Jandamarra and the Kimberley

HON ROBIN CHAPPLE (Mining and Pastoral) [8.41 pm]: I rise tonight to talk about a trip I took during the last break. I was fortunate to travel out to Windjana Gorge, or Bandilngan as the Bunuba call it, to see the stage play Jandamarra at its opening night at that location. The story of Jandamarra is well known in the Kimberley, but for those members who do not know it, let me give a precis.

Jandamarra was a Bunuba man, a great warrior and clever and courageous leader, who defended Bunuba country against overwhelming odds. He was believed to have great spiritual powers that allowed him to disappear, transform into a bird, and shield himself from deadly weapons. Jandamarra was born in 1873, and at about the age of 11 years he and his mother came from the bush to live on what was then the Lennard River station—one of the earliest pastoral stations in the Kimberley. Jandamarra became a strong horseman, a crack shot, and a competent English speaker. After this first taste of station life, he returned to join the Bunuba. In time, he was arrested for sheep stealing and served time in Derby jail.

On returning to his country he worked at Lillimooloora Station with Bill Richardson. When Richardson joined the police force, Jandamarra became his tracker. His close but uneasy friendship with Richardson came to a dramatic end on 31 October 1894. The pair had captured a group of people that included virtually all of the senior Bunuba leaders and elders—Jandamarra’s kith and kin. That night, Jandamarra was faced with a stark choice between supporting his people or the white colonists. He chose the former, and shot Richardson, and then armed the Bunuba people, and so began the guerrilla campaign that was to last for several years.

Jandamarra’s first act of war was the battle of Windjana Gorge, in which 30 armed police and a large group of Bunuba—also armed—fought for several hours. Jandamarra was badly wounded, and months of reprisal killings followed. In the meantime, Jandamarra was looked after by his mother and several of the family, and he recuperated. Police hunted down all Aboriginal people, not just Bunuba, indiscriminately throughout the Fitzroy River valley region.

Seeing what the new settlers were capable of, Jandamarra and his supporters—the Bunuba people—now adopted a different tactic of damaging property, crops and stock, and harassing pastoralists, but without causing human casualties. In this way they slowed the progress of the pastoral expansion for more than three years. Jandamarra developed an almost superhuman reputation amongst white settlers and police for his ability to elude them. If members have ever been to the top of the Devonian Reefs and seen the pinnacles, to run across there must have been an absolutely terrible situation. He was finally tracked down and eventually killed at Tunnel Creek on 1 April 1897, when the police brought another Aboriginal tracker from the Pilbara, Mingo Mick, who had the same legendary powers as Jandamarra.

Jandamarra’s extraordinary position, poised between the white and black worlds, made him a compelling tragic hero, which we see in the play, and now the television documentary. It makes this one of the most dramatic of all tales of Western Australia and epitomises the conflict between Aboriginal people and the Europeans who took over the land. Watching Jandamarra at Bandilngan was an outstanding experience. They put the stage up against the cliff and used lighting on the cliff to highlight the special moments of the play. The setting was electric, and the Bunuba language was used with subtitles quite a lot of the time. It brought to life this whole play in a very, very special way. The final song, which everybody joined in with, moved and captivated me. I just wish to really congratulate every one of the Bunuba people and others who worked on this fine production.

The story of Jandamarra has parallels to what is happening right now at Walmadany, or James Price Point. Both have as their central theme colonial invasion, hubris, disposition and heroism. After his death, Jandamarra’s head was claimed as a trophy and sent to England, where it went on display before being sold to private collectors. The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre in Fitzroy Crossing has been working tirelessly to get the bones of Indigenous people returned, and this is one of those they are having a great deal of difficulty dealing with the British government. In parallel, the leader of his people, Walmadany is thought to have been buried in area that Woodside has now pegged for the liquefied natural gas hub. His remains are in danger of being unearthed by bulldozers as they begin clearing the land for the giant industrial facility. Woodside and the Barnett state government are also threatening the ancient dinosaur trackways and the recently discovered bilby colonies. They are tearing at the hearts of people who follow the traditional law, observe the songlines and care for the country. With support from the state government and the police, Woodside has showed itself to be the modern colonial power, embarking on a land grab for a proposed industrial development that will destroy country where law and culture is strong.

As a caveat, let me just say that I support economic development; indeed, I keenly promoted the development of business right across the north west during my years with the Port Hedland town council. However, I am against the Browse LNG development at Walmadany, because I firmly believe it will cause sustained damage to the social, cultural and environmental fabric of Broome and the Dampier Peninsula. I am also against the unethical processes used to acquire the land at Walmadany, the lack of consultation with the Broome community, and the choice of location for the proposed LNG hub, only 45 kilometres from Broome. It will have an industrial footprint that will be visible from space. I do support the alternatives, and I have previously supported the call by the Mayor of Port Hedland and the member for Pilbara, Hon Tom Stephens, to try to get the LNG processing hub placed where it was originally proposed by the Bond Corporation, and that is Port Hedland.

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