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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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Dick (Goobalathaldin) Roughsey (1920–1985)

PUBLICATION: Moon and Rainbow, The Autobiography of an Aboriginal, Dick Roughsey, Rigby International, 1971

NAME: Dick Roughsey (Goobalathaldin)

SEX: Male


BIRTH PLACE: Mornington Island

FIRST LANGUAGE: Lardil, English


  • Wellesley Islands, South-Eastern Gulf of Carpentaria: Dick’s traditional land includes areas on the Mornington, Sydney and Wallaby Islands. (p.16) He claims his father owned half of Sydney Island, and part of Mornington Island. (p.16)
  • Dick describes the interactions of the inhabitants of these South Wellesley Islands with the North Wellesley Islanders, particularly the Kaiadilt clan from Bentinck Island. (p.101)
  • Palm Island: An Aboriginal prison in Northern Queensland where the Protector of Aborigines sent those he caught killing cattle at Mornington Mission. (p.118) Dick claims that being sent to Palm Island did not deter men from spearing cattle, as in prison people were fed, and then provided jobs in cattle stations in Townsville or Burketown. (p.118) Women were more wary of killing cattle, as they were reluctant to see their “menfolk” sent away from the mission. (pp.119-120)
  • Dick tells how he and a group of young men slaughtered a cow with the intention of going to Palm Island.
  • Their plans were thwarted due to the fact that, while their crime was discovered and reported to the Protector of Aboriginal, he was too consumed by the war to take action. (p.120)
  • Burketown, Gulf of Carpentaria: Dick walked from Mornington Island to Burketown in 1940 in search of work on a cattle station, but was sent back to the mission by the police. (p.118) A few years later they were recalled by the Burketown police, as the war had created a shortage of stockmen, and he spent most of the 1940s and 1950s working on stations near Burketown. (p.120)
  • Isabella Gorge: Near Cooktown, where Dick travelled with Percy, to excavate the caves once inhabited by the Gugu-Imudji tribe. (p.138) Dick described how Percy [aka Warrenby] attempted to obtain information about the caves from the locals, but was unsuccessful because they feared Europeans. (p.139)
  • Brisbane: Dick travelled to Brisbane for his first art show in 1964. (p.141) He returned to sell paintings, and met up with his old teacher Mrs Wilson. (p.39)
  • Cairns: Dick’s first exhibition was held in Cairns, and he often stayed there with Percy and his wife Margura (p.134). When he had saved enough money from his painting, Dick brought his family on a holiday to Cairns. (p.162)
  • Canberra: Dick flew to Canberra when Anna Simons of Macquarie Gallery (Sydney) organized an exhibition of his work. (p.153)

Experiences of education:

  • Dick was education at the Mornington mission school. Dick liked his teacher, Mrs Wilson, however he also eagerly anticipated school breaks, when he was able to return to stay with his family in the bush. (p.39)


  • Dick was eager to find employment outside of the Mornington mission. In 1940, he walked to Burketown in search of work on a cattle station, but was returned by the local policeman. (p.118) A few years later, he killed one of the mission cattle, in the hope that he would be sent to Palm Island prison, and then on to a cattle station in Townsville or Burketown. (pp.118-120)
  • Dick eventually got a job working at Tallawanta station near Burketown, because the war had led to a shortage of stockman. (p.120) Dick was paid very little, but nonetheless he derived a sense of purpose and dignity from gainful employment. (p.121)
  • In 1943, Dick got another job on another station near Burketown, named Gregory Downs. (p.123)
  • When the war finished, Dick got another station job on a property near the Gulf. Dick got on well with his employer. However, Dick soon realized that he was being employed to steal 500 of the neighbour’s cattle. (pp.124-125)
  • In 1950, Dick got a job at Lorraine station. The rations on the station were very poor quality. Dick’s friend Albert got into a fight about the food with the cook, and together they left Lorraine for Burketown. (pp.125-156)
  • Dick then spent two years working as a deckhand on the Cora. (p.128) Compared to working on a station, the food was better and work easier on the Cora, however Dick feared for his life when there was a cyclone. (p.128)
  • When the Cora was retired, Dick returned to the Mornington Mission and hunted and made boomerangs to support his family. (p.131)
  • In 1962, Dick got a job as a yardman at Karumba Lodge, on the mouth of the Norman River. (p.132) While working at the Lodge he met Percy Trezise, who helped Dick to establish himself a professional artist.
  • Dick’s first show of painting on bark was held in Cairns. Dick later displayed paintings in both traditional Lardil and European style in Brisbane and Canberra. (p.141) Dick’s paintings sold well, and he was able to provide his family with a new dinghy, a small house, and a trip to Cairns. (p.142)


