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Wilson, Mark (1868–1940)

by Peter Read

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Mark Wilson (1868-1940), Aboriginal leader, was born in June 1868 into the Lewurindjerar clan of the Jaralde people in the vicinity of Murray Bridge, South Australia, son of Long Billy and Emily Liwuni (Lewinne), later the wife of Bob Wilson. Thralrum grew up in the Aboriginal mission at Point McLeay where he became a teacher both of Christian ethics and general curriculum at the Raukkan school in 1886. Speaking English and Ngarrindjeri (Jeraldkeld), as a young man he was a prominent spokesman for his people at the mission in their negotiations with the management of the Aborigines' Friends' Association. His status and willingness to express his opinions were reflected in 1889 when he was deputed to write a letter of protest over the association's choice of a superintendent after the death of Frederick Taplin. Under some pressure from the mission authorities, Wilson left Raukkan for Adelaide about 1891.

He worked subsequently in various jobs, including shearing, and as a driver for an Adelaide doctor. In 1895 he issued an address of welcome on behalf of South Australian Aborigines to the new governor, Sir Thomas Buxton, and was described by the South Australian Register as a 'very intelligent native'. G. K. Jenkin, a historian of Ngarrindjeri culture and society, characterized Wilson as one of the 'most dynamic and influential' Aboriginal leaders in the colony by the turn of the century.

Like his friend and contemporary David Unaipon, Wilson was raised in a strongly Evangelical environment, but it is possible that the extent to which such leaders of that generation retained and transmitted respect for, and details of, traditional knowledge, has been underestimated. Wilson was able to follow Christianity, achieve fluency in the English language, mix with non-Aborigines, remain in employment, yet still keep firmly fixed within Aboriginal society and beliefs. He is gaining recognition in modern Nunga society for his role in passing on memory of the older ways. Little is known of the middle period of his life, but by the 1930s he was well known in the State as an authoritative spokesman for his people on traditional Aboriginal matters. He was acquainted with the anthropologist Ronald Berndt and demonstrated to him the construction of tree-canoes. Another anthropologist, Kenneth Fry, recorded aspects of traditional culture told to him by Wilson. In 1937 the Aborigines' Friends' Association recognized Wilson as a distinguished 'old boy' who had been raised and trained by their teachers. For his part, Wilson acknowledged the help of the association in saving the lives of the Ngarrindjeri in the nineteenth century.

Described as an `Aboriginal labourer', Wilson died of heart disease on 25 November 1940 at Royal Adelaide Hospital. He was unmarried. His burial is unrecorded. On his death the association described him as `one of the outstanding leaders of the native race, well versed in native traditions, lore and legends. He possessed musical ability, was a capable [teacher and] speaker and a good chairman' who would be missed by those for whose rights he had been an ardent advocate.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Jenkin, Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri (Adel, 1979)
  • Aborigines' Friends' Association, Annual Report, 1937, 1940.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Read, 'Wilson, Mark (1868–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-mark-9144/text16135, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 June 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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