat him with a nulla nulla and then they put their arms around each other as a symbol of forgiveness. (p.13)
  • Charlie also describes how – according to Kija tradition - he had an “avoidance relationship” with their sister Doris. This meant that they wouldn’t engage in direct communication. (p.16)
  • There were a large number of Kija people living on Moola Bulla property and it was there that Charlie was initiated. (p.16) While living at the station, mixed-raced children were forbidden from fraternizing with these groups. (p.63) Nonetheless, they went hunting with the Kija at Moola Bulla station most weekends. (p.63) Included in this group was Charlie’s half brother, Bruno Smith, who organized for Charlie to be initiated at Moola Bulla. (p.64)
  • Elizabeth Tregenza supplements Charlie’s experience of Kija culture with a more ethno-historical account. She points out that, in pre-colonial times, the Kija people lived in the East Kimberleys, which formed a “natural barrier to invasion” and therefore protected their traditional norms and practices. (p.29) She explains that they lived in particular campsites, and moved according to seasons and certain ceremonies. (p.28)
  • Tregenza also explains the Aboriginal notion of the Dreamtime. She claims that, rather than being a “separate prehistory”, the Dreamtime refers to a period of an “interconnected and constant” present. (p.28)

Early Contact History

  • Tregenza describes the eventual colonization of the Kimberleys in the late 19th century: first by pastoralists, and later by miners. (p.31) In Tregenza’s account, this contact led to mutual misunderstanding and violence against the Kija people. (p.32) She records stories of colonial contact, including that of Jaru man Jack Johnson. Jack recalls a massacre at Hangmans Creek, after some Aboriginal men killed a few cattle. (p.45)
  • Tregenza claims that many Kija people fled to the hills, while others were incorporated into the colonial economy – voluntarily or otherwise. (p.32)
  • Tregenza also records the contact stories of Frank Sheen, one of Charlie’s relatives; (p.32) as well as Tjulaman and Jowji, who are elderly men who now live in a camp on the outskirts of Halls Creek. (p.37)
  • Tregenza also recalls the strategic use of Native Troopers by the colonizing forces. (p.39) She records the story of Jack Tjugarai, whose family worked for the Native Police. (p.40)
  • Tregenza also describes the establishment of pastoral stations in the Kimberley. Tregenza notes that the relationship between Aboriginal people and station owners varied: as some provided schooling and care, while others had the “barest regard for Aboriginal people beyond providing what was necessary to enable the station to profit.” (p.52)

Child removal:

  • Charlie recalls being forcibly removed from his family by the Native Welfare Department, and taken to Moola Bulla station. (p.55)
  • Charlie missed his mother dearly when he was sent to Moola Bulla. (p.59)
  • Charlie claims that he and the thirty other children at Moola Bulla were neglected and miserable. The children were underfed, did not have proper housing – or even blankets – and did not go to school. (p.59)
  • Charlie also recalls that child removal had a profound effect on the parents. There was one man named Ballymungen at Moola Bulla, whose son was taken away, but who still made food for him every night and spoke to him as if he were there. (p.66)
  • Charlie gradually made friends at Moola Bulla, and realised that many of the people there were his relatives. (p.58) The children managed to amuse themselves, playing with whatever they found on the property: old tobacco tins, pieces of wood, and clay. (p.61) However, if they were ever discovered doing something prohibited, they were severely punished. (p.61)
  • Charlie and his friend Matt Murray decided to escape from Moola Bulla, and return to Springvale Station. They got some way before they were stopped by a man on horseman, who beat them all the way home. When they arrived at Moola Bulla, they were punished again. (p.62)
  • Tregenza also gives the account of Frank Byrne, who was also taken to Moola Bulla from his mother, as Walmajarri woman from Christmas Creek Station. (p.57) Byrne recalls that the first time the Native Welfare Officers arrived at Christmas Creek, his mother concealed him inside a swag. (p.57) The second time they came, they brought the manager with them – who knew of Frank’s existence – and he too was removed to Moola Bulla. (p.58)
  • Like Charlie, Frank remembers mourning the loss of his parents while living at Moola Bulla.

Life on the Mission:

  • In 1947, Charlie and the thirty other mixed-race children at Moola Bulla were all put on a truck and taken to Beagle Bay Mission.
  • Charlie remembers that Beagle Bay was divided into two parts: the “colony”, where people lived in houses; and the camps, where a lot of the older generation lived. (p.81) The mixed-race children from the mission were prevented from entering the camps. Charlie presumes this was part of the missionaries’ attempt to stratify Aboriginal society. (p.82)
  • Charlie remembers that, like at Moola Bulla, he used to cry himself to sleep because he missed his mother. Rather than consoling him, the priests tried to convince Charlie he was an orphan, and threatened to beat him.
  • Despite the fact that he still missed his mother, the conditions at Beagle Bay Mission were better than those at Moola Bulla. Charlie went to school; had three meals a day; went fishing in the afternoons; played lots of sport and took long camping trips with the Priests. (p.83) The main drawback was that the priests’ liberal use of corporal punishment.
  • Charlie was kicked off the Beagle Bay mission around 1951, for sneaking into the girl’s dormitory. (p.95) Charlie claims he intentionally broke the mission rules, because he wanted to return to Springvale Station. (p.95)
  • Tregenza describes the reason for the establishment of Beagle Bay mission: to protect Aboriginal people from colonial exploitation, and to save them via conversion to Christianity. (p.75) She also claims that Aboriginal people accommodated the missionaries’ demands in return for relative comfort. However, as a result they were left isolated from the settler-colonial society. (p.75)

Caste Systems:

  • Charlie explains that three racial castes had developed in the Kimberley: “white people; yeller fellers, half-caste or whatever you like to call them; and blackfellers.” (p.199) Throughout his life, people told Charlie to think of himself as “yellerfeller” rather than an Aboriginal person. (p.117) These people, including his mother, told him not to mix with Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women. (p.117-8)
  • Charlie claims that these castes have persisted until today in remote towns, but not in the Southern states. (p.119)

Social problems:

  • Charlie described the problem of the Aboriginal stockmen in the late 1970s. He claims that on pension day and payday they used to get heavily intoxicated.
  • Tregenza supplements Charlie’s story with an explanation for heavy drinking amongst certain Aboriginal groups. She describes drinking as a group activity; a “measure of manhood”; an “expression of defiance” and as well as a means to “counter feelings of boredom, powerlessness, and loss of self-esteem.” (p.175) Tregenza also points out that a number of initiatives have been launched to counter heavy drinking by Aboriginal communities and organisations, ranging from alcohol education to prohibition. (p.176)

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION: Charlie McAdam’s story was told to Elizabeth Tregenza. It is supplemented by accounts from his friends and family, and also with ethno-historical information compiled by Tregenza herself.

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'McAdam, Charlie (1935–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 June 2024.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Halls Creek, Western Australia, 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.

Key Places