Pioneers Of Love is a two-part documentary series that follows the lives of Leandro Illina, a russian immigrant and Kitty Clarke, a Ngadjon woman and traditional landowner. Part 1 commences on Thursday October 27 at 8.30pm and the final episode will screen on Thursday November 3 at 8.30pm.
Leandro was 28 when he met Kitty, a 20-year-old widow with three children. When their relationship produced a child, Leandro applied to marry Kitty, but the Protector of Aborigines refused permission and instead sent police to remove her and her children. Unable to bear a separation, Leandro and Kitty took off into the wild where they were protected from the police by the Aboriginal people. Eventually Leandro confronted the Queensland Premier at a railway station, demanding permission to marry Kitty.
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 brought a wave of xenophobia to Australia. After the backlash from the Brisbane Red Flag riots, many of the Illin family left for South America. But the law of the early 20th century prevented full-blood Aborigines from travelling. Thus Leandro remained behind with Kitty and their children. Disillusioned, Leandro withdrew to a remote outback location, taking his family with him. For Kitty, the journey saw her removed from her traditional land and people.
Tragedy struck when Kitty, isolated and far from medical assistance, died after enduring a complicated birth. With his wife and newborn child dead, Leandro moved the family closer to civilisation, at Greenvale station. Here, he threw himself into helping the dozens of Aboriginal people on the property. As friend and confidant, Leandro, among other things, wrangled with the local police in order to retrieve wages ostensibly withheld for their “protection”.
As his children grew up, Leandro moved them into town where they could go to school. The outbreak of the Second World War saw four of his sons join the Australian army. Leandro died in 1946, but his ideals of “truth, justice and equality” were passed on to his son-in-law, Dick Hoolihan, who shared those values with Eddie Mabo when they founded the Aboriginal Advancement League. In 1998, Kitty’s people, the Ngadjon people, won back the rights to their traditional land.
Today, there are 200 descendants of Leandro and Kitty. Many are leaders in their communities and tireless fighters for human rights.