Pioneers of Love


Pioneers of Love is a documentary that uses historical footage and interview material to talk about the relationship between a Russian immigrant Leandro Illin and an Ngadjonji woman Kitty Clarke during the late 1800s when marriage between a white man and a full blood Aboriginal was illegal, and considered an act of immorality.

Leandro Illin, a Russian nobleman, fled rising Bolshevik unrest and in 1910 arrived in Queensland. With 11 other Russians, he took up a parcel of land in wild country in the Atherton rainforest. Their Utopian community became known as Little Siberia.

Leandro was 28 when he met Kitty Clarke, a 20-year-old Aboriginal widow with three children. His upbringing had made him respect justice and equality and he scorned the white man's law that made it a criminal offence to have sex or even "sleep under the same blanket" as an Aboriginal person. As his diary of 1912 states, it was "difficult to make a home without a woman". So, in the language of the day, he "had connections" with Kitty.

When this relationship produced a child, Leandro applied to marry Kitty, whereupon John Bleakley, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, a man determined to maintain the purity of the white man "when there is a degrading race living in those conditions", sent Constable Pike to investigate. Pike was impressed and believed Leandro and Kitty should be married.

Bleakley refused and ordered the children seized. The family hid deep in the bush. How Leandro confronted Queensland Premier William Gillies at Atherden railway station to plead his case, how Gillies sent consent to marry via Constable Pike and how Leandro and Kitty, avoiding Bleakley, made an arduous journey to get married in Innisfail is a grand story, superbly illuminated by Leandro's daughters.


Flora Hoolihan
Richard Hoolihan
Lydia Miller
Release dates
2005 - Australia
PG - Parental guidance
Orana Films

Pioneers of Love was inspired by Elena Govor’s book My Dark Brother: The Story of the Illins, A Russian–Aboriginal Family (2000).

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Harvard citation

Korff, J 2019, Pioneers of Love, <>, retrieved 21 September 2020

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