Camden Theological Library

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Paint Me Black: Memories of Croker Island and other journeys

Posted on 23 April 2014 Gavin Glenn

Claire Henty-Gebert was the child of white settler Harry Henty, and Ruby Ngwarie, an Alyawarra woman. Separated from her mother at three or four years of age, she was taken to the Bungalow in Alice Springs. She never saw her mother again.

In 1941, with Alice Springs preparing for the Second World War, children from the Bungalow were removed. Claire, along with other children were taken to Croker Island, where the Arafura and Timor Seas meet.

It’s clear from Claire’s story that this was a happy time for her – despite the harsh official policies, the Methodist missionaries showed compassion and practical concern for the children, With the War intensifying, a remarkable exodus south began – by boat, on foot, by canoe, truck , and train.

The children returned to Croker after the War, grew up, and in some cased, like Claire, spent their early adult lives on the island. She later moved to Darwin, survived Cyclone Tracy, and, with her husband, was involved in the aftermath of rebuilding. In later years, with the support of her family, Claire set off on what was perhaps the hardest journey of all: the search for her Aboriginal family.

Paint Me Black is told in simple, direct and powerful language. Claire’s story has been pieced together from primary documentary sources, traditional stories from her mother’s country, and from shared memories with friends and family.

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