Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Turandurey (c. 1806–?)

by Allison Cadzow

This article was published online in 2020

This is a shared entry with Ballandella

Turandurey, with her daughter Ballandella, by T. L. Mitchell, 1836

Turandurey, with her daughter Ballandella, by T. L. Mitchell, 1836

State Library of New South Wales

Turandurey (c. 1806–?) and Ballandella (c. 1831—1863) were mother and daughter. A Wiradjuri woman, guide, and interpreter, Turandurey was born in the early 1800s. Her daughter, Ballandella, was born around 1831. One of the largest groups of Aboriginal people in New South Wales, the Wiradjuri managed the land of three rivers: the Kalare (Lachlan), Wambool (Macquarie), and Murrumbidgee.

In 1835 the governor of the colony of New South Wales, Richard Bourke, instructed Surveyor-General (Sir) Thomas Mitchell to finish surveying the lower Darling River where it joined the Millewa (Murray River). Mitchell described the party of men that set out in March 1836 as an ‘army with which … to traverse unexplored regions, peopled … by hostile tribes’ (1839, 3). An Aboriginal guide who spoke English, John Piper, was hired in a valley near Mount Canobolas, New South Wales. On 2 May the expedition encountered an Aboriginal group near the Kalare, mid-west New South Wales. The group, which included Turandurey, hid from them. Four-year-old Ballandella stayed behind with a blind child and a dog near the fire. Eventually, after assessing the situation, Turandurey and the others came forward. Mitchell tried to convince one of the group, an older Aboriginal man, to guide his party to water, but the man refused. Turandurey, who Mitchell described as a recent widow, was persuaded to take on the role by the older Aboriginal man.

There are few written accounts of Aboriginal women acting as guides. Turandurey shared guiding responsibilities with Piper and his partner, Kitty, who had joined the expedition near Regents Lake and was also probably Wiradjuri. Intimately familiar with the Kalare plains region, Turandurey gave directions on which way to travel, where to find water, and where to camp. Soon after joining the exploration party, she led Mitchell’s men to a waterhole, ‘Pomabil,’ where she pursued and then talked with an Aboriginal family. Mitchell wanted Piper to question an elderly male member of the group, but he was unable to, protocol requiring him to remain silent and avoid the gaze of the men for some time. Not bound in this way, Turandurey ‘became the intermediate channel of communication, for both spoke alternately in a low tone to her … until, at length, by slow degrees, they got into conversation’ (Mitchell 1839, 68).

Turandurey had a talent for expressive communication. Upon meeting a group of Aboriginal people on the bank of the Murrumbidgee on 7 May, she spoke in ‘a very animated and apparently eloquent manner … displaying fine teeth and [a] great earnestness of manner’ (Mitchell 1839, 76). Mitchell considered his ‘party fortunate in having met with such an interpreter’ (76). With Piper and Kitty, Turandurey provided information on local food sources, such as freshwater mussels and root vegetables, and cultural explanations of Wiradjuri birth and death practices. An adept mimic with a keen sense of humour, she entertained the party with her impersonations of Mitchell.

On 21 May Turandurey’s daughter Ballandella fell from the top of a cart and the wheel broke her leg in two places. The expedition’s medical attendant, John Drysdale, treated the child, creating a splint for her leg, but it did not set well, most likely leaving her with a permanent limp. She was remarkably stoic during her recovery—‘a splendid example of patience [and] endurance of pain’ (Stapylton 1986, 90)—and was soothed by her mother’s ‘peculiarly soft and musical’ (74) consolations and attentive care. Turandurey carried Ballandella on her back, refusing Mitchell’s offer to convey them both on the carts. Ballandella’s injury most likely tied Turandurey to the expedition longer than she wished. Mitchell’s second-in-command, Granville C. Stapylton, believed the accident was ‘somewhat providential’ because it prevented ‘collusion’ (74) between Turandurey and any other Aboriginal people she may have met. Turandurey and Ballandella stayed at the depot with Stapylton while Mitchell moved on with his contingent. As soon as the child’s bones had knitted, Turandurey expressed her desire to return to ‘her own country’ (Mitchell 1839, 162).

