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June 4, 2011

Hello strangers, it has been a long time since our last encounter. The past months have seen me return to work after a long period of rest and recalibration. I am still privileged to be a part of the amazing Dictionary of Sydney team thanks to the magic of the interwebs. I was also recently thrilled to be asked to join the team at local creative hub Yoohoo Web & Graphic Design, where I am writing, editing and collaborating on design projects. I have also just taken on a new role managing publicity and promotions for the local Clarence Valley Business Excellence Awards. I feel like I’m back in my element doing what I do best: communicating and connecting.

Essentially, I am working towards making writing, and writing-related activities, my profession. To this end, I am constantly seeking projects in different media, and today I proudly made the leap from the letters page to the lifestyle section, with my first story published in the Daily Examiner, our excellent local rag. My experience researching this story was an example of the great privilege that comes with being a writer; the opportunity to meet a quietly extraordinary person and capture their life in words. A life that puts your own in perspective. For those of you who aren’t locals, I’ve reproduced the article below.

True survivor did it all on his Pat Malone

By Felicity Watson (Daily Examiner, 4 June 2011)

Pat Bancroft is a quiet and unassuming man who has lived an extraordinary life. At 90 years of age, he is nearly three decades older than the average life expectancy of Aboriginal men. He began his working life aged 10 and has survived war, economic depression and the dangerous toil of years of gold and asbestos mining. And yet, he continues to live and work on the land as he always has.

Born in 1920 to Arthur Bancroft and his second wife, Aboriginal woman Annie Tindal, Pat grew up in the small goldmining town of Lionsville. Before the Great War, Arthur had some lucrative interests including Mount Arthur and the Mountain Maid, which yielded over 500 ounces of gold (worth more than $500,000 in today’s prices). By 1920 however, the once bustling towns of Lionsville and Solferino were languishing, the mining boom a distant memory. 

On the Banks of the Washpool, 2009, by Bronwyn Bancroft. Pat, left, poses with his brother Bill, the artist's father, c1925. (Courtesy of Bronwyn Bancroft and Wilson Street Gallery)

By the time ten-year-old Pat began to work for his father, Australia was gripped by the Great Depression. ‘There wasn’t much in the depression days, in the 30s, you’d go and do whatever you could. Trap rabbits in the winter, cut girders,’ says Pat.

Despite this hardship, Arthur had faith, and his luck came in when he struck a 60 ounce nugget in 1935, a rare find which made news around the country.

Pat soon learned to make the tools of his trade. ‘We used to call it a whip but it was pretty rough,’ he says of his first whip, made at age ten. The packhorses needed to be shod if they were to transport ore along the steep mountain tracks each day, and Pat became a fine blacksmith.

He was a keen sportsman, one of the founding members of the Lionsville cricket team. Formed in 1937, the team had a few successful seasons, but everything changed after the outbreak of World War II.

Pat left the Clarence Valley for the first time when he enlisted in 1941, joining the 2/4th Australian Pioneer Battalion along with many others from the North Coast. They travelled north and worked on defensive positions between Adelaide River and Darwin.
On 14 February 1942 the battalion sailed for Timor, but came under attack from Japanese bombers and was forced to retreat. Later camped out by the Darwin airstrip, ‘these planes came over, we’d seen them a couple of days before’.

The bombs fell on 19 February, sinking the ship that had brought them back to Darwin just the previous day. After surveying the damage, the 2/4th started digging defences past the airstrip, working through the night. Amid the chaos and fear, ‘all you could do was go and do something,’ remembers Pat.

After another 13 months defending Darwin, the 2/4th traveled to the Atherton Tablelands for jungle training before travelling to Morotai and Labuan, off the coast of Borneo. It was while they were here that ‘[the Americans] dropped the bomb and the peace was signed’.

The war had changed everything, including life on the home front. ‘It was easier to get on after the war, there was plenty going on, y’know. [In the] 1930s, for ten years it was hard going for everybody,’ he says.

Lionsville, 1940Upon his return to Lionsville, Pat found work fencing, droving and at the Baryugil asbestos mine. He purchased his first property, with 700 head of cattle, in 1950. He also 'played a lot of good cricket'.

Over the decades, Pat has rarely missed a cattle sale, rodeo or camp draft. His life on the land continues. While he now lives in Southgate, he visits Lionsville regularly to work on his old property, since passed on to his niece, acclaimed artist Bronwyn Bancroft.

Through his family, Pat has fostered a new generation of custodians. Much of Bronwyn’s art is inspired by the country around Lionsville and her family’s history. She describes her work as ‘about respecting and reinforcing the hard work that members of my family put in, both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal’.

Pat continues to make his now famous stock whips. Objects of beauty and practicality, they speak not only of his skill, but of his life and the land he loves. He cures and cuts out the leather by hand, then binds it to a handle of hand-carved water gum from Lionsville. The same wood his Pop used, light and strong.

Pat's now famous stock whips are objects of beauty and practicality. (Photo: Felicity Watson)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. El Nicko permalink
    June 5, 2011 04:25

    Great work Fliss.

  2. Kristin permalink
    June 5, 2011 07:01

    That’s lovely – I love how everything’s going so well for you!

  3. Cath Renwick permalink
    June 6, 2011 02:14

    So good to hear extended news and read your great yarn. Thanks Flick xx

  4. June 6, 2011 07:46

    Beautiful work Felix

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