Tanna man's remarkable life
SUNDAY, September 4, is an extra special day for Alfred Corowa, of North Rockhampton, for two reasons – it is the day his family celebrates Fathers Day and family, extended family and friends celebrate his 100th birthday and his amazing life.
Alfred James Corowa is a proud “Tanna” man and the first generation of the “blackbirded” South Sea Islanders.
His father, Jack Corowa, was stolen, with many other South Sea Islander people to work in the canefields of Australia.
Jack Corowa arrived on a tall ship, which broke up on the rocks in heavy cyclonic seas just off Brisbane. He was rescued and then taken, sold as a slave and moved to Bundaberg to work on a plantation.
He had to work for the required three years as a slave, then was allowed either to return home or stay and work here in Australia.
Jack chose to stay in Australia. He moved to the Tweed Heads region, where many other Tanna people settled. He married Eva Williams and worked and raised his family.
Alfred was born on September 4, 1911, at Chindera on the Tweed River. Alfred, better know as Alf or Corrie, is third-eldest of nine children.
His parents, Jack and Eva Corowa, raised their children to work hard, enjoy life and love the Lord Jesus.
Alf recalls beginning school at a Catholic convent. His father would supply fish every Friday for the nuns, which served as payment for school fees. The family shifted further south to Main Arm, New South Wales, where he attended Durrumbul State School.
Alf has distinct memories of his working life when all farm work was done with horse and plough. His first paid job was working on a banana farm at the age of 12. At 15 he went fencing on a dairy farm in the Byron Bay area, then worked for six months as an apprentice carpenter for £1 a week.
Eventually leaving carpentry, he returned to farm work and in his late teens he worked at Pimpama at the Arrowroot Factory.
In 1930, at the age of 19, Alf and his brother, Zane, headed north to Queensland to find work as this was the Depression.
He found work in the Burdekin region cutting firewood for the American Army based in Townsville and then on a cane farm. Here he worked cutting cane for 22 years, until the mechanical harvesters came in.
It was in the early stages of his work in the Burdekin that Alf quickly took holidays and returned home to Brisbane, married Adeline Robe on January 23, 1937, and then took her back to the Burdekin where they had nine children.
Once the harvesters came, Alf left the Burdekin to work in Bowen on the wharf as a ‘wharfie’, loading overseas boats by hand then driving cranes to load the ships.
He recalls stowing various weights of quarter beef, the heaviest being the “Marion Downs”, seven-year-old bullocks, and sugar bags weighting 75-80 pounds. He worked on the wharf for 26 years before retiring.
Once retired, Alf’s links to his South Sea Island heritage began to pull strongly on his heart. With a very strong and distinct custom (cultural) duty, he and his wife began a 20-year journey.
As the descendant of a High Custom Chief linage of Tanna Island, in Vanuatu, and a legally and customary recognised High Custom Chief, Alfred Corowa began another exciting and challenging journey.
Having been denied Vanuatu status, Alf and Adeline would live on Tanna for nine months then return home to Australia for three months.
There were many struggles and hurdles to overcome along the way, firstly having to buy and ship building material from Port Vila, the need to find tradesmen to help build a suitable house, having to monitor and keep his wife’s medication refrigerated, then seeing his wife go through a stroke and loosing the use of her left side.
After 12 years Alf lost his wife of 53 years, though he continued to return to Tanna for a further 12 years.
For health reasons Alf returned to Australia, where he lived with his youngest daughter, Nargo Bickey, and her family in Bowen. For the past four years Alf has lived in Rockhampton with his granddaughter, Naomi Smith, and her family.
Alf has the been blessed with long life and a wonderful family. He has nine children (three deceased), 35 grandchildren, 68 great-grandchildren and 22 great-great-grandchildren.
He believes hard work, having family around you and living for the Lord are the secrets to a long life.
On Sunday family and friends will celebrate his 100th birthday at the northside family church. Next weekend 700 people will gather at Bowen to continue Alf’s 100th birthday celebrations.