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Kennedy, Margaret (Marnie) (1919–1985)

by Jonathan Richards

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Margaret (Marnie) Kennedy (1919-1985), domestic servant and writer, was born in 1919 on the bank of Coppermine Creek, near Cloncurry, Queensland, daughter of Rosie Baker, a Kalkadoon woman, and an unknown white man. Marnie was sent as a young child, with her mother, to Palm Island Aboriginal reserve. She witnessed the traumatic events in 1930 when officials shot dead the settlement’s superintendent, Robert Curry, who had run amok, killing his two children, wounding other white staff and setting fire to buildings. At 13 she was sent to work as a domestic servant at Blue Range station, north-west of Charters Towers.

On 28 July 1936 at St George’s Church of England, Palm Island, Marnie married Alwyn Kennedy, an Aboriginal stockman on Blue Range. Rev. Ernest Gribble officiated. A son, Alwyn Patrick, was born later that year. The couple was granted exemption from the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (1897) that controlled Aboriginal life. Separating from her husband, Marnie Kennedy moved to Ingham, where she stayed with the Illins, a Russian-Aboriginal family, and worked on cane-farms. She returned to Blue Range and another son was born in 1945. From 1948, now living with a man she called `Sam’, she worked on Oban, Oxton Downs, Walgra and Carandotta stations in western Queensland; a daughter was born in 1949. She made sure that her children received a good education.

About 1970 Mrs Kennedy moved to Charters Towers, and later to Townsville. In 1982 she published a short story, `God’s Gift to the Aborigines’, in Identity. It was brief but powerful, depicting the knowledge and wisdom of Aboriginal culture in simple and effective language. In her view, the land and its resources should be shared between the original inhabitants and any `invaders’. In a poem, `Our History’, featured in the same issue, she described Aboriginal people as `wild and free’ until Captain Cook `came for a look’, with his `goats, chooks and crooks’, and asserted that `now there are chains on our necks to our knees’.

`Our History’ was reprinted in the Asian Bureau Australia Newsletter in 1984, with her article `The Human Cost …’, which argued that the Aboriginal experience of European law and culture had been confusing and destructive. On Palm Island some officials were obsessed with personal hygiene and sexual morality, while others were intent on systematically and ruthlessly destroying Aboriginal culture, dividing Aboriginal families and repressing any sign of resistance. Unable to understand what Indigenous people had done to deserve this cruel punishment, she hoped that white Australians would eventually realise that terrible injustices had been inflicted on them. She wanted future generations of Aborigines to know `this part of our history’, but looked forward to the day when `young white Australians will help to heal the damage the government did over a hundred years’.

In 1985 Marnie Kennedy published her autobiography, Born a Half-Caste. She and Alwyn were divorced in 1959. Later known as Mrs James Chester, she died of cancer on 30 September 1985 at Townsville and was buried with Catholic rites in Belgian Gardens cemetery. Her three children survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Govor, My Dark Brother (2000).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jonathan Richards, 'Kennedy, Margaret (Marnie) (1919–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kennedy-margaret-marnie-12731/text22959, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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