Issue 7
Monday, 03 September 2018
Charles Darwin University
North Australian and Regional Studies lecturer and author Dr Steven Farram
North Australian and Regional Studies lecturer and author Dr Steven Farram

New book tells of success, sorrow

By Patrick Nelson

A book that tells the story of an Indigenous Territory woman held captive by the Japanese after the World War II invasion of Singapore was launched in Darwin recently.

Lecturer in North Australian and Regional Studies Dr Steven Farram, said the story of Clara McLeod and older sister Cissy was one of tragedy and success.

“They were born in Borroloola in the late 19th Century and moved to Darwin as the foster children of mariner Captain Frederick Mugg and Mary Mugg a few years later,” Dr Farram said.

“By all accounts, they were hardworking, brave, loving daughters who regularly appeared in the Northern Territory Times newspaper for their sporting achievements, educational excellence and voluntary good deeds until the early 1920s.

“While their achievements were worthy of recognition in their own right, it was their demonstration that it was possible for Aboriginal people to succeed and to earn the respect of their European peers that I think is particularly significant.

“They lived in a society that at the time was almost obsessed with the idea of European superiority and racial purity of their European peers. Their achievements could have served as a symbol of successful assimilation into European society.”

The Mugg family migrated to Singapore in 1922.

“As far as we know, Clara is the only Aboriginal woman to have been imprisoned by the Japanese at Singapore’s notorious Changi Gaol during World War II. It was an experience that indelibly affected her wellbeing.”

Dr Farram said he first became aware of Cissy McLeod while undertaking research on a project about newspaper editor Charles Kirkland.

“I quickly realised that Cissy’s story had not been told effectively and made a note to look further when time allowed. When I did that I discovered there was a lot more to the story, and I also started to learn more about Clara, and her experiences during the Second World War.”