100th anniversary of Noongar hero Samuel Isaacs

July 14, 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Noongar man and hero Samuel Isaacs who passed away when he fell off his sulky near Monaghans.

He had just been to Busselton to see off his son who was about to go to war, an obituary published on July 20, 1920 stated that Busselton had lost one of its oldest identities.

He was born in Augusta in 1845 and given the name Yebble by his Aboriginal mother Darinder who died during childbirth.

Mr Isaacs was raised by Anne Dawson who herself had given birth to a son some weeks earlier.

According to reports held by the Margaret River Historical Society, Mr Isaacs grew up to be a well-mannered man and skilled bushman working in the forestry industry and for settlers.

What is most remarkable about Mr Isaacs is his heroic act in which he rescued 54 people from rough seas at Redgate Beach when the SS Georgette became shipwrecked.

On December 1, 1876, Mr Isaacs was working for the Bussell family as a stockman on their property at Walcliffe when he saw the doomed ship in distress.

An extract about the event tells how Mr Isaacs rode back to Alfred Bussell's homestead to tell him that something was wrong with the ship.

Mr Bussell told him to grab some ropes and gear and ride straight back and to come back if he needed his help.

Grace Bussell, who was aged 16 years old at the time, pleaded with her father to go and away she set with Sam.

The pair rode their horses at full speed down a steep, rocky cliff into the heavy surf to help rescue the distressed passengers and crew.

Mr Isaacs told Ms Bussell to be careful because of the way she rode her horse into the water she could killed people by trampling on them.

He told her to go back to shore where a woman and child helped tow Ms Bussell and her horse back to the beach. According to reports, it was the only time she went into the water.

Mr Isaacs went in and out of the surf on his horse several times to rescue people.

The story made headlines around the globe, news of the young girl's bravery and "her black servant" were reported for many years.

Ms Bussell became known as the Western Australian Grace Darling.

In 1978, at a meeting of the Royal Humane Society Ms Bussell was awarded a silver medallion and Mr Isaacs was awarded a lesser bronze medallion for their heroic feat.

The State Government later acknowledged Mr Isaacs efforts awarding him 100 hectares of land, Location 243 at Ferndale.

Samuel Isaacs great grandson Dr Robert Isaacs. Image supplied.

Samuel Isaacs great grandson Dr Robert Isaacs. Image supplied.

His great grandson Dr Robert Isaacs said it was the first time in history an Aboriginal person was given land.

He established a homestead at Ferndale where he brought up seven children with his wife Lucy May and went into retirement.

His medals are on display at the Augusta Historical Museum.

Samuel Isaacs is buried at the Old Busselton Cemetery.

Dr Isaacs is currently writing a biography Two Cultures, One Story about his great grandfather and the racial injustices which still persist today.

He has been researching the story for four decades looking at his great grandfather's life and the way his ancestors lived on reserves in the region.

"This man deserves respect and to be recognised for his achievements as an Aboriginal stockman and what he was bravely able to do saving the lives of 54 people from the shipwreck of the Georgette," Dr Isaacs said.

"We as his family and a lot of non-Aboriginal people who have lived in the Vasse area who knew about the shipwreck were very puzzled and amazed that Sam was not recognised more so than Grace Bussell.

"We know what Grace was awarded not only the bravery medal she received, but a lot of books were written about her and a highway and Gracetown were named after her.

"Where is the recognition of an Aboriginal stockman, my great grandfather who went out and did the bulk of this rescue?

"To me as a descendant of great grandfather I feel very hurt in regard to how historians and people, especially the Augusta Margaret River Shire and others, who totally ignored an Aboriginal person who was brought up and worked in the Vasse area and received nothing at the end.

"As far as I am concerned he should have been knighted."

Dr Isaacs said he hoped signs were put in place to recognise Aboriginal people who achieved so much in the region.

"There should be a lot more monuments to recognise Aboriginal people just like the statue of Sir Charles Court on St George's Terrace," he said.

"Future generations of our children, black or white, people who visit the region they all want to know the history of Aboriginal culture and sacred sites.

"My story is all about bringing to light that maybe one day we will see this achieved, it was 1876 when the shipwreck took place and here we are today and not much has been done.

"Those lives would have been lost if they had been swept out to sea but Sam took it upon himself and did the right thing for humanity.

"The people who have authority like the Augusta Margaret River Shire, should be doing a lot more to recognise whatever took place down there.

"Not only my great grandfather, but the heritage and culture which is so significant to the Noongar people, they are not recognising that."

Thank you to the State Library of WA, the National Trust of WA, the Margaret River Historical Society and Dr Robert Isaacs for their contribution to this story.