Jack 'Papa' Cook as he came to be known.
Jack 'Papa' Cook as he came to be known. Blackwall Historical Society

Massacre survivor leaves strong legacy for his people

THE story of his life began, as his great-granddaughter Lois Cook described it, like a biblical one for Bundjalung man Jack Cook.

As described in the ABC-produced short movie 'Babe in the Reeds' by Lois, her ancestor's young life had a very rocky beginning.

Lois' father Lewis Cook, who was brought up by his grandfather Jack, tells how white farmer Henry Cook found the baby in the Tuckean Swamp.

"They found him in a coolamon out in Tucki when (Aboriginal) people were getting massacred years ago," he said.

He describes how the mother must have been running away from the troopers and probably couldn't carry him any longer.

Possibly she hid her baby in the hope of coming back to get him.

"Henry Cook come along from Broadwater, or near Wyrallah. He was checking on his cattle and he heard the baby cry," Lewis said.

"So he went in there and saw the baby there so he left him as he thought the mother was coming back."

Lewis said by the time he came back in the evening after checking his cattle, the baby was still there.

"So he took him home and reared him up with his son Samuel."

Jack was legally adopted by Henry, according to his descendants and took the name Cook.

He was known by his nickname Bubba until his first grandchild, then it changed to Papa.

Unfortunately, a shocking accident with a young horse ended Henry's life far too soon in 1875.

Samuel took Jack under his wing and the two brothers worked together doing many numerous jobs.

"My grandfather, he was a bullock driver, a bullocky," Lewis said.

"He used to sneak cedar logs down to the river.

"He was also a jockey, he was telling me and in them times they used to have races at Coraki, Broadwater, they was everywhere, the tracks."

Jack met Susan Fawcett, born in Bangalow and married her having seven boys and five girls.

Jack moved with a number of people from the Wyrallah area to Cabbage Tree Island where they grew their own cane, fished and lived independently.

They even had their own cricket team.

Jack lived until he was 104 years old and is buried in a very humble, unmarked grave in Wardell cemetery, although his grandson Lewis is working to ensure people know where Jack is buried, as he is making him a headstone.


  • 'Babe in the Reeds', video, Compass, 2015. By Lois Cook and Catherine Marciniak
  • 'Werlu Wana: Be Yourself', Bertha Kapeen, Ballina, Published 2009
  • Blackwall Historical Society
  • Lewis Cook, grandson

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