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Jackson’s Track Revisited: History, Remembrance and Reconciliation

Chapter 5

Mr Jensen’s Story

Carolyn Landon

This chapter explores the heart and mind of a ‘do-gooder’ in the era of assimilation, through historical records and through oral testimony. Alwyn Jensen, a key figure of Jackson’s Track, emerges as an authoritative and energetic controller. Jensen, the main focus of Daryl Tonkin’s wrath, was Secretary of the Local Committee of the Aborigines Welfare Board, and President of the Neerim Branch of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League. Foremost, however, was his mission to establish a church among the Aboriginal people at Jackson’s Track. This chapter also reflects on oral history, which is predicated on active human relationships between historians and their sources. The historian must expand the imagination to encompass two views that are often divergent – that of the teller and that of the listener.

Although the archives in the Warragul Historical Society make it clear that the Aborigines Welfare Board and the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League were entangled in their involvement with the Jackson’s Track people as early as 1959, documents in the National Archives show that it does not become an official arrangement until October 1962. Interesting: 1962 is the year Daryl nominated in his memoir for the occurrence of tragic events. A press statement from the office of the Chief Secretary of Victoria, The Honourable Sir Arthur Rylah, announced the appointment of members of the Neerim Branch of the League to the Local Committee for the Board.1 Members included representatives from the Buln Buln Shire Council and the Drouin Police, the Health Inspector, as well as the ‘do-gooders’ mentioned in Daryl’s memoir: ‘Mr A. H. Jensen, (farmer) of Neerim South, who is president of the local branch of the Aborigines Advancement League; Mrs P. V. Buchanan of Drouin who is an active worker for aboriginal welfare in the district; Mr H. T. Cowden (farmer) of Neerim South who is an active member of the Aborigines Advancement League.’ This Local Committee was the third of its kind, according to the statement, ‘appointed under the provisions of the Aborigines Act. Other committees are functioning in Warnambool and Morwell.’ The duties of the new members were to ‘assist and advise the Aborigines Welfare Board on matters concerning the welfare and assimilation of aborigine’.2 There it was. Assimilation. The members were to assist with assimilation. This seems a conflict of interest.

It also seems that Mr Jensen was aware of the conflict, for it is noted by Mr P. E. Felton, Regional Superintendent of Aborigines Welfare, that the League members nominated for the Local Committee ‘do not see eye to eye with the rest of the Aborigines Advancement League and are strictly concerned with the local issues. They have a slight doubt that they may not see eye to eye with the Board on certain issues, but we have endeavoured to reassure them...’3

The Archive says nothing more about why the people in the Neerim Branch of League were troubled with the central body, nor does it say what troubles them about the Board. Of course, that blank space can be filled in with conjecture, an educated, and probably fairly accurate, guess; instead I decide it’s time to find the members of the League that Janet Cowden told me about who are still alive and ask what they remember. Janet puts me on to her sister Flo Cowden White, who was her father’s ‘little mate’ when she was small and who remembers accompanying him on visits to the Aboriginal people at the Track and later at the Camp or Settlement on the highway.


The Cowden family: Florence, Elizabeth, Janet and John with their parents Hector and Ina

Photo courtesy of Janet Cowden

She also tells me how to contact Alwyn Jensen. In all the mixture of information gathered – the articles and documents in the Historical Society, the National Archives, Cowden’s papers, and Daryl’s memoir – Jensen is the one who emerges as the mover and shaker, the most authoritative, the most in control. His name comes up more than any other: not only was he the main focus of Daryl Tonkin’s wrath, he was also Secretary of the Local Committee of the Aborigines Welfare Board, and President of the Neerim Branch of the League after Bert Clarke left the area.

I am pleased and surprised that Jensen is eager to tell his story, in spite of the negative role he played in Daryl’s published memoir. However, because oral history is predicated on active human relationships between historians and their sources,4 I am worried about what kind of rapport I will have with him: I am known as Daryl’s co-author and I have already begun to draw conclusions about Jensen’s activities and his attitudes from the documents I have read and the words Daryl and I have written about him. If I am to get Jensen to document for me the personal meaning of his experience, albeit in a short interview, I must try to conquer my prejudices and find a way to ease tension that might exist between us. When I finally do meet him, his down-to-earth congeniality makes me realise the apprehension is in me more than it is in him. I wonder why he does not feel the same, but it becomes clear as he begins his testimony that he seems supremely confident in the rightness of his ‘doings’, whatever they are. The interview is conducted as a conversation. Before we start I show him some of my research to let him know that some of his activities during that period have been documented.

