Sonny Thompson brings us along on his 20-year search for
By Sonny Thompson
I first contacted Link-Up (Qld) in August 2000. I was searching for information about my grandparents. My grandmother Annie Rolf, born at Aramac, Central Queensland in 1903 or 1905 was removed from “Annievale” Aramac to Deebing Creek, Ipswich in around 1914 or 1915. My grandfather Harry Thompson Jr. was born at Deebing Creek Mission in 1902 or 1903. They married and had seven children, including my mother Doris Thompson.
I also wanted to find information about my great-great-grandparents Janie Billie and Tommy Thompson, and Maggie and King Billy Turner. My great-grandfather Harry Thompson Sr., tribal name Goolpahjo, was born at Normanby Station in Harrisville between 1857 and 1860. My great-grandmother Amy Turner, tribal name Bundarcha, daughter of Maggie and King Billy Turner (Yuggera), was born in the Helidon or Gatton area in 1866.
The Thompson families lived at Deebing Creek and Purga Missions for over 50 years. Our connection to country is well documented. Our ancestors were born here and we have always lived on country.
I have always had an interest in my family history. We come from large families and it is important for our children, grandchildren and future generations to know who their family is. In the 1990s, through the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), I collected anthropological research and reports about my family. The information contained in those reports really got me interested in finding out more about my family, even though the family tree attached to that report rolled out for many, many metres. I then approached Link-Up (Qld).
King Billy Turner – Yuggera
We are descendants of King Billy Turner, a Yuggera warrior, through his daughter Amy Turner who married Harry Thompson Sr. I have searched for where King Billy might be buried, however have not been able to locate his grave or that of his wife Maggie. Interestingly though, on a visit to Ropely Cemetery about five or six kilometres inland from Gatton, I met a couple who were visiting the grave of a young girl who was killed in a car accident. I started talking to them, telling them that I was a descendant of King Billy Turner and that I was searching for his grave.
It is an unreal feeling to know that they have been so close, and we never knew it.
They suggested I talk to Herbie Olm who lived at Ropely. They told me where he lived and I went to his house and introduced myself to him as a descendant of King Billy. He was so excited to meet me—the mention of King Billy lit up his eyes. Herbie was in his 90s when I met him. He still had all his wits about him and had so much knowledge about Aboriginal people from that area. He told me his father used to go to King Billy’s camp and they would offer him bush foods. His father had great respect for King Billy and I could feel that as Herbie told me the stories about his father.
Herbie gave me a copy of a book with his family tree in it and the story of the original inhabitants of Ropely. In the book, there is a photo of King Billy Turner, his wife Maggie and my great-grandmother Amy Turner as well as Johnny Tarampa—believed to be King Billy’s brother—and his wife at the camp his father used to visit.
According to an article in the Queensland Times newspaper in the early 1900s, King Billy is buried at Brassall in Ipswich. We still do not know exactly where King Billy Turner or his wife are buried, and we will probably never know.
The Olm’s are good people, and I was saddened to hear of Herb’s passing. Herb Olm’s family contacted my sister Faye where she worked at the Aboriginal Legal Service in Ipswich when he died. They had artefacts which had been given to them and they felt it important to hand those artefacts over.
Harry Thompson Sr. – Goolpahjo
Great-grandfather Harry Thompson Sr. was born at Normanby Station, Harrisville and was brought up with his tribe. He later lived at Deebing Creek and Purga Missions. His wife Amy died in 1918 and is buried at Purga Cemetery, where a significant headstone is placed.
They always lived and moved around the local area and as the years went by they ended up at Boonah. My family didn’t know where Great-grandfather Harry Sr., or Grandfather Harry and his wife Annie were buried. We didn’t know them as they passed away before I was born.
Aunty Phyllis, mum’s sister, told us later in life that her father and mother and grandfather were in the Boonah Cemetery. We took Aunty Phyl out to the cemetery and tried to find them. On one occasion she went to the local council to see if she could find the plot numbers, only to be told that the lady who used to look after this was no longer at council.
I was living at Boonah in 2014 and started searching—visiting the cemetery to see what I could find out. I would wander up to the top of the hill to a seat and look back down over the cemetery, not realising that they were resting right there in front of that seat. Such a peaceful place it is, surrounded by trees with their branches and leaves blowing in the breeze and kangaroos lying about, enjoying the shady spots in the early morning and late evening. It is a beautiful spot to be resting.
It’s ironic that where Aunty Phyl would sit on that seat on the hill at the cemetery is where her parents and grandfather had been laid to rest. My sister Faye has now put plaques on their graves, so our families and future generations will always know where they are.
Searching for our Great Uncles and Aunties
I have always had an interest in searching for where our great-uncles and aunties are buried – the descendants of King Billy Turner. We are Yuggera people. Our great-uncles Alan and Charlie always told us we are Yuggera and our country spans from the mouth of the Brisbane River to the foot of the Toowoomba ranges.
All our old people have now passed away – our mother’s uncles and aunties – and we didn’t know where they were buried. I contacted Link-Up over 20 years ago to search for the missing links in my family. In that time, I have moved around with my family due to work commitments and Link-Up has never given up on me. They tracked me down through the electoral rolls to complete my family research and identify exactly where our old people are buried.
In February, I travelled with Link-Up’s SEWB counsellor Lee-Ann Joseph-Roch, caseworker Kerry Sandow and communications manager Amanda Donigi from Ipswich to Tweed Heads and back to Brisbane for four gravesite reunions. My sisters Faye and Sheryl supported me on this reunion. All the graves are unmarked, so I felt a lot of different emotions going on this journey to find the locations of their final resting places.
We were shown where Great-aunty Lottie and Great-uncle Charlie King are buried at the old Ipswich Cemetery. I had searched before by going to Ipswich City Council, but only been given the section – I couldn’t find exactly where they were.
Coincidentally, their graves are not far from Jackie, one of Faye’s twin daughters who passed away as an infant more than 50 years ago. It is an unreal feeling to know that they have been so close, and we never knew it.
We then proceeded to Warrill Park Lawn Cemetery to visit Great-uncle Alan and Great-aunty Alice. I remember them being such gentle people. We always thought they were at Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane, so this came as a shock to me and my sisters. It’s our Great-aunty Enid who is buried at Toowong Cemetery.
My reunion then took us to the old Tweed Heads Cemetery to locate Uncle Doug. He and Aunty Cissy and Uncle Alan and Aunty Alice moved to Currumbin from Boonah, where they lived for a long time and where their families still live. When our grandmother passed away, mum and her siblings were raised by Uncle Alan and Aunty Alice at Currumbin. When they were old enough to look after themselves they came back to Ipswich.
We had mixed emotions visiting Uncle Doug. We were glad to know where he is, but we were also so sad thinking about him.
On the final day of my reunion we visited Toowong Cemetery where Great-aunty Enid is buried. She was just a baby when she died. We couldn’t find the grave though and Lee-Ann from Link-Up is going to chase that up for us. We understand they buried Aboriginal people with convicts in a particular area of the cemetery in those days, which makes us sad.
I want to express our thanks to Link-Up for the amazing work that they do, the information that they uncover through their research, and the detailed research letter that they give us along with a family tree. Research Manager Ruth Loli is highly professional and our huge thanks to Lauren Scheiwe for her dedicated research and to Lee-Ann, Kerry and Amanda, for treating us in such a respectful and caring way. We will never forget you all and the support you have shown us.