I am staying with one of my older brothers in his now-hometown of Kyneton (Victoria) at the moment, which also happens to be the final resting place of the late John “black” Byng, who is one of my Mum’s more colourful and enigmatic ancestors. The sad thing is, there is no way of knowing where exactly, his grave might be.
I know a great deal about my paternal family ~ Dad’s family. My siblings and many cousins and I were lucky enough to grow up Dad’s folks ever-present and ever loving. Indeed, much of our childhood was spent on their wheat and sheep farm in Kojonup, S.W. Australia.
In contrast, however, I know very little about my maternal family ~ about Mum’s family. This is partly because Mum et.al. are from New Zealand and also, in part, because her folks were relatively quite old when they started their family together.
This being so, Mum was only nineteen when her Dad, Eric Purchas Anthony, died of a stroke. And I was only a one-year-old when Mum’s Mum, Kathleen May Anthony (nee Bilbrough), died of cancer.
Mum’s Mum, (Nanna Kathleen May) was a nurse in Christchurch. Mum’s Dad (Papa Purchas as I’ve retroactively decided to call him), was a waterfront worker in Lyttelton, NZ. From the little I know about him I like to think that Papa Purchas and I had a certain few things in common. I know, for instance, that he fought alongside his fellow workers as part of the now historical waterfront dispute of 1951.
It’s difficult to know much more about him because Nanna Kathleen May literally burnt everything and anything that reminded her of him after he passed away (out of grief no doubt) gumurr djararrk.
It seems also though, as my Mum recalls, that Nanna Kathleenwas more than a little nervous about her husband’s dark skin (or at least the potential of her children having dark skin also). She would insist, as Mum recalls, that Mum and her two siblings cover and hide their skin from the sun at all times in case they ‘tan’ ~ lest someone ‘mistake’ them as somehow derived from ‘dark’ heritage.
See, Pappa Purchas Anthony was a descendant of the late John Byng ~ the aforementioned late John Byng whose unmarked grave lies right here someplace here in Kyneton Victoria.
Said Mr. John Byng was well known “pioneering figure” around Mt. Gambier, South Australia, where he established the very first business in region – a Hotel where those folks who were chasing gold could stop, drink, stay & rest a while.
There are a number of historical documents from the time that refer to John Byng as a strikingly handsome “thick set, black man” who rode through town on “a beautiful white steed” etc. etc. However patronising these descriptions may be, he must certainly have had some kind of social spark and skill about him to have become such successful business owner and public personality during such racist period in Australia’s settler-colonial history.
Not only did Byng enjoy success and social standing in Mt Gambier but he also established one of the first Hotels here in Kyneton. He and his then-wife ‘Mary Ann Byng‘ (nee Wallace), established what was then known as ‘The Gold Diggers Arms’ here in Piper St Kyneton, which still stands today as the ‘Royal George Hotel.’
Despite the fact that John Byng and Mary Anne had nine children and an (apparently) successful business, however, both were laid to rest in unmarked graves, which is both sad and difficult to account for (in terms of historical documentation).
It is even still saddening for someone like me so many generations removed to think that John & Mary Anne lay right here some place alone (except in each others company) in unmarked graves.
Surely they both deserve, at the least, a nod of “marηgi ga dharaηan ηilimurru, marrkap’, yo, ma.” Balanyara-wu.
John Byng, I should note, skipping back briefly one generation before I end this post – was the son of a certain Thomas Byng (alt. ‘Bing’), a Black Loyalist and freed slave from South Carolina who joined and fought alongside the British in the American War of Independence (1775–1783). Thomas was apparently promised his freedom along with 50 acres of land in Halifax, Nova Scotia by the British forces. After the war was over he was granted a mere one single acre. No wonder his son John Byng set sail to make a life for himself across the sea o’er this way.
To end this note on a contemporary n’ lighter note, I found the following video clip on Youtube. It is a clip of the young ‘De-Railed Theatre Collective’ rehearsing a scene and song about the conditions that the Black Loyalists were faced with when they moved to Nova Scotia.