Inspiration for Pastor Doug: The Story of an Aboriginal Leader

Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls

Mavis Thorpe Clark was introduced to Doug Nicholls in 1963 and they quickly established a friendship that lasted until his death in 1989. Doug Nicholls was a member of the Yorta Yorta tribe and he grew up on a government reserve for Aborigines on the New South Wales side of the Murray River.

Mavis travelled extensively with Doug on his speaking tours to schools, Rotary clubs, sports groups and churches.

"Almost the first thing that Doug did in that early partnership was to introduce me to the understanding that he was Aborigine: proudly, completely. It was so important that I understood, and he was so wise. His first offering was to arrange a visit to Cumeroogunga. Cumeroogunga means 'my home', and for Doug, no matter what roof sheltered him over the years, Cummera remained home."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 172.

"Memory of that first visit to Cumeroogunga is vivid; the quiet river, the gnarled redgums that had witnessed tribal corroborees for aeons of time, some still showing the scar where the bark had been removed to make a canoe; ...

That day, in his eagerness to cross the river from the Victorian side, he could not wait for the punt and commandeered a row boat moored at the bank..."

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 173-174.

"That first journey with Doug to Cumeroogunga was the beginning of many journeyings with him across Victoria. I saw at first hand how much this man was loved; from the children who responded at once to his gaiety, to the mayors of cities, to top-ranking politicians. We could not walk down the street of any town without someone rushing forward to grasp his hand and wish him well. He was the best-know and best-loved Aborigine ever..."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 175.

"On that initial visit to Cumeroogunga, it was to the burial ground that we went first. It was then a stretch of nameless mounds in the rising ground behind the old settlement.

Quietly he spoke: 'This is it. This is where they lie, the great people.'

'There are no tombstones, no names,' I ventured.

'No. We never put names on graves. In tribal days the name of the dead was never spoken, in case they returned to haunt the living. I don't even know now where my parents lie, Herbie and Florence...'"

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 174.

"Herbert Nicholls was one of those seasonal workers (who sought paid work away from the reserve at times). When he married Florence Atkinson, Cumeroogunga became his home. In Doug's childhood their cottage was opposite the school. It ... had four rooms, a brick chimney and a veranda. It faced the east, and when the sun rose above a certain gap in the line of river gums, the family knew it was time to get up. There were no clocks on Cumeroogunga. A bell announced anything of importance, such as issue of rations, or the call to church."

- Pastor Doug (1972) page 32.

"Doug's sincerity reached all who heard him. He was able to make his listeners feel and know the hurt of his people. The impact was quite extraordinary. I saw it again and again. He built the causeway that led to the beginning of some justice for his people. Today the debt that white and black owe him is neither fully understood nor acknowledged. In his love for all men, he demonstrated the human spirit, the real us, white and black."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 176.

"He had a natural, almost poetical turn of speech, a gift for the descriptive phrase ... He would rise to his feet with a wide, white grin: 'I'm here to add colour to the programme!'"

- Pastor Doug (1972) page 80.

"For his years of Australia-wide leadership, his articulation of his people's needs, Doug, aged 66, was knighted in 1972. He already had the honours OBE, MBE. He and (his wife) Gladys flew to London for the ceremony at Buckingham Palace at which he was created Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls, KB, OBE, MBE. He took with him a revised leather-bound copy of Pastor Doug to be presented to Her Majesty. He was the first Aborigine to be so honoured, and with Imperial Honours now abandoned by Australia he will be the last and only one."

- Trust the Dream (1999) pages 175-176.

Pastor Doug takes his book to Queen

Article from Progress Press, 29 May 1972

"When Australia’s first aboriginal knight, Sir Douglas Nicholls, flew from Melbourne last week to be invested at Buckingham Palace today he took with him a specially bound copy of his biography "Pastor Doug."

He will present the copy to the Queen, as a gift from the Victorian Government.

Just before he left for London, Sir Douglas first presented the Queen’s copy to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Dickie.

Mr Dickie accepted it on behalf of the Government, and handed it back to Sir Douglas to take to the Queen.

Actually, the book is a new edition of the one first published in 1966.

The biography was written by author Mavis Thorpe Clark of Balwyn.

The book tells of Pastor Doug’s lifelong fight for the rights, dignity and equality of his people.

Following his investiture by the Queen at Buckingham Palace, Pastor Doug plans to return home to spend Christmas at Cumeroogunga, the aboriginal reserve on the NSW bank of the Murray River where he was born.

Mavis Thorpe Clark spent two years of concentrated work and research on Pastor Doug’s life, in preparation for her book.

The new revised edition will be published by Lansdowne Press on November 18..."

See also Pastor Doug: The Story of an Aboriginal Leader, first published in 1965.

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Old school building.

Cumeroogunga School, 1963.

Transport across river.

Punt at Cumeroogunga - Murray River, 1963.

Memorial in a grassy field.

Doug Nicholls (right) and Merv Williams, a soccer player who played for the New South Wales All Blacks, 1963.
The monument had been raised in the Cumeroogunga cemetery in May 1962.
The inscription reads - This memorial is erected by relatives and friends to the memory of our beloved people
"They being dead yet speaketh".

Doug with boomerang in his right hand, poised to throw.

Doug Nicholls demonstrating boomerang-throwing in Warracknabeal, 1963.

Football filed with group of children watching boomerang throwing.

Doug Nicholls demonstrating boomerang-throwing, 1963.

Doug with children.

"Surrounded by children after speaking at one of the small country schools during one of his State-wide lecture tours."
This photograph appears in Pastor Doug (Revised edition of 1972) opposite page 137.

Photograph from the article.

Sir Douglas Nicholls, the first Australian aboriginal to be knighted presents a copy of his biography "Pastor Doug," to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mr Vance Dickie (at left) as a gift for the Queen. Looking on at right are the author of "Pastor Doug," Mavis Thorpe Clark, and Mr Reg Worthy, the Director of Aboriginal Affairs.
Progress Press, 29 May 1972