Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edwards, Agnes (1873–1928)

by Jan Penney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Agnes Edwards (c.1873-1928), Aboriginal craftworker, was born at Mellool Station, near Swan Hill, Victoria, only child of Jim and Sarah Crow, of the Wati Wati people from the Edwards River region in New South Wales. Her father worked for many years at the station, which had a large, well-paid, Aboriginal workforce. About 1890 'Black Aggie', as she was sometimes known, married Harry Edwards, a much older Muti Muti man, probably through traditional marriage arrangements. She became widely known in the district as 'Queen Aggie' after 1897 when she was introduced to the governor Lord Hopetoun at the local show. For this occasion Mrs Reeves, a Swan Hill dressmaker friend, made a black, silk dress for Agnes, which showed her tall, slim figure and striking manner to perfection.

Following the death of her parents in 1898, Agnes and Harry moved to a campsite on the Edwards River, some twenty-five miles (40 km) north of Swan Hill, to join other Aboriginal friends who operated a depot for changing horses on the Cobb & Co. route to Balranald. After Harry died about 1912 she remained in the area, which became known as Aggie's Swamp. She lived alone, near four or five older inhabitants until only she and Bob Nicholls were left. They each had separate, substantial, bark-walled homes with brick chimneys, but were known as a couple.

Edwards used her people's traditional skills to earn her living. Her ability to adapt old knowledge to a new market and her appearance, enterprise and character made a lasting impact. She and Nicholls fished, netted or trapped and sold fish, freshwater crayfish and mussels, wild duck, rabbits and other game as well as eggs. She excelled, however, in creating hand-made craft articles, especially her very fashionable feather flowers. These reflected her sense of style and design, and her ability to blend colours: from the delicate rose pink and pale grey of the galah to the flamboyant greens, yellows and reds of the various parrots. Her creations enlivened many a bureau or overmantel in homes on the Murray River; the Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, holds seven such arrangements from this district, probably made by Aggie. In addition, she trapped water rats and turned their skins into drawstring purses. She also made reed mats, to protect polished furniture, and feather lures for fishermen and wove baskets.

Photographs of her camp show that she lived a comfortable life. On Saturday mornings she travelled in her buggy to Swan Hill to sell her craftwork, buy supplies, visit friends and, as she grew older, to collect her government rations. Agnes Edwards died on 17 November 1928 at her home and was buried in Swan Hill cemetery with Church of Christ forms. She had been a popular figure in the wider community, and the local Australian Natives' Association erected a tombstone in her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Feldtmann, Swan Hill (Adel, 1973)
  • J. P. Penney, ‘Queen Aggie: The Last of Her Tribe’, in M. Lake and F. Kelly (eds), Double Time (Melb, 1985)
  • Australasian, 6 May 1922, p 821
  • Swan Hill Guardian, 3 Feb 1965, p 5
  • J. P. Penney, The Death of Queen Aggie: Culture Contact in the Mid-Murray Region (B.A. Hons thesis, La Trobe University, 1977)
  • series B313 and B332 (National Archives of Australia)
  • G. Walker, Pioneering Days at Swan Hill (manuscript, 1922, Swan Hill Library)
  • A. Feldtmann papers (Swan Hill Library)
  • photos taken in 1911 (Swan Hill Library)
  • H. Booth letters (privately held).

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Jan Penney, 'Edwards, Agnes (1873–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edwards-agnes-12900/text23303, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Crow, Agnes
  • Black Aggie
  • Queen Aggie
Birth

1873
Moulamein, New South Wales, Australia

Death

17 November 1928
Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation