Maryborough-born Caroline Tennant-Kelly.
Maryborough-born Caroline Tennant-Kelly.

Gympie's lost chronicles

IN one of the most exciting finds of our time, a dogged university researcher has re-discovered a unique body of long-lost notes recording the daily lives of Gympie and nearby Aboriginal people in the 1930s.

The notes, based on first-hand observations at Cherbourg, are the work of one of Australia’s leading anthropologists, Maryborough-born Caroline Tennant-Kelly.

The ground-breaking works, long thought to have been destroyed, were found in December in a cattleman’s shed in Northern New South Wales by University of Queensland researcher Kim de Rijke.

The discovery has been hailed “the most significant breakthrough” in the field for more than 50 years.

For graziers Grahame and Stephanie Gooding, it was all a great relief.

Mr Gooding says he kept the collection of materials for 20 years “because it looked like the works of an exceptional person”.

And that it was.

Ms Tennant-Kelly details daily Aboriginal life in 1934, involving the activities of people from well known Wide Bay area ethno-linguistic groups, including the Batjala, Kabi, Wakka, Goa, Kalali, Bidjara, Gangulu and Darumbal clans. She recorded kinship practices, traditional ceremonies, language, territorial knowledge and genealogies.

The discovery also includes private letters and photographs from her famous friend, the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, adding to knowledge of Mead’s work as well.

“I thought if I took care of it, somebody would appear looking for it,” Mr Gooding said.

That person was Mr de Rijke, a PhD student supervised by social science professor David Trigger.

After a bit of online detective work, Mr de Rijke ascertained that Tennant-Kelly died at Kyogle. He placed a newspaper advertisement which attracted the attention of Mr Gooding, who said it was a moment he had been awaiting for 20 years.

Mr de Rijke paid heartfelt tribute to the Goodings yesterday.

“Undoubtedly the chances of the collection having wound up in the local tip greatly outweighed those of an intelligent and sensitive person utterly untrained in this field recognising their value and hanging on to them for so long,” he said.

“We believe it is the most significant body of Aboriginal ethnographic material to emerge since the late 1950s,” he said.

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