I often wondered why I was called Susan.


I often wondered why I was called Susan!

There were Grandfathers on both sides of the family who were called John, so it was a no brainer to see where my brother got his name from. My sister Annette was named after one of my mother’s sisters who had died in early childhood. Mum finally told me that I was named after Susan, a delightful, young Aboriginal girl who lived in a camp beside Commissioner’s Creek at the bottom of the garden at “Earthorpe”, the property where my grandmother spent her childhood. Susan used to love helping in the homestead. She always went about her work humming. Later on, she started her own washing business in town and that was when Mum got to know her. My grandmother used to take in boarders after her husband shot through to Adelaide to avoid facing a very public divorce in Armidale where he was the well-respected editor and owner of the Armidale Express, leaving my grandmother and her five remaining children in dire financial straits. As my grandmother had plenty to do cooking, doing the housework, tending the garden, looking after the five children plus the boarders, she employed Susan to do the heavy washing. Mum told me that she was very fond of Susan. She was always such a happy person and was still humming as she went about her work. I am privileged to be named after Susan and feel a certain kinship with the Aboriginal people so I was very disappointed when I encountered them on our trip to Cape York, that a lot of them looked at me with abject disgust, cast their eyes downward or turned their backs. Very few returned my smile. I feel sad that I didn’t learn anything about the Aboriginal people at school. While researching material for “The Reluctant Camper Goes to Cape York” I have learnt a lot about what happened to them after the arrival of Captain Cook, and afterwards the first settlers, who took over Aboriginal land, shunting them off, not realising that it was their land, because they didn’t put up any fences. During my whole time at school I had only learnt a few basic facts about Australian history. We were even given a bum steer about the first explorer to discover Australia. We were taught that it was Dirk Hartogg who landed on the coast of Western Australia in 1616. When in fact he was the second arrival. Another Dutch Explorer Willem Janszoon had beaten him to the punch in February 1606 when he landed on the western side of Cape York Peninsula. During my research I also discovered that our Australian history is absolutely fabulous, full of wonderful characters and amazing exploits including Captain Cook’s voyage of discovery up the eastern coast of Australia, his initial interactions with the Aboriginal people, the decision to send convicts here, the terrible treatment by the government officials, the police and early settlers of the Aboriginal people, the missionaries endeavouring to convert them, the brave explorers albeit sometimes foolhardy, not to mention the hardship underwent by the early settlers themselves.

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Susan Joy Alexander

Susan Alexander is a former tennis champion, successful business woman and a poet.