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Tom & Tim

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Appendix 8 ~ Tom and Tim Adams

Introduction    Poonindie    Footnotes   


The 1994 essay by Bernard Whimpress called Poonindie‚ Cricket And The Adams Family was first published in the Sporting Traditions Magazine. The inclusion of this article is to fulfil the "What ever happened to ...?" query.

This essay deals with the lives of Tom and Tim Adams as they entered Poonindie and the part they played within that institution. The essay was incorporated into Bernard Whimpresses Ph.D. history thesis, Few and Far Between: Aborigines in Australian Cricket 1850-1939 awarded by Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia in 1999. It is also contained in the book written by Bernard Whimpress which was developed from the thesis, Passport to Nowhere: Aborigines in Australian Cricket 1850-1939 published by Walla Walla Press, Sydney, 1999.

Bernard Whimpress, is Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum. He has written six books on sport and contributed to several others, as well as writing for a wide variety of sports and historical magazines and journals in Australia and overseas. He is the publisher/editor of the Australian cricket journal, 'Baggy Green'. Formerly a sports magazine journalist and photographer, he holds a doctorate in history from Flinders University.

The essay is republished with the kind permission of both the Australian Society for Sports History, (ASSH) [located at] who publish Sporting Traditions, and the Amateur Athletic Foundation [located at] who originally hosted this article.

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Poonindie‚ Cricket And The Adams Family

by Bernard Whimpress

The history of the Poonindie Training Institution and its founder Mathew Blagden Hale has been told elsewhere. [1] The role of cricket at the Mission has been examined generally in terms of its civilising capacities [2] and some background to the painting, Nannultera, A Young Poonindie Cricketer, has also been explored. [3]

Hale's aim at Poonindie was to establish an institution where Aborigines from Adelaide were able to receive practical training such as farm work and additional instruction in Christianity in an environment free from corrupt influences. [4] It also marked a shift from the policy of direct assimilation of the Aborigines to one of assimilation through segregation. The introduction of cricket obviously had some importance but it will be argued that this has been exaggerated as the civilisation of Aborigines came increasingly to be seen in limited terms. Moreover, it has to be seen against what Geoffrey Blainey has termed the 'white pioneering era' when the pastoral industry regulated leisure hours and how they were used. [5] This article will suggest that the captaincy of the Poonindie Eleven, for both Tom and Tim Adams in the 1870s, conferred no outside opportunities or privileges in life.

Peggy Brock and Doreen Kartinyeri have provided some details on the lives of the Adams brothers noting that their father, Thomas Adams, was the first 'white' man to marry an Aboriginal woman (Kudnarto) in May 1848. They have also noted that the younger Tom, in particular, was overlooked for land claims. [6] The Adams brothers were the focus of interest because Archdeacon Hale knew of the thirty-seven-year old Adams and his sixteen-year-old wife in 1848 when Adams was working as a shearer for one of Hale's friends near Clare. Adams could not read but his 'black' wife, who had been raised on a station and attended the Native School, taught him. Hale used this example several times when pleading the cause of the Aborigines at public meetings in South Australia. [7]

After Kudnarto's death the two Adams boys, Tom then aged six and Tim three, were placed at Poonindie in 1855 when apart from a short period back with their father they grew up to be 'stalwarts of the institution'. Tom was regarded as the top shearer in the Port Lincoln district. Both brothers were also prominent cricketers and runners and Tom was viewed as 'the most dependable and capable man at Poonindie'. None of this counted for much, however, as the brothers were continually denied any explanation for their ineligibility for land grants. [8]

