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Fraser, Eulla/Fulgentius (c. 1899–1967)

by Cindy Solonec

This article was published:

Fulgentius Fraser, Willumbah, c 1950

Fulgentius Fraser, Willumbah, c 1950

Family

Eulla Fraser (1899–1967), later known as Fulgentius, evangelist, drover, and stockman, was born in 1899 on his Nyikina (Nigena) homelands at Liveringa station, near Derby, Western Australia, son of Wadadarl (Brumby), a full descent Nyikina woman, and Percival (Percy) Rose, a gudiya (non-Indigenous) stockman. Rose paid the station overseer Walter Fraser, a Scotsman, £500 to be his son’s legal guardian and namesake. As a child Eulla lived with his Nyikina family and siblings in the camp on the station. He was known by his bush name Yoolya, which is spelt ‘Eulla’, the way Europeans heard it.

Eulla was forcibly removed from his Nyikina family in December 1909 by the authority of sections 8 and 60 of the Aborigines Act 1905 (Western Australia). Taken on a slow, jarring, 74-mile (120 km) trip by horse and dray to Derby, he and twelve other Aboriginal boys were were put aboard the SS Koombana along with sheep and stores, bound for the newly established Drysdale River Mission at Pago, in the most north-westerly reaches of Western Australia. The mission was relocated to Kalumburu in 1937. The young passengers suffered dreadful seasickness in rough conditions, their first voyage on an ocean-going ship occurring in the build-up to the cyclone season. Soon after arrival at the mission Eulla was baptised a Catholic and renamed Fulgentius after the incumbent abbot of New Norcia, Fulgentius Torres. Alongside his understanding of local Aboriginal languages—Nykinia, Walmatjarri, and Bunuba—he learned to speak English and Spanish and helped to bring local Aboriginal people, mainly Yiiji (Kulari) and Gunin (Kwini/Kuini), into the mission. Torres, in his reports to Chief Protector of Aborigines Charles Frederick Gale, claimed that Fulgentius and the other Aboriginal boys at the mission showed a ‘decided willingness and eagerness for assisting in everything that has been done’; he described them as ‘active, intelligent … [and] much attached to the priests’ (DLGSC 945/40).

There were two priests at the isolated mission, Father Altimira and Father Alcade, and six lay brothers. On 27 September 1913 a group of local Kwini people attacked the mission, likely because they were suspicious of interlopers and did not understand why the missionaries persisted in staying on their country uninvited. The two priests and one brother were injured, Alcade most severely, being pierced by three spears. They were saved when the fourteen-year-old Fulgentius, displaying quick-thinking and bravery, fired a gun into the air to distract the Kwini from attacking the missionaries.

In 1918 Fraser reached a marriageable age and was sent to Beagle Bay Mission on the Dampier Peninsula to find a ‘suitable’ wife. Restricted by Chief Protector of Aborigines A. O. Neville’s eugenic policies, he was only permitted to marry a woman of the same complexion as himself, or who had fairer skin. On 5 August 1919 at the mission, Fraser, then working as a baker, married Phillipena Melycan (Jira), also known as Sarah; they would have nine children—eight girls and one boy. In 1923, with their first child Katie, the couple moved to Drysdale River Mission where their second child, Aggie, was born. Fraser resumed his evangelistic role while Phillipena worked with local women, teaching them how to perform domestic chores. The family returned to Beagle Bay in 1924.

During the 1930s, Beagle Bay was short of money and work opportunities for its inmates, so Fraser had little choice but to find work outside the mission, and he moved away. Over the next ten years, he worked as a drover for Streeter & Male Ltd, a Broome-based pastoral and pearling enterprise. He became known as ‘Fred’ to his contemporaries. The work took him from his family for long periods. For two years he worked at Ethel Creek station in the Pilbara. With a droving plant—a team of packhorses, saddle horses, night horses, and sometimes camels–and often in charge, he took cattle from Anna Plains station south of Broome along stock routes to Meekatharra, the 600-mile (961 km) journey taking up to four months. He had stayed in contact with the Benedictines and, in 1930, he left his droving plant at Meekatharra and rode 372 miles (600 km) south-west to New Norcia to visit Father Alcade. Their mutual affection had not faded. He was held in high esteem for his earlier role in saving the missionaries’ lives.

In 1940 Fraser moved closer to his Nyikina country after securing a job as a sheep overseer at Myroodah station, a one-million-acre (404,685 ha) pastoral property south of Mardoowarra (Fitzroy River), where his family later joined him. Keen to improve his family’s circumstances, he applied for exemption from the Aborigines Act 1905 for his family. Under the Act, the State government could control where Aboriginal people lived and worked, their entitlement to wages, and their personal relationships. Fraser reasoned that being exempt would enable him and his family to live as gudiya rather than being controlled by them. He gathered several references from associates, a mission priest, and his employer, who commended his work ethic, and his application was approved in March 1941.

Fraser’s father’s nephew, Kim Rose, manager of Liveringa station, offered him a position as head stockman in the early 1940s, which he accepted with enthusiasm. More than three decades after being removed from his homeland, he returned. With his family he moved to Willumbah, an outstation nine miles (15 km) from the homestead, where he trained jackaroos from Perth and Broome in stock work. His knowledge of Nyikina country, its geography, and where musters could and could not traverse for cultural reasons was exemplary. Continuing his evangelistic work, he introduced his Nyikina countrimin (Aboriginal people) to Catholicism, but without pressure; he did not force Western dogmas on anyone. At the same time he maintained a strong understanding of Aboriginal beliefs, customs, and ceremonial commitments. When bush people walked to ceremonial grounds during Lore time, he ensured they had extra rations.

In the early 1960s a fencing wire snapped, piercing Fraser’s left hand; gangrene set in, extending to his elbow joint and rendering his arm incapacitated. Kim Rose asked the Kimberley Pastoral Co. to pay for his treatment and airfares to a Perth hospital, arguing that he was a long-time, loyal, and dedicated employee with special connections to the Rose family. It is not known whether he received any financial assistance or compensation. Unable to continue working as a stockman after the accident, he and his family moved to Derby where he continued his evangelistic work, bringing Aboriginal people who had been pushed off their homelands during the downturn in the pastoral industry into the church. He was also employed as a cook at the local Aboriginal reserve. Survived by his wife Phillipena and nine children, he died on 4 July 1967 at Derby and was buried in the Derby Pioneer cemetery. He is remembered as a pillar of the church and as a good-humoured, empathetic, and considerate man who never pressured others to follow his faith.

 

Cindy Solonec is Nyikina (Nigena) and a granddaughter of Fulgentius Eulla Fraser. She consulted with other family in writing this article.

Research edited by Kiera Donnelly

Select Bibliography

  • Fraser, Edna. Interview by Jacinta Solonec, 2003. Battye Library, Perth
  • Perez, Eugene. Kalumburu: The Benedictine Mission and the Aborigines, 1908–1975. Wyndham (WA): Kalumburu Benedictine Mission, 1977
  • Rev. Fr. Flood. ‘The Drysdale River Native Mission—An Attack by the Natives.’ West Australian Record (Perth), 25 July 1914, 3
  • Solonec, Jacinta. ‘Shared Lives on Nigena Country: A Joint Biography of Katie and Frank Rodriguez 1944–1994.’ PhD thesis, University of Western Australia, Perth, 2015
  • Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (WA). Item 945/40, Personal File, Fulgentius Fraser, Department of Native Affairs

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Cindy Solonec, 'Fraser, Eulla/Fulgentius (c. 1899–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fraser-eullafulgentius-30055/text37295, published first in hardcopy 2021, accessed online 21 September 2021.

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