A KEY figure in the history and culture of the North West will be remembered at a family reunion attended by hundreds of people from across Australia next week.
The families of a well-known bush pioneer – the late Bessie Turner (nee Ah Sam, previously Ning and Trindle) – will celebrate her amazing life of droving, survival in the bush, and raising siblings and children when Aboriginal people were treated cruelly.
Affectionately known as Nanna Bessie, she was immersed in the history and culture of North West Queensland.
She survived two visits of Haley’s Comet (1910 and 1986), two world wars, three husbands, had 16 children, 53 grandchildren and hundreds of great-grandchildren.
Nanna Bessie was born at Louie Creek, near Lawn Hill Gorge in 1897, to a Waanyi woman, Minnie.
Back in those days, Aboriginal people were non-citizens, and Nanna Bessie and her siblings were considered immigrants (her father was Chinese), even though they were actually traditional owners of the Gorge and surrounds.
She drove cattle with her husband to Mount Isa and Dajarra, from Western Australia and the Northern Territory across the famous Muranji track and across the Barkly Tablelands.
She knew the Aboriginal man who showed John Campbell Miles, the man who discovered Mount Isa Mines, how to travel from Cloncurry to Camooweal, and where the mineral deposits were in Mount Isa.
Revered by many while travelling on the road because of her cooking for many men and children on open fires, Nanna Bessie was renowned for producing bread, cakes and desserts, as well as savoury and amazing stews, casseroles and curries.
Nanna Bessie told her grandchildren stories of crocodiles and sharks fighting at mating season in the Normanton River.
She knew her Waanyi language, but did not teach it because she was afraid of being jailed or her children being stolen, as was common back in those eras.
Nanna Bessie’s daughter Mona Phillips said she was looking forward to the reunion.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to reconnect families, young and old, so we can learn from each other,” she said.
“I can’t wait to see our family together after many years of going our separate ways and to hear what our family has accomplished individually.
“I am so proud of our family members who have worked hard all their lives and are good honest upstanding citizens who have made wonderful contributions to society as a whole. We can stand tall and proud together.”
In her later years, Nanna Bessie settled in Cloncurry and then Mount Isa.
Her descendants are very well known by many people as community leaders, talented sportspeople and respected cattlemen and women.
Her families are having a reunion in Mount Isa, Camooweal and Cloncurry in the July 2015 school holidays to celebrate a remarkable woman and her legacy.
It is an important event for the family to link up, closing the gap and building stronger and better families. There will be more than 200 family members in attendance.
‘‘I am really excited to catch up with and meet the other mob from my family. It is going to a great opportunity for our kids and grandkids to connect with their roots,” Beverley Angeles (nee Trindle), of Alice Springs, said.
And the younger generations are excited, too.
Nicolette Dunn (of the Trindle clan) said she was excited to hear about the history of the family.
“We are all coming together to celebrate the wonderful and amazing life of our Nana Bessie. I’m excited to meet all my family, hear all the stories and create lifelong memories,” she said.
JR Turner, Bessie’s youngest son, said he was looking forward to the reunion.
“Just for the fact that it’s years overdue and the reunion has significance for all generations to learn how we are connected and the history of our ancestors whom we did not have the honour to meet before they passed.”
The reunion will have cultural, social and entertainment activities over a week, including a country music dance at the Island Bowls Club in Mount Isa on Friday 10th July, 2015, starting at 7pm; starring John R Turner.
Nanna Bessie died in 1988, at the age of 91.