It is not known how long the brothers played cricket for Poonindie since records of the Mission games are scarce and there was no Port Lincoln newspaper then in existence. From scanty evidence it can be established that the Mission played at least ten games from 1870 to 1876 winning seven and losing three. [9] 'Jim' Adams (sic, probably Tim) was described as a 'first-rate bowler who would have done credit to any Club in Adelaide' in the first of these games when Poonindie defeated Port Lincoln in 1870, [10] and both brothers represented the Mission in all four recorded games of 1872 and 1876 against Port Lincoln, and in 1874 against St Peter's College. Both men made significant contributions with the bat. Tim was prominent with the ball except against St Peter's in 1874 at the College oval. After he sent down seven wides in his first five-ball over, he was dismissed by his brother from the attack for the remainder of the innings. [11] It is possible that the Mission team played against the College as late as 1887 when an Aboriginal party visited Adelaide for the Jubilee Exhibition. [12]

Tom Adams was Poonindie captain in 1872, 1874 and 1876 and probably led the Mission team during the visits of the College in 1873 and 1875. When the matches were played in Adelaide supper was served to both teams afterwards followed by a dance to the strains of an accordion. [13] In 1872, however, on the occasion of the visit of two bishops to Poonindie, there was the opportunity to show cricket at the Mission in its proper perspective. Hale, as Bishop of Perth, was making his return to Poonindie in company with Bishop Short Hale met the largest flock owner in the Port Lincoln district, who referred to Tom Adams as the best shearer in the area. [14] It was Bishop Short though whose comments rang out loudly on the subject of cricket, although they were either mere window dressing or what social psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance, a justification of a position previously taken. It is worth considering what was written and its context:

To those who have any doubts as to the identity of the manhood in the white and black-skinned races, it may be satisfactory to learn that the same hopes and fears, the same zeal for the honour of the Institution, the same pride in the cricketing uniform and colours, the same complacent vanity in looking 'the thing', the same, it may be, affectionate pride on the part of the dark-skinned 'loving wife' in the appearance at Adelaide of her 'well got-up husband', animated on this occasion the quondam denizens of wilderness; as the like feelings annually manifest themselves on the part of mothers and sisters of old - Etonians and Harrovians at the cricket matches at Lord's proving incontestably that the Anglican aristocracy of England and the 'noble savage' who ran wild in the Australian woods are linked together in one brotherhood of blood moved by the same passions, desires and affections. [15]

These comments point to three conclusions: that Short was a monogenist or that he believed humans were a single unitary species; that he was an ethnocentrist in that he judged Aboriginal culture from the viewpoint of his own; and that he believed that the Aborigines could be educated to civilisation. The first two views were common enough positions among mid-nineteenth century churchmen but the third was the subject of much dispute.

It was this belief in the Aboriginal capacity for civilisation that led Short to sanction not only Hale's experiment at Poonindie but (because of his progressive views on Aboriginal missions) to make the offer of the Archdeaconship of South Australia to him in the first place. Both men were aware of past experience and former Mission failures and Hale had stated in the prospectus of his 'native institution' that 'something must be added to the schools, as at present constituted, before we can entertain any hope of their being permanently useful to the natives'. [16] According to Short, writing in 1853, the principles on which Hale proceeded were isolation, industrial education, schooling, wage labour, marriage, separate dwellings as well as moral improvement based on Christian practice [17] and it was Hale's government by 'enlightened charity' that made the institution the 'exception to the list of Australian missionary failures'. [18]

While Short viewed Poonindie cricket as 'proof of progress in civilisation' [19] and considered it first among Aboriginal amusements that had been 'introduced with great success', [20] his other comments on work and play at the Mission suggest that the cultivation of games was not as an important aim as it may seem and can be viewed as a form of window dressing. Short stated in 1872 that:

On Saturday, the wool-carting having been completed, and the hay mown and cocked, a half-holiday was employed in cricketing, at which the young men are adept, rarely failing to catch or pick up and throw with accuracy the ball. [21]

Short's long passage on cricket quoted earlier referred to a match that followed attendance at chapel. The whole Mission then proceeded four miles to Louth Bay to see the shipping of the wool bales. Such days, Short concluded were always 'a kind of red letter festival' although on this occasion the Poonindie cricket team were also set to depart for Adelaide for their contest against St Peter's College. In other words, cricket was a reward for work. It might have had a small niche in mission life but the ethics of education, employment and Christianity were far more important than that of games.

