WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.
23 July 2020 // Jimmy Clements & John Noble
Jimmy Clements aka King Billy and John Noble aka Marvellous (1800s-March1928)
Jimmy was believed to have been born at either Mandagery or at Eugowra Station, Mandagery Creeks.
John was born at Muttama, not far from Gundagai, where he lived intermittently throughout his long life.
Both were born into a time of large-scale dispossession and upheaval (first Wiradjuri–white contact was about 1813), of massacres and of mass poisonings. They had lived at various times on the Brungle reserve between Gundagai and Tumut at the foot of the Snowy Mountains.
Clements, widely known as ‘King Billy’, was respected as a ‘clever man’, moving throughout the southern highlands organising and leading traditional ceremonies. Noble or ‘Marvellous’ had periodically been employed as a shepherd on Limestone Plains stations and was famous for his skills with the boomerang and street comedy.
Both were old men in 1927 and they walked for three days from the Brungle Aboriginal Station near Tumut to Canberra. On 9 May 1927 Clements and Noble were the only Aboriginal people to protest the opening of Parliament House.
The Melbourne Argus (10 May 1927) recorded that an ‘ancient Aborigine … who claims sovereign rights to the Federal Capital Territory’, ‘old and grey and ruggedly picturesque’, attempted to join the festivities.
The police tried to move him along, but the crowd ‘instinctively … rallied to his side’ and a clergyman called out that “the Aborigine had a better right than any man present’ to be there.” Next day the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Marvellous gave the Duke ‘an approved military salute’ which the Duke ‘returned with a special wave’.
Just four months later Clements died at Queanbeyan while being transferred to hospital. A correspondent to the Herald (19 September 1927) called him ‘one of the most predominating personalities throughout the Commonwealth’, a man ‘of splendid physique and personality’ and a fine artist. Recommending that he should be memorialised by a statue, this would provide a ‘lasting memorial to a race that is rapidly … disappearing’. The suggested statue never materialised.