Keith Vincent Smith
Popularly called ‘King Billy’ he was a well-known identity, often seen in the streets of Sydney. His Aboriginal name was Dooich and he was born William John Wentworth in the Braidwood district on the south coast of New South Wales.
Dooich said he preferred to be known as John or Jacky Wentworth. He was sometimes called Billy Timberry (or Tumbery) and said (wrongly) to be the father-in-law of Queen Emma Timbery.
The artist Lawrence Herbert Beecroft (1864-1951) was born in Reading, England and emigrated to Australia with his wife Dulcie Julia in 1905. He afterwards lived (and died) at his home in Woollahra in Sydney’s east.
I came across Beecroft’s posthumous portrait of Dooich several years ago, strangely at the Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand. Beecroft, who painted three portraits of ‘King Billy’, knew him when he lived quietly in a two-roomed hut in the Aboriginal Reserve at La Perouse south of Sydney.
In the 1860s ‘King Billy’ was employed to collect tolls from horseback riders and drovers taking domestic animals from Sydney to La Perouse at the Randwick tollhouse of the Centennial Parklands, now Centennial Park.
In the 1890s, according to Peter Proudfoot in Colonial Global City (2000, page 165), ‘King Billy’ used to talk with the composer Isaac Nathan at his home ‘Byron Lodge’ at Randwick and might have given him some of the Aboriginal songs that Nathan collected. One of Dooich’s deathbed memories was of singing when he lived at Braidwood.
In 1893 Thomas Fowlie of Granville met a dozen Aboriginal people travelling along Sydney Road. One man, carrying a tomahawk and billycan, wore a brass plate around his neck inscribed with the name ‘King Billy’.
‘Billy Wentworth’ was often in trouble with the laws imposed by the British colonists. The Sydney Morning Herald (30 March 1897) reported that ‘Billy Wentworth, an Aboriginal’ was charged with ‘frequenting Hyde Park with intent to commit a felony’ and was consequently sentenced to three months jail with hard labour. ‘Billy Wentworth’ was sentenced to one month’s hard labour at Biloela (Cockatoo Island) the Sydney Harbour prison, for attempted theft (SMH 4 March 1899).
Reginald Obed McLachlan, a nephew of Obed West, a landholder at Barcom Glen, Rushcutters Bay, told the medical doctor and journalist Isadore Brodsky (The Streets of Sydney, 1962, page 114) that he once saw ‘King Billy’ buying tobacco at a grocery ship on Liverpool Street, Sydney towards the end of the nineteenth century.
‘King Billy’, said McLachlan, ‘used to walk in from South Head to get his tobacco and when he saw me he would say “You Obed West.’” McLachlan said that as a child his mother used to visit Oswald Lane (near Woomerah Avenue, Darlinghurst), to see ‘the Woomerah tribe’s corroboree’. She recalled watching Aboriginal people washing their clothes in the creek at Rushcutters Bay.
Mary Salmond, writing in the Evening News, Sydney (16 July 1904) said that about 70 Aboriginal people were then living at the mission station at La Perouse, ‘including “Jacky Wentworth” and the “Timbury family”’.
Dooich, alias King Billy Wentworth, died at La Perouse in 1906 and was buried with his wife in the Coast Hospital Cemetery at Little Bay.
The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages gave his age as 79. The New South Wales Aborigines’ Advocate (No. 63, 31 July 1906, page 3) said ‘King Billy’ passed away on the Sabbath morning of 22 July 1906.
He died peacefully in his sleep and his daughter Clara found him lying dead in bed at 6.30 a.m. that Sunday.
Aboriginal people living on the reserve at La Perouse called King Billy’s house ‘The Royal Palace’. In ‘Dreaming Trees’, a section in La Perouse – the place, the people and the sea, published by Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra in 1988, Iris Williams recalled
There are three Moreton Bay fig trees on the old reserve and one stands alone just a few yards from the tin shack where King Billy died. His shack was painted red and it was the last house built of government tin to be demolished. It had been on the first reserve, so it would have been built about 1880 but it wasn’t demolished until around 1972 …
GUNYEE / CLARA PHILLIPS
In 1901 Gunyee (also recorded as Gungee and Gunyeh) or Clara, daughter of William Charles Wentworth, known as ‘King Billy’, was living at Port Kembla. In 1906 she married James (‘Joe’) Phillips and moved to La Perouse. She was friendly with the schoolteacher and linguist Mary Everitt, who asked to use her Aboriginal name Gungee as her nom-de-plume.
An article in the Sunday Times (Sydney, 28 June 1914) said Billy Wentworth’s daughter then occupied the ‘Royal Palace’ that once belonged to her father. ‘Her chief interests centre round the Mission House, and one of her joys is to decorate the church with bush flowers. Her shellwork, too, shows appreciable refinement and ability.’
When Clara died after a short illness in 1917 she was buried in the same grave as her parents in the Coast Hospital at Little Bay. The Shoalhaven Telegraph (4 April 1917) said ‘La Perouse Mission has lost one of its brightest and most popular figures. Her native name was “Gunyeh”, and, as far as is known, she was about 40 years of age … The Aborigines’ Protection Board, in consideration of her rank, and the respected name she bore, provided the hearse and coffin.’
The Methodist (Sydney, 2 February 1918) mourned the ‘passing away of Clara Phillips, whose beaming face and quaint talks enlivened many a meeting, where she was always ready to give her cheery testimony.’
Clara’s husband James ‘Joe’ Phillips died at the Coast Hospital in 1922 aged 65 years.
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith