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Theodore Krakouer arrived, convicted of theft, in 1851, on the Mermaid. Having got his ticket of leave, he worked with horses, was in business with Elias Lapidus (also an ex-convict convicted of receiving who had arrived on the Hashemy in 1850) and married Brina Israel (Lapidus married her sister Esther), with whom he had two sons, Rudolph and David. Their claim to fame is the establishment in 1893 of the Holland Track to the Goldfields from the end of the railway line at Broomehill, which involving surveying and clearing over 500km of virgin country.
Despite Rudolph Krakouer's being the main organiser and financier of the expedition, John Holland, who was also on the expedition, was later able to claim most of the credit, and the Track is named after him. The brothers married Indigenous women, and ran a string of hotels from Collie to Norseman. The name lives on with some well-known football players who are among their descendants, notably Phil and Jim.
For many, the story of Jim and Phillip Krakouer begins and ends with football, but to focus on that particular aspect of their lives would only tell part of the story of the Krakouer family. In many respects, the beginning of the Krakouer story in Australia has nothing to do with football. It centres on the journey of a Polish Jew, a convict, Theodore Krakouer, in a time when football hadn’t even been thought of. Ironically, his name would make a mark on the Australian landscape, linked to a style of football that was, at times, so seamless that it was said to be magical.
Theodore Krakouer’s story may have ended quietly in a Portsmouth jail in 1848 had it not been for two things. The first was a government policy to transport convicts to the Antipodes and the second was a request to Whitechapel by a tiny colony clinging to the banks of the Swan River for convict muscle. With the need for convict labour waning in the east these factors were all it took to bring Jim and Phillip Krakouer’s great-great-grandfather to the Swan River colony in 1850.
Born in Krakow on the plain that is Poland around 1820, Theodore would take the city’s name for his own. From there he moved to Berlin, where he studied the Talmud, and then moved on to London where he developed into a run-of-the-mill fence and a dabbler in scams. Perhaps the most inventive scam involved a jeweller in London in October 1848. Theodore alleged he was a merchant in partnership with his brother and wished to purchase some diamond rings. The jeweller and his customer agreed on a price and then Theodore supposedly went to change some money at the exchange. When he returned he beguiled the jeweller, distracted him and then swapped the box of diamonds for a perfect replica containing boiled potatoes and rags. Facing court on this matter Theodore’s luck was in as he was acquitted.
Two months later he was in a Portsmouth court on several charges of stealing clothes and silk but this time his luck ran dry. He was found guilty, and spent two years in jail and was eventually transported to Fremantle on the Mermaid in 1850. After four months at sea he landed in Fremantle and worked in a variety of jobs until his conditional pardon in September 1855. Throughout all of this Theodore used his street smarts to stay alive and he would need every bit of them to eke out an existence in the harsh Western Australian conditions.
After serving his time as a convict Theodore pursued different lines of employment: labourer, prospector, farrier and finally teamster. With little money and no status his life was devoid of comfort, especially in the summer months, which proved to be the hardest. The easterly winds pre-empted the baking days as the summer sun reflected wildly off the ubiquitous sandstone. To numb the body rum was drunk - a stinging, volatile brew that rattled the brain as you drank it. For many, incessant toil, unrelenting heat and nasty grog were all potent elements on their own but when combined, their union ensured that something was bound to go bad.
Years passed, the grind continued and Theodore started to hear voices that emanated, so he said, from the pit of his stomach, hundreds of them, hissing and shouting, all with their own mixed dialects fighting for his attention. From the whispered plans of thieves to the stern sentencing of judges, the infernal talk bubbled up in Yiddish, Cockney, German and the King’s English and became trapped in his mind. The local Blackfellas had a name for such anguish: kart warrah. Head sickness. The police were informed once more of Theodore’s antics, only this time there would be no night in the drunk-tank but a more permanent arrangement - the Fremantle asylum.
Theodore’s wife, Brina, lobbied the authorities to pardon his behaviour and release him as the expenses were making her life difficult. They refused and she was forced to send their eldest son Abraham to work driving the team hard on the Williams Road. Heading south he would drop off supplies at the towns and sidings, get to Albany, load up again and turn the horses around. Abraham’s younger brothers, Raphael and David, would make names for themselves as explorers by cutting a supply track from Broomehill to Coolgardie, opening the prospecting floodgates from the port of Albany to the Goldfields.
By 1877 Theodore had died but the family grew and dispersed throughout the southwest, and it is here that the Krakouer genealogy took a twist. Families were made as blood intermingled through the generations. White blood with black. It is not known how Alf Krakouer, grandson of a Polish Jew convict, met Sophie Smith, a Noongar woman, and had ten children. What is known is that their life was hard because of their large family, the conditions they lived in and because of what their union represented to people of standing and authority. One hundred years later, almost to the day of Theodore’s death, a young Noongar man would play his first league game of football. He, along with his brother, would ensure that the name taken from that Polish city would resonate long after the mad Jew had died in the Fremantle asylum. Brotherboys: 3-5.
Thanks to Wendy Antonovsky for the data in the first paragraph, and for assembling the image. I must add that a Lapidus descendant has informed me that neither Krakouer nor Lapidus were ever actually married to the sisters.
See also the Antonovskys' notes about the Krakouers in their Heritage Walk.
See also the page for Elias Lapidus.
Gorman, Sean 2005, Brotherboys: The Story of Jim and Phillip Krakouer, Allen & Unwin.
Silbert, Eric 1999, 'Jewish personalities of Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 1: 77-91.
Wikipedia page for Phil Krakouer.
Wikipedia page for Jim Krakouer.
Garry Gillard | New: 25 May, 2016 | Now: 1 November, 2020