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

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Oscar John Munns (1906–1982)

by Gary Osmond

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Oscar John Munns (c. 1906–1982), Goongarie (Gunggari) man, stockman, athlete, and respected member of the Woorabinda Aboriginal Settlement in Queensland, was born about 1906—his welfare file assigning him a birth day on 1 July—near Surat, Queensland, son of Goongarie woman Cinderella Alice Thompson, also known as Cinderella Saunders/Munns, and John (Jack) Munns, a white trapper. Oscar had two older siblings, Amy and Harold, and four younger half-siblings by his mother: Jack ‘Dawson,’ Lexie, and Charlotte Saunders, and Cedric (whose surname is unknown). Until the age of seven he lived with his mother and older siblings in a camp in the vicinity of Mitchell, Cinderella supporting the family by hunting and scalping animals. In 1913 the local police protector moved the family to Taroom Aboriginal Settlement. Oscar probably received some schooling at the settlement school before beginning to learn at the stock camp, gaining valuable experience in horse-riding, horse-breaking, and attending to livestock.

Munns was employed as a stockman at nearby stations including Ghinghinda, a well-known cattle property, during his teens. At the end of 1926 the settlement prepared to relocate from Taroom to the new Woorabinda Aboriginal Settlement, 124 miles (200 km) away. He helped on the long journey to drive the cattle, before moving there with his family the following year after Taroom was closed. The settlement superintendent, H. C. Colledge, deemed him to be of ‘quiet demeanour and very well behaved and careful with his money’ (QSA ITM731512), and had successfully applied for Munns to be exempted from the provisions of the Queensland Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 in 1926. Exemptions were rarely granted: only 31 applications were approved across the State that year. It is not known what Munns did after receiving his exemption, but he appears to have worked nearby, including at Glenhaughton station, and maintained close relationships with his family. By 1929, however, Munns had voluntarily relinquished his exemption, and returned his certificate to the trust of Colledge on the understanding that he could retrieve it if he chose, but he never exercised that option and remained at Woorabinda for the rest of his life. The Queensland government subsequently used his action in returning his certificate as evidence of the preference for reserve life for some Aboriginal people. For Munns, it likely reflected his commitment to his family, his community, and his Aboriginal identity.

A ‘big man in stature’ (Qld Parliament 1956, 1003), Munns participated in boxing, campdraft competition (horse and rider working cattle), cricket, and horseracing, but his reputation was greatest in rugby league, which he played from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. Captain of the Woorabinda team, he was remembered as a ‘classic 5/8 and so versatile in any position’ (Central Telegraph 1982, 49). His on-field performance as a member of an ‘All-Blacks’ team in Brisbane in 1933 made a deep impression: according to the Brisbane Courier he ‘revealed himself as potential champion’ (1933, 7). The Melbourne Sporting Globe reported that Munns and another Aboriginal player, Frank Fisher, were better than Brisbane club players. A former international player, Leg Cubitt, enthused that Munns and Fisher were ‘fit to represent Queensland in an inter-state match’ (Sunday Mail 1933, 8). Several commentators predicted that Queensland State selectors would attempt to lure Munns. However, this did not occur. He declined an offer to play for Leichhardt in Rockhampton in 1937. In general, Munns’s sporting experiences were limited due to a lack of opportunities for Aboriginal people under the State protection act.

In late 1931 Munns had married Lorna Cressbrook, a Kybal woman, at the Church of England, Woorabinda; she had also been relocated from Taroom to Woorabinda. The couple would have fourteen children—Lawrence, Kevin, Monica, Veneita, Hazel, Allan, Gwendoline, Valmai (Val), Terence (Terry), Robert, Kenneth, Brian, Colin, and Eunice—and would raise their grandsons Ivan and Norman. Munns was head stockman at Woorabinda from 1933 to 1970 when he was appointed cattle overseer until his retirement in 1976. A respected and trusted figure in the field, he was sometimes contracted to other stations. He drove horses and cattle to centres as far away as Ipswich, bred and reared a high-grade beef herd at Woorabinda, and helped to develop the cattle industry in central Queensland. In 1970 the minister for Aboriginal affairs lauded Munns in parliament, stating ‘he could take over stock management on a property anywhere’ (Qld Parliament 1970, 1796).

Active in his community, Munns had been appointed a justice of the peace in 1966. In 1974 he agreed to assist archaeologists in researching cultural remnants and relics at Glenhaughton station. He received an official citation from the Queensland director of Aboriginal and Islander affairs in 1974, and in 1976 was awarded an Imperial Service Medal for his outstanding service to the ‘Aboriginal people of Woorabinda and generally those of the Central Queensland area’ (QSA ITM539113). During Woorabinda’s golden jubilee celebrations in 1977, he led a group of three Aboriginal stockmen on horseback from Taroom to Woorabinda carrying a message from the Taroom Historical Society and a commemorative mail issue.

Predeceased by his wife and one daughter, Munns passed away on 23 November 1982 at Rockhampton and was buried at Woorabinda cemetery. Uncle Albert Holt, a Cherbourg man who worked at Woorabinda in the early 1950s, recalled him as one of a dozen ‘placid elders’ (2001, 61) in the community—that is, an Elder who fulfilled the role of ensuring community harmony. In 1986 the Woorabinda Football Club dedicated an Oscar Munns Memorial Trophy in his honour.

 

Gary Osmond is of European descent. He consulted Munns’s descendants in researching and writing this article.

Select Bibliography

  • AIA Queensland News. ‘Oscar Munns “An Outstanding Queenslander.”’ 7, no. 4 (1982): 1
  • Brisbane Courier. ‘Fine Display. Speed and Action.’ 24 July 1933, 7
  • Central Telegraph (Biloela, Qld). ‘Goovigen Notes.’ 1 December 1982, 49
  • Holt, Albert. Forcibly Removed. Broome, WA: Magabala Books, 2001
  • Queensland Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 19 October 1956, 1003
  • Queensland Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 17 November 1970, 1796
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID ITM539113
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID ITM731512
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), ‘Spectacular Football. Aboriginal Championships. Cherbourg’s Skill and Pace. International’s High Praise.’ 23 July 1933, 8
  • Tye, Aunty Val. Conversation with Gary Osmond, 9 November 2020, Woorabinda

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gary Osmond, 'Munns, Oscar John (1906–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/munns-oscar-john-31824/text39282, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Oscar Munns, 1935

Oscar Munns, 1935

'A Real All-Blacks Test', Telegraph (Brisbane), 23 August 1935, 17

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Life Summary [details]

Birth

1 June, 1906
Surat, Queensland, Australia

Death

23 November, 1982 (aged 76)
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

liver dysfunction

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

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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.

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