A 5,000 kilometre trek

They were known as The Bungalow children. Alec Ross was one of them. Located on the grounds of the Overland Telegraph Station in Alice Springs, The Bungalow became home to part aboriginal children taken into state care. They were just some of those  now known as The Stolen Generation.

But this story is not about that. This is a story of a most remarkable episode in the lives of these children. It began when WWll threatened Australian soil.

I was living at Neutral Junction with my mother when I was a baby and in those days they had a ruling that if you fathered a half-caste child, you weren’t allowed to be a father to it or stay with the child. My father was classed as a white man, he looked white but he wasn’t a white man. Then they took me away because my mother had me in the camp. The reason they gave my father for taking me away was that it was the law and that my father couldn’t do anything about it.
Because my father was classed as a white man, he couldn’t have an Aboriginal partner and so the child would therefore be taken away. They wanted us to grow up like a ‘normal’ white person I suppose and give us a better education and a better living.

Born in Barrow Creek, Sydney, in 1936, Alec was the child of an Aboriginal woman. His father was 3/4 Scottish. As a 3  year old toddler, Alec was moved to The Bungalow with a group of other children in similar circumstances to his own. In 1941 they were moved to a mission on Croker Island.

When the Japanese began bombing Darwin it was deemed unsafe for the children to continue living there.

I remember the Japs flying over us at Croker and before we had to leave and then when they bombed Darwin.
We had to walk practically all the way from a place called Barklay Bay on the Arnhem Land coast right over to Pine Creek through the bush. It would have been two or three hundred miles and there were about eighty kids and three or four missionaries. We had two old trucks, an old Chevrolet truck and a couple of horses and that’s how we travelled through crocodile infested waters.

The 5000 km exodus

Margaret Sommerville, a 28 year old missionary, led the children on what was to become a remarkable 5,000 kilometre trek.

I don’t know how we did it. It was just living one day at a time.

I loved the work with the children. That was my calling and I believe it was right and I enjoyed every minute of it.

You’ve just to keep cheerful and do the next thing that has to be done.

Escaping the island with borrowed fuel and the mission boat, the group’s first stop was the mainland, where they camped for the night, despite the threat of aggressive crocodiles. As their journey continued through Arnhem Land, starvation, dehydration, perilous water crossings and broken down trucks all threatened their survival, but it was the instincts and abilities of the children that ultimately saw them arrive at their destination in NSW.

Forty four days after setting out, they finally arrived in Sydney. In 1946 Margaret and 69 of the children boarded a navy vessel for a six week passage back to Croker Island.

Alec Ross went on to have a remarkable life, having lived and worked on Croker until it was deemed he was ready to leave and look after himself. Never did he feel life had dealt him a bad deck.  Some of them did suffer more than I did because a lot of the older kids probably knew their parents better than me, I didn’t. Being so young, I was taken away and I hadn’t known my parents, so therefore it didn’t matter to me. All these kids who were running with me in the same age group would be like brothers and sisters.

He was seldom without work, ending up back at the Overland Telegraph Station as a tour guide in the latter part of his life, where he was highly regarded as its local living legend and historian.

He met his mother for the first time aged 42. The truth is that I only felt sad for my mother. There was no bond of any type there because we just didn’t know each other. 

Awarded an Order of Australia in 2013, Alec died on 30 March 2017 and is buried at the Alice Springs Garden Cemetery. He is the subject of a book, Alec, A Living History of the Alice Springs Telegraph Station by Shirley Brown.

Bungalow Song pays homage to the survivors of the Bungalow through theatre, multimedia and song.

Full video

Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace
Take life day by day and be grateful for the little things.
Don’t get caught up in what you can’t control.
Focus on the positive.


16 thoughts on “A 5,000 kilometre trek

    1. Yet light shines in the sadness too. Alec had no hard feelings. I read his book, and he told of a life well lived with no resentment or bitterness.

    1. I am in the process of catch up reading – will get to you soon, Elizabeth. I know you have posted some very interesting stuff while I was away 🙂

  1. Goodness me what a remarkable story of resilience and fortitude that kept them going. I can not imagine what their journey must have been like, One day at a time is the only way through. I hadn’t heard of this story but knew of the history of taking such children.. My heart goes out to all who were separated this way..
    Then we know what happened to English children who were again separated from their families who sent them thinking they would be safe in Australia in the WWII ..
    Many thanks for sharing, that looks to be a remarkable film.. ❤

    1. SO much heartache has been caused by well-intentioned actions – there have been many such stories of English kids transported here, who never ever got to go back home. As is also the case for the indigenous children. Some cope, some like Ale bear no will , some remain angry and bitter…. Thanks Sue for your comment and thoughts

Your thoughts ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s