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160 Year Old Warring Spear in the Rightful Hands of Barladong Elder

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

By Dr Renée Ralph, Co-Founder, The Brilliant Foundation

Left to Right : Alisha Ashworth, Dr Marion Kickett and Tracey Kickett

Photo credit : Bradley Kickett

BARLADONG, York, Western Australia – In National NAIDOC week, the theme FOR OUR ELDERS, we respect the wisdom and love the Elders who have nurtured and encouraged us. In the spirit of conciliation and walking together, The Brilliant Foundation brings you a tremendous moment of Western Australian history from Dr Marion Kickett, a Barladong Elder and the good-hearted Alisha Ashworth who returned the spear to the family.

The Aboriginal culture is 75,000 years old, one of the oldest living traditions in the world, as far back to the Ice Ages. The First Nations Peoples in Australia are connected to the land, Mother Country, Boodja and they have studied the stars, the seasons and how to live a sustainable life with nature harmoniously. To give it context in a distinct period of time, the Pyramids in Egypt is around 4,600 years old.

Guest-of-Honour Dr Marion Kickett, Barladong Elder and Shire President Denise Smyth celebrating with cake that she made for NAIDOC celebrations 8 July 2023 in Barladong,York, Western Australia

Instagram Tile NAIDOC Week 20023 For Our Elders- designed by Josh Galvin, The Brilliant Foundation

It was surreal chatting to Dr Marion Kickett, a Barladong Elder sharing her experience with Alisha Ashworth, her twin brother Alex and her mother, Shelley when they visited her younger sister, Tracey and her at their home in York on Wednesday 19 April 2023 (The Total Solar Eclipse occurred Thursday, 20 April 2023 in Exmouth, Western Australia). Alisha gifted the 160 year old spear to Marion and Tracey, the wooden spear that was made by their great-grandfather, Tommy Tracker.

Dr Renée : Dr Marion, thank you so much for having this conversation with me. First up, is Barladong spelt Barladong or Barlladong?

Dr Marion : It is Barladong. The name can be traced back to the book in 1870s that I love reading titled An Australian Parsonage, or the Settler and The Savage in Western Australia written by the Reverend's wife, Janet Millet. My dad, George always called it Barladong and that's how he always pronounced it Bar-la-dong, all his life.

It was her journal written in old English and I have read it four times. Jane Millet referred to York as Barladong as how the First Nations Peoples pronounced it. Janet went back to England in 1872 and printed her book under the name Mrs Edward Millett.

An Australian Parsonage, or the Settler and The Savage in Western Australia by Mrs Edward Miller - printed in England Edward Stanford, 6&7, Charing Cross, S.W. 1972

Photo credit : Dr Marion Kickett

BARLADONG (now known as YORK, Western Australia) - Excerpt from An Australian Parsonage, or the Settler and The Savage in Western Australia by Mrs Edward Miller - printed in England Edward Stanford, 6&7, Charing Cross, S.W. 1972

Photo credit : Dr Marion Kickett

Dr Renée : Dr Marion How did it feel to hold the 160 year old spear in your hands?

Dr Marion: I was buzzing. My body was buzzing all over. I kept thinking that my relative made this spear. He used it over a century ago.

There were blood stains on the spear. I thought.

The bullet was faster than the spear – My great-grand father, Tommy Tracker (that his how the Early Settlers or non-Aboriginals referred to him) was killed because of it.

My father, George Kickett told me the bullet would have hit him, knocking him off balance; therefore, when he let go of the the spear, he missed his target. He died then and there at the hill which is now called Mount Tommy, named after him.

In those days, Aboriginal Peoples were usually killed when they were warring. My great grandfather and Edmund Ashworth or his son, Ralph went in knowing that they were going for a fight and for a purpose. He knew that was going to be altercation and he went with his warring spear.
They don’t mess around in those days Renée. The spear was made to be used as a weapon.

Dr Renée : What is your relationship with the Ashworths today?

There’s a historical connection between the Kickett-Ashworth families over the last century. Dr Marion explained that it went way back to the 1850s.

