Illicit Love: Interracial Sex and Marriage in the United States and Australia

By Ann McGrath | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Ernest Gribble and Jeannie

BRIGHT WEDDINGS

When I visited the Aboriginal community–run Menmuny Museum at Yarrabah near Cairns, Queensland, a batch of historical wedding photographs was displayed on its walls. Wearing lovely white dresses that gleam in the bright sunlight of decades past, Aboriginal brides beam gorgeous smiles. Alongside them, their young Aboriginal husbands stand close, wearing printed cottons from Pacific islands. The brides hold huge bunches of native ferns and wildflowers. In reprints on glossy photo paper, these suspended moments serve to memorialize the significance of a public ritual that anticipated a future.

The Gribble family, the missionaries who had taken up residence in Aboriginal “country,” made weddings a big community event — something to look forward to and celebrate. By 1892, when Ernest Gribble arrived at Yarrabah to assist his father, J.B. Gribble, the Anglo-Australian political leaders of each self-governing colony met regularly to discuss how they might unite into a federated nation.1 Ernest aimed to establish a different polity, a mini commonwealth based upon Christian-style marriages between Aboriginal men and Aboriginal women of similar ages. Today the Yarrabah community has extended and reinvented this ritual, making church weddings cherished cultural events.

Even in the black-and-white photographs at the Menmuny Museum, the intense, pale aura of Ernest Gribble’s eyes stands out. In this land of brown eyes and dark skin, they contrast with his reddened, sunburned

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