I feel I am in a familiar place when I hear Mr Jensen begin to use a vernacular that is similar to that used by Daryl, his contemporary. He swings into telling yarns as easily as Daryl. His is the authentic voice of a man born just after the Great War, when Australia was beginning to identify itself as a unique place where mateship, community spirit, and a broadly positive outlook was the norm. His words reveal his faith in the Anglo-Celtic work ethic and his stories are filled with practical solutions to difficult problems. When I listen to his resonant voice constructing his narrative, I am reminded that Jensen is a lay preacher. Much of what he says is structured like a sermon: an anecdote followed by a moral to close the lesson. He develops character, re-constructs dialogue, fills-in details of time and place to deepen the impact of his account and give it meaning. I am mesmerised by his stories for they reveal how it felt to be mixing it with the Aborigines Welfare Board and the League in the forest at Jackson’s Track.

Although my questions and constant referral to Daryl’s memoir dredge up memories Jensen may have buried, it emerges that his idea of the place of Aboriginal people in Australian society has not changed over forty years. Like Daryl, Alwyn Jensen is a rare character in that he is absolutely authentic, an artefact, so to speak; he is a man who grew up in the era of protection and was most active in the era of assimilation; he does not seem interested in the changed public (or social) attitude that exists in 2006, although he derives some satisfaction from the fact that people are now involved in the ‘Aboriginal issue’ when, throughout his entire lifetime, it was shrouded in the ‘Great Australian Silence’.5 I realise that while I am speaking with him it is important I keep in mind that my own context is very different from his. I must always consider his point of view, understand that his way of assessing and understanding his life experience must be taken seriously.6 I must expand my imagination to encompass these two divergent views – his and mine.

Hector Cowden’s daughter is also willing to be interviewed. Compared to Mr Jensen, Flo Cowden White is a minimalist. Her comments are thoughtful, deeply considered and carefully expressed. She is mindful of protecting her father’s and her family’s dignity throughout her interview. Like Jensen, she also feels morally bound to be as honest as she can, and so doesn’t shirk from difficult subjects. As she speaks, it is clear she is reconstructing memories she has rarely visited and, seeing them from the point of view of an adult for the first time, she is fitting them together in such a way as to reach new conclusions about what was actually going on back in the 1950s. Flo is my contemporary and an acquaintance; we sat on the same Primary School Council together. I had no idea of her connection to Hector Cowden until Janet told me of it, but I know Flo to be an avid reader, and I realise she is in tune with and in sympathy with contemporary issues. Because she is talking about her father and her childhood experiences, she too will have to expand her imagination to encompass divergent views – those of her father in her remembered past and those that she now holds in her reconsidered present. It turns out Flo’s testimony is almost like an antidote to that of Jensen, who does not seem to feel he needs to reassess or draw new conclusions about the past.

Alas, because she has died, the only access I have to Mrs Buchanan, the third member of both the Local Committee and the League, is through the memory of others. Alwyn Jensen remembers her well and it turns out he is willing to talk freely about her. Dot Mullett, Pauline’s half-sister, also remembers ‘Aunty Pen’ and is able to paint a colourful picture of a woman whose warm-hearted nature made her beloved by the children. “Uncle Bill and Aunty Pen,” Dot laughs with delight as she remembers the Buchanans. “He was a big tall fellow and she was just a little short woman. We were taller than her when we were just kids.”7

Religion was the most obvious factor that made the local Committee members feel they were different from the central bodies of both the Board and League. All three of them – Mrs Buchanan, Mr Jensen and Mr Cowden – were evangelists connected to the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.8 Flo White, who is deeply religious, as all the Cowden family seem to be, remembers going to the Track with her father to take furniture, clothes and bedding to the ‘unfortunate folk’9 there. She says of her father, “I think it would be easiest to say that he was trying to demonstrate God’s love by giving of himself when he had very little to give... I think that’s what our relationship with God requires us to do, to share.”

