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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rankine, Annie Isabel (1917–1972)

by Judith Raftery

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Annie Isabel Rankine (1917-1972), Aboriginal leader, was born on 26 February 1917 at the Aboriginal Station, Point McLeay (Raukkan), South Australia, third of eleven children of Clarence Long, woodcutter, and his wife Polly, née Beck, both South Australian born. One of the Ngarrindjeri people, Annie spent her life at Point McLeay, near the south-eastern shore of Lake Alexandrina. She was educated at the local school, but left in 1928 to care for her siblings after her mother died in childbirth. At the Point McLeay manse on 16 February 1935 she married with Congregational forms Hendle Henry Rankine, a widower and a labourer from the local community; they were to have nine children, four of whom died in early childhood.

Although the Rankines' material circumstances were modest (they lived in a two-roomed house), Annie managed her family's affairs so capably that she was granted a level of independence from bureaucratic control enjoyed by few Aborigines at that time. Her life was one of service—to her family, her community and the Aboriginal people of South Australia. She fostered children in need, cleaned the school and church (of which she was a faithful member), practised traditional medicine, taught crafts and customs to the women and children of Point McLeay and Meningie, and recorded Ngarrindjeri lore. Her generosity and kindness became legendary. After hearing that two little girls had nothing to wear to a school concert, she cut up one of the few frocks she owned to make dresses for them, adding different coloured bows to make each dress special.

Admired for her integrity, fairness and strength of character, Mrs Rankine enjoyed excellent relationships with staff at the reserve and with officers of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. In her efforts to achieve social benefits for her people, she rejected favouritism and was committed to the rights of all. She believed that Aborigines' interests were best served by developing positive attitudes and rapport with others. In 1968 she was elected founding chairman of the Point McLeay community council and in 1970 was appointed M.B.E. She said that she 'just worked along quietly for her people' and wanted more houses, better conditions and adult education classes to enable them 'to get somewhere' rather than continuing to be 'spoonfed'.

Rankine encouraged her children to adopt her values and commitments. Her daughters Polly, Leah and Harriet worked at the Aboriginal Women's Home, Sussex Street, North Adelaide, in the late 1950s and early 1960s; her son Henry, who succeeded her as chairman of the Point McLeay community council, was awarded the O.A.M. in 1992. Annie Rankine died of pneumonia and myocardial failure on 11 June 1972 at Tailem Bend hospital and was buried in Point McLeay cemetery; two of her five sons and three of her four daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Mattingley and K. Hampton (eds), Survival in Our Own Land (Adel, 1988)
  • B. Salgado, Murrundi Voices (Murray Bridge, SA, 1994)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 13 June 1970, 13 June 1972
  • private information.

Citation details

Judith Raftery, 'Rankine, Annie Isabel (1917–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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