Biography — Joan Margaret Martin (2023)

PUBLICATION: Joan Martin (Yarrna): biography Widi,as told by Bruce Shaw, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press 2011


DATE OF BIRTH:2 mark 1941 r

PLACE OF BIRTH:Moravia, Western Australia

FIRST LANGUAGE:English (and some Wadjari)


  • Mullewa:Joan's mother, Jane, was born in Mullewa but was taken to the Moore River settlement. Jane always ran away and returned to Mullew. (p. 16) As an adult, Jane took her children to Mullew for funerals, and there Joan learned about "tribal things". (p. 14) Joan moved to Mullew to live with her uncle Victor when she separated from her husband Lennie. (p.43)
  • Moore River Settlement:Jane and her mother Amy were sent to the Moore River Settlement in the 1920s. Joan believes this resettlement had a decidedly negative impact on her mother and grandmother.
  • moral:Joan Traditional Country is a large area in central western Western Australia surrounding the small town of Morawa. Joan described the Widi area as barren and apparently uninhabitable.
  • Joan grew up in Moravia, in a camp near a local hotel. (s.1) The family made a living mainly from hunting and slept on beds made of rubber and canvas. (p.19) Joanna claims that despite these difficult conditions, she did not feel disadvantaged in Morawa.
  • Joan returned to Moravia after two years at boarding school in Perth before moving to Mount Magnet with her new husband.
  • Late Mission:The Indigenous Welfare Department threatened to send Jane de Morawa's children to the Pallottine mission to Tardun. According to Joan, the Tardun mission was a notorious place, and her family decided to move to Koolanooka instead of being forced to live there. Joan believes the missionary priest sexually assaulted the boys and then forbade them from talking about it.
  • Koolanooka:A town where Joanna and her family lived for a short time with her cousin after leaving Moravia to escape the authorities. (p.30) When Native Welfare discovered their new location, the family moved to Perenjori and Joan moved to Perth (p.30)
  • Pert:Joan and her older brothers left Koolanook to attend Perth High School. As a resident of Alvin House, Joan felt socially isolated and confused. (p.30) After two years, Joan decided not to come back from school holidays in Morawa.
  • Joan returned to Perth as an adult to live with her mother and remained there for thirty years. (p.43)
  • holding magnet:Joanna moved with her husband from Morawa to Mount Magnet. She lived in a creek camp until she and her husband separated when their eldest son, Errol, was twelve. (p.43)
  • Geraldton:Joan moved to Geraldton when she separated from her husband: first to live with her sister, then in a government apartment. (p.43)
  • All of Joan's children attended Geraldton Grammar School and stayed there after she moved to Perth.
  • Adelaide:Joan visited the museum in Adelaide in 1986 and obtained data on the inhabitants of the Moore River settlement. (p.46)
  • Melbourne:Joan was at a women's conference in Melbourne when Mabo's decision was announced, sharing the euphoria of the Aboriginal community there. (p. 118)


  • Joan enrolled in Morava Public School after the Department of Indigenous Welfare threatened to send her to Tardun. The family then moved to Koolanook, and Joan was sent to Perth High School.
  • Joan completed her first and second years of high school at Perth Modern School and boarded at Alvin House (p. 155). At school in Perth, she felt abandoned, lonely and homesick. (p. 31) After the second year, Joan went on holiday to Morawa and decided to live with her aunt and finish her education at the local gymnasium. (p.31) Joan felt accepted at Morawa High School.
  • Joan was fond of sports in high school and traveled around the region playing volleyball. (p.31)


  • As a child living in Moravia, Joan helped her mother clear land for local farmers. (page 24)
  • After graduating from high school in Morawa, Joanna got a job on a farm for a few weeks. Joan loved her employees but had to stop working after she contracted anthrax. (pp. 31-32)
  • Joan then got a job as a receptionist at the local post office. (page 32)
  • Joan's husband, Lennie, supported her while they lived in Mount Magnet. She sees motherhood as a full-time job and believes the government is putting children at risk by denying women the right to stay at home. (p. 137)
  • After Joan left Lennie and moved to Geraldton, she supported the family by playing and fishing. (p.43)
  • When she stopped worrying about motherhood, Joan began her career as a professional artist. Joan has always loved to paint, although she was used to painting with acrylics. (p. 112) In 1979, she saw Mick Little painting in the traditional Aboriginal style and felt confident and inspired to do the same. (p. 112)
  • In 1987, Mick organized an exhibition of Joan's work in Adelaide alongside his work. (p.112) Mick and Joan painted a floor together in Adelaide. (p. 112)
  • In 1992, Joan won a competition to design a mosaic for the Center for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University of Technology. (p. 116)