Mr Jensen freely describes his conversion in 1956:

My input into Aborigines was not just to better them physically and financially. That was part of it. My idea was spiritual. I had this conversion and six weeks after God called me to Aborigines. I went to a meeting in the hall here with Pastor Doug Nicholls and I was walking out and a voice said to me, ‘I want you to work with Aborigines.’ And I laughed just like Sarah did when God said, ‘you’ll have a child’... I forgot all about it for a fortnight until Aunty Pen [Buchanan]... she must have heard that I had made a commitment and she came to me and said, ‘Mr Jensen, are you interested in Aborigines?’ And from then on I became very interested... My aim was to let them know that Jesus loved them, that He died for them and that they would go to Heaven when they died if they changed their ways and followed Him. That was basically it.10

Jensen, Buchanan and Cowden had walked amongst the Aboriginal people at Jackson’s Track before the Board or League existed. Because of their religious affiliations, their primary purpose was to ‘uplift’ the ‘folk’.

Remembering the past and reconstructing it in the present as she is doing, Flo White recognises that which she is sure her father did not: “that the Aboriginal folk did have a spiritual life and,” she continues somewhat cryptically, “that there were factors to be taken into account and places to be tread lightly.” I understand her to mean that there was no lightness in the approach of these do-gooders to the people at the Track. Jensen says, after some prompting, that he thinks maybe he should have asked the Aboriginal people about their own spiritual world, but he falls straight into the attitudes of the times when he follows that admission with, “they were westernised as much as they could be as far as I was concerned and as far as their culture went... as far as their culture and their religion... well, not religion as such... I don’t think there was much there.”

He seems to have accepted the contemporary notion that the Aboriginal people of south-eastern Australia were in a stage of transition between the old ways and the new and that to bring up the old ways as if they were legitimate might slow down the transition.11 More to the point he believed there was no culture or faith left in them to which they could adhere.

He says over and over again:

All I wanted to do was to present to them the experience I had had in the Lord because it is available to all of them... I felt that I had been saved from darkness, from hell and I wanted them to have the same opportunity because I could see that even though they had been through Lake Tyers [where they would have been introduced to Christianity through the Anglican Church] I knew they hadn’t had the experience of the Lord.

This purpose must have given him a great sense of authority – the authority of the Lord. He recalls that at one point he turned up at the settlement on the highway to conduct a fellowship meeting, as he called his religious services, and Mrs Dora Hood, Pauline’s grandmother, was distraught because one of the men had gone wild and locked everyone out of the house. Jensen approached the house:

And so I went in there. I had my Bible in my hand and called him by name ‘What’s the problem?’ And he talked quietly and I said, ‘I wonder if you’d go somewhere else while we had the meeting?’ And he said, ‘All right, Mr Jensen.’ I think because I had my Bible in my hand, he recognised Who I was representing.

Jensen must have been an imposing figure, tall and lanky and serious, always with his Bible in his hand, always ready to witness to the love of God. When I suggest the people may have been responding to him as they would a mission manager, he readily agrees.

Yes, that’s right. It may not have been me personally, but it was because they knew what I was representing. Quite a few of them did respect us, I think. I hope so.

His religious mission extended beyond the fellowship meetings. The meetings of Neerim Branch of the League, of which Jensen became president, were opened and closed with prayer. In addressing a report to the members, Jensen begins with, ‘Praise goes to God for His all sufficiency; my Grace is sufficient for Thee.’12 At least once, these religious overtones served to exclude people who might have become involved with the group and might have helped it to balance its local activities. Jensen remembers that well-respected local humanist and left-wing thinker Dr Allen McPhate soon left the group because, as Jensen says, “he wasn’t interested in the spiritual side of things... we’d run it on a more or less spiritual basis, you know, opening with prayer and a short reading.” This religious element was a strong motivator. Jensen said:

You have to express your faith by works. In the Bible it says, ‘faith without works is dead’, but you’re not saved by your works. Faith first and then the evidence of your faith is what you do in relationship to that faith.

