Jandamarra (c. 1873—1897)

Bunuba man Jandamarra (alternatively, Tjandamurra; a.k.a. Pigeon (c. 1873—1897), leader of an armed guerilla struggle against European pastoral settlement in the Kimberley. 

Around the age of six, he and his mother, Jinny, moved onto Lennard River Station, where Jandamarra learnt to ride, shoot, and speak English. While he was on the property, Jandamarra caught the eye of grazier William Lukin who nicknamed him Pigeon and rated him as the district's best indigenous stockman.

Around the age of fifteen, Jandamarra returned to his people for tribal initiation and went on to become a skilful hunter. Late in 1889 police captured Jandamarra and his uncle, Ellemarra at Windjina Gorge, chained them together and marched them to Derby, where they were charged with killing sheep. The standard punishment for such offences was forced removal to Rottnest Island, but Jandamarra managed to remain near his homeland by agreeing to serve the police by taking care of the police horses. He subsequently went back to Lennard River to work as a stockman, and allegedly violated Bunuba law.

Looking to avoid tribal retribution, he moved to Lillimooloora station, inland from Derby where he formed a close friendship with stockman Bill Richardson. When Richardson joined the police force in 1894, Jandamarra went with him as a tracker. Working out of the abandoned homestead at Lillimooloora with another tracker called 'Captain', Richardson and Jandamarra located and captured Bunuba warriors and gained a reputation as the police force's "most outstanding" team.

However, in a dramatic turn of events, the trio captured sixteen Bunuba men who had been spearing stock. The captives included his uncle, Ellemarra and other blood relatives, who reputedly told him that since they had waived punishment for his breaches of tribal law, he was obligated to them and gave Jandamarra a blunt choice: kill Richardson and free the prisoners or become an outcast from his people

So, in a dramatic defection, Jandamarra shot Richardson while he slept and became an armed fugitive. Jandamarra and his followers started by attacking five stockmen droving cattle to set up a station on Bunuba land on 10 November 1894, killing two of them and seizing arms and ammunition. 

Later that month, a confrontation with a punitive expedition sent out to eliminate the insurgents at Windjana Gorge saw Ellemarra killed. Jandamarra was severely wounded in the encounter but managed to escape and found refuge in caves to the south while he recovered from his wounds. 

Once he had recovered, he then went on to lead successful attacks on Lillimooloora police station in late 1895 and 1896 and became a legendary figure of almost mythical proportions.

As, effectively, ‘the black Ned Kelly’ the many versions and interpretations of his story that have emerged over time vary wildly and often attribute him as possessing supernatural powers, including flight and invisibility.

After an attack on Oscar Range homestead in March 1897 where a number of his party were killed and wounded, Jandamarra escaped through a tunnel but was tracked to his hideout at Tunnel Creek by Minko Micki, who was also reputed to possess magical powers

After Micki shot him dead on 1 April 1897, his European colleagues cut off Jandamarra's head as proof that he was dead. The severed head was displayed as a trophy in Derby and sent to a firearms company in England where it was reputedly used to promote the effectiveness of the company's products. Like many similar gristly relics, it remains unrepatriated.

Sources: Larissa Behrendt, "Settlement or Invasion? The Coloniser's Quandary' in David Stephens and alison Brionowski (eds) The Honest History Book, Sydney, New South Publishing, 2017; Steve Hawke, Jandamarra in Translation, in Sandy Toussaint (ed.), Kimberley Stories, Fremantle Press, 2012; Jones, Gail. The legend of Jandamarra [online]. Monthly, The, Oct, 2011: 14-15; Mark McKenna, Moment of Truth: Hiistory and Australia's Future; Orr, Stephen. The Fierce Country : True stories from Australia's unsettled heart, 1830 to today, Wakefield Press, 2018; Frontier Wars in Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris, Robin Prior, and Jean Bou (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Oxford, Oxford University Press 2008

© Ian Hughes 2017