Around this period there is a basic contradiction between belief in an Aboriginal capacity for being civilised and government policy that rejected the land claims, such as that of Tom Adams. While Hale had written in his 1850 prospectus that an attempt would be made to lead Aboriginal people 'by degrees into habits of industry and a more settled mode of life' [22] those degrees were never advanced far enough for Tom Adams.

On 8 June 1875, for instance, Adams wrote a pleading letter:

I have been living at Poonindie for over twenty years, and I understand farming and can drive a reaping machine and plough and do all farm work. I believe the Government can give me a grant of land, as they have done for other Natives - and if they will do so I can work on it, and the Trustees of Poonindie will give me some farm tools and some seed wheat. Please Sir, to [sic] give me an answer and see what can be done as a promise was made by letter to give me a Section.

While some sympathy was expressed for this petition in internal correspondence of public servants, who noted that he has been misled and described him as a 'really deserving Aboriginal' entitled to 'favourable consideration', the reply from the Acting Crown Solicitor was stonily legalistic and remarks only on there being no legislative authority to make 'a gratuitous grant to an aboriginal'. [23] The following year another recommendation to the Secretary of Crown Lands stated that the Adams brothers were 'strong, steady working men able to earn the best wages . . . and in every way deserving of encouragement' but this request for land was also overlooked. [24]

At this point it would not be surprising if Tom Adams began to question the way the game of life was being played, just as Tim might have questioned the Great Scorer [25] who had not intervened to save the lives of his first three wives. And, in 1878, when Tom Adams was facing accommodation problems in his two- roomed cottage because of his family of nine what credence should be given to a supposed 'loving wife' and the 'well got-up' husband of the cricket field. Very little, it would seem, because by then the Adams brothers were out of favour with the authoritarian farm overseer, J.D. Bruce, who subsequently became Poonindie Superintendent in 1882. Bruce regarded the brothers as insubordinate. In the late 1880s the brothers, who lived practically their whole lives at Poonindie as model workers, Christians and sportsmen, were forced to resettle at Point Pearce despite Section 6(c) of the 1888 Crown Lands Act (No. 444). This provided that the Governor could:

'Demise to any Aboriginal native, or the descendants of any Aboriginal native, any Crown Lands, not exceeding 160 acres in area, for any term of years upon such terms and conditions as he shall think fit'.

Missions, such as Poonindie, that played a little cricket offer a trap for sports history scholars. Certainly, cricket may have been used by Bishop Short and Archdeacon Hale to win early recognition for the success of their civilising program, and Short, in his 1872 remarks on cricket, may still have been using the game as propaganda. Short and Hale, however, had been educated at public schools in the rough and tumble days of the 1810s and 1820s, and at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1820s and 1830s. Short was twenty, and Hale eleven, at the time of the first regular Eton-Harrow cricket match of 1822, while the Oxford-Cambridge games began in 1827. [26] They were rather more influenced by Thomas Arnold's notion of moral education together with the concept of practical agricultural and industrial training than the games ethic, which did not become a familiar element in English public schools until the 1860s. Daily life was dominated by regular work, and the most regular form of 'entertainment' was attendance at church.

