Stories from a Queensland past

Posted on May 23, 2012


Xavier Herbert, right, with Mrs Coverdale’s father,Alan Pride, in 1954

She remembers Xavier Herbert, celebrated author of ‘Poor Fellow My Country’, back in the 1950s visiting her North Queensland home. 

Patsy Coverdale was still a child, but the La Trobe graduate already had a strong interest in the Aboriginal people who lived near her home in Redlynch, Cairns.

Surrounded by rain forest and sugar cane country, she was beginning to learn a few things about their lives and legends. Later she trained as a journalist, worked in London promoting the attractions of Queensland from Australia House, before returning to Australian to raise two children.

In the mid 1980s she enrolled at La Trobe for a Bachelor of Arts degree followed by a decade of irregular visits back to Queensland, documenting the stories she heard during her childhood, and interviewing other people.

Mrs Coverdale in Cairns, 1990

Now, as she approaches her 80s, Mrs Coverdale has published ‘North Queensland in Black and White – A social history with stories, views and archaeology’.  The book was nominated for last year’s National Seniors Australia Phillpotts Literary Prize.

Struggle continues

The book is described as bridging ‘the gap between children’s stories and tertiary studies. It develops source material of a culture now dispersed. We need to document these for Aborigines and for people in general,’ he says.

Mrs Coverdale says the book highlights the Bama people’s struggle with social inequality and the bias of whites, which continues to this day.

It explores relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, examines life on missions, in the rainforest and tells of individual Aboriginal nations, their languages and the consequences of government policy.

Mrs Coverdale says she felt it was important to document her memories of those days for future generations.  Even in a short time, Cairns has changed almost beyond recognition.

‘Many of the people I interviewed have died and cane fields where I lived have gone. It’s all houses and factories, and coalmining on the Cape York Peninsula, which is going to change things still more dramatically.’

North Queensland in Black and White is available from the University Co-op Bookshop or the publisher.

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