HerStory

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Topsy SMITH

Born: 1875

Died: 1960

Aboriginal or Torrest Stait Islander: Yes

Special Achievements:

Topsy, born about 1875, was the daughter of Mary Kemp, of Arabana Aboriginal descent, and Arthur Evans, a policeman working in Oodnadatta. In the early 1890s, Topsy married William (Bill) Smith, a Welsh miner. They lived and worked at Arltunga, a gold mining town west of Alice Springs and had eleven children.
After Bill's death in 1914, Topsy and most of her children relocated to the township of Stuart, with a horse and dray to carry their belongings and some chickens and a herd of between four and five hundred goats.
Sergeant Stott, who was the officer in charge of police in Stuart, provided Topsy and her family with accommodation as The Administrator of Aborigines in Darwin agreed that land behind the Stuart Arms Hotel and near the police station 'be reserved for half-castes.' A shed was built which became known as The Bungalow. Topsy and her family lived there and soon children from other families arrived to be cared for. By November 1914 Topsy, supervised by Sergeant Stott, was in effect in charge of The Bungalow.
In 1915 Mrs Ida Stanley was employed as schoolmistress to the children of Stuart and matron of The Bungalow, which became an official institution. Topsy became her assistant and two of Topsy's children, Ada and Jean, were among the first students. Topsy and Ida were dedicated to the care of children in their charge and did the best they could in difficult conditions.
The Bungalow sheds were made of unlined tin with compacted termite nest floors. Topsy had the help of the older children to cook and clean and make clothes from basic materials such as mattress ticking and red turkey twill. Calico flour bags were used for babies' nappies. Topsy was responsible for the children's welfare at night and protected the older girls from unwelcome attentions of white men. She cared for all the children as her own and received little recognition for her hard work and dedication.
In 1928, Topsy, Ida, the children and goats were relocated to a new Bungalow at Jay Creek, 27 km west of Stuart town along a dirt track. The buildings were unfinished, rough, draughty and crowded.

It was then relocated to the Old Telegraph Station, near Alice Springs in 1932. The Bungalow was often referred to as the Alice Springs Half-caste Institution or Half-caste Home. It closed in 1942 when children were evacuated south in response to World War II.

Topsy spent the last years of her life in Alice Springs with her extended family and died on 15 April 1960.


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