The Kickett-Ashworth Connections

Dr Marion : The current generation with the Kicketts and Ashworths goes way back into the 1850s because my great-great-great grandfather, Cowitch (no surname then) was the First Native* Assistant Police Officer here in York in 1942 documented in the colonial secretary records in Perth's magistrate.

We know of Yaran and Winmar, a well-known Barladong Noongar surnames in Western Australia.They never had surnames, as that was their names. My great-great-grandfather's son, name is known as Thomas Kickett ( it sounds like Cowitch as written by the non-Aboriginal records officer). He never had the name Kickett, it is known as Cowitch. We only had one name, not two names for the Aboriginal culture. For instance, Yagan is known as Yagan, that's it. It isn't like English when you have a name and surname and what they did was to give the natives the names.

Edmund Ashworth came in the late 1840s to Barladong and as a former soldier, he was given work as a guard and he transported people from York to the Round House in Fremantle. He was from the British Army and he would be given land if he worked for it. Edmund was called the “Red Coat” that was what my dad called him. He paid 7 pounds to get out of the Army. Edmund did what he had to do to get land and he had to work really hard for it. In 1852, Edmund was married at 32 years old and he had nine kids with Ralph as the oldest son.

Today, our family still have the connection with the Ashworths. Today, we have a positive relationship and we are friends.

You see, Brian Ashworth went to school with Tracey Kickett, my sister in Year 1,1974. Brian is the youngest son of Norm Ashworth. The spear was held in Norm Ashworth's house in many years. Brian still comes around to see Tracey when he visits York and spends time with her.

I worked with Brian's sister, Dale Ashworth and we both worked as nurses at the York Hospital and that’s my connection that I had with this family. To me, Dale is a really nice person, as of Brian and their beautiful mother, Mrs Shirley Ashworth.

Josephine (Josie) Kickett, my older cousin was and is still remains really good friends with Lorraine Ashworth (Brian’s older sister). Lorraine is her best friend. I remember that they worked in the hospital together in York too.

I remember Josie saying that she went to the farm with Lorraine on the weekends. That’s pretty amazing to have a weekend with a non-Aboriginal girl – during those times, that was not normal, that just didn’t happen. It was not the done thing.
Non-Aboriginal people didn’t have you staying with them unless they are missionaries or strong Christian people. People expected that in society. Lorraine is a pretty amazing girl and a very strong individual.
Josie and Lorraine are still good friends today. Josie named her first daughter, Lorraine after her best friend. They are in each other’s lives and are still reconnecting today.
I remember when Lorraine was trying to contact Josie. Josie didn’t have a mobile phone or land line at her home. Lorraine contacted me and I would put her in touch with Josie's son so that she could reach her. Lorraine always made the effort to contact Josie through her relatives in York.

When I look at Norm Ashworth's family, I connected with Dale Ashworth at the York Hospital. My sister, Tracey connected with Brian Ashworth as Tracey went to school with Brian when they were five years old. My cousin, Josie connected with Lorraine Ashworth. We are all still friends today.

Dr Renée : How was the spear returned? When did it start?

Dr Marion : Clive Ashworth passed away in 2017 and his daughter, Alisha Ashworth received the spear left to her in his will. She talked to her dad about the spear before he died. She was working in an organisation at Northam. and she met with several Aboriginal Elders.

Alisha asked them about the spear and they told her that the right thing to do was to return the spear to the Aboriginal Peoples. At that time, Alisha didn’t know what to do with the spear and she didn’t know the story of what happened to my great-grandfather, Tommy Tracker. She didn't know who to return the spear to and she didn't know us.

Dr Marion Kickett at The York Heritage Week with her book April 2023

Alisha’s mother, Shelley was trying to make contact with me. I was very busy with the book launch March 2023 and I did text her back and could only meet after.

My Country, My Life, My Words - Voices from Barladong and Beyond - March 2023

Transforming Indigenous Higher Education - Privileging Culture, Identity and Self-Determination will be officially launched on Thursday 17 August 2023, 4pm-5pm at John Curtin Gallery

Shelley turned up at the book launch and my school friend, Kellee Hooper introduced her to me. I said to Shelley that after the book launch I will contact her and I did.
She said she wanted to talk to me about something that was rather sensitive.

