Of all the matriarchs in recent Indigenous history, few are more significant than Kitty. She was the Mother of William Cooper, was born in the early to mid 1820s, before settlement, or white settlement in that area. Kitty was from the Wollithiga or Wallithica Tribe.
Kitty, it is said, was born near the Moira Lakes, which is in Moitheriban country, a neighbouring tribe to the Wollithiga. She always said she was of the Wollithiga Tribe. The Wollithiga is a tribe that takes in Echuca then comes up to the Moira and Barmah forests near Barmah and takes in the junctions of the Campaspe and Goulburn Rivers with the Murray.
This remarkable woman most certainly would have seen first contact, when European settlement came to the region through people such as Edward Curr, being the pioneer settler in the area in 1841 on the Victorian side of the Murray and then Henry Lewes in 1842 on the NSW side of the river.
Clearly, Kitty was in close contact with at least two white men. But were these relationships consensual?
We can’t be a hundred percent sure. What we do know is that most of Nan Kitty’s children’s fathers are known. The fact that when Nan Kitty was taken from Moira to Maloga, she wanted to pack her stuff up two or three days later and go back to Moira station possibly alludes to a consensus of sorts.
We don’t know if that was because it was what she was used to, or the fact that she had other ties there. We know that her sons, Johnny, Aaron and Edgar Atkinson and also William and Bobby Cooper were still at Moira Station. She only took Jack and Ada, her youngest children, with her when she went to Maloga, Lizzie was already there.
Daniel Matthews made notes of going into the stations and actually breaking the chains of girls chained to beds to save them from the atrocious lifestyles and the things that were being done to them by the station workers. Therefore not all relations were consensual. There are however documented cases of consensual relations between Black and White in that era.
The Irish and the Scottish took many Aboriginal wives and they appeared to be consensual. For some reason, the Irish it is said, were well accepted by Aboriginal people. Even down in Port Augusta, amongst the Barngala people, the Dare family’s name comes from an Irishman by the name of Harold O’Dare. Therefore even in South Australia there were consensual marriages, apparently, between Irish and Aboriginal.