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The Story of Pauline Syron

Worimi Gringai Biripi Artist

Pauline is a well-renowned Artist that has continued her family history and culture through Art and Storytelling.Her love of Family history that connects ancestors and connection to Country is what inspires her. 

Born in 1971 at Bulahdelah, Pauline was inspired to paint from her Uncle Gordon Syron who lived with her family when she was a teenage girl at Markwell Bulahdelah. Her love of nature was always an inspiration.

Paulines ancestors are from Biripi Country, Minimbah, Mayers Flat & Port Stephens Bay of Worimi Country and extending up to the Barrington Tops  of the, Gringai , Worimi and Biripi Nations. The Barrington Tops is the source of many great rivers including the Manning River, Karuah River and the Hunter River. All the country is connected by water.

Susan Syron-Clarke

Biripi & Worimi Great Grandmother

Our story begins with Grand Ma......

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Susan Clarke was born at Bungwahl in 1865, second eldest of eleven children to her parents Robert Clarke and Susannah Mayer’s.  Susan grew up in the Forster area, traveling by river from Forster to Minimbah where other family members of the Clarkes lived and spending time with her mother’s family the Mayer’s located at Bungwahl and Mayer’s Flat.

Susan Clarke’s mother was Susannah Mayer’s, born 1840 at Bungwahl and was buried at Forster, her mother’s line is one of the oldest Worimi lines recorded. Susannah Mayer’s mother Mary Anne Perry moved to Bungwahl with her convict husband Thomas Mayer’s from Raymond Terrace. Thomas Mayer’s Later become known as a famous bone setter a skill he learnt from the Worimi people. A monument is located at Bungwahl community Hall to acknowledge the valuable contributions that the Mayer’s family provided.

Mary Anne Perry, Susannah Mayer’s mother, was born in 1812 at Nobbys Head Land at the colonial outpost of Newcastle at the time. Her mother was described as a Port Stephens Full blood with no given name. Mary Anne Perry’s father was an English soldier known as either John Perry or John Terry. Mary Anne Perry is the oldest recorded Worimi woman of Port Stephens and these water ways interlock into the Myall Lakes to Bulahdelah, Bungwahl, Wallis lakes and the entire Great Lakes water systems that include the Coolongolook, Wang Walk and Wallamba rivers. 

The interlocking waters also reflect the interlocking tribal clans of the Worimi and Biripi people. Grand Ma Susan’s Father Robert Clarke a proud Biripi man was born on the Manning River in 1832. The family travelled with the seasons to surrounding districts of Nabiac and Minimbah. The Clarke clan had an ancestral link to the Minimbah area, a vast stretch of land along the Wallamba river, the property is best accessed by water and is approximately 7 miles upriver from Forster. The Minimbah farm during Grand Ma’s lifetime was a dairy farm and milk was put in metal vats and loaded at the farms wharf to be ferried down by boat to Tuncurry Milk Depo. Grand Ma made Minimbah her home loved her family and passed away on the farm in 1954, Grand Ma is buried at Forster Cemetery. 

Grand Ma’s life was her family, she had eleven children, in birth order Nora, Jane, David, Dan, Ada, Robert, Elizabeth, Hope, Annie, Pat and Kate. My father Barry Syron is one of 16 children to Robert Syron, who stayed on at the Minimbah farm with Grand Ma.  Robert and Eileen Syron later moved to Bulahdelah, pop Robert Syron is buried beside Grand Ma and Uncle Cecil Syron at Forster. We gather  to celebrate our family story.

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Eileen May Cook (Syron)


Name: Eileen Cook (Syron)

Gringai, Biripi & Worimi 

Birth 1 January 1907 in Barrington near Gloucester NSW 

Death 17 March 1999 in Bulahdelah NSW 

Married 1927 — Age: 20

Gloucester NSW Australia Church of England

Husband Robert John Syron (Aboriginal Biripi & Worimi)

Mother Maggie Cook (1850 1925)

Gringai, Biripi Worimi Clans Barrington Tops

Father Unknown

The rumour was that he was a Scottish boxer or was one of the local Scottish farmers the McKinnon’s.

Nan asked her mother once and she gave her the biggest flogging so she never asked her again. Her birth certificate revealed no information.

I applied for her Birth certificate in 1993 and we waited with such excitement for this to arrive in the mail as she had never seen her Birth Certificate. Sadly it was blank, please see attached that very BC.

Eileen lived some parts of her life with her mother Maggie and other times with her grandparents Jack Cook and his wife Jessie Brummie on the Barrington River near Gloucester.

