A Northern Irish peer and a Rockhampton man discovered recently they are both related to the sole survivor of the infamous Burke and Wills expedition.
Former Alliance Party leader and Independent Monitoring Commission member John Alderdice was in Australia last month to share his experiences about the peace process at a series of Aboriginal reconciliation forums.
Alderdice’s great, great grand uncle was Tyrone-man John King, a camel handler who become the sole survivor of the ill-fated expedition by Galway-man Robert O’Hara Burke and his British second-in-command William John Wills.
The objectives of the expedition were hazy and its route decided just weeks before it set out. When the last bill came in it had cost more than £60,000 and seven lives, including those of both Burke and Wills.
Alderdice’s distant relative King was cared for and protected by the Yandruwandha people until he was found by a relief expedition.
A newly published book claims King had a “secret” daughter with an Aboriginal woman in the camp. Yandruwandha lore has it that King left for Melbourne before the child was born.
Alderdice decided to look into his claims during his recent Australian sojourn and he earned himself a new – albeit distant – cousin for his efforts.
The peer was brought to Australia by an organisation called Creating A Safe And Supportive Environment, which helped to join some of the dots and connect Alderdice with Yandruwandha man Aaron Paterson.
The Rockhampton-based legal aid officer wrote the introduction to the new book – The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills: Forgotten Narratives – and he has grown up with a family oral history that told him he was related to King’s daughter, Annie.
Alderdice and Paterson met in Melbourne last month. The pair’s coming together marked the closing of a loop, with Alderdice thanking Paterson for the hospitality shown to his distant relative in the 1860s.
“Burke was very dismissive of the Aboriginal people, he wouldn’t have a relationship with them,’’ Alderdice told The Age recently.
“John King was keen to have a relationship with the Aboriginal people, he respected them and he understood that they knew far more about survival there than he did. Because of that, he survived, and the others didn’t.’’
Paterson said his people’s oral history recounts the ailing Tyrone man making an impression on his carers.
“They had bad experiences or something with whitefellas in the past and they thought that him being in our group was only going to bring us all trouble. But we said no, he’s with us,’’ he said.
“Our mob got real sad the day he went away, because he was pretty much part of us.’’