It is noticed by researchers and academics that the ‘Aboriginal cause’ often attracted people who were ‘singular men and women’,13 many of whom were avowed Christians whose missionary zeal was nurtured by the Church. It is certainly true of Buchanan, Cowden and Jensen that their religious fervour gave them the courage to stand up before a conservative and, according to Jensen, ‘ninety percent racist’ community and speak out on behalf of Aboriginals. By saying that ninety percent of the community was racist, Jensen is implying that he and the others were in a small minority. This seems to be a point of honour with him and it emphasises his commitment to righting wrongs done to Aboriginal people. In this he showed abundant energy in arguing with the Shire Councillors, soliciting charity from their respective congregations, writing articles on their activities for the local papers, and letters of complaint or anger to the editor.

The archive documents suggest that Jensen was a man who was active in many ways in the community and seemed to be well-known and mostly well-respected because he took his responsibilities seriously and could always be counted on to pull his weight for whatever committee he was on. He was a natural leader. He confirms this when he talks about his extensive work in the Church: “I was taking up to three services of a Sunday here in my own [Methodist] church and Sunday School and I had other involvements: the Gideons and I was secretary of the convention, and there was a ministry in Warragul...”


Alwyn Jensen

Photo courtesy of Alwyn Jensen

One of his main purposes in going amongst the people at the Track was to begin his own church there. He writes:

I went to Jackson’s Track in response to Jesus’ last command, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark chapter 6 verse 15 KJV)... I had hoped a little church fellowship meeting might develop, as they enjoyed the programs I shared with them over many years... The Aborigines Inland Mission, with head quarters in Sydney, came to help with four aboriginal [sic] men. They came in different times over two or three years and got on well with the people, as they had been brought up in similar situations.14

Hector Cowden was well known for his singularity. He worked independently of any church, although he had belonged to the Presbyterian Church before he was asked to leave for standing up to the minister and accusing him of misrepresenting the true word of God. He had been a Sunday-school teacher and a member of the Brotherhood, a Presbyterian Bible study group, but upon leaving the church became individualistic and, judging by reactions from some of his still-living contemporaries when his name is mentioned, slightly unconventional – even, to non-believers, slightly confrontational – in his activities: he was a very strong-minded man whose belief had to be proclaimed. Some of his energy went into maintaining what his daughter calls the ‘roadside pulpit’, a billboard upon which he posted notices about God, texts from the Bible, and opinions about wayfarers.

Mrs Buchanan, or Aunty Pen, as everyone called her, was, on the other hand, a kind-hearted, generous person who was guided her whole life by the hand of God. Her purpose in life was to do good works and take in the wretched and the poor. It was she who brought Alwyn Jensen to Jackson’s Track for the first time after she had been told about the commandment he had received from the Lord. “Now, I would have been a long time getting their [the Aborigines’] confidence,” says Mr Jensen, “but they accepted me almost immediately because she took me and told me what it was all about.”

She often had the Aboriginal children stay with her for weeks on end and, according to Dot Mullett, the kids loved it because they thought it was a holiday: “We had to say grace and prayers and use our fork and spoon properly and have a shower every day before we went to school. It was something new for us. We thought it was fun because we never had that sort of thing on the Track.”15

This undying faith and spreading of the Word by Jensen, Buchanan and Cowden, underpinned by the assumptions of the times – a mixture of the need for protection and assimilation – was, in Daryl Tonkin’s eyes, catastrophic for the people from the Track. But Daryl was wrong. It wasn’t the religion that caused a catastrophe.

It must be said that right from the beginning of the interview, Jensen protests that he did not disapprove of the way the people at the Track lived. And both of Cowden’s daughters insist that their father felt the same way. They point out that, like Jensen, he ‘lived in circumstances not much flasher in his early years’. But there seems to be a lapse in continuity here. If these statements are true then why did Jensen and Cowden think they needed to improve the conditions of the Aboriginals?

