‘Because of her. We can!’ – Dolly 'Bett Bett' Bonson

Dolly ‘Bett Bett’ Bonson lived a life filled with determination and kindness. The great-great grandmother of Department of Housing and Community Development staff member’s Emily and Joshua Bonson, Dolly was a character who inspired many.

Born sometime in 1894 near Katherine and Roper Rivers, Dolly’s birth was traditional with mother to be and midwife, alone in the flat scrub. Her mother was from the Jawoyn Tribe, her father “Louis” or Llewellyn Stirling Cummings an Overland Telegraph Line worker.

Dolly’s early life was typically tribal, until she was sent to be a maid servant at a homestead at Elsey, in Mataranka with the permission of her Aunty Djoodi and European father.

While at the homestead Dolly crossed paths with Australian author Jeannie Gunn who had just moved to the outback as her husband had become the manager of Elsey homestead. It’s there Jeannie wrote about Dolly as ‘Bett Bett’, the Aboriginal servant girl who was featured in ‘We of the Never-Never’ and the lead character in ‘The Little Black Princess’.

Years later, Dolly went on to marry Joseph Gilbert Bonson - an Englishman who worked on the railway and wharf. Darwin roots began to form with Dolly being the strong matriarch of the Bonson family.

Emily says she has been listening to stories about her great-great grandmother for years.

“Everyone in our family knows her story.

We all harbor her strength and peacefulness,” she said.

Dolly went on to live to the ripe age of 95.

Dated photo of young girl standing in garden
Dolly ‘Bett Bett’ Bonson as a young girl. Credit to the Bonson Family for sharing this image.