  • Royal Flying Doctor: Dick recalls the building of an airstrip at Mornington Island, and the arrival of the first aeroplane containing Dr Alan Vickers. (pp.40-41) There was a fight on the same day, and as a result Dr Vickers had numerous patients to attend to. (p.41)
  • Cairns School of Art Library: Where Dick’s first art exhibition was held. (p.134)
  • The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: The AIAS funded Percy and Dick’s trip to Isabelle George, to excavate the caves once inhabited by the Gugu-Imudji tribe. (p.128) The AIAS also funded Percy and Frank to return to Mornington Island to make documentaries about the Lardil lifestyle. (p.142)
  • Macquarie Gallery: A [Sydney?] Gallery that arranged Dick’s first exhibition of oil paintings (in Canberra). (p.153) Dick was very excited by the exhibition, and all his paintings were sold. (p.154)


  • Dick gives a detailed account of Lardil creation beliefs. He recalls the legend of Gidegal, who was the “the main boss of the first initiation ceremony way off in the Dreamtime,” and who now guards the passage to the afterlife. (p.86)
  • Dick writes about Lardil religion in a self-aware way, for a non-Aboriginal audience. He actively draws comparisons with Christianity, which he hopes will make Christians more sympathetic to Lardil beliefs.
  • Personally, Dick holds both Christian and Lardil beliefs. He claims that he does not mind which accounts of the afterlife proves to be true, as long as he gains access to it. (p.93)


  • Dick outlines the change in law in Queensland in the 1960s, which meant that Aboriginal people were allowed to consume alcohol, except on missions and stations.
  • Despite this change in law, Dick described how a hotel in Laura refused him alcohol. (p.156) He recalls an argument that subsequently occurred between the publican and Percy, during which she justified her refusal on the grounds of compassion and the public good. (p.157)
  • Dick relays his own opinions on this subject, which where that prohibition had had a negative effect on Aboriginal people’s approach to alcohol.


  • Dick caught trachoma as a child when it spread through the Mornington mission. His eyesight is still weak as a result. (p.39)

Relationship with parents:

  • Guthagin: Dick’s mother had five children, of which he was the third. (p.18) She used to carry Dick around on her hip while hunting. (p.18)
  • Toby Gunbar, who was related to Dick by a second degree, had promised Dick’s father to look after Guthagin in the event of his death. Toby Gunbar and Guthagin were married soon after Goobalathaldin died. (pp.110-11)
  • Goobalathaldin: Roughsey’s father witnessed the arrival of Europeans. (p.13) He and Guthagin brought Dick to the Mornington mission when he was eight, and continued to live in the bush themselves. Goobalathaldin died when Dick was still young, either from a flu or sorcery. (p.39)


  • Elsie: Dick married Elsie in 1946, when he came home to Mornington Island after working on a cattle station. (p.110) Dick described Elsie as a traditionally minded Lardil woman. Dick recalls how Elsie and a group of other women used sorcery to stop an inappropriate affair, (pp.83-84) and how she promised him that she did not use incantations to make him fall in love with her. (p.84)
  • When Dick got in a fight with his brother Lindsay, he claims that Elsie also got “wild, and “urged him on”. (p.151)
  • Elsie helped Dick to support their family by hunting, gathering and looking after the children, and by cutting bark for him to paint on. (p.151)


  • Dick had six children with Elsie: Mervyn, Raymond, Kevin, Elinore, Basil and Duncan. (p.131) Dick does not describe his relationship with his children. He does recall how, when he went travelling, he sent remittances to his family. (p.140) He also worked to produce a large number of bark paintings, so that he could take his family on holidays to Cairns to stay with Percy.