“[While] the object was a spiritual one, I wanted to better their physical life, too. I believe that was an outworking of the spirit of God,” says Jensen. Cowden was of a similar mind-set. His daughter says that he would have been unhappy to see folk living in poor circumstances when there was so much prosperity on their doorstep. All three do-gooders took the people at the Track under their wings and spent time and energy clothing, furnishing and feeding their charges. Jensen, who considered that the people were starving when he first came upon them, says that he brought them loaves of bread donated from the local baker and passed them out to the people. He and Mrs Buchanan advertised on the local Radio Market and other concerned people in the district donated more things than could be managed. Cowden spent much time in his truck, as did Jensen, carting furniture to the huts on the Track. Eventually they began to worry about what such largesse might do to the morality of their charges. “We could see that what we were doing was wrong, too. Well, right in one sense and wrong in another. It was making them dependent on gifts,” says Jensen. So they began to teach the Aborigines thrift by charging them five pence for each piece of clothing. The money would go to the hospital to benefit the Aborigines when they needed medical attention. It was a righteous thing to do.

If these statements approving of the way of life of people at the Track are true, wouldn’t it have been likely that neither Jensen nor Cowden would have anything to do with convincing people to move off the property? Wouldn’t they have continued to spend their energies improving the living conditions of the people and preaching the Word to them? Why, then, did they become involved with the Board and what was it they disagreed with? Jensen seems to have had two reasons for his involvement. “I knew I would have to go with the Board or get out of it,” he says. As he was unwilling to give up his mission with the Aborigines, he felt he had to find a way of cooperating with the Board. Later, he writes:

It was not my intention to try to rehouse the families, but to help them in their situations and I believe I did this. When Mr. Davey, the housing member of the AWB [the Aborigines Welfare Board] and the Victorian Housing Commissioner, told me that they were going to assimilate all aboriginals [sic] I contested the idea, but he was adamant. After some thought, I agreed to help and kept in contact with the Housing Commissioner.16

What was it about the assimilation he contested? Jensen explained:

Putting the people in houses in the city and not giving them any... I mean bringing them from the bush... I was brought up in the bush and lived in not much better condition than they did sometimes during the depression years, and I know what it was like to come into a powered house with hot water. You know, you’re all at sea. But this was my objection to it.

He also thought it cruel to move people off Lake Tyers Mission Station into towns. Yet he did know that housing them was inevitable. In his practical way, he devised a plan. “It was my idea to get them a house not totally isolated, but isolated from neighbours,” he said, “but in the town, and Rokeby – and here at Neerim South – was just ideal. Right out of the town but right close to it. It would be a training... a good home, but it was within the township but no neighbours next door to worry them.”

This was in keeping with the League’s policy of improvement of housing and living standards. I reminded myself, they weren’t working with the Board at first. The League came first, then the Board. But before that it was purely the Christianity of these people that motivated their actions. In 1957, while McLean was still gathering data for his report and before the League was formed, Jensen signed the Aboriginal people up for ‘the Social’, as he calls it. How did he know that the status of Victorian Aborigines had changed such that they finally had the right to vote in local elections and were eligible for social security benefits? Did Bert Clarke tell him? Did he learn it from the Buln Buln Shire Council? He tells me he saw a public notice about new citizen rights in 1956. “That’s how I knew.” Perhaps this understanding of bureaucratic systems is part of what made Jensen the leader in this group of good people with good intentions. Is he the one who eventually led people to the Board? Jensen describes what happened when he signed the Aboriginal people up for ‘the Social’:

One of my first jobs was – I don’t know if it was the right thing to do – was to get them on social welfare... entitlement to it. So, I filled in the forms for them. I wondered later whether it was a wise move because the fellas used to get it and drink it away, although they used to buy food with it. The Dows brought theirs to us – to Hilda [Jensen’s wife] – and asked would she handle the Social money, dish it out for food, but, oh, they were getting something like £5 a week and Joycie expected to pay the rent, clothes, money to spare. It was getting Hilda down a bit, so... She did that for a while but, oh, I don’t think they knew what it was then.

