He’s been described as a criminal, traitor or even a rebel but to the Bunuba people Jandamarra was a hero. The Bunuba warrior who made a stand and his story has grown from legend to Australian history.
The mighty Fitzroy River is flooded, the spill ways and rivers of the Kimberley are flowing heavily this wet season – the water has breathed life into a landscape that was home and protector to the warrior Jandamarra, 120 years ago. Jandamarra’s home land where the King Leopold Ranges and Wadjina Gorge sheltered the Bunuba from the encroaching Europeans.
Jandamarra’s mother would eventually move to the cattle stations of the area for work and brought her son where he learned how to ride horses and would become a master of the rifle.
It’s this early interaction with the European settlers of the Kimberley that Jandamarra’s ability to resist was born. According to historian Howard Pederson Jandamarra was known as Pigeon and was taught to use those skills to shoot and worked with the white man so he had no fear and so was taught the skills he would later use to resist the oppressors.
Pederson has made Jandamarra’s story his life’s work after hearing about the legendary warrior while back packing through the Kimberley as a young man. It was that research that was combined with the shared knowledge of the Bunuba people where the Jandamarra legend took on new life, ultimately taking form in the 2011 documentary Jandamarra’s War.
Jandamarra lost his connection to his people and his culture for a tragic period of his life where he would help track and capture other Aboriginal people after befriending an Englishman named Richardson. A personal conflict grew in Jandamarra when he was challenged by an Bunuba Elder named Ellemarra to decide between his friend or his people. Jandamarra would shoot and kill Richardson, escaping back in to the bush began his life as an outlaw.
On the 10th of November 1894 Jandmarra would be a part of an ambush on five white men herding cattle through Bunuba country it was believed to be the first time attack of its kind in Australia. Premier John Forrest reacted by launching a man hunt for the criminal Jandamarra, calling for the head of the Bunuba warrior.
For three years Jandamarra elluded authorities and frustrated the police who captured and killed Aboriginal people believed to be hiding Jandamarra - his legend only grew.
The Premier grew desperate and brought in an Aboriginal tracker from the Pilbara known as “Mingo Mick” or “Roebourne Micky” following a three day shoot out Jandamarra was wounded. While he lay down bleeding from the deadly shot of Ming Mick, the local Chief of Police stepped by insisted on firing the kill shot.
Jandamarra’s head was taken like so many warriors of the past as a trophy, but his name and legacy lives on in the land and with the Bunuba people.
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