Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harry Norman Fatnowna (1897–1967)

by Clive R. Moore

This article was published:

Harry Norman Fatnowna (1897?-1967), sugar-farmer, lay preacher and community leader, was born probably in 1897 on Palms estate, near Mackay, Queensland, fourth of five children of Solomon Islanders John Kwailiu Abelfai Fatnowna (d.1906), plantation labourer, and his wife Maggie Orrani. In 1906 Maggie married her kinsman Luke Logomier (d.1919), a lay preacher at St Mary's Anglican chapel, Farleigh. Harry was educated at the local school and became a labourer at Palms. By 1918 he owned a small cane-farm at Farleigh. On 20 February that year at Holy Trinity Church, Mackay, he married a Solomon Islander Grace Kwasi; they were to have fifteen children. Succeeding his stepfather as lay preacher at St Mary's in 1919, Fatnowna attended the Anglican synod at Townsville in 1921 and was held in high regard in the Church. By 1922 the family had moved to Eulberti, a farm near Eimeo owned by Peter Christensen, where they remained for thirty-four years, working for the local farmers and growing their own crops.

Despite attempts by the Anglicans to retain him, in the early 1920s Fatnowna was converted to Seventh-day Adventism and took half his congregation with him. In 1925 he organized the building of the first Adventist church in the district. With his eldest son Norman, he proselytized among the Islanders: by the 1930s there were three more Adventist congregations. A gifted orator, and a dynamic and respected leader, Fatnowna helped to strengthen members of the Islander community in the rural areas around Mackay who suffered from poverty and racial discrimination. In 1932-34 he opposed the establishment of a segregated primary school for Islanders at Walkerston and helped to clear crown land at Nulla, near Bloomsbury, for an Islander farming settlement. Later in that decade Fatnowna obtained a perpetual lease of 13 acres (5 ha) for his family at Etowrie; in 1956 he moved with them to Andergrove where they bought 5 acres (2 ha).

His accounts-book and diary, kept from 1939 to 1961, revealed a methodical, careful man. The Fatnownas had much in common with others in the Islander community, but in some ways they were exceptional. In typical fashion, their Eulberti home was grass-thatched and constructed in Malaitan style, with a men's house and a main house. Yet the family was comparatively affluent, possessing a horse and sulky, bicycles and later a utility car; they also had a piano, and Fatnowna took and developed his own photographs. His children, who became leaders in the Adventist Church, were well educated by rural standards of the time. In 1932 Norman had been the first Islander to attend Mackay High School.

Mixing with leading Europeans in the district, Harry numbered the barrister W. A. Amiet and the politician Ernest Evans among his friends. Fatnowna remained an elder of the Farleigh Adventist Church until silenced by a stroke in 1962. Survived by his wife, seven sons and three daughters, he died of broncho-pneumonia on 25 June 1967 at Mackay and was buried in the local cemetery. A street in Andergrove was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Fatnowna, Fragments of a Lost Heritage, R. Keesing ed (Syd, 1989)
  • P. M. Mercer, The Survival of a Pacific Islander Population in North Queensland, 1900-1940 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1981)
  • registers of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Mackay, Queensland
  • H. N. Fatnowna accounts book (copy held by author)
  • private information.

Citation details

Clive R. Moore, 'Fatnowna, Harry Norman (1897–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 12 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Mackay, Queensland, Australia


25 June, 1967 (aged ~ 70)
Mackay, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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