George (Poddy) Aiston South Australian History

George (Poddy) Aiston

Having returned safely from the Boer War in South Africa, George Aiston joined the South Australian Police Force in 1901. He preferred the outback and was stationed at Fowlers Bay, Kooringa and Tarcoola in 1904. It was at Tarcoola where Aiston became involved with the welfare of Aborigines when appointed Crown Land Ranger and Aboriginal Welfare Officer.

From his regular reports to his superiors on topics related to Aborigines it is easy to see what kind of a man Aiston was. He showed an understanding and caring attitude towards the Aborigines, whites and the environment. He showed respect for Aboriginal customs and often advised his superiors not to take any action but to let Aborigines use their own laws, to solve certain problems among them, as far as possible.

Aiston supported the setting aside of land for the use of Aboriginal reserves, free from the interference of whites and cattle. He also suggested that every police station in the north should be supplied with common medicines for their use. Aiston contributed several articles to overseas scientific journals about his encounters with the Aboriginal people under his control.

When transferred to Mungerannie in 1912 Aiston had become an authority on many aspects of Aboriginal society. At his new post he now became the protector of two local tribes and befriended Jimmy Tightus and Sandy the rainmaker. With these two Dieri Tribe members and his Aboriginal tracker Jack Jones he patrolled the vast area of his district on both sides of the Birdsville track as far north as the Queensland border.

Aiston, who was married in 1905, and his wife Mabel, who was governess to many of Crombie's children at the nearby Mungerannie homestead, spent twelve eventful years at this lonely police outpost. Many and varied were the tasks performed by Aiston. A lot of his time was often taken up by looking for his police horses who wandered far and wide in search for food. Horses were valuable but often useless during drought or flood conditions. Although Aiston suggested many times to use camels, it took a long time before the authorities took any notice.

Jobs also included the maintenance and repairs of the police station which in 1916 was in a very bad state with water leaking through the roof and walls falling down. One of the less pleasant duties was the reporting of missing or dead people, or identifying and burying dead bodies and act as coroner. Mungerannie had more than its fair share of deaths during its early years. On 7 January 1883 David Shaw, aged 28, a shepherd died at the station whereas James Ford, aged 22 died that same year on 17 December. In 1912 Mable Lorna Crombie, aged two years died. A year later on 11 September Thomas Brooks Green, a migrant from Lancashire aged 52, died at Sullivans Well. In 1915 it was Jim Crombie who died of typhoid.

On 2 May 1916 Aiston had to travel north to Mount Gason, named after an early policeman, to examine the body of Thomas Neaylon, who had died there. He buried the body and informed his brother John Neaylon of Hergott Springs. Thomas Edward Neaylon had been a publican at Oodnadatta and storekeeper at Bolla Bollana. A few months later he reported the flooding of the Diamantina which resulted in an abundance of food for the Aborigines such as fish, birds eggs, rabbits, herbs and roots. However at the same time he had to inform his superiors about the deaths of eight Aborigines at Kanowa and five at Mungerannie as a result of an epidemic.

During his time at Mungerannie Aiston became well liked and trusted by the Aborigines. He was successful in stopping their practice of 'bone-pointing' by allowing them to point the bone at him. When they found that nothing happened they started to ridicule the custom themselves. According to Aiston the Aborigines had a very broad sense of humour and a keen appreciation of fair play. They tried their best to make him just 'a little bit sick, not too much'.

In 1920 Mungerannie homestead was washed away by flood waters more than a metre high. Nothing was saved except some bedding. Aiston was away in the north but the police station was saved by his wife and her sister and William Crombie's three sons, Henry 20, George 17, and Harold 15. The same flood waters claimed the lives of Charles Vinn, 20 and William Treloar 24 who both drowned. Treloar's body was exhumed in 1923 and buried at Mungerannie.

When it became known that Aiston would be leaving in 1924 and settle at New Well (Mulka) the Aborigines told him that they would be coming to live with him. He did not object, just asked that some rations be sent for them as he would never be able to afford to feed them. When Aiston and his wife Mabel settled at Mulka he stocked it with 300 goats and 1000 cattle and also opened a store for the drovers and anyone else who happened to pass by.

Some of those who called in and stayed a while were the Rev John Flynn, Ernestine Hill, C. Maddigan and Alf Traeger. While his wife ran the 'loneliest store on earth' Aiston devoted himself entirely to his interest in collecting Aboriginal artefacts, anthropology, writing and photography. One of his greatest services as Honorary Consulting Anthropologist was the cataloguing of the Horne-Bowie Collection at the Australian Institute of Anatomy at Canberra. After Aiston's death in 1944, his wife Mabel remained at the store for another eight years.

Aiston's collection, which took up several rooms at Mulka, was later donated to the South Australian and Canberra Museums.

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