Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Ridgeway, Sidney William (1895–1959)

by Heather Radi

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

Sidney William Ridgeway (1895-1959), Aboriginal labourer, was born on 12 October 1895 at Karuah, New South Wales, youngest of three sons of William Ridgeway, fisherman, and his wife Charlotte, née Russell; William and Charlotte were of Worimi descent, and were referred to by missionaries as 'King' and 'Queen'. Sidney was educated at the half-time Aliceton (Karuah) Public School. In 1902 William was a petitioner for its restoration to full-time status; in 1907 White parents secured the exclusion of Aboriginal children, so Sid's formal education ended before he was 12.

The families of Ridgeway brothers and cousins at Port Stephens lived by fishing and growing crops, moving between Aboriginal reserves at Sawyers Point (Karuah) and Soldiers Point; they were drawn partly by seasonal factors but also as converts of the Aborigines Inland Mission of Australia. When contacted by Retta Long about 1904, they already knew some hymns. Ridgeways became staunch supporters of the A.I.M. Its tiny church at Karuah was built entirely by Aboriginal labour, Sid helping to decorate it with woodcarving.

When Dan Ridgeway attempted to enrol Aboriginal children at Karuah school in 1914, again White parents blocked admission. Mrs Long's badgering of the authorities on their behalf resulted in the appointment of an untrained teacher to a segregated provisional school. The family lost access to land at Soldiers Point in 1916, when the reserve was resumed. In 1925 Sid was a foundation executive member of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association, set up by Fred Maynard. The association demanded 'sufficient good land in fee simple to maintain a family' and removal of the Aboriginal Protection Board's authority over children. Its programme expanded to include replacement of the board's reserve managers by educated Aborigines, care for 'incapables', and a royal commission.

In Sydney on 26 November 1927 at Chatswood Baptist Church Sid married CORRA Robertson (1892-1975), who had been born at Mudgee, daughter of William Robertson and his wife Nancy, née Phillips. There were two sons of the marriage, one dying in infancy. A cousin of Maynard's, Corra had been given into the care of A.I.M. missionaries at Singleton as an infant and from about 1916 was in domestic service with the Watson family at Ashfield. Believing a proper education was essential for Aboriginal success, Corra persuaded Sid to move to Sydney, where he worked as a builder's labourer and later at Chullora railways workshops. Aboriginal descent being no bar to public schools in Sydney, though it remained so at Karuah, the Ridgeways' surviving son proceeded to the leaving certificate and later ran a trucking business. Corra was a strict Baptist and an A.I.M. supporter. Her sweet singing graced many of its meetings.

Mrs Long believed Aborigines should take responsibility for training their own people. Having acquired land for a Native Workers Training College at Pindimar on Port Stephens, in 1937 she set up the Australian Aboriginal Missionary Movement, with Mr and Mrs Sid Ridgeway of Chullora as its 'central officers'. The A.A.M.M. was an autonomous Aboriginal organization for funding the training of and paying stipends to Aboriginal evangelists. By 1939 it had fourteen branches and had raised £1311. The intention of channelling the money through the Ridgeways to where need was greatest broke down with the mission's expansion interstate, and from 1941 co-ordination of the A.A.M.M. was centred at the training college.

The Ridgeways were well regarded at Chullora (Greenacre). Sid became a reader at the Church of Christ, Bankstown, and played cricket for North Bankstown. He died of cerebral thrombosis on 29 August 1959 at his home and was buried in the Independent section of Rookwood cemetery; his wife and son survived him. Corra died on 25 April 1975 at Lidcombe Hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Scott, The Port Stephens Blacks (Dungog, NSW, 1929)
  • H. Goodall, Invasion to Embassy (Syd, 1996)
  • New South Wales Aborigines’ Advocate, 31 Oct 1904, p 3
  • Our AIM, July 1916, p 4, 30 June 1919, p 3, 31 Dec 1919, p 7, 20 Dec 1923, p 9, 23 Jan 1928, p 4, 15 May 1937, p 11, 15 Mar 1938, p 4
  • Voice of the North, 14 Apr 1925, p 17, 10 Dec 1925, p 18, 10 June 1927, p 18
  • Australian Evangel, 2, no 11, Dec 1931, p 8, 21, no 7, 1952, p 3
  • New South Wales Aborigines’ Welfare Board, Dawn, Nov 1959, p 21
  • Aboriginal History, 14, nos 1-2, 1990, p 1
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 2 July 1927, p 6
  • school files, 5/14638.2, 5/16423.2 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Ridgeway, Sidney William (1895–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ridgeway-sidney-william-13170/text23837, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 April 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014