Jandamarra – Ned Kelly of the Aborigines
Visiting this short stretch of the Napier Range one must mention the legendary freedom fighter and advocate for the rights of the Bunuba people, Jandamarra, who from 1885 to 1897 wrestled within his relationship between his Bunuba origins and the arrival of the land grabbing settlers and their police protectors.
He was an intelligent and gifted man who became an outcast from his people because he ignored their ancient skin colour marital laws designed to prevent in-breeding and took whichever woman he fancied at the time. He learned English and worked on sheep stations and as a police tracker for a while, capturing Bunuba cattle stealers and imprisoning them at Lillimilura Police Outstation, the ruins of which you can see in the photo I took as we drove past.
He became fascinated by the secret life of the Bunuba male world of ritual, mythology, and the laws and spirituality of Bunuba country – he acquired a cause to protect. The Bunuba elders successfully gained his support in their fight against the malngarri, the European Settlers.
On the night of October 1st 1894 at the police outstation he shot his friend and work companion, police constable Bill Richardson as he lay suffering from malaria, released the Bunuba Prisoners and turned his back on the new world of immigrant farmers to fight the Bunuba cause.
The powers that be were now very worried because the aborigines were armed with guns and so Jandamarra’s fate and that of his warrior friends would be sealed in their blood that soaked into the hot ground. For three years he waged successful guerrilla warfare, ambushing cattlemen and police camps to get arms and supplies. Police troopers said he took on a ghostlike quality, seen only in his tracks. He knew Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek like the back of his hand and it was as if the water eroded rock had formed caves and crevices solely for him and his warriors to hide in.
Present day elders remember him as a great warrior and as a courageous and clever leader who defended his people and country against growing and overwhelming odds. They also remember him as a Jalgangurru, a man with spiritual powers that flowed through him from the timeless law of their country. His ability to disappear, transform himself into a bird and protect himself from deadly weapons was legendary until along came a fellow tracker and Jalgangurru, Micki who was recruited from the Pilbara area to track him down because he had no fear of him.
Settlers could no longer recruit aboriginal guides and cattlemen because they were afraid of Jandamarra, so the settling of the area was on hold until he could be stopped.
In 1896 Micki wounded Jandamarra who managed to escape through the long grass to his hide out in Tunnel Creek where his wife and mother nursed his wounds.
The following year Micki spotted his adversary on a rock at the entrance to Tunnel Creek. They exchanged fire and Jandamarra fell 30 metres to his death. Thus started the long road to reconciliation.
While in Broome Museum I spotted a DVD of the film about Jandamarra on sale and bought it to add to my collection of indigenous history and so that I have something to show people who might be interested in the story of this native warrior and freedom fighter.