Three days later, on 24 May, Mitchell’s party encountered a group of Aboriginal people at Lake Benanee who they recognised as their ‘old enemies’ (Mitchell 1839, 92), the so-called ‘Darling tribe’ (100). Despite Mitchell’s threats to fire on them, the group followed them over the course of a few days, their presence making the Europeans anxious. Tensions peaked on 27 May when the Darling River group entered Mitchell’s ambush and ‘poised their spears’ (102). Mitchell’s men, without waiting for orders, fired upon the group, killing seven men, including one they assumed was the chief. The surveyor commemorated this violence by naming the site ‘Mount Dispersion.’ Although Turandurey and Ballandella were not with Mitchell during this affray, Kitty was; she showed the ‘presence of mind’ (104) to look after the horses while Mitchell’s men joined the fray, and no doubt reported the violence to Turandurey.

On 1 July Turandurey and Ballandella, with Kitty, left the expedition camp during the night, knowing that the ‘very severe frost’ would make it ‘almost impossible to track them’ (Stapylton 1986, 124–25). However, Turandurey’s feet became so ‘shockingly frostbitten’ that she had to stop alone in the bush while Piper took Kitty and Ballandella back to the camp. She joined them the next day. Two days later Mitchell decided to leave Turandurey and Ballandella behind. Mother and daughter were presented with shirts, flour, and meat. Turandurey was given a tomahawk, which she planned to use to make a canoe for Ballandella to cross the Millewa. Mitchell claimed that Ballandella had come to prefer bread to bush tucker and cried on leaving the expedition. Turandurey’s attempt to return to her people was short lived. Confronted by a group of unwelcoming Wiradjuri on the opposite bank, she retreated, carrying Ballandella on her back, and rejoined the expedition camp.

The position of guide could be precarious. Alliances with white explorers could increase the potential for conflict and suspicion between groups, making it a risky role to take on. However, it could also present opportunities for increased knowledge of people far removed from usual travel routes. On 10 August, in a valley near the Wando River, western Port Phillip District (Victoria), Turandurey and Kitty met an Aboriginal woman and noted that her basket and rush mats were different from theirs. Although from distant areas, the women understood each other. Turandurey interpreted for Mitchell, demonstrating the use of the tomahawk gifted to the woman.

Mitchell returned to Sydney with Piper and Kitty ahead of the main party, leaving the expedition camp on 19 September. He reported in his journal that, before they left, Turandurey, her face painted white around the eyes to show she was mourning, committed Ballandella, whose face had also been whitened, to his charge, but under Kitty’s immediate care. Mitchell was pleased to help Ballandella escape the ‘wretched state of slavery’ (Mitchell 1839, 265) that he believed Aboriginal women faced. That he persisted in this view even though Turandurey had just acted relatively independently, guiding him around her country and beyond, belied his greater wish ‘to take back [to Sydney] … an aboriginal child, with the intention of ascertaining, what might be the effect of education upon one of that race’ (163).

However, Stapylton was sceptical about this arrangement, finding it ‘most unaccountabl[e]’ that Turandurey would make such ‘a present to Major Mitchell’ (Stapylton 1986, 187). He later wrote that Ballandella had been ‘kidnapped away to a station 10 miles distant’ (235). His account sparked some debate when his journal was first published in 1986. Bernard Barrett, the State historian of Victoria, construed it as proof that Mitchell had taken the child without the mother’s consent (Canberra Times 1986, 11). Jack Brook dismissed this view, arguing that Mitchell had simply failed to inform his second-in-command. Drawing on Stapylton’s observation that Turandurey had been amply supplied with kangaroo and other foods, and that she had become ‘enormously fat’ (quoted in Mitchell 1839, 335), Brook speculated that she gave up Ballandella because she was pregnant, most likely to Piper. Turandurey left the expedition in early November, near the Campaspe River, Port Phillip District. She departed to ‘marry’ King Joey. (This may have been King Joe of the Wiradjuri, presented with a breast plate in 1844 at Bangaroo station, near Canowindra.)

