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Beyond the boabs

Lillimooloora Police Station

In the 1890s an Aboriginal man named Jandamarra, often referred to as 'Pigeon', gained a notoriety that rivalled that of the Kelly Gang in Victoria.

Using the caves and surroundings of Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek as hideouts, he led an organised armed rebellion by Kimberley Aboriginal people against European settlers. These activities prevented pastoralists from opening up a large part of the Kimberley for some time.

Aboriginal people in the Kimberley were dispossessed of their land by pastoralists, deprived of their traditional hunting areas and forced to work on the stations. If they were charged with spearing sheep or cattle, they were chained around the neck and walked to Derby, where they worked off their sentences in chains.

Lillimooloora Police Station Ruins

Jandamarra was a Bunuba Aborigine who lived in the Napier and Oscar Ranges for most of his life. During his early contact with Europeans, while working on stations and while in gaol for spearing sheep, he became a highly skilled horseman and marksman. However, the stint in jail interrupted his tribal education, and he was not properly trained in the Law. On his return home, he was effectively banished from Bunuba society because of having broken strict kinship rules that prohibited sexual relations with particular women.

After befriending another loner, the Police Constable Richardson, Jandamarra became an unofficial tracker for the police. During a patrol of the Napier Ranges with Richardson, Jandamarra helped to capture a large group of his kinsmen and women. But over the next few days, while they were held at Lillimooloora Police Post, his tribal loyalties gained the upper hand. He shot Richardson, stole some guns and set the captives free.

On November 10, 1894 Jandamarra and his followers attacked a party of five Europeans who were driving cattle to set up a large station in the heart of Bunuba land. Two of them, Burke and Gibbs, were killed at Windjana Gorge. This was the first time that guns were used against European settlers in an organised fashion.

In late 1894 a group of 30 or so heavily armed police and settlers attacked Jandamarra and his followers, who had staked out Windjana Gorge in readiness. Jandamarra was seriously wounded and was believed to have died. However, the police then embarked on a military-style operation against Aboriginal camps around Fitzroy Crossing. Many Aboriginal people were killed, despite none being identified as rebels.

For three years, Jandamarra tried to defend his lands and his people against police and white settlers. His vanishing tricks became legendary. At one point a police patrol managed to follow him to his hideout at the entrance to the Cave of Bats (Tunnel Creek) when word was received that he had raided Lillimooloora Police Post during their absence. Jandamarra was held in awe by other Aboriginal people as a magical person who could "fly like a bird and disappear like a ghost". They believed he was immortal, his body simply a physical manifestation of a spirit that resided in a water soak near Tunnel Creek. Only an Aboriginal person with similar mystical powers could kill him.

The tide finally turned in favour of the police, when they recruited a remarkable black tracker from the Pilbara, known as Micki. Micki was said to possess magical powers and did not fear Jandamarra. Jandamarra was finally tracked down and killed by Micki at Tunnel Creek on April 1, 1897, finally ending the battle for Bunuba lands.

(Information supplied by the Department of Conservation and Land Management)

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