As Jensen says, he didn’t know if signing the people up for social security benefits was the right thing to do because, almost immediately, it seemed to have a detrimental effect. Jensen found himself in a situation where he was handling their money – his wife doing the shopping for them – and their reliance on him was redoubling. This must have been the opposite of what he wanted. He was trying to give the people independence, but they became more dependent. He found himself responsible for their lives. Did he want such responsibility and the control that came with it? His tone and the way he shapes this anecdote indicate that he thought it was inevitable. In his memoir Daryl stressed with pride that the ‘Welfare’, as he called it, never had anything to do with, nor had any hold over, the people on his property. With one gesture Jensen inadvertently destroyed this independence of which Daryl was so proud. And Daryl saw it. It seems that Jensen saw it, too, but the damage was done.


Alwyn with Hilda

Photo courtesy of Alwyn Jensen

Essentially, Jensen and company found themselves becoming paternalistic towards their charges. As per the times and perhaps because people like the Dows and Austins, who had come off the mission at Lake Tyers, demonstrated such willingness to be taken care of, they found their interaction with the Aboriginal people like that of adults with children. Jensen thought they were wonderful people with marvellous senses of humour, but considered that he needed to be on call to answer their every need. He says he worked about thirty hours a week for their good. His own work suffered for it.

Yes, well it was a bit awkward. I was putting thirty hours a week into Aboriginals for the first twelve months. And I was trying to run a farm, and what I did, I employed a chap, who I couldn’t afford really, but the Lord saw me out. He would milk of a night... he’d help me of a morning and then I’d give him jobs to do in the day while I went away and then he’d milk at night... We got by. But the farm didn’t show any improvement; I had to do a lot of work after that to catch up.

Jensen found himself on call twenty-four hours a day. He tells me several stories about going into the houses and placating abusive men. Once, when a fellow named Jacky Green was being particularly loud and threatening, Jensen was called and, as he tells it:

So, I went in and I said, ‘How ya going, Jacky?’ and of course Jacky was a returned man and he knew I was, too. ‘Oh, Al, old pal!’ and he put his arm around me, ‘We won the war, didn’t we?’ and we just walked out. And away he went. I didn’t hear anything more about that, but that was their attitude. They weren’t abusive to me at all.

At times he would have whole families bedded down in his lounge room and would dispense tea and a warm breakfast in the morning before he sent them on their way. Jensen’s wife was even called upon to deliver a baby, which wouldn’t wait for Jensen to get its mother to the hospital in the truck. “She went down and did what was necessary,” Jensen said of his wife.

Cowden’s view was possibly also protectionist, by then an old fashioned attitude that had been replaced by assimilation. He thought that if people needed to be moved from the Track they should go back to Lake Tyers where there was already an established settlement. His protectionist views may have made him more sensitive than others to idea that the group of Aboriginal families at Jackson’s Track functioned as a community and therefore shouldn’t be broken up, but by this time Bert Clarke had established the Neerim Branch of the League which had begun to agitate for better living conditions for Aborigines throughout the state. Ironically it was the activities of Jensen, Cowden and Buchanan on the Track that brought these three souls to the League, and it was their connection with the League that brought the attention of the Board to the existence of the large number of Aborigines living in Police District D, a fact that until then had been completely unknown to Police Superintendent Richards and Charles McLean. As Jensen sees it, it was the Board that showed the least respect and eventually caused the most trouble.


The young Hector Cowden

Photo courtesy of Janet Cowden

The oral testimonies of Jensen and Cowden’s daughter reveal a part of the history of the Track that the Archive leaves empty. Chronology is sometimes confused and incidents compressed and, consciously or unconsciously, given symbolic meaning. The value of the narratives lies in the way that the human heart, the ego, and the subconscious paint a picture of real people of courage and conviction battling their demons and confusion, their blindness and prejudices, in order to do something right and good in their world. In the Archive we find evidence of Jensen’s sense of responsibility and the weight with which he sometimes carried it: he complains at one point in a letter to Mr Felton at the Board that ‘all this type of work is left to me’.17 This last comment is in connection with the move of some of the Track families onto a five-acre paddock just outside Drouin on the highway, near the race track. The place had been donated by a friend of Mrs Buchanan for the folk from the Track. Jensen and the other League members called it ‘the Settlement’. The Archive helps us to set straight Jensen’s chronology and adds detail to the list of things he has forgotten to include, but it gives us little of his heart, unlike his testimony. We can see none of Cowden in the Archives and only a little of him in the papers he left behind because, as his daughter says, “[When] we discovered his papers, we found he had burned quite a bit of his archive, but we don’t know why. Why did he keep what he had kept? It is interesting.” It seemed he was determined to bury his deeper, more passionate self with him when he died, but Flo White’s testimony has revealed a thoughtful, profound and avid believer who ‘fell to his knees and prayed with tears in his eyes when he saw what a failure his work with the Aboriginal people had been’ after they had been shifted into town.