Ballandella was brought to Sydney to live with Mitchell’s family, but she was not regarded as a true member of the family. When Mitchell returned to England with his wife and children in 1837, Ballandella was left behind. Placed in the care of (Sir) Charles Nicholson, a medical doctor, she probably lived with Nicholson’s relatives on the Dyrubbin (Hawkesbury River) north of Sydney, which is where his uncle, William Ascough, held land. Mitchell later described taking her in as an ‘experiment … in developing … the mental energies of the Australian Aborigines’ (Mitchell 1839, 346). He proudly reported that she read at a similar level to white children of the same age.

On 17 December 1839 at the Presbyterian Church, Wiseman’s Ferry, Lower Hawkesbury, Ballandella was baptised. In 1846 she gave birth to a daughter, Mary, whose European father, Joseph Howard, was a labourer. She later partnered John Luke Barber, a Dharug or Darkinyung man. They had five or six children. Barber worked on a property at Sackville Reach, which is also where the family lived, with a community of around twenty Aboriginal people; later, part of the area became an Aboriginal reserve. When Ballandella died in December 1863, her funeral was attended by neighbours and ‘most of the Aborigines on the river’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1863, 5). Barber remarried several times and was reportedly the father of twenty-nine children when he died in 1905.

Turandurey does not appear in the public record after 1836 and what happened in her later life is not known. However, a street in Balranald in the Riverina district of New South Wales was named after her in 1851. Ballandella Street was proclaimed in the same district in 1853 and, in 1887, a road in the Sydney suburb of Toongabbie was named after Ballandella. A rural locality twenty kilometres south of Echuca, Victoria, also bears her name. The unusual circumstances of Turandurey’s story as a female Aboriginal guide captured the imagination of white audiences in the 1940s and 1950s when a number of newspaper articles about the ‘widow’ (Webb 1947, 12) and her child were printed. However, most histories of Aboriginal guides have focused on men, assuming it was an exclusively masculinist practice. Her story challenges this interpretation.

 

Allison Cadzow is of British and European descent. She researched this entry while living and working on Ngunnawal/Ngambri/Ngarigo country.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Brook, Jack. ‘The Widow and the Child.’ Aboriginal History 12, no. 1 (1988): 63–76
  • Cadzow, Allison. ‘“Guided by Her”: Aboriginal Women’s Participation in Australian Expeditions.’ In Brokers and Boundaries, Colonial Exploration in Indigenous Territory, edited by Tiffany Shellam, Maria Nugent, Shino Konishi, and Allison Cadzow, 85–118. Canberra: ANU Press and Aboriginal History Inc., 2016
  • Canberra Times. ‘Explorer “Might Have Kidnapped” Aboriginal.’ 18 October 1986, 11
  • Mitchell, Thomas. Three Expeditions in the Interior of Eastern Australia: with Descriptions of the Recently Explored Region of Australia Felix and the of the Present Colony of New South Wales. Vol. 2. 2nd ed. London: T. & W. Boone, 1839
  • Stapylton, Granville William Chetwynd. Stapylton with Major Mitchell's Australia Felix Expedition, 1836. Hobart: Blubber Head Press, 1986
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Hawkesbury River.’ 15 December 1863, 5
  • Webb, E. M. ‘A River and a Black Widow.’ Herald (Melbourne), 30 August 1947, 12

Additional Resources

Citation details

Allison Cadzow, 'Turandurey (c. 1806–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turandurey-29903/text37019, published online 2020, accessed online 27 November 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Turandurey, with her daughter Ballandella, by T. L. Mitchell, 1836

Turandurey, with her daughter Ballandella, by T. L. Mitchell, 1836

State Library of New South Wales