Who Do You Think You Are?




Main Street (Glenelg Highway) in Lake Bolac - Jimmy Stanbury's milk bar, where I had my first ice cream cone in Australia - and a Barney Banana bar! 

Below:  Lake Bolac pub - at the crossroads

Lake Bolac was my first home in Australia.

In 1971 it seemed like all the bumper stickers in California said: AMERICA - LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT... so I decided to leave. The Victorian Education Department was recruiting teachers in California, and I had just finishing my teacher training course at California State in Sacramento, so I put my name down for an interview. The interview went well, and less than a couple of days later I got the phone call inviting me to come work in Australia.

My partner and I flew out in January,, 71, and after a three-day orientation programme at Burwood Teachers' College outside Melbourne, I received my posting - Lake Bolac High School in the Western District, teaching senior English and humanities subjects to Forms IV, V and VI. 

One of the parents of a 6th form student collected us from the college and that evening, my partner and I were being entertained by the principal, Les O'Brien,  and his wife. Starting pay was around $4,600 a year and we rented an Education Dept house for $6 a week.

Among my students was the young Neil Murray (of Warumpi Band and Rainmakers fame), who I taught in Forms IV and V. I still remember him with a friend's guitar on a school camp up in the Grampians, trying to make bar chords and singing atrociously. Who'd have thought! I also had Stuart Atkins (who would later star at Collingwood) and his brother, Ross. Maree McDonald was a stand-out, along with the Gillett boys, Leugh and Greg, and Glenys Heard.

During my first year, there was a student strike. The entire student body decided to protest the mandatory wearing of uniforms and the lack of real representation on the School Council by not returning to class at the end of lunch. They sat out on the oval and refused to come inside until the principal agreed to hear their "demands". A lot of the parents suspected I had been behind this because something like this had never happened before and the only thing that had changed was that this American 'radical' was now working in the school. Stormy times, but I survived.


My 1972 Lake Bolac High School (Form 6 class) English class


Katherine NT as it looked about the time I lived there in 1974. CW Stoneking, my son, was born in the Katherine Hospital during the Big Wet of 1974. He had to be evacuated when he was a few days old owing to the fact that the Katerine River was lapping at the back door. 



ABOVE: The Road to Papunya, 275 kms west/northwest of Alice Springs.


I lived and worked at Papunya Settlement in the Northern Territory of Australia from December, 1978 to January, 1983. I was hired to establish a "literature production centre for the collection and printing of books and other materials in the local language. My closest friend (and mentor) during the four yeras I loved at Papunya, and for many years afterwards, was old Tutama Tjapangarti. (RIGHT) His drawings are featured in my book of poems, Singing the Snake. One of the original Papunya/Tula painters, his work is featured in Geoff Bardon's authoritative Aboriginal Art of the Western Desert.

Several years prior to the publication of Singing the Snake, I was visiting Sydney with Tutama, Nosepeg Tjupurulla and Old Mick Namarari - men of high degre. One night we ended up at a poetry reading at Café L’Absurd in Balmain. I was one of the invited guests, and they'd never been to poetry reading before. As I finished my set, or just close to finishing it, Old Mick got up, frowning, and sauntered out the back door. I was quietly horrified. My first thought was that he found the poems I reading offensive. It was the first time I had read them aloud outside of Papunya. Perhaps Mick wasn't happy that I was revealing details of Aboriginal culture in the context of a whitefella city cafe.

When I finished, I went back to the table and sat down. No one said a thing. On the pretext of going to the toilet I went looking for Mick and found him returning from outside, down the long narrow corridor at the back of the café. I suddenly realised he was coming back from the toilet. As he came up to me he slowly reached out and took hold of my sleeve with his thumb and forefinger, stopping me, and very gently pulling me close so that he could whisper in my ear. “When you were talking,” he said, “I was happy”.

BELOW: Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri -

It was the best and most generous criticism my poetry ever received, and was also as I later came to learn, acknowledgement of the fact that I had won the confidence and trust of the some of the Pintu[pi old men with whom I was associated. 

Johnny Warangula:


Nosepeg Tjupurulla  (left)  was another one of the tjilpi that I had a lot to do with. Tjunkata Tjupurrula, as he was known tribally, was one of a kind in so many ways. Stories about his exploits abound. IN 1988, together with Lindsay Frazer, I spent several weeks in Central Australia and Sydney making a documentary film about Nosepeg, recounting some of the more legendary episodes of his life and times. The film was titled by Nosepeg, Nosepeg's Movie, and includes footage of his work as an actor, activist, storyteller, artist and all-round raconteur.


Poets at Kembali, Cobden, Victoria, 1976

POETS AT KEMBALI (Victoria), outside Cobden, 1976
On the occasion of the launch of Ivan McConchie's book of poetry, TOUCHING THE MAN. Poets and others from left to right : Partick McCauley, Pi O, Neil Murray, Denis (Neil's gorlfriend), Eric Beach, Billy Marshall Stoneking. CW Stoneking, Paty Marshall Stace, unnamed French hitchhiker.

 Camperdown, where I worked as a teacher at the Catholic Regional College in 1976