  • Rev. Robert Hall: the missionary who established Mornington Island mission in 1917, and who was killed when Dick was 12. Dick tells the story of Reverend Hall’s death from the perspective of one of his local guides, Paddy Marmies. (pp.30-33)
    —Paddie Marmies: “I cried very hard when I saw the body of my master being dragged away.” (p.33)
  • Dick also tells of the subsequent search and apprehension of the murderer, Dick’s Uncle Gidegal, who later died trying to escape from St Helena prison. (pp.34-37)
  • Dick claims that the swift disciplinary action which followed the Reverend’s death taught the people of Mornington Island that “the white man was too strong, and that we would have to follow his laws.” (p.38)
  • Mrs Wilson: Dick’s teacher at the Mornington Primary school, who he kept in contact with in later life when she was Brisbane. (p.39)
  • Rev. McCarthy: The superintendent of the Mornington Island mission during Dick’s early life, who he claims “changed a lot of things”. (p.110)
  • Dick travelled with Rev. McCarthy to the Bentinck Islands in search of a missing whaleboat. Rev. McCarthy attempted to convert Kaiadilt people who lived there, and bring them to the Mornington Mission. (pp.111-112) Dick recalls how Rev. McCarthy took risks by camping with the Bentinck Islanders. However he was also made wary by the experience of his predecessor. (p.115)
  • Rev. McCarthy was eventually successful in bringing the Kaiadilt people to Mornington Mission, but only after the Bentinck Islands was hit by a cyclone in 1948. (p.115)
  • Gully Peters: A fellow resident of the Mornington Island mission, who could speak the Kaiadilt language. Dick recalls Gully’s multiple attempts to convince the Bentinck Islanders to move to Mornington Mission, including the trips they took together with Rev. McCarthy. (p.111-115)
  • King Alfred: On of the leaders of a Kaiadilt tribe, who Rev. McCarthy had dubbed the king. (p.114) Rev. McCarthy encouraged Dick and his fellow whaleboat search party to stay with the King Alfred’s tribe in an attempt to befriend him. They feared for their lives and slept with rifles. (p.114)
  • While Rev. McCarthy and Gully Peters were giving a sermon, King Alfred organized an attack from behind of Dick’s party. Fortunately, they were able to escape by sea. (p.115)
  • King Alfred was killed in a revenge raid by the West Kaiadilt before his people moved to Mornington mission. (p.116)
  • Thundamen: A member of the Kaiadilt tribe, who moved to Mornington Island and became Dick’s friend. Thundamen told Dick about the fights over women that used to occur on the Bentinck Islands. (p.103)
  • Thundamen also told Dick about how he had killed King Alfred, and taken his sister for his wife, as payback for having had his own brother and sister killed by the North-East Kaiadilt. (p.116)
  • Lawn Hill Albert: A member of the Yugolda tribe, who was Dick’s closest ally when he worked at Lorraine Station. When Albert got in a fight with the cook, Dick left with him for Burketown. (p.126) When they were in Burketown, Albert got in another fight with a police officer, who they hoped to appeal to about the poor conditions at Lorraine. (p.127)
  • Keith de Witte: Dick met Keith while working aboard the Cora, and they became close friends. Dick was the best man at Keith’s wedding, and when Keith became the manager of Karumba Lodge he employed Dick as a yardsman. (p.132) Dick left Karumba Lodge when Keith left, because he didn’t like the new manager. (p.137)
  • Albert Namatjira: Dick was inspired to take up art when he saw the oil painting of Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira. Originally, Dick tried to copy Namatjira’s style. However, acting on the advice of artist Percy Trezise, he decided to paint Lardil legends on bark instead. Dick planned to spend five years becoming well known as a traditional Aboriginal artist, then to take up European oil painting and “take over where poor old Albert Namatjira had left off.” (p.134)
  • Captain Percy Trezise (Warrenby): An artist whom Dick met while working at Karumba Lodge, and whom he sought advice from about painting. Percy told Dick to stop trying to replicate Albert Namatjira’s work, and to draw from his own experience and culture instead. (p.132) Percy helped Dick create a ten-year plan for becoming a professional artist, beginning by spending five years drawing Lardil legends on Bark. (p.132)
  • Percy helped organize Dick’s first show in Cairns. After seeing the exhibition, the Director of Aboriginal Affairs suggested that Dick fly to Brisbane for formal training in art. Percy objected, because he thought that Dick’s style should be allowed to develop independently and informally. (p.135)
  • Percy subsequently spent a month at Mornington Island, teaching art and learning about Lardil legends and customs (p.136). Percy was shown traditional ceremonies and dances, and given the name Warrenby by the people at Mornington Island.
  • Upon witnessing these performances, Percy suggested that Dick and the Mornington Islanders do a corroboree in Cairns, “so that European Australians could see it and perhaps help keep it from dying out.” (p.136) The Mornington Islanders were very excited by this prospect, however the Superintendent cancelled the corroboree because no one in the community would own up to a theft. (p.137)
  • Percy was determined, and eventually the performance was staged in 1964, and was a great success. (p.140) The Mornington Islanders repeated this performance in 1966 as part of the Cairns “Fun in the Sun” festival. (p.148)
  • Percy and Dick also made a documentary about Lardil lifestyles together, (pp.140-142) explored Cape York together (pp.156-160) and had a joint exhibition in Weipa. (p.167)
  • Frank Woolston: A friend of Percy and Dick’s, who organized Dick’s first show in Brisbane. Dick stayed with Frank’s family in Brisbane, and met all of the Woolston’s friends. (p.141)
  • Frank travelled to Mornington Island with Percy to make a documentary about the Lardil people. (p.142)
  • Ray Crooke: An artist who Dick met in Cairns, who helped him to make the transition from bark painting to oil painting.
  • Ray organized an exhibition of Dick’s work at the Macquarie Gallery in Canberra.


