Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Michael Moonlight (1889–1970)

by Ysola Best

This article was published:

Michael Moonlight (c.1889-1970), Aboriginal stockman, was born about 1889 at Mount Merlin station, near Boulia, Queensland, son of King Baly and his wife Mammie. King Baly's people, the Kalkadoon, had resisted European attempts to take their lands until a force of settlers and Queensland Native Mounted Police defeated them in battle near Kajabbi in 1884. Michael long remembered how his father was treated: 'They brought him in from the bush and ''quietened" [pacified] him'. Moonlight worked as a stockman on stations around Boulia, including Strathelbiss and Marion Downs, before being employed on nearby Chatsworth where he acquired his own house and horses. As a young man, he married Lizzie Cherigsue. Later, he married Lardie Roberts.

In 1955 it was decided that the Moonlights should be sent to Palm Island Aboriginal Settlement where Lardie was to receive medical treatment. Percy, their 13-year-old son, accompanied them to Townsville. The local press reported the family's arrival in the city and their transfer to the island by boat. Moonlight was intrigued by the sights and sounds of the busy streets; since it was the first time he had seen the sea, he was afraid of the last leg of the journey to Palm Island. Twelve months later he asked permission to return home to Chatsworth station.

A western Queensland identity, Moonlight was a hard worker who was respected by his family, his employers and the community. Some Whites gave him an ornate metal gorget inscribed, 'Moonlight—King of the Burke' [region]. The office of the protector of Aborigines managed many aspects of his life and he endorsed documents with his thumbprint. Like numerous other Aborigines, he had contributed to the development of pastoralism in western Queensland. By helping linguists and historians, he was to do much to preserve the cultural heritage of his people.

Moonlight lived in retirement at the Aboriginal camp outside Boulia. From the mid-1960s he and his wife assisted Barry Blake to record the Kalkatungu language. Blake learned about tribal boundaries, place names, songs and grammar. From 1970 Lardie continued working with Blake and another linguist, Gavan Breen. Audiotapes (1966-75) of the Moonlights speaking Kalkatungu are held at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. Michael and Lardie also provided information to R. E. M. Armstrong who studied the experiences of the Kalkadoon people after European settlement.

During a visit to comfort relations—whose son had been drowned while mustering stock on Davenport Downs station—Moonlight died on 29 September 1970 at Dajarra and was buried in Boulia cemetery with Methodist forms. He was survived by his wife, their three sons and one of their three daughters, and by two daughters and one of the three sons of his first marriage. Once his funeral expenses had been paid, his estate amounted to $97. Leslie Campbell's portrait of Moonlight and Lardie is held by the Stone House Museum, Boulia.

Select Bibliography

  • R. E. M. Armstrong, Kalkadoons (Brisb, nd)
  • B. Rosser, Dreamtime Nightmares (Canb, 1985)
  • North Queensland Register, 19 Nov 1955, 3 Oct 1970
  • North-West Star, 30 Sept 1970
  • Townsville Bulletin, 3 Oct 1970
  • Dept of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs (Brisbane), file 8L/260, Lardie Moonlight (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ysola Best, 'Moonlight, Michael (1889–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Boulia, Queensland, Australia


29 September, 1970 (aged ~ 81)
Dajarra, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.