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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Indigenous Issues »

Richard Broome tells the story of Greek activist

Richard Broome; Andrew Jakubowicz and Mara Moustafine.

Historian Richard Broome tells the story of Greek activist for Aboriginal rights Alick Jackomos



Date Added:

12 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

19.3 MB




Jackomos is quite an extraordinary young man, he has Greek-born parents from the island of Kastellorizo and he’s born in the early 1920s in Collingwood in Melbourne and grows up in Collingwood and Fitzroy in a fairly tough time of the onset of The Depression. He leaves school when he’s around about 13, I think he tells his mother that he doesn’t have to go –you don’t have to go to school any more and she believes him.


But Alick was always a very independent type and would earn money selling things on the street or he’d sneak into the back rows at the stadium with a big bag of peanuts and he’d sell peanuts up in the back rows in the dark – you weren’t supposed to do that because he was working against the confectionary sellers of the stadium. So he was a very independent young man and growing up in Fitzroy he started to meet a lot of Aboriginal young men because Fitzroy was the main part of Melbourne that the Aboriginal community had moved into in the 1920s and into the ‘30s. So Alick knew some of these young men, he was in the police boy’s sports club with them; boxing and wrestling with them. And so at one stage he gets invited down to Lake Tyres Reserve and this is a boy who’s about 14 or 15 and he jumps on a truck and with a – gets a ride down to Gippsland about 250 kilometres and he sneaks onto the mission, stays with an Aboriginal family for about two weeks, isn’t detected by the management of Lake Tyres Reserve, they don’t know he’s there, if they see him he just looks like one of the Aboriginal kids down there because he’s got olive skin.


And eventually comes home to his parents who say, “Where have you been?” And I think his dad gives him a bit of a thrashing for being away for two weeks. So he’s a very adventurous young lad and from that, he starts to get to know all the Aboriginal families of the area, he’s very interested in Aboriginal people, I think at their sense of family is what attracts him and so he then starts to hook up with Doug Nicholls and the Aboriginal Advancement – Australian Aborigines League, which are holding political meetings down on the Yarra Bank and he, as a young boy is passing around the tin, giving donations for the Aboriginal cause and then he – after going off to war and the adventure of war as a young man, he puts his age up and gets into the army, he comes back and one of the first things he does is to head down to Fitzroy to hook up again with Doug Nicholls.


Then he decides to see the world. He’s heading off to Asia because he speaks some Malay by then, because he’d served in that area. But he –on the train to Sydney meets a touring boxing promoter who toured the country with a tent and a troupe of boxers and there’s a black American boxer on the train as well, they get talking and he says, “Why don’t you join the troupe?” And Alick had done a little bit of boxing and wrestling in the army so he thought, why not? So he then toured with the Aboriginal boxing tents. That – there was a cultural mix but most of the boxers were Aboriginal.


And he toured with them for about two years and then he came back to Melbourne and he saw this young girl on a train coming back from the Barmah Forest, Cummeragunja and he asked all his Aboriginal friends who this beautiful young girl was. And eventually tracked down and it was Merle Morgan from Cummeragunja and of course, after a short courtship they married after falling in love. And so Alick then had married into the Aboriginal community, he was already connected with Doug Nicholls who was the political leader and the runner of the Gore Street Aboriginal Church so he was very involved with the Aboriginal community and thereafter he worked with the Aborigines advancement league and then was in Aboriginal affairs for the rest of his life.


But the important thing is I think he became a historian of Aboriginal Victoria, he’s – he amassed a collection of about two to 3000 photographs which is absolutely unparalleled and now is in the museum and in Canberra and he also wrote and collected oral histories of people. So he was just totally engaged and absorbed with the Aboriginal community of Victoria. He thought, I think they were wonderful people because of their sense of family and I suppose being – coming from a Greek background he – that might have been something he valued very highly and so he had this wonderful career moving between cultures.


But I – I wrote with a friend, Corinne Manning, his biography and we decided to call it, A Man of all Tribes, because Alick was a person who, it didn’t matter who you were, as long as you were willing to be friends with him he was happy to talk with you. So he was totally colour-blind in that sense.


I think Alick was atypical at the time. I mean, when he and Merle married in 1951, both sides of the family were unhappy. The Greek side was unhappy that Alick was getting married and we tell the story in the book about how the – his mother tried to stop the marriage. And of course, the Aboriginal side was less unhappy than the Greek side but they still – there was still a bit of feeling about that, it wasn’t happening a lot. But increasingly at that time, there were inter group partnerships and probably Aboriginal out-marriage not too long after that went up to about 30 or 40% - of those living in Melbourne. Because they were here, mixing with people.


And even in Aboriginal terms, they were becoming more outgoing because in – up in the country in Victoria, you know, people from north-west Victoria would marry people from north-west Victoria. Gippsland Aboriginal people would marry Gippslanders. But once they were all mixing up in Melbourne, there were much more mixing of intermarriages within the Aboriginal community. But then they started to mix with the wider community as well. But at first – but you know, for this time, 1951, it was a bit of a radical move what Alick did.


End transcript