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Clare Historian Jean Schmaal

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

For over 30 years, Mrs Jean Schmaal has been interested in the history and legends of the many country towns in which she has lived, as the wife of a policeman, Hedley Schmaal, and also the daughter of the S.A. Commissioner of Police, W.F. Johns (known as "Mulga Bill". Her son John, was also a serving Police Office, and his son, too.

Jean was appointed Research Officer of the Clare National Trust, and in this role she became in 1979 the first Life Member of the Police Historical Society.

The Clare Community Development Board honored Jean with their Community Service Award on Australia Day, 1986.

Finally she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to the community in 1993.

Jean researched the Aborigines of settled South Australia and produced the first description of the Ngadjuri people of the Mid-North.

"The first inhabitants of the Clare Valley, long before Europeans came to decimate them were the Ngadjuri ("Gum Tree") aboriginal people. They were a gentle people who lived a simple, nomadic life, wandering from place to place in search of food.

In a few short decades there were only scattered remains of the Ngadjuri left around Clare, and a way of life that had persisted in the area for thousands of years came to an end.

The common cold, influenza and measles were the cause of much suffering and death.

At one time there was quite a large aboriginal population at Bungaree ('Bungari' is a Ngadjuri word meaning 'Tribal lands') and another group near Leasingham.

Their territory extended from Angaston to Gawler, and to Port Pirie and Orroroo."

Jean Schmaal authored two books of her stories, which total over 50 in all, published in newspapers and magazines, for which she received no payment.

  • 'Clare ---- A Backward Glance' stories of early Clare and district -- text by Jean Schmaal ; drawings by John Haynes, 64 p Published by the National Trust of South Australia, Clare and District Branch, c1980

  • 'Tales of the Troopers, Stories from the Wild Colonial Days', by Jean Schmaal. "An intriguing collection of stories on crime, police investigation, and punishment from colonial Australia. The police ran the new colony, doing everything from postal delivery and law administration to Aboriginal protection.:" ... Google Books Originally published: 1999 by Wakefield Press.

It was when living in Port Pirie with her Police family that her teacher Mr Dawson engendered her great love for English, History and Geography.

After attending Business College Jean had a variety of jobs, including War Work. She worked at the Supreme Court and at the Morialta Children's Home helping Dr Charles Dogood with his work with Aboriginal chidren.

When husband Hedley was posted to Narrung, Jean taught years 1 and 2 at the Narrung Primary School, where she really got involved with the local history, for the sake of the children. Here she taught Robert Clyne who became the Secretary of the Police Historical Society, and credits Jean as the inspiration for his interest in historical matters.

Reproduced on the Clare Museum website are a few of her 'forgotten' but fascinating stories, recovered from digital files at the Clare Regional History Group:

  • 'Tales of the Bullockies' ​Australia owes much to bullock teams and the bullockies who drove them -- once almost anything which had to travel any distance had to be moved by bullock dray or wagon.

Often wool going to a coastal port for shipment to England, or groceries and supplies being taken to a distant station spent months on the journey.

In some parts of Australia inland river navigation altered the situation. Murray River steamers put an end to long bullock treks to and from stations along the Murray. In other places where there were no navigable rivers, bullock wagons continued to plod slowly until the railway line finally came.

There you will read fascinating tales of the 'Red Men', and the 'Devils Garden'

This long story comes from her writings of historic Yankalilla for the Victor Harbour Times.

"Some years before official settlement of South Australia there were European sealers on Kangaroo Island. They were a wild, lawless lot --- some of them escaped convicts from Van Diemen's Land,

others were runaway sailors from ships which had called at the Island to pick up salt to preserve their seal-skins."

"These men had the unpleasant habit from time to time of taking native women from the mainland, and their treatment of their captives was anything but kind."

Jean has fascinating stories about the former great homes of Yankalilla and Normanville.

e.g. The house now known as 'Manor Farm' was in fact named 'Manna Farm' for the 'manna' wild food deposited overnight on the nearby plains.

The tragedy of native women stolen by sealers to Kangaroo Island actually gave the name to Yankalilla:

Originally named by natives 'Place of the Women's Tragedy', their words Nganka-alya-illa which they used to describe the event, became corrupted later by white settlers into Yattagolinga which was then, as now, a place of great beauty, and now simply Yankalilla, as we know it today.

  • Thirdly, Jean Schmaal was the first modern writer to recognise the colonial Artist S.T. Gill, whose work is rich in historical detail, described in an article published in the monthly regional Scope Magazine, June 1977, which is not archived at the National Library Trove collection.

We only know this article by Jean Schmaal because of the digitised records at CRHG.

"On the Australian Colonial scene of more recent times a somewhat more humble man has, nearly 100 years after his death, come to be recognised as one of the most valuable recorders of those early times."

"One doubts whether Samuel Thomas Gill set out deliberately to cast himself in such a mould when he landed at Port Adelaide in 1839.

He was only 21 when he came to South Australia with his parents and younger brother and sister."

"His early training in draughtsmanship and painting, coupled with his keen eye for detail, were later to reveal him as the great humanist in Australian Art.'

People and their activities were his source of material, and his paintings showed them as they were --- the unglamorous, virile, down-to-earth pioneers of the new Colony.

Gill, from the beginnings of his Australian life, had the gift of seeing the landscape through Australian eyes. He was the first artist to interpret what he saw without giving Australian scenes the softness and opulence of the European countryside. ​He painted gum trees to look like gum trees, and not like the oaks and elms of England. He was also the first artist to paint the harsh red outback of his new homeland.

"His early scenes of Adelaide show a rather surprisingly well-established colony for the short time since first settlement. His paintings teem with life as it was in that first decade. One sees King William Street deeply rutted by bullock wagons and busy with all manner of horse transport;

  • there's a water carrier

  • shepherds and their dogs,

  • and drovers, and among others,

  • a woman with a goat-drawn cart selling milk.

"There's scenes of North Terrace where Gill shows 'gentlemen' of Adelaide doffing their top hats, and strolling with their walking sticks. Close by, blanket-clad aborigines make their way. And everywhere there's dogs ---- barking, running, active dogs ---- all no doubt adding to the liveliness and rowdiness of the scene as Gill saw it."

Many of Gill's famous sketches and watercolours are reproduced to illustrate Jean's tales, at

Other stories of Jean's archive at CRHG have been republished at the website:

Read more: at

and at this website you can read:

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