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This week the Territory farewelled a great matriarch, Aunty Nancy Croft (née Gibbs). She was born in the northern Tanami Desert in 1928 to ‘Handsome Joe’ Croft, a man of English-Irish heritage, and Gurindji woman Lily Maria, from whom she was removed at around two or three years of age to the Kahlin Compound. Joe regularly visited her there, one of the few white fathers to visit the compound. Then, aged nine, Nancy was diagnosed with leprosy and sent to Channel Island Leprosarium, where she found her mother Lily, was also incarcerated. While there he also reconnected with a childhood acquaintance, Jack Gibbs, and they became devoted companions for nearly 50 years until his death in 1996. They lived together on Channel Island in a hut that Jack built, relocating with the leprosarium to East Arm in 1954. During World War II Nancy learnt morse code and was often responsible for communications between Channel Island and the mainland, including notifying authorities of sightings of any enemy aircraft. Having survived that, she's also said to have slept through Cyclone Tracy, seeing out her final years at the Juninga Aged Care. Farewell Desert Rose.

Image: Henry Rainger, with thanks to Brenda Croft who gave permission for the publication of this photo

Published: 12 May 2019


Forgotten Territory was a weekly photo column of historic images in the Northern Territory News which I curated from 2016 until 2019 supported by the collections of the Northern Territory Library and other cultural institutions around Australia, as well as local history Facebook groups. 

Click on the images to read the story behind the image.

Warning: May contain images of people who have died.

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