Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Annie Moysey (1875–1976)

by Bobbie Hardy

This article was published:

Annie Moysey (d.1976), Aboriginal matriarch, was born probably in the 1870s near the junction of the Warrego and Darling rivers, New South Wales, daughter of Tom Kega, a European labourer, and a Gunu mother who died soon afterwards. The Gunu were a northern affiliation of the Barkindji tribes. Although Annie and her sisters were reared by their Gunu grandmother among the 'station blacks', they became deeply versed in tribal lore. While travelling, sometimes far to the north and west, Annie learned several Aboriginal languages. English, necessary only for communicating with the Whites, was of secondary importance: 'Barkindji's our lingo so we'll use it'.

If the youthful Annie's performance of the 'garombarn' (quivering of the legs) enlivened tribal dancing, she needed all her strength and vitality for the long years of toil that followed, mostly as sole provider for an ever-growing family. Her first husband Norman Clark did not help in raising their children, or the other children who came to her camp; her heart went out to any homeless child, whether her own kin or not. A river steamer abandoned near Louth made a roomy houseboat. The family fished from a bark canoe, kept goats for milk and meat, hunted, and gathered wild food in the bush. With her wagonette and horses, Annie worked on Toorale and other stations to earn money for their additional needs.

About 1920, a shortage of rural employment apparently forced Annie to take the children downriver to the Pooncarie Aboriginal reserve. To ensure her independence, she set up camp beyond its borders. A former Pooncarie nurse recalled her as a 'splendid woman' who worked tirelessly to make a decent living for her children. Moving to Wilcannia, Annie claimed to be aged 45 when she married Leonard Alfred Moysey, a 25-year-old European labourer, on 11 October 1930 at St James's Anglican Church, Wilcannia. Throughout the Depression years and onwards she remained the chief breadwinner.

They transferred to the Menindee Mission Station in 1933, but had returned to Wilcannia by 1939. Still active and hard-working, Annie was a forceful and outspoken member of a community that included her sisters, some of her own married children and numerous other relations. Again widowed, and growing old, she became known as 'Grannie Moysey', and was revered—and also feared—as a matriarch and keeper of the tribal laws which were sadly neglected, especially by the younger generation. If her verbal chastisement missed its mark, she gave a 'walloping' with her walking-stick. She was believed to have knowledge of the occult mysteries of the 'mekigar' (Barkindji witch doctor) and on one occasion helped the victim of a lightning strike to regain his consciousness and vision. Anthropologists, linguists and historians consulted her intermittently.

Late in life Grannie Moysey was to be seen seated on the shady veranda of the Wilcannia and District Hospital, smoking her trusty pipe. She died on 2 February 1976 in that hospital and was buried with Catholic rites in Wilcannia cemetery; four sons and eight daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Hardy, Lament for the Barkindji (Adel, 1976)
  • P. Memmott, Humpy, House and Tin Shed (Syd, 1991)
  • E. Crawford, Over My Tracks (Melb, 1993)
  • Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia (Canb, 1994)
  • Papers in Australian Linguistics, 10, 1976, p 33
  • private information.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Bobbie Hardy, 'Moysey, Annie (1875–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 May 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]


Bourke, New South Wales, Australia


2 February, 1976 (aged ~ 101)
Wilcannia, New South Wales, 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.