Although he dedicated a good part of fourteen years to their well-being, Jensen indicated that he felt frustrated that life did not seem to improve for the Aboriginal people. He writes in a letter to Harry Davey that ‘drunkenness and overcrowding is back in Drouin... I am still holding weekly gospel meetings... but see little result.’18 At the end of the interview, he says to me:

My interest waned after about... for thirteen years I maintained the witness... I believe that God closed the door for me in taking a church to the Aborigines... It finished up it was only Ma Hood and I were there and I went for quite a long time for her because she needed encouragement, but the others had been shifted into homes. There were two, three in Warragul, some in Drouin and they weren’t interested in getting together.

On my way home from Neerim South after my talk with Jensen, I think about his answer to one of the mysteries that still exists in Daryl’s story. And that is, who bulldozed the houses in which the Aboriginal people lived at Jackson’s Track for more than twenty years? Two years earlier, when Janet showed me her father’s papers, I had become curious about what kind of man Hector Cowden was. I asked her what her father did. She had answered that he was a bulldozer driver. I was amazed at her answer, pondered it for many days and finally asked her, “Was it your father who bulldozed the huts?” She had been shocked at the thought and said unequivocally, “No.” When I asked Mr Jensen who bulldozed the huts he said:

I think that was the Board. I don’t think it was the League. I didn’t have any involvement in it. I don’t even know who did the work. No, I had no knowledge that it was even happening.

I am disappointed by this answer for I can find no documentation that shows the Board had anything to do with it. The bulldozing of the huts is a symbolic act in Daryl’s memoir, yet I can find no one to take responsibility for it. I must keep asking and looking.

Later, when I look over the notes and transcript of Jensen’s testimony I focus on something he said in the middle of the conversation when I mentioned Daryl Tonkin:

I never met Daryl Tonkin... I don’t know, but this is what I have imagined. Daryl Tonkin must have had great concern for that family – for Euphie – otherwise he wouldn’t have taken her in. He must have helped the Roses a fair bit. Here’s a bloke comes in and takes over his little bit. That’s how I imagined he may have seen me because I didn’t know he was doing much for them at that time. But it wouldn’t have mattered. I was still going to do something because to me they seemed to be in poverty conditions.

The words ‘otherwise he wouldn’t have taken her in’ in reference to Daryl’s relationship with Euphie Hood Mullett needled me when he said them. Did they mean that Jensen did not want to acknowledge that Daryl Tonkin, a White man, could fall in love with a Black woman, take her as his wife and be loyal and faithful to her? During the interview I defined Daryl’s relationship with Euphie and told Jensen they had had nine children together.

“He considered himself married to Euphie even though he didn’t go to a church. He was loyal to her...” I said. “Oh, yes, he did the right thing,” he replied. “Oh, yeah, I appreciated him for that.” At first I didn’t know why he used those words in his reply. Now, when I review ‘...he did the right thing’ in my mind I begin to realise what it means. This phrase is part of the vernacular of the 1950s. A man marries a woman if she gets pregnant. That’s the ‘right thing’. Without actually saying it, Jensen is acknowledging Daryl’s relationship with Euphie as a marriage of sorts. I imagine it is not easy for him, for marriage is sacred and vows should be taken before God. But Jensen is showing Daryl respect. Perhaps he might even have defended Daryl’s life choice to be with the Aboriginal people on the Track if anyone tried to belittle him in Jensen’s hearing.

