Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 24, 2011

The Mish: Childhood Memories of Framlingham Aboriginal Station (2002), by Robert Lowe

This is a very small book, only 80 pages long, but it packs a punch from the very first page.

The first thing that I noticed was that although this is a book by an indigenous author, the family tree at the beginning of the book has but one indigenous name, from six generations ago.  This resonated with me because it is not long since I had lunch with a friend of Armenian extraction whose family name was ‘taken away’ by the Turks, so long ago that no one now knows what that name is.  The replacement name is actually insulting, in Turkish, so this family replaced it with an Anglicised name which has sentimental associations with their homeland.  This issue of the lost name still rankles, for them, generations later.  It’s a very wrong thing, to take away a person’s name, it’s an abduction of identity.  Too often in Australia’s past indigenous people were given mocking names, diminutives, or droll names describing their work…but even when the name was not insulting, it was not their own.   I like to see our indigenous people reclaiming their real names, but it’s not always possible because of the disruption caused by the removal of the Stolen Generations from their childhood homes.

The next thing I noticed was the map.  The ‘Mish’, as it was known, was the Framlingham Aboriginal Mission Station, and Lowe shows its proximity to the Hopkins River and the bush, places where he spent many happy hours as a child, learning from his elders how to skittle rabbits with a nulla-nulla, to catch fish or eels with a spear, to make boomerangs, and to take care during control burning every year.  The symbols on his map show how close members of these extended families were to each other on their small farms, which made it all the more poignant when there were attempts to force them off the property in the 1950s.  Lowe himself found it difficult to make the transition when he was induced to live in town (nearby Warrnambool) especially when the promised house turned out to be a small flat with no yard for his two small children to play in.

He doesn’t labour the point – indeed, this memoir is remarkable for its restraint – but there are reminders of the overt racism which was commonplace in Australia in the 50s and 60s.  There was a ‘boundary’ in the town, which no Aborigine dared to cross; there was having to wait until all the ‘whites’ had been served in shops or picture theatres; there were separate entrances as well.  The police and welfare were vigilant when it came to removing children from their homes, but disinterested in protecting Aboriginal teenage girls from routine sexual assaults by ‘gubbahs’ coming into the Mish looking for young girls.  Most shocking of all is the oral history, passed on within his family from mother to daughter, which tells of the indigenous people poisoned with porridge near Killarney and the massacres near Yambuk and Tower Hill when these areas were frontier territory.

I think what will stay with me from my reading of this book is a sense of respect for its author, a man who has every reason to feel bitter, but doesn’t.   You might like to read Lowe’s inspiring story at the Victorian Human Rights Commission ‘Deadly People and their Stories ‘ website.

Robert Lowe won the 2001 David Unaipon Award for Unpublished Indigenous Writing for this book, but it’s now out-of-print.

© Lisa Hill

Author: Robert Lowe
Title: The Mish
Publisher: University of Queensland Press, 2002
ISBN: 0702233277
Source: Personal library

Availability: limited
Try Fishpond, it’s listed there (The Mish: Childhood Memories of Framlingham Aboriginal Station) but unavailable. Maybe they will get it in if you ask, or maybe a 2nd hand copy will turn up there or at Brotherhood Books.


  1. There are quite a large number of these stories aren’t there. Whatever country was colonised the indigenous people seemed to have the same experiences – all rather harrowing.

    Thanks for visiting my site over the year and leaving comments – all much appreciated. You continue to provide a unique insight into the culture of “down-under”!


    • Thanks, Tom – I love the international community forged by the world of blogdom!
      Re the book: Many of such books are misery memoirs (the Irish are good at this too) and are rather depressing, but this one isn’t. Even though bad things happened, they haven’t dampened the author’s spirit or his sense of humour. He got into plenty of mischief as a lad and most of his childhood memories are rollicking tales of fun and laughter.


  2. Very early in my blog I reviewed Maybe tomorrow by indigenous writer and educator Boori Monty Pryor and one of the comments I made was that the book was a treasure because despite the tragedies his family had faced he preaches reconciliation and mutual respect. I notice that he has recently, with Alison Lester (I think) been named Australia’s first Children’s Laureate.

    People like Pryor and Lowe are impressive people.


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