  • Western Australia Department of Land Conservation and Management:According to Joan, WADCLM wanted to open the traditional land of Widi to tourism. She was against the idea, stating that "we wouldn't sell our land." (p. 13)
  • India Department of Welfare:Joan obtained records from her family's Department of Social Services. This included a letter written by his father Norm Harris on behalf of his grandfather Tom Phillip Jr. Joan believes the Department of Social Welfare obtained information from Aboriginal people and misrepresented it in their records.
  • Adelaide Museum:Joan visited the Adelaide Museum in 1986 and obtained records of her family and residents of the Moore River Settlement. (p.46)
  • Homewest housing company:In 1996, Joan moved into the Homewest house on Paris Way in Karrinyup, a suburb of Perth. She was evicted later that year. The only excuse Homewest offered her was to leave the kids alone in the park. (p. 145) Joan blames the eviction of a new South African neighbor who had biased opinions and influential connections. (p. 134)
  • After being evicted by Homewest, Joan was homeless for ten years. Joan spent six of those years squatting in Glen Forrest, then lived in a car for three years. (pp. 134-135)
  • Joan appealed the eviction, resulting in a legal battle against Homeswest that went all the way to the Western Australian Supreme Court. (p.132) Joan believes that Homeswest discriminated against her and deliberately prolonged her homelessness.


  • Joan believes that she and her family were only granted Australian citizenship in 1967.


  • Joan cut her leg while playing tennis at Perth High School. The wound became infected, three times its normal size, and prevented her from walking. (p. 32) Joan contracted a similar anthrax while working near Moravia and was forced to resign. (pp. 31-32)
  • Joan inherited "sugar diabetes" from her biological father, Norm Harris (p. 35).
  • Joan's mental and physical health suffered when she was evicted in 1996 and she was homeless for ten years. During this time, Joan often left Perth to spend time in the bush. While these trips refreshed her mentally, her physical ailments were hard to overcome. (pp. 142-143)
  • In the late 2000s, Joan developed both an internal "growth" and a goiter on her neck. This caused her great pain and led to hospitalization.


  • Jane Lewis (pannaPhilips):Joanna's mother was a "full-blooded" Aboriginal woman of the Wageral tribe, born around 1915 (pp. 6-7). His tribal name is Wageral meaning he was born near a river. (p. 14)
  • Joan described Jane's strict, traditional upbringing in Mullewa, where she "passed the law". (page 16)
  • Joan was taken to the Moore River Settlement at the age of 12 where she learned English. (p. 7) Settlement staff advised against traditional practices, and Joan believes this is why her mother did not assign her a Widi skin group. (page 2, 34)
  • Jane was an important "family storyteller" (p.xi), but Joan also learned details of her mother's life from her maternal aunts and uncles. Jane died in 1987 (p. 156)
  • norma harris father: Norm Harris Jr. was married to Jane's sister Eva. (p. 8) For years, Joan didn't know that Norm was both her father and uncle. (p. 35) She claims that her uncle's conception disgraced her as a child. (p. 14)
  • Joan believes Norm has gone over to "the white man's rules" and has tried to impose them on both of his wives. (page 16)
  • Joan described her father as a respectable man. (p. 8) However, he requested that Bruce Shaw not include the Harris side of Joan's family in his pedigree chart. This is because he believes that Widi's ancestors are more important to his development. (p. xii)


  • Ronald Simpson:Joan was in a relationship with Ron but never lived with him. She became pregnant and abortion was not available at the time. Joan then gave birth to what she describes as her first "lost" son, Errol.
  • Leonard "Lennie" Martin:Joan met Lennie when his football team was traveling in Moravia. They had their first child while still living in Moravia, got married and later moved to Lennie's hometown of Mount Magnet. (p. 39) They had three children together: Greg, Dean and Jenny. (p. 38)
  • Initially, Joan had a crush on Lennie. (p.41) He describes him as a hard working man, and when they moved to Mt Magnet, he bought Joan and the children an old house. However, Lennie was also a problem drinker. (p. 38) When Joan lived on Mt Magnet, she was often forced to run away from home and live in the bush with her children after arguments with her husband. (page 40)
  • Ultimately, Lennie's drunken violence ended their relationship. (p.38) Joan claims that she and Lennie were better friends after the divorce than during the marriage. (p.41)
  • Kevin Cameron: Joan started a relationship with Kevin while she was separating from her husband Lennie. They had a son, Nicola, born in 1967 (p. 39)
  • Christmas:The father of Joan's sixth child, Stephen, born in 1969. Noel did not take responsibility for the children, and Joan was forced to place Stephen in foster care. (p.42)
  • Sid:Father of Joan's seventh child, Sandra, born in 1971. Sid also did not take responsibility for the children, and Joan gave Sandra to a foster family. (p.42)