The introduction of cricket at Poonindie may have been designed to combat the loneliness of individuals such as Hale. At a meeting of the friends of the Church of England Native Missionary Society in Adelaide in January 1855 Hale stated that he had 'only once witnessed the face of a brother clergyman' in three years. [27] Cricket, for Hale, was a reminder of civilised ways. The comparison of the Poonindie-St Peter's College matches with those between Eton and Harrow was just one of many nineteenth century myths when games between Australian educational institutions were romanticised. The reality at Poonindie was much different from the English public school of the second half of the nineteenth century where games were compulsory and played on four or five days a week. [28] Given that Short's view of religion and education in South Australia was to establish Anglican precedence, [29] and that St Peter's was founded on an English model of public schools, it is likely that Short would have visualised these games becoming part of the South Australian social calendar. [30] Instead, as Christian and educational influence waned, they (along with other members of the Mission) continued to work but progressively lost control over their lives. [31]

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1. Among these are Mathew Blagden Hale, The Aborigines of Australia being an Account of the Institution for their Education at Poonindie in South Australia, London, 1889; A de Q Robin, Mathew Blagden Hale and the Poonindie Experiment, University Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1968, pp. 34,50; Peggy Brock and Doreen Kartinyeri, Poonindie, Aboriginal Heritage Branch, Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide, 1989.  Return to text

2. Genevieve Blades, Australian Aborigines, Cricket and Pedestrianism: Culture and Conflict, 1880-1910, BHMS Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1985, pp. 28-34.  Return to text

3. John Tregenza, Two notable portraits of South Australian Aborigines, Historical Society of South Australia Journal, No. 12, 1984, pp. 22-31.  Return to text

4. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. IV, p. 317.  Return to text

5. Geoffrey Blainey, The History of Leisure in Australia, Victorian Historical Journal, Vol. 49, No. 1, Feb. 1978, p. 7.  Return to text

6. Brock and Kartinyeri, Poonindie, pp. 58-9.   Return to text

7. Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 76; Keith Seaman, The Press and the Aborigines: South Australias First Thirty Years, Historical Society of South Australia Journal, Vol. 18, 1990, p. 34.  Return to text

8. Brock and Kartinyeri, Poonindie, p. 59.  Return to text

9. These games included four wins against Port Lincoln, two wins and two losses against St Peters College, aloss to the South Australian Cricket Association team at the Adelaide Oval, and a win over a scratch team known as Quidnuncs.  Return to text

10. South Australian Register, 9 April 1870.  Return to text

11. Adelaide Observer, 5 December 1874.  Return to text

12. State Records, Adelaide, Govemment record group (GRG) 52/1/1887/1377.  Return to text

13. Members of the Farr family, Early Days at St Peters College, Hassell Press, Adelaide, 1936, p. 53.  Return to text

14. Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 75.   Return to text

15. Bishop Augustus Short quoted in Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 100.  Return to text

16. Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 10 from reprint of Prospectus for Poonindie published in South Australian Register, 28 August 1850.  Return to text

17. Such principles became the model for nineteenth century Aboriginal missions.  Return to text

18. Bishop Augustus Short, The Poonindie Mission described in Letter from Lord Bishop of Adelaide to Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, London, 1853, pp. 11 -15.  Return to text

19. Short (1872) quoted in Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 97.  Return to text

20. Short (1872) quoted in Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 99.  Return to text

21. Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 10.  Return to text

22. Hale, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 10.  Return to text

23. State Records, Adelaide GRG 52/1/1875/157.  Return to text

24. State Records, Adelaide GRG 52/1/1876/463.  Return to text

25. God was frequently referred to in this manner in the nineteenth century.  Return to text

26. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. VI, pp. 122-3, refers to Short; Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. IV, p. 317, refers to Hale.  Return to text

27. Adelaide Observer, 27 January 1855.  Return to text

28. J.R. de S. Honey, Tom Brown's Universe, Millington Books, London, 1977, p. 113.  Return to text

29. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. VI, p. 123.  Return to text

30. Short's reading may well have included reports of the Eton-Harrow games drawing daily crowds of 25,000 at Lord's in the early 1870s.  Return to text

31. Brock and Kartinyeri, Poonindie, p.76.  Return to text


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Section 346
Skillogolee Creek
The house that Thomas Adams built
Skillogolee Creek
The first letter of Thomas Adams from
Skillogolee Creek