Web exclusive, October 14, 2010
A baron’s descendant visits Castine from Australia
by Colin Powell
Planning to retire shortly after her return to Adelaide, South Australia, Anni Castine will have plenty to keep her busy. Over the past two weeks, aside from a few days of traditional tourism in Edinburgh and Paris, Castine has been soaking up family history, first in Pau, France, and then in Castine, Maine. Speaking with her recently in the lounge at the Castine Inn, Castine said that this was the trip of a lifetime. When a small group of her family did a similar trip in the late 1990s, Castine was unable to go, too busy teaching aboriginal students in a school outside of Adelaide. But now, with only a few months left to teach when she returns home, Castine said it was simply time. Living alone now, she said her children were more nervous about her traveling alone than she was, though she still had some apprehensions. Thankfully, they turned out to be completely unfounded.
Upon her arrival in St. Castin, Jean and Nicole Renault took her under their wing and drove her all over Southern France, to the Atlantic coast and Northern Spain. She said their hospitality was wonderful and Jean Renault’s historical work was amazing, providing her with a lot of information regarding her ancestor, the Baron de Saint-Castin, Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie.
But while her time in France gave her a great appreciation for where the baron came from, she really wanted to know about his time in New France and Acadia. There, he took an Indian wife, became an Abenaki chief and sired many children, some of whom would continue in their father’s legacy of exploration and wind up on the distant continent of Australia.
Castine said she bought her bus ticket to Bangor with only a rental car waiting for her. But before she left France, Renault put her in contact with David and Elise Adams, whom Renault had met when he visited Castine last year. David Adams, upon hearing Castine was traveling alone, drove up to meet her in Bangor. “David and Elise were truly wonderful,” said Castine, remarking on their amazing hospitality and willingness to help her uncover information about the Baron and to drive her around the area and see the sights. “I haven’t touched the rental car since I first arrived,” said Castine.
The highlights of her trip in Maine were browsing the extensive collection of historical documents at the Castine Historical Society, which the Adamses, again, gave her access to. They also sent her home with “more documents than I’ll be able to read in a lifetime!” said Castine. She was also able to arrange a meeting with Penobscot Indian Elder Charles Shay. The remarkable experience was made even more amazing as Castine put together that she and Shay were likely distant cousins.
Castine said she finds it amazing that the baron became so much a part of the native population in Acadia, taking an Indian wife and rising to the title of chief among the Abenaki. She herself has found her passion helping the disadvantaged aborigine children around Adelaide. Castine has worked hard to create an education program for the students that emphasizes their cultural strengths and helps them better understand the history of their culture.
She said that while some parents are dubious of a “white woman” teaching their kids about their own past, the fact is that over the generations cultural knowledge has been lost, and often the parents are unable to pass down their own heritage to their children. Like the baron learning the Abenaki language, Castine’s work required her to learn the Pitjantjatjara language.
Castine returned to Adelaide on September 6, with only nine weeks left to teach before her retirement. “I’m sure I’ll find something to do,” she joked. She found so many documents related to her ancestry that she had to send boxes ahead of her to Australia via the post office.