Angelina Noble

Angelina Noble, Aboriginal missionary, was born some time before 1890 near Winton in central Queensland. She was abducted by an itinerant horsedealer, and coming eventually under the notice of the police in Cairns, was sent to Yarrabah Anglican mission, unconventionally attired in breeches, riding boots and stockman's hat and known only by the name of Tommy. Though placed in the mission dormitory, Angelina rapidly adjusted to her new environment. She did well in the school and, when still very young, married Aboriginal missionary James Noble, a lay reader at Yarrabah.

An expert horsewoman, in 1904 Angelina accompanied her husband on a gruelling overland expedition from Yarrabah to choose the site for a new mission on the Mitchell River, where 600 square miles of land had been gazetted as an Aboriginal reserve. While helping to care for the 30 horses and four months' supply of rations, Angelina also contributed to negotiations with Aborigines in the district who were at war with encroaching cattlemen. Angelina was especially successful in making contact with and winning the confidence of the women.

Four years later, Angelina obtained permission to join her husband and other pioneer missionaries who were departing for a new Church Missionary Society venture at Roper River in the Northern Territory. She and her husband spent three years at this site, Angelina being the only woman on the mission staff. Her first child was born at Roper River in 1909 and the family returned to Yarrabah the following year.

Further pioneer missionary work began from 1913 when Rev. E. R. Gribble requested the Nobles' assistance at a new mission which he was attempting to establish at Forrest River in West Australia. Taking Ruth and their second child (born at Cairns in 1912), Angelina and her husband travelled via Darwin. Here they were delayed for some months. Arriving in April 1914, they found the mission comprised merely a hut, a small boat and a few tools. Moreover, the Aboriginal people were very hostile for, as Angelina later pointed out, they were being shot down like animals by the police for spearing the cattle of the invading pastoralists.

For the next six years, Angelina would be the only woman missionary at this site. By the end of the first month, she had helped her husband construct several buildings from mangrove sticks and handmade, sun- dried bricks, including a shed where she could begin to treat the sick. While James overlanded cattle to the mission and helped introduce goats, vegetables and cotton, Angelina sewed, taught the mission children, took charge of the girls' dormitory, did the cooking for the staff and baked the bread for everyone. By 1933, there was a permanent population of 170 Aborigines on the mission, with some 800 regular visitors. To all of them, Angelina was known as 'Mumma'. Four more children were born at Forrest. In 1925 her husband was ordained deacon in Perth. Angelina was a brilliant linguist. During her stay in Darwin she learned an Aboriginal language and at Forrest River mastered five more. Extensive use was made of these skills in 1926-27 when the Nobles and Gribble secured a government inquiry into the deaths of nearly 30 Aborigines close to the mission at the hands of the police. Riding with her husband to the sites of the massacres,

Angelina was an interpreter both during the initial investigations and at the subsequent commission of inquiry.

Gribble resigned from Forrest River in November 1928 but Angelina and her family stayed till 1932. On their return to Queensland, they assisted Gribble's work at Palm Island before returning to Yarrabah in 1934. Angelina was widowed in 1941 and spent the remainder of her life on the mission, dying there on 19 October 1964.

Jan Kociumbas