It seems natural to measure the two men against each other. There are parallels in their lives. Both are the same age; both knew about hard work and defined themselves by their work. Both dedicated the prime of their lives to the same Aboriginal people. They both knew those people well and loved them: Jensen loved being around them, appreciated their humour, warmth and generosity; Daryl loved who they were, their values, their way of life, and he loved what they had to teach him. Yet neither man ever met.

Jensen wrote:

On one occasion someone asked me to take them up to his [Daryl’s] place, and as soon as he saw me, he retreated inside quickly and didn’t even come to see what we were there about.19

Daryl, who at that moment in his life was facing ill-treatment and disrespect from local clients who had always before dealt with his brother and were not happy to have to deal with the fellow who had Aboriginal children, was clearly afraid of Alwyn Jensen. He was not to know and would never know that Jensen and he were essentially on the same side when it came to Aboriginal people. Jensen came to them in good faith and through his dealings with them met Doug Nicholls and then Stan Davey of the Victorian Aboriginal Advancement League. He took on the politics of the League and realised that he had to do something to protect the people he was learning to love from the Aborigines Welfare Board. He knew the Board would inevitably move them from the Track and so he cooperated with the Housing Commissioner Harry Davey to find housing for them that seemed to be in keeping with his philosophy. He thought he could control the Board that way, but the Board was part of the state bureaucracy and rolled on ruthlessly.

When everything was finally finished, when the Aboriginal people had been dispersed and neither man was connected with them as they had been, Jensen could go on with his other life. He had his farm, his wife, his children and his church. Daryl Tonkin had nothing.


1     B357/0 Box 5; Office of Chief Secretary of Vic, Hon, Rylah, Press Statement 27 August 1962.

2     B357/0 Box 5. Press Statement 27 August 1962.

3     B357/0 Box 5: Drouin ‘camp’ Princes Highway, Letter from P. E. Felton to M C Taylor, 11 May 1962.

4     Perks and Thomson (1998 p. ix).

5     Phrase used by W. E. H. Stanner in his Boyer Lectures (Stanner 1968).

6     See Bain Attwood’s discussion in The making of the Aborigines (Attwood 1989, p. 136).

7     Interview with Dot Mullett, Warragul, 20 April 2004.

8     Mr Jensen would later become involved in evangelistic tent crusades that emerged – or were revived – with the Australian tour of Billy Graham in the late sixties.

9     Interview with Flo Cowden White, Warragul, 22 April 2004. All direct quotes from Flo White in this chapter are from this interview unless specifically identified as coming from other sources.

10    Interview with Alwyn Jensen, Neerim South, 8 April 2004. All direct quotes from Mr Jensen in this chapter are from this interview unless specifically identified as coming from other sources.

11    Wurm (1963, p. 2).

12    Alwyn Jensen, Report to NBAAL AGM 1967 from the papers of Hector Cowden.

13    Bain Attwood (2003, p. xiii) make similar comments.

14    Letter from Alwyn Jensen to Carolyn Landon, 28 February 2006.

15    Mullett interview.

16    Letter from Alwyn Jensen to Carolyn Landon, 28 February 2006.

17    B357/0 Box 5: Drouin ‘camp’ Prices Highway 1958–64, Report by A. Jensen to P. Felton, 19 August 1959.

18    B357/0 Box 5, Report by A. Jensen to P. Felton; and letter from A. Jensen to J. H. Davey (Board Housing Member), 20 May 1959.

19    Letter from Alwyn Jensen to Carolyn Landon, 28 February 2006.


Attwood, Bain. 1989. The making of the Aborigines. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Attwood, Bain. 2003. Rights for Aborigines. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Perks, R.; Thomson, A. 1998. ‘Introduction’. In The oral history reader. London: Routledge.

Stanner, W. E. H. 1968. After the Dreaming. Sydney: ABC Books.

Wurm, S. A. 1963. Some remarks on the role of language in the assimilation of Australian Aborigines. Canberra: Linguistic Circle of Canberra Publications.

Cite this chapter as: Landon, Carolyn. 2006. ‘Mr Jensen’s story’. In Jackson’s Track revisited: History, remembrance and reconciliation. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 5.1–5.18.

Jackson’s Track Revisited: History, Remembrance and Reconciliation

   by Carolyn Landon