  • Joan had her first child with Ron Simpson in 1958 when she was 17 years old. She and her husband then had three more children: Greg, Dean, and Jennifer "Jenny", all before the age of 21. Joan had Nicola "Nicky" with another partner in 1969 when she broke up with her husband.
  • When she separated from her first husband, Joan was a homeless single mother struggling to care for her five children.
  • The burden of raising five children alone was so heavy that in 1969 she gave her sixth child, Stephen, and in 1971, her seventh, Sandra, to a friend who apparently abused Sandra. Welfare stepped in and Joan of Welfare handed Stephen and Sandra over to Leona and Jim Spring to look after them. (p.42)
  • Joan abandoned her two children. Still, he believes it was the right decision given his circumstances. (p.43)
  • Joan struggled to raise her first five children well. However, as they grew older, she felt more and more out of control.
  • As adults, Joan's children lived with her intermittently, leaving several grandchildren in their care. Several of her children brought their families to Joan on Paris Way after being evicted from their own homes. Joan says objections to her children's behavior led to her expulsion in 1996.
  • In 2000, Joan's son Dean died, as did two of his granddaughters, one of whom ended up in a wheelchair. Joan holds Homeswest responsible for these incidents. (pp. 135-136)
  • In retrospect, Joan believes that what she gave as a mother was not returned to her by her children.


  • Bill Lewis:Joan's older brother, born in 1936. Joan and Bill grew up very close and both were sent to shelters in Perth. When Joan returned to Moravia, her brother invested half of his earnings in her room and board so that she could go to school. (pp. 89-90)
  • When Joan attended her brother's funeral in 2007, she believes she was visited by his spirit. (p. 89)
  • Aunt Eva (Jane's sister) and Uncle Tom Phillip (Jane's brother):Joan's maternal uncle and aunt who told her their family history and dreams of Widi as a child. He describes them as "great family storytellers". (p. 76)
  • Bill Lewis:The white man Joan met as her father. (page 6)
  • Jim and Leonie Lente:Adoptive parents of Joan's sixth and seventh children, Sandra and Stephen.
  • Ron Parker:An anthropologist who sought information from Joan about the Irwin River region and supported her and her family. (page 51)
  • Kim Hames:Western Australia's Minister of Housing when Joan was evicted from Homewest. (p. 139)


  • Joan believes both in Widi's spirit of creation, Beemarra, and in the Christian God (p. 51). It tells the story of the origin of Widi about two serpents who came from Ernabella and created a river that forms the "Dreaming Track". (pp. 53-57, 78-79) This Way is marked by holy places where there is fresh water and where no grass grows. (p. 57) Joan believes that only the descendants of the people who lived on the Dreaming Track have a legitimate claim to the area. (p. 59)
  • Joan draws comparisons between Widi's faith and Christianity. He argues that, like the Christian God, Beemarr's creative spirit is omniscient and omnipresent. It refers to the biblical story in which God created man from the sand and compares it with Widi's belief that man was created from the earth. This also refers to the fact that Christians bury their dead, and Widi also believe that people return to earth after death.
  • Joan also has a strong belief in the existence of ghosts. Joan claims to have had many personal experiences with ghosts, both positive and negative.
  • When she ran away from her husband, Joan believes that spirits sent her messages through animals. (p. 41) Joan remembers being visited by the spirits of her brother, sister-in-law and mother. (pp. 97, 141)
  • While these visits were peaceful, ghosts can also haunt areas with a turbulent history, according to Joan. For example, Joan brought her boyfriend who was a traditionalistmobanher husband to perform an exorcism at her sister's house in Dallwallinu because there had been a massacre in the area (pp. 85-86). Joan also feels threatened by ghosts while in the bush.
  • Joan claims that she and other Aborigines can talk to animals and talks about communication experiences with crows and magpies. (p. 91) It also states that the aborigines are capable of telepathic and astral travel. She remembers numerous incidents where her family members noticed something was wrong before she informed them. (pp. 93-95)


