Book quotes

“A young illiterate Scottish-born Sydney girl of thirteen, Barbara Thompson, lived for five years with a Torres Strait Islander clan of Kaurareg people on the island of Muralag, after being rescued from shipwreck in 1844. She was adopted by an affectionate family, who believed her to be the reincarnated marki or ghost of their recently drowned daughter, Giom. On her discovery by the British survey ship HMS Rattlesnake in 1849, the ship’s sympathetic artist and amateur ethnographer Oswald Brierly transcribed in detail her moving account of life with the Kaurareg.

Barbara revealed unique details of her clan’s domestic relations and spiritual rituals, as well as their beliefs and values, maritime and marine ecologies, and their modes of inter-clan collaboration, trade and warfare. In the process, however, it emerged that she had lived as the informal wife of a prominent young Kaurareg warrior called Boroto, with whom she probably produced a child. Aware that this revelation would destroy Barbara’s chances of returning to a normal life in colonial Australia, Brierly and other officers of the Rattlesnake took care to suppress the damaging revelation and to minimize publicity for Barbara’s story on their return to Sydney. Barbara was thus able to return to her Sydney family, to re-assimilate comfortably into colonial society and eventually to remarry and live a long, quiet life.

However this also meant that Barbara’s positive account of adoption and nurture by her Reef clan went unpublished until the twentieth century, and it remains little known today. As a result, the story of the ghost maiden Giom never became a counteracting influence to the toxic myth of Eliza Fraser’s ordeals, which remains largely unchallenged in Australia to this day.”