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Coe, Paul Joseph (1902–1979)

by Peter Read

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Paul Joseph Coe (1902?-1979), drover and buckjumper, was an Aborigine born at Cowra, New South Wales, son of Thomas Coe, drover, and his second wife Jessie Mary, née Waggerah (Crow). Paul spent his first years on what later became the Erambie Aborigines' Reserve. Jessie died in 1907. Because he was frequently away droving, Thomas then arranged for his three younger sons to be cared for at Canowindra, but the children were sent to the government's Farm Home for Boys at Mittagong under the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act.

A ward of the state, from the age of 14 Paul was placed in several jobs as dairyhand and farm labourer. Although he stated in an interview that he was treated well, privately he remained bitterly resentful of his removal. At 18 he returned to Cowra to begin droving with his father in Queensland and New South Wales. He enjoyed telling droving yarns, and believed that his father's party was the first to drive sheep from Cooma to Bega via Tantawangalo Mountain. Based at Erambie, he established his own droving business in the late 1920s and became as widely known and respected as his father. On 19 July 1927 at St Raphael's Catholic Church, Cowra, he married 17-year-old Edith Murray; they were to have five children.

Attached to touring rural shows, Coe was engaged throughout New South Wales as a buckjumper. These shows functioned on the same lines as the boxing troupes in offering opportunities to Aboriginal youths. Buckjumping was less physically damaging and better paid, and enabled him to establish his reputation. Known as 'Jimmy Callaghan' after the former, noted rider Jack Callaghan, Coe worked with troupes in Queensland and New South Wales, where his co-ordination and small frame brought him particular fame as a 'high jumper'. At this time, he recalled, he enjoyed a 'wonderful life' and formed close relationships with several show proprietors. In World War II he worked in the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, and was later involved in a variety of droving and rural activities.

The managers of Erambie station allowed his White friends to visit him, an unusual privilege in the 1940s and 1950s. While mixing frequently with Whites, Coe remained proud of his Koori identity, chose to live on the Cowra Aboriginal station, played football with and coached several 'all-black' teams, and on one occasion defied the rule of a particularly autocratic Erambie manager. Survived by two sons and a daughter, he died on 3 August 1979 at Cowra District Hospital. Paul Coe was of the generation of self-made Aboriginal men and women which valued the respect won in Koori and White society. He saw what was best in each, and criticized what he saw as the shortcomings of both. The esteem he had gained allowed him to drink, unofficially, in country hotels, even though the sale of alcohol to Aborigines was illegal in New South Wales until 1963. His descendants are prominent in the Aboriginal community, among them his grandson, the lawyer Paul Coe.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Read (ed), Down There with Me on the Cowra Mission (Syd, 1984)
  • Aboriginal History, 4, pt 1, 1980, p 97.

Citation details

Peter Read, 'Coe, Paul Joseph (1902–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coe-paul-joseph-9776/text17275, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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