Douglas Grant was born into a remote Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland around 1885. It is presumed that Douglas was from the Ngadjonji nation, in the Bellenden Ker Ranges in the Atherton Tablelands.
There were recorded and unrecorded frontier conflicts in the area, as white miners who were looking for gold came into contact with Aboriginal communities. Several massacres took place, including one which gave name to a place called Butchers Creek. It has been suggested that the number of people killed in Queensland’s frontier wars was similar to the approximately 60,000 people killed while serving Australia in the First World War. It was during one of these conflicts that Douglas’s family and community were killed by the Native Police. Although Native Police forces included Aboriginal people, they were created by the state, and commanded by white Australians.
Scottish scientist Robert Grant and his wife, Elizabeth, were on an expedition in the area, collecting birds and mammals for the Australian Museum in Sydney. The Grants came across a young boy who had survived one of the massacres. They decided to take him to their home in New South Wales, even though it was illegal to move Aboriginal children across state borders at that time.
Adopted and raised by the Grant family, the boy was given the name Douglas. He spent most of his childhood in Lithgow, and then the Sydney suburb of Annandale, with Robert, Elizabeth, and their biological son, Henry. Douglas attended Annandale Public School, where he developed a love of Shakespeare and poetry. He was also a talented artist, winning first prize in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee exhibition for a drawing of the bust of Queen Victoria in 1897.