  • Family history:Joan describes the history of the Phillips family. It begins with the story of his great-grandparents, whom Irwin named Tom Phillips and Ginny. (page 2)
  • She described the strong position that her great-grandfather and his son, also Tom Phillips, occupied in Widi society. They were "lawmen" who traveled great distances to inspect ceremonial sites. Joan describes how Tom Phillips and Tom Phillips Junior possessed sacred knowledge that was denied to women like her mother and grandmother.
  • According to Joan, Tom Phillips Jr. had a forced and abusive relationship with his wife Amy. Joan claims that Tom Phillips Jr. he brought his mother and grandmother from Mullewa to the Moore River Settlement because Amy was stubborn and in business (p. 5). According to Jane's account, her father eventually hired another Aboriginal at the Moore River Settlement to kill her mother. Apparently this was because Amy had another man's baby (p. 5). After Amy's death in 1928, the boy's father "was under the law for 12 months" before he too was killed. (page 6)
  • According to her maternal aunt and uncle, after her mother's death, Jane was also at risk of being killed by her father. This was because Jane was honest, which is why Tom Phillips suspected that she was not his real daughter. Fortunately, an Aboriginal woman from the Moore River Settlement stepped in and raised Jane. (page 6)
  • Joan is skeptical of official genealogies. This is because many mothers did not want to admit who the father of their children was, which made many children feel insecure about their upbringing.
  • Effects of colonization and institutionalization:
  • Joan blames Europeans for corrupting Aborigines and causing the problems faced by modern communities.
  • Joan also denounces the colonizing powers for forcing her family to settle in the Moore River settlement. It explains the negative effects of displacement, including the current turmoil it has caused over land ownership. (p. 17)
  • Joan also describes racially discriminatory treatment of children in the Moore River Settlement. "Beauty", like her mother, was sent to schools in Perth. (p. 17)
  • Meanwhile, Joan claims that "blacks" were sent to work at stations where many were sexually abused. (p. 17)
  • Traditional Aboriginal culture:
  • Joan provides an account of traditional life in the Widi society, both through their stories and the artwork they inspired (pp. 118-130). Joan describes hunting and gathering around Worawa and Mullewo as a child (p. 23). Gives a list of edible foods that are on the diet.anchomethods of harvesting this food: crushing nuts, stunning fish, hunting kangaroos, echidnas, wild turkeys, goannas and emus, and collecting eggs, berries, seeds, yams and wild tomatoes. Joan remembered foods such as kangaroo head, a delicacy eaten by men; and others, such as black goanna, which were taboo (pp. 62-70).
  • Joan recalls the traditional and modern reliance on Aboriginal "bush medicine" (p. 23). Joan began taking an herbal medicine she found near Mount Magnet to treat her kidney problems. He later prescribed this herb to a friend and believes it cured him of cancer. (p. 71) Joan also used the purple flower to treat her nieces and nephews' scabies. (p. 71) Believes that traditional medicines are now used and abused by non-Aboriginal peoples. (p. 72)
  • Joan denounces the existence of skin groups and incest taboos (p. 2) and laws that dictate behavior according to gender. (p. 102) Joanna also refers to cases of wife theft and the practice of a man taking his brother's wife after his death. (page 2)
  • Joan believes that despite the doubts, traditional Widi culture is powerful and resilient.
  • Personally, Joan takes a selective and critical approach to traditional Aboriginal culture. (p. 111)
  • Original title:
  • Joan described her joy after Mabo's decision, which she captured in one of her paintings. (p.117) She hopes that claiming Native title will protect the sacred sites of her ancestors from raids by mining companies.
  • Joan claims to have the power to identify sacred sites for protection, which she says is inherent in many Aborigines. (pp. 97-98)
  • Joan describes the difficulties she encountered in registering her land claims with Indian property courts. He attributes this to a corrupt Earth Council, the power of mining companies, and a non-Aboriginal fear of indigenous title (p. 59).
  • Joan finds it irritating that Aborigines have to prove their connection to a certain area to the authorities. He also believes that mining companies deliberately destroyed Aboriginal artifacts and sacred sites before anthropologists could identify them. (pp. 58-60)

HOW LITERATURE IS PRODUCED:Bruce Shaw recorded 27 hours of conversations with Joan based on open-ended questions. He rewrote the interview, removing any incomprehensible moments, and Joan proofread the manuscript. (p. xii)

quote data

"Martin, Joan Margaret (1941–)", Indigenous Australians, National Center for Biography, Australian National University,, accessed May 26, 2023.


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