She was a good North Shore housewife. A church-goer with a country lady’s sensibilities. And she was a royal pain in the posterior to the Aboriginal Protection Board.
Joan Kingsely-Strack was a friend of Pearl Gibbs and William Ferguson. A friendship that began when she attended the “1937 New South Wales Select Committee Enquiry into the Administration of the Aboriginal Protection Board.” Her childhood was spent in Tilba, near Wallaga Lake. She had many Indigenous connections there, and would later talk about learning to hunt and play with Aboriginal kids.
So it seemed a natural thing for her to employ Aboriginal help. Which she did when she resided in the California bungalows of Lindfield. It was in those eucalyptus and jacaranda lined streets (for a while at the hill-topped mansion of 9 Northcote Road) she enthusiastically employed Aboriginal girls as domestic helpers. But she wasn’t going to go with the flow when it came to their treatment. Or payment. She refused to make payments to the Board. She paid the girls themselves. Likewise, she wouldn’t send girls away who were sick if she knew they wouldn’t get medical attention. In contrast, Mrs Kingsley Strack made sure she never interfered with the girls mail. And, if they were “of age” let them roam free on their days off. As Jack Horner records:
Volcanic and disruptive rows had occurred between Mrs Strack and certain officers of the Protection Board over the proper treatment of the girls, whom she said were not paid enough and were subject to all sorts of civil restraints by their employers. 1
Strack would later turn this energy into concentrated political activity and she formed the Committee for Aboriginal Citizen Rights. Sometimes, this would lead to the most awkward social moments. Such as the day Mrs Strack stood in a courtroom and told the judge everything that was wrong with the board.
At the Select Committee hearings in 1938, Mrs Strack made it her business to build and alliance with William Ferguson, attracted by his “outspoken and truthful manner”. Through her influence, Ferguson gained the support of the Feminist Club, who ended up hosting some of his meetings.
She also deployed influence in the church:
The valiant Mrs Strack, who was a conscientious secretary, urged Bishop Pilcher of Sydney to speak for the Aboriginal cause from St Andrew’s Cathedral. When he denounced both the Church and the Parliament during an Ascension day service, for allowing the Select Committee to lapse, she promptly rebuked him afterwards for neglecting to claim citizenship rights for the Aborigines. 2
Perhaps, the Coadjudicant Bishop didn’t go far enough for the lady. But it went far enough for the Sydney Morning Herald to take note, as we can see here:
It’s a leading example of how simple, enduring friendships between black and white Australians lead to positive social results. Her friendship with Pearl Gibbs gave her the knowledge of the Aboriginal experience to really give her authority. And it gave Pearl Gibbs an opening to audiences she would never otherwise really be able to draw. At times, this would include that small, but influential movement, “The Oxford Group”:
On a Saturuday night after dinner the assembly met in the large lounge room of the mansion. A liberal bishop, a dancer and a bookmaker could meet there in complete social equality. In the first session they proceeded with a formal, free recounting of anxieties. Then Pearl Gibbs briefly introduced s by Mrs Strack, stood among the. Then followed her frank, uninhibited comment of life on the government reserves with details of present poverty and past wrongs and stories of the oppressive managers. She described the unhealthy conditions that led to influenza, trachoma or venereal disease. This was Pearl’s case for the Aborigines. It broke over the silent company like a flood. They were appalled and somewhat ashamed; Pearl’s harsh words had touched their social conscience. 3
- Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p107 ↩
- Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p110 ↩
- Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p111 ↩