State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 43 Autumn 1989


One Squatter'S Story: The Peter Beveridge Papers

Peter Beveridge wrote The Aborigines of Victoria and Riverinal,1 published in 1889, and a very similar paper which was presented a few years earlier in 1884.2 These two works are still the major source of our information about the mid-Murray Aboriginal people. They also tell us a great deal about Peter Beveridge himself and his relationship with the Wati Wati people who were his friends and employees.
He had come to Tyntydnyer station on the Murray River downstream from Swan Hill as a young boy of sixteen in 1845.3 Leaving their home station at Beveridge, north of Melbourne, his older brother Andrew and the two young Kirby boys — sons of a nearby neighbour — had come to take up some of the land recently explored by Major Mitchell. After a peaceful settling-in period Andrew Beveridge was threatened by Aborigines, then speared and killed on his sheep run a few miles away from the head station. Local squatter retaliation was swifter than official action and it took many months for those suspected of the murder to be tricked and captured by Sergeant Johnson, tried by Redmond Barry and hung in Melbourne Gaol after intercessions by Protector Thomas had failed.4
Although conditions on the frontier remained unsettled, Peter's mother arrived to help at Tyntyndyer. The Kirby boys also stayed and the large number of Wati Wati employed on the station continued to be paid in gold or by cheque, often at higher rates than European workers. Aboriginal people blamed Andrew's death on his refusal to return a young Wati Wati girl after an agreed period of residence with him. Such an individual explanation lessened the threat to other Europeans on the property. Peter became fluent in several Aboriginal languages and devoted much of the rest of his life to studying and writing on areas of Aboriginal life.
Although his major work was not published until 1889 he had been writing since the early 1860s. A hand-written final draft of the book in the La Trobe Library's Australian Manuscripts Collection is dated October 3, 1872.5 Peter also published several stories, probably in a Melbourne paper or journal, under the pseudonym of ‘Talko’. These are undated but are all carefully clipped and pasted in exercise books with annotations where the editor had mis-read his Aboriginal words or failed to decipher his difficult writing correctly.6
Several of these stories draw on his experiences of bush and Aboriginal life. The Bingerie Bull’ tells of the first time cattle were speared in the Murray area. One of the stories about a day's fishing trip with local Aborigines later became part of his published work, as did a small article on Aboriginal treatment of fibres. Another story of a bush adventure was later featured in James Kirby's book, Old times in the Bush, as an account of an actual incident.7
Other stories have more social content and are less convincingly written. His bush romances were rather far fetched and the humour often at the expense of either the Irish or Scots. A scathing short story in the form of a dialogue between Messrs Hydatids and Pleura deals with underhand cattle dealings and the problems of legally exposing scabby sheep. These stories were competently written and very topical given similar public scandals in the colony.
A large hand-written manuscript titled ‘John Fairfield, The Overlander: An Australian Story’ does not appear to have been published.8 Partly autobiographical, it tells the story of two young brothers and their neighbour who overland sheep and later settle in the bush. The narrative includes a murder, sheep stealing by Aborigines, and a romance. Several other stories are expanded versions of Aboriginal myths from the mid-Murray area. Peter Beveridge was one of the few people able to question Murray people about their beliefs in their own language, and to record their answers.
Only the later, final drafts of his important manuscripts exist and there are no notes or early drafts to help us determine his earlier thinking or writing methods. Even so, the short stories show another, more social side of Peter Beveridge, the serious writer and respected amateur anthropologist.
Jan Penney is currently working part time for the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) on an Industrial History project funded by the National Estate Grant scheme, and has just produced a new education kit, Heritage Victoria. In her original field of Aboriginal history, Jan is in the last stages of completing a PhD at La Trobe University on Aboriginal/European interaction along the Murray Valley between 1830 and 1920.


Beveridge, P. Aborigines of Victoria and the Riverina, (Melbourne: M. L. Hutchinson, 1889).


Beveridge, P. ‘Of the Aborigines inhabiting the great lacustrine and Riverine depression of the Lower Murray’ in Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, no. 17, pp 19–74. 1884.


See Cerutty, A. Tyntyndyer: a pioneering homestead and its families (Kilmore: Lowden, 1977) and Feldtmann, A. Swan Hill, (Melbourne: Rigby, 1977).


See Penney, J. ‘The death of Queen Aggie: culture contact in the Mid Murray region’, B.A. (Hons) thesis, 1979. La Trobe University.


MS 451, Beveridge Papers, Box 140/4, La Trobe Collection.


MS 459, Beveridge Papers, Box 140/2, La Trobe Collection.


Kirby, James Old times in the bush, (Ballarat: James Curtis, 1896).


MS 455, Beveridge Papaers, Box 140/1, La Trobe Collection.