Australian Screen

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Pioneers of Love (2005)

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clip Across the colour bar education content clip 1, 2, 3

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Historical footage is intercut with an interview with Flora Hoolihan, daughter of Leandro Illin and Kitty Clarke. She tells of her mother being pursued by the police. We also see historical footage of children eating at a table in a mission, Indigenous women sitting in a group and of an Aboriginal baby of mixed parentage – referred to by the whites as a 'burnt cork’.

Curator’s notes

The sexual liaisons between white men and Aboriginal women, especially on the frontier of emerging colonial Australia, became a common thing. Sometimes these liaisons were consensual, but most of the time they were not. The stealing of Aboriginal women from their families was the cause of many conflicts on the frontier. Henry Lawson described the sexual relations between white men and black women as ‘black velvet’. The babies of white fathers and black mothers were referred to as ‘burnt corks’. The sexual liaison between white men and black women was considered immoral and a threat to the state, and the growing population of so called half-castes deemed a threat to the white population.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Flora Hoolihan and her son Richard speaking about the effects of the Queensland Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 on Flora’s parents, Russian immigrant Leandro Illin and Indigenous woman Kitty Clarke. Re-enacted scenes, archival footage and photographs illustrate the ways in which the Act controlled the lives of Indigenous people in Queensland. The clip concludes with an Indigenous woman singing a lullaby.

Educational value points

  • The clip features Kitty Clarke and Leandro Illin, who were determined to marry and raise a family despite the legal and social pressures against them. In the clip their daughter and grandson present their story. Clarke, a Ngadjonji woman, and Illin, a Russian immigrant, are identified as Australian 'pioneers of love’ who fought against the norms of their era, which regarded marriage between a non-Indigenous man and an Indigenous woman as wrong.
  • The clip illustrates the negative consequences of the Queensland Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 for Indigenous people in Qld such as Kitty Clarke. The Act was based on a government-commissioned report by Archibald Meston (1851-1924), which recommended that Aboriginal people be removed to reserves with the intention of protecting them from attacks, European diseases and exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Opium was also mentioned in the Act as it was often used by employers as a cheap way of securing Indigenous labour.
  • Illustrated in the clip are the racist and paternalistic attitudes towards Indigenous people that prevailed at the time of Clarke and Illin’s marriage. Under the Act, Indigenous people wanting to marry required the permission of a protector or reserve superintendent. Indigenous people could be deprived of freedom of movement and association, have their children taken away and lose control of personal property. Aboriginal rites and customs were prohibited, and an Indigenous person deemed 'uncontrollable’ could be imprisoned indefinitely, without trial or appeal.
  • The clip suggests that one reason for the Act and for the creation of the reserves was to prevent an increase in the number of children of mixed descent, referred to disparagingly at the time of the Act as 'burnt corks’. These children were viewed as a growing problem. Kitty Clarke and her son with Leandro Illin were sent by police to a mission. Her children who had an Indigenous father were left behind.
  • The clip presents views in late-19th-century Australia that regarded relationships between men and women 'across the colour bar’ as both criminal and immoral even if those men and women married. The issue was one of race and was based on theories that the children of such unions would inherit the worst of both races and that races should remain separate. The fact that such relationships were generally considered so unacceptable leads Clarke and Illin’s great-grandson to believe that their love must have been very strong.
  • The clip illustrates the ways in which the language of the late 19th century reveals racist, sexist and exploitative attitudes and behaviour towards Indigenous women. The narrator says that Henry Lawson popularised the phrase 'black velvet’, a sexualised reference to Indigenous women’s skin. Indigenous women were called 'gins’ and the term 'gin-jockey’ referred to men who associated with Indigenous women. Children of mixed descent were called 'half-castes’ and 'burnt corks’.
  • The clip uses a range of techniques to present an account of Clarke and Illin’s marriage in its historical context. Interview material with descendants of the couple is combined with a voice-over commentary, black-and-white photographs, archival footage and dramatised re-enactment of some events. Historical documents are shown and some stills are superimposed over other images, suggesting the layers of restrictions over time. The singing of the lullaby is especially poignant after the descriptions of the removal of children.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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