Caroline Archer

Caroline Lilian Archer (1922-1978), executive officer of OPAL, was born at Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve, an illegitimate daughter of Lilian Brown (later Fogarty) and a white father. Her grandparents, whose tribal territory has been variously described as around Charters Towers and near Charleville, had been brought to the reserve by police after refusing to allow the family to be split up: the police had intended the men to work on one property and the others on another. Caroline attended the school on the reserve which followed the special syllabus for Queensland Aboriginal schools, with the emphasis on manual training and a content equivalent to fourth grade in the State's primary schools.

She suffered from malnutrition as a child and her health remained poor. A childhood accident left her with a limp. At fourteen she was sent into domestic service at 'Whetstone' station, near Inglewood, where she was treated kindly and paid normal wages, not the lesser amount prescribed for Aboriginal servants. Her employer encouraged her to continue her education. She moved to Brisbane, working first in a private home and then at the Canberra Hotel (1935-49), where she learnt how to operate the switchboard. In 1950 she was employed as a PMG switchboard operator.

On 29 December 1951 she married Frederick Archer, a photographer. They had two daughters and a son. As the children grew older Caroline planned a craft centre for Aboriginal art. In the shop which she opened to sell Aboriginal art she was able to give some training to Aboriginal women wishing to become shop assistants and typists. When asked in 1972 to run the Miss OPAL quest, Caroline agreed. OPAL (the One People of Australia League) had been formed in 1962 as a multi-racial organisation, to promote goodwill between white people and Aborigines, and to work towards a common culture. The Miss Opal quest had initially been popular, with the winner entering the Warana festival quest, but interest had fallen away. In reviving the quest Mrs Archer demonstrated her considerable organisational skills. She was coopted to the OPAL board and appointed executive officer. She was nominated for election to the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee but failed to win election.

Though in the words of OPAL's objective she was committed to the 'development of a common culture', Caroline spent much of her time imparting a knowledge of Aboriginal culture to children all over Queensland and also in Canberra. The Queensland Department of Education allowed her to visit schools and she greatly enjoyed this work. She always began, she said, by asking the children to consider how a people who could survive in the bush must have had some way of passing on the knowledge.

As State president of OPAL she travelled interstate to federal conferences and to lobby politicians. She died at Narrrabri on her way back to Brisbane on 8 September 1978. She seems to have been rather ambivalent about Aboriginal autonomy. She was proud of her cultural heritage and gave generously of her time so others could share the pride, but she said of the Aboriginal Consultative Committee that there was danger of apartheid in a black parliament.

Heather Radi