Pre-colonial Lardil culture:

  • Dick describes pre-colonial Lardil protocols and practices, many of which have continued into his own life. (p.53) He relies not only on his own memories, but also the stories relayed to him by the older generation.
  • Dick describes hunting and gathering in the sea and on land (pp.42-43, 52-55), the legends and norms surrounding births and deaths, (pp.17, 89-92), the liberal parenting practices (pp.17-18), the present mindedness (p.19), the strict marriage and kinship laws (pp.26-27), the Flood and Rainbow Snake ceremonies (pp.21-24, 63-74) and traditional healing practices. (pp.80-82)
  • Dick details male initiation (the bora), including the circumcision of young men and practice of ritual sex. He emphasizes the importance of these ceremonies to the Lardil, as they have been happening since the time of Gidegal (p.57-62).
    “The old folk say that Marnbil made the Damin language and its ceremony so that men wouldn’t act like animals and have intercourse with close women relative, such as sisters. The warrama men claim women like them best because the head of their penis can spread out after it is cut.” (p.62)
  • Dick also describes the use of sorcery, or Puri Puri, by which a man can put another to death by chanting certain incantations. This includes the practice of mungara, which involves removing the victim’s kidney fat, and bula-bula, which involves the use of a victim’s hair (pp.75-77).
  • Dick outlines the older generation absolute belief in sorcery, and then offers his own more skeptical assessment.
    “The belief in puri-puri remains amongst the old people who haven’t been to school. They think that hardly anyone dies of a natural death and always look for larbarbidee as a cause behind it. If a person gets struck by lightning they soon remember that he had an argument or fight with someone not long before, and this person will probably get the blame.” (p.78)
    “I think that death by puri-puri is caused by worry. If you don’t believe in it then you don’t worry and you don’t die. When the old people are gone perhaps puri-puri will be forgotten, and our children will be able to live with peace of mind.” (p.78)
  • Dick outlines the use of sorcery and violence in courtship (pp.82-85). He claims that the power of sorcery is so strong that not even married women can resist it, and that this is a source of jealousy and violence. (pp.82-83) Dick states that sorcery can also be used to prevent conflict, by bringing an entranced wife back to her original partner. (p.83)
  • Dick believes that colonization has irreparably damaged Lardil culture, and laments this fact.

