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Tag Archives: Dhakkiyer Wirrapanda

In 1933 a party of policemen set out from Darwin to question some Arnhem Land Aboriginal people over the deaths of five Japanese at Caledon Bay the previous year.

On the way, still 100 miles from Caledon Bay, the police passed near an encampment of an Aboriginal clan not connected to the incident. The police took the opportunity to enter the camp for the express purpose of raping the Aboriginal women there. They did so, but were interrupted in the very act by the returning Aboriginal husbands, brothers and sons.

A policeman was speared to death.

The much-respected Aboriginal leader, Dhakkiyer, openly stated he had thrown the lethal spear in defence of his wife, voluntarily travelled to Darwin to face trial and was sentenced to death. The patently absurd conviction resulted in popular protest in the Southern capitals of Melbourne and Sydney and the case was appealed to the High Court which overturned the verdict.

Dhakkiyer subsequently disappeared in police custody and was never seen again.

Dhakkiyer’s son, an eyewitness to the event where Dhakkiyer speared the policeman was still alive a few years ago.

It was common knowledge in Darwin in the 1930’s and until the 1950’s that Dhakkiyer had been shot by the police while in their custody and then dumped in Darwin Harbour.

But the truth of this matter has never been admitted.

The grotesque mistrial of Dhakkiyer is a judicial killing, by which I mean a deliberate attempt by the judge, Justice Wells and the legal system to murder Dhakkiyer by false conviction. Dhakkiyer’s reprieve by the High Court was then overturned by the Darwin police who completed the murder at first opportunity.

I would say that the unconfessed murder of Dhakkiyer and the concealment of his body warrants a Judicial Inquiry.

For the people of Arnhem Land, Dhakkiyer’s murder by the State and its agents is not considered a long-ago incident of regret or a rather superficial blemish on an otherwise exemplary record. In Blue Mud Bay Dhakkiyer’s murder is today’s news as they daily live in the pain of his murder and the irretrievable loss of his cultural knowledge which had not yet been passed on and they are still today actively seeking explanation, justification, justice.

Why should they not have it ?

Tony Abbott has in recent times called for a Judicial Inquiry into Julia Gillard’s association with corrupt union officials although he cannot even name the crime that she is supposed to have committed and although in any case the related events occurred before Gillard was an MP let alone Prime Minister. Abbott has also called for a Judical Inquiry into deaths from fires resulting from insulation installations under Kevin Rudd’s Pink Batts scheme.

Judical Inquiry this, Judicial Inquiry that.

Plainly Abbott is not at all concerned with justice, wrong-doing or otherwise in relation to these events. He’s just trying to destroy his political opponents by the machinery of the legal system, much in common with (In)Justice Wells who, unconcerned with justice or facts, simply desired to avenge the spearing of a white policeman.

Abbott is making much of his regular visits to Arnhem Land as he asserts concern for Aboriginal welfare and reconciliation by the mechanism of commercial development of Aboriginal lands. Forgive me if I think his concern is much more for the latter than the former.

Abbott actually opened his election campaign in Arnhem Land and promised the establishment of an Indigenous Advisory Council. During this visit Mr Abbott said:

it is very important that white fellas and black fellas open their hearts to one another

Who could disagree ?

In the words of Dhakkiyer’s nephew:

I like to know about a story from you – your mouth, your heart, your feeling your way of looking at it

Dhakkiyer’s nephew, though, is talking about justice in regard to an unconfessed murder. Does Mr. Abbott’s open heart traverse the same landscape as Dhakkiyer’s relatives? Could that open heart extend to truth in the matter of judicial killings by the white State against Aboriginal persons ? Or is that just another matter of importance to merely a few people with not nearly the imperative of commerce ?

Hey look let’s not open old wounds, let the old dogs lie undisturbed in their sleep, it’s a can of worms, just forget it, move on, cant fix it now, its so long ago. But Julia Gillard 21 years ago living with a corrupt union official ? Oh yes, please proceed very important, necessary, justice must be served, its for the people.

Are Judicial Reviews merely a tool for personal advantage, to destroy one’s opponents in the service of personal ambition, to gain and maintain political power ? Such misuse of the judiciary is a hallmark of totalitarian states, as is the creation of citizen-informer networks such as those proposed by Abbott’s colleaugue, Scott Morrison.

Dhakkiyer was a leader of the Yolngu people. The Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, where Tony Abbott made his call for open hearts is a celebration of Yolngu culture and tradition. As Abbott made his call for open hearts he stood on the very footfalls of Dhakkiyer.

OK. Yes. Let’s have some Judicial Reviews.
Let’s see where your heart is

Where is he ? Who kill him ?
I like to know about a story from you – your mouth, your heart, your feeling your way of looking at it. I want to know. From you people.
Tell us the truth where you buried him.


I asked everyone who had been around Darwin in the 1930’s what they thought had happened to Dhakkiyer and almost invariably they say the police took him out into Darwin Harbour and shot him. – Ted Egan, Justice Of Their Own

In 1934 the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory sentenced Yolngu Clan Leader Dhakiyerr Wirrpanda to death for spearing a policeman. The controversial verdict was subsequently overturned by the High Court amid large-scale protests in Sydney and Melbourne. Dhakkiyer subsequently disappeared while in Police Custody.

He tried for the people. They shot him for the people. For his old people. That his mercy for Dhakkiyer taking all the way to the court. Sitting there no English no understanding just saying like this somebody else have to interperet English the wrong way and making him disappear.

Making him disappear! I am talking strongly because I am the last family and the son of Dhakkiyer. If he broke one little law inside that goal I want them to tell us. I want information from them. Let us know. Because it is true out of my heart, out of my knowledge comes out whatever I do. Keep me reminds back to Dhakkiyer.

I should be with my father. I should be with my father. Just because he left half of his knowlege for us. He left half of the knowledge for us. The full knowledge was taken to Darwin and was just disappeared. Thats what I’m looking and what my family are looking at.

We are looking at very strongly finding where he is.

Some people say they shot him near a railway line in Darwin. Some people say say they shot him and buried him there. Some people are saying that he was carried away to the Darwin wharf and thrown into the sea. Which make me and my family very upset. Throwing man like him, throwing man who is strong leader like him! Honest leader like him! Throwing him to the fish throwing like dog, throwing him like a cow or something for the crocodile, for the rock cod to eat him up. Full black warrior which make our culture strong

We’ve been waiting waiting waiting waiting until today still waiting we heard lots of story about my uncle. I dont know where is he, who kill him, what it is you people have been doing to my uncle. I like to know about a story from you – your mouth, your heart, your feeling your way of looking at it. I want to know where is he, where is he. In here ? In the water, sea, or in the mud. Where is he ? I want to know from you people so I can tell my people in here.

We are not happy. We are not satisfied about books story books writing in a book telling a lie covering yourself. I want to know about true story.

So please. We want our father back. So please tell us the truth where you buried him.


The text above is a transcript from the documentary Tuckier (Dhakiyarr) v the King and Territory by Tom Murray of Macquarie University.