Maggie had five daughters and eventually married an Aboriginal man last name Ritchie from Kempsey. Maggie Cooks brother Dave Cook also left the Barrington and married a Moran up at Kempsey. 

Maggie Cooks five daughters.

Gladys Cook (Simon) Married Robert Simon (Biripi Worimi) at Taree in 1937 lived at Forster Reserve.

Jessie Cook (Ping) married Joe Ping (Worimi) and lived at Karuah Mission and stayed in touch with Eileen.

Everlyn Cook (Binge) Armidale/Moree.

Cinderella Ritchie (Name from her father who did marry Maggie Cook) last child from Maggie, Nan met her again over 50 years later; Cinderella grew up on Burnt Bridge Mission Kempsey. 

Nan was born on the Barrington to a full blood mother and to an unknown white man. She lived the first 12-13 years with her grandparents and mother. Her mother Maggie Cook at one stage lived at Purfleet Mission Taree then known as Sunrise Station (Book: Sunrise Station)

has a lot of info on the Syrons. 

Maggie also made several trips by horse and cart with her girls to Kempsey which eventually became her home and her place to die in 1925. Eileen heard about her mother’s death weeks after the funeral. 

At approx. 12-13 years of age Eileen was sent to become a domestic Servant on a large Property in the Gloucester District. 

She was to work on this property for free in return for meagre lodgings and food. She was given no education, limited free time and was never paid for her labour.

Eileen went back to her grandparents Jack Cook and Jessie Brummie with a baby in her belly. 

Robert John Syron was sent from Minimbah near Nabiac to find Eileen Cook. He was sent by his Mother Susan Hannah Clarke, a Biripi & Worimi woman who lived on the banks of the Coolongolook River on Minimbah Farm.

Robert took a horse and cart for the journey and the cart was loaded with watermelons. Robert found Eileen Cook at Gloucester and they started their own family.

Betty Syron was the first born, and Robert better known as Bob made Betty his own and they never told anyone. Betty took the Name Syron and that was that.

Betty never had a close relationship with her mother but loved her father. She only knew that Bob wasn’t her dad in the last few years of her life.

Bob and Eileen lived on King Street Gloucester where Bob did an apprenticeship as a blacksmith. Bob was a fine boxer, football player and blacksmith. He also loved his children. 

In order to work Bob had to apply for a Certificate of exemption at Taree Court House, he had to have white references and prove that he was of good character. The Certificate also known as the “Dog Tags” would assist aboriginal people to become more white

It placed a lot of restrictions on aboriginal people. They could not covert with their relatives and once they entered the white man’s world had to stay there.

I have never seen the Certificate of exemption but Aunty Sue has it and a letter.

People used to pull me up in Taree or Raymond Terrace and say “You would have to be a Syron” Oh I knew your Pop, he was a great man.

Bob and Eileen lived also at Dyers Crossing near Nabiac, back at Minimbah with Bobs mother Susan Clarke and eventually moved to Bulahdelah in the 1960s.

Bob got a job on the DMR (Department of Main Roads) at Bulahdelah, and lived and died at Bulahdelah, he is buried at Forster.

Eilleen and Bob purchased a house at 29 Prince st Bulahdelah and my parents still live there today.

Eileen loved going to church, loved Jesus and tried hard to raise all her kids. It was a miracle that no children were ever removed. Eileen cleaned her home and was very respectable, you had to be just to survive. 

Nan knew lots of old stories and still knew her language Kaatang at an Elders meeting held at Biripi they did language revival and nan knew the words. She started speaking language again at the end of her life because it was safe.

Nan knew a lot of stories, and was superstitious in the old ways.

One of her totems was the black cockatoo and if they flew over she would say that’s how many days of rain we were going to have. She was told this story from her husband Bobs mother Grand Ma Susan Syron-Clarke.

Nan said that the willy wagtail when they hung around chirping meant that someone was coming soon with news.

It was amazing how right she was with everything, oh she knew.

Nan talked about being raised with her grandparents, Jack Cook and his skin name was Mulakat, it was his traditional name they were full bloods and they were the last to be initiated and hold ceremonies. They are the traditional custodians of the Barrington Tops.

The old ways finished with them, Nan used to talk about walking around the Barrington area and the old people were buried upright in the hollow logs and this was the sacred grounds.

Nan knew a lot of things about all of us, she had a way with all of us. 

She kept a lot of stuff hidden but she was raised by her full blood grandparents and she was a survivor.

She seen her sisters and cousins taken away by the police when her mother took the kids to Purfleet, she seen the girls taken and they didn’t see each other for a very long time, the girls become domestic servants. 

Nan was an amazing woman and I loved her dearly.

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