Early colonial interaction:

  • Dick recounts the initial fear that the Lardil people had of the ‘pale-faced men’ who arrived by boat. (p.13)
  • Dick also recalls the fear of a Kaiadilt man from the Bentinck Islands upon first witnessing horses, and of being shot at by Europeans. (pp.98-99)
  • Dick describes the misunderstanding that arose as a result of cultural differences between the Mornington Islanders and their colonisers. For example, the Europeans’ attempts at befriending the Lardil, by leaving flour on the beach, failed because they did not understand the use of these goods. (p.14) Also, when the mission bought a herd of cattle, the old people did not understand why they should not kill and eat them. (p.118)

Mission life:

  • Dick gives an account of the establishment of the Mornington Island mission in 1917 by Reverend Hall (p.28). Dick recalls that while he resisted being brought to the mission as a child, he soon came to consider it home (p.38).
  • Dick sketches life at the Mornington mission: including the strict routines, the gender-segregated dormitories, and the ban on initiation ceremonies (p.17). Dick believes that these interferences by the missionaries upset the balance of Lardil society.
  • Dick laments the loss of certain traditional Lardil ceremonies and languages, which he claims could have been synthesized with Christianity. (p.62)
    “There are only three old warrama men left among my people. When they are gone all the old laws and customs will have gone with them. Even our Lardil language will be gone some day, along with the Damin. Some of our laws and customs were good and we’ll be sorry that we didn’t maintain them along with the new laws and customs of Christianity.” (p.62)
  • Despite this critical account of missionary activity, Dick believes that the mission regime was preferable to the relative lawlessness that followed the closure of the dormitories.

The depopulation of Bentinck Island:

  • Dick details repeated attempts by the missionaries and residents at the Mornington mission to convert and settle the Kaiadilt tribes from the nearby Bentinck Islands. According to Dick, the Kaiadilt were a violent people, who constantly fought over females and food.
  • Dick retells the experiences of a Bentinck Islander named Thunduman, who had to battle with older men for wives.
  • As well as detailing an internal conflict, Dick narrates a bloody battle between the Lardil and the Kaiadilt, which he claims was a common occurrence. Dick describes both the excitement and suffering caused by feuding.
  • In 1946 Dick went with Rev. McCarthy to the Bentinck Islands in search of a missing whaleboat. The search party slept on board the ship because of fear of the Kaiadilt. (p.112)
  • Eventually, after the cyclone of 1948 forced them off the Bentinck Islands, Gully Peters managed to convince a group Kaiadilt people to move to Mornington Islands. (p.115)
  • The Mornington Islanders then used this group to persuade other Kaiadilt people to avail themselves to the Mission. Those Kaiadilt people who did remain on the Bentinck Islands were then “rounded up” by the Burketown police, and brought to Mornington Mission to “where they soon settled down”. (p.116)
  • Dick claims that the Kaiadilt were content at Mornington mission. But, like the Lardil, that they also lamented the end of their unique way of life on Bentinck Island.

Changes in circumstances:

  • Dick recalls the difficulties he, as an Aboriginal man, faced finding work and providing for his family in the 1940s and 1950s.
  • He outlines his ten-year plan to improve his circumstances, by becoming first a bark painter and then an oil painter. Dick describes the plan to become a professional artist as “our” plan, because he was only able to devise and realize his goals with the help of Percy Trezise
  • Dick describes the feelings of joy, surprise, and gratitude that followed his success. He felt these emotions particularly when he was flown to Canberra and held an exhibition hosted by Macquarie Gallery. (pp.151-153)


  • Moon and Rainbow was transcribed by Percy Trezise. In his foreword to the book, Percy describes Dick as the “first full-blood Aborigines sufficiently literate and ambitious to attempt, and succeed, in writing a book about his people.” (p.12)

This person appears as a part of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18. [View Article]

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Roughsey, Dick (Goobalathaldin) (1920–1985)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Mornington Island, Queensland, Australia


20 October, 1985 (aged ~ 65)
Mornington Island, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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.

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