Shelley and her twins, Alex and Alisha came to my house in York and I could tell they were feeling rather awkward.

Photo : Dr Marion at the York Residency Museum with the 160 year old warring spear

The spear was a sensitive subject. In the 1970s, my father, George and Alisha and Alex’s grandfather, Norm debated the spear several times at the Castle Hotel in York.

It was my great-grandfather's cousin who made the spear. Both Norm and his brother, Ron knew that the maker of the spear, was my dad’s grandfather. My father, George was very angry because his relative had been killed back then.

It brought me back to the conversation I had with my dad. I remembered when I asked my dad, George: ”Will you get it back? The spear back?”

My dad said:” I don’t want it back. So, I will never get it back.”

I think my dad was so angry and pissed off about the situation that occurred.

Alisha didn’t know that my great-grandfather had been killed as she asked me:” Did he die?”
I said: ”Yes, he did when he was shot.”

Tracey and I were at home, when Alisha brought the spear in and put it on the dining table.
Alisha said: ”When my father died, he left the spear to me. I want to gift it to you – you and Tracey because that’s where the spear belongs. I could see that Alisha was so happy and relieved as well when that important moment happened.
I thought WOW – that blew me away.

Alisha and Alex are such beautiful kids and they were over the moon when that happened.

Photo : Alisha Ashworth

Alisha said: ”I know that this is the right thing to do, both my grandfather and my dad didn’t didn’t really want to talk about it."

I just sat there feeling amazed, really. Then Tracey and I, we both said : “ Yes, we will accept the spear.”

Dr Renée : It is interesting in itself that they kept in in their family for 160 years and not burnt the spear or destroyed it?

Dr Marion : I take it as a positive that they kept it for this time without destroying it as most of the spears found or collected back then were destroyed. I remember saying to them that that the first thing we have to do is to frame the spear and the spear has to be loaned to the York museum. I told them I will be in touch with the museum.

Dr Marion Kickett with Alisha Ashworth holding the 160 year old spear

On Healing and Education

Dr Marion : The story of the spear to me is about our healing. To me that education is the key and the story has to be told for people especially the younger generation to be educated.
The spear is about conciliation, not reconciliation, as I believe, we have nothing to reconcile. The spear story is conciliation which is a true meaning of all of us, coming together and connecting as all Australians.

Dr Renée: Thank you Dr Marion for your time today. It has been wonderful chatting with you.

Dr Marion: You are welcome,Renée.


1. The name of York in Aboriginal - how is it spelt Barladong or Barlladong?

2. What is the difference between conciliation and reconciliation?

3. What do you love about this piece of history in Western Australia and the human connections that have been made?

4. Will you make a trip to Barladong to see the spear in the York Museum?

About Dr Marion Kickett

Dr Marion Kickett is a Noongar woman from the Balardong language group. Born in the Wheatbelt town of York, Marion spent her early years living on the York Reserve. After completing two bachelor’s degrees, Marion completed her PhD at The University of Western Australia on ‘Resilience’ from an Aboriginal perspective, using an Aboriginal methodology. She previously worked in the areas of Public Health and Academia for thirty years.

She will be launching the book Transforming Indigenous Higher Education - Privileging Culture, Identity and Self-Determination in collaboration with Indigenous Authors at John Curtin Gallery on Thursday 17 August 2023 4pm-6pm.

* The word "Native" was used to describe the Aboriginals as the word "Aboriginal" wasn't used in that era.

Dr Marion Kickett, Barladong Elder, NAIDOC Week Celebration dated Saturday 8 July 2023 in York, Western Australia

Dr Marion Kickett, Barladong Elder book signing at NAIDOC celebration in York dated Saturday 8 July 2023

Yarning, story-telling with Dr Marion Kickett, Barladong Elder, York, Western Australia

From left to right: Shire President Denise Smyth of York, Pearle Kickett, Dr Marion Kickett, Barladong Elder and her cousin Sandra Narkle at NAIDOC celebration 2023.


@TheBrilliant Foundation

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