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This article is about the indigenous warrior of the 1800s. For the victim of a 1996 fire attack, see Tjandamurra O'Shane.

Jandamarra or Tjandamurra (c. 1873—1 April 1897), also known as "Pigeon", was an Indigenous Australian of the Bunuba people who led one of the few organised armed insurrections documented against European settlement in Australia.


The Bunuba land is in the southern part of the Kimberley region in the far north of the state of Western Australia, and stretches from the town of Fitzroy Crossing to the King Leopold Ranges. Bunuba lands include the Napier and Oscar Ranges.

When Jandamarra's best friend, an Englishman named Richardson, joined the police force in the 1890s Jandamarra, a skilled horseman and marksman, was employed as his native tracker. Unusually for the time, Jandamarra was treated as an equal and the pair gained a reputation as the "most outstanding" team in the police force at that time.[citation needed] At one time the pair captured a group of Aborigines which included Jandamarra's uncle Ellemarra for spearing a sheep. Ellemarra escaped and constable Richardson swore that Ellemarra had displayed super-human strength and snapped his chains, however it was suspected that Jandamarra had freed him.[citation needed] During a later patrol of the Napier Ranges in the West Kimberley, Jandamarra helped to capture a large group of his people, both men and women and which again included his uncle. They were held at Lillimilura Police Post.[citation needed] Belatedly, Jandamarra's tribal loyalties came to the fore. He gunned down his friend Richardson, stole a number of guns and set the prisoners free.[citation needed]

Guerrilla war[edit]

On 10 November 1894, Jandamarra and some followers attacked five white men who were driving cattle to set up a large station in the heart of Bunuba land. Two of these men, Burke and Gibbs, were killed. This was the first time that guns were used against European settlers in an organised fashion and began what became known as "The Bunuba War". There was outrage in Derby and Broome when news of Jandamarra's action became known. In late 1894 a posse of 30 or so heavily armed police and settlers attacked Jandamarra and his followers in Windjana Gorge. Jandamarra was wounded but escaped. Police attacked Aboriginal camps around Fitzroy Crossing. Many Aboriginal people were killed, some purely on suspicion that they had ties to Jandamarra's band. At the time, this was regarded as a normal police action.[citation needed]

For three years, Jandamarra led a guerrilla war against police and European settlers. His hit and run tactics and his vanishing tricks became almost mythical. In one famous incident a police patrol followed him to his hideout at the entrance to Tunnel Creek in the Napier Range, but Jandamarra disappeared mysteriously.[citation needed] It was many years later that it was discovered that Tunnel Creek has a collapsed section that allows entry and egress from the top of the Range.

Tunnel Creek, Jandamarra's refuge, showing the collapsed centre section, West Kimberley region, Western Australia

Jandamarra was held in awe by other Aboriginal people who believed he was immortal, his body simply a physical manifestation of a spirit that resided in a water soak near Tunnel Creek. It was believed that only an Aborigine with similar mystical powers could kill him. Police chasing Jandamarra were also in awe at his ability to cross the rugged ranges with no effect on his bare feet, despite their boots being cut to shreds by the sharp rocks.

Jandamarra's war was relatively short-lived and ended when police recruited Micki by holding his children hostage.[citation needed] Micki, a remarkable Aboriginal tracker was also reputed to possess magical powers, and was neither a Bunuba tribesman, nor did he fear Jandamarra. Micki tracked Jandamarra down and shot him dead at Tunnel Creek on 1 April 1897. The white troopers cut off Jandamarra's head as proof that he was dead and it was preserved and sent to a firearms company in England where it was used as an example of the effectiveness of the companies firearms. The head of another Bunuba was labelled as Jandamarra and put on public display in Perth. His body was buried by his family at the Napier Range where it was placed inside a boab tree.


Jandamarra's life has been the subject of two novels, Ion Idriess's Outlaws of the Leopold (1952) and Mudrooroo's Long Live Sandawarra (1972).[1] Mudrooroo's novel, in counterpart to Idriess's, was written for an Indigenous audience to bring to their attention a hero of their own[2] and cuts between the story of Jandamarra (called Sandawarra) and the contemporary story of young urbanised Sandy and his friends who are inspired by Jandamarra.[3]

More recently the story of Jandamarra, put down in writing by Howard Pedersen, was the subject of the Western Australian Premier's Book Award-winning history, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance.[4] A stage play (Jandamarra) was produced by the Black Swan Theatre Company in 2008.[5][6] Jandamarra's War, a documentary about his life, from the ABC and Indigenous independent production company Wawili Pitjas first screened on the 12th of May 2011.[7]

The ruins of the Lillimulura Police Station, which are of historical significance because of their connection to Jandamarra, are a few kilometres south of Windjana Gorge on the road to Tunnel Creek.[8] Both Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek are popular tourist attractions and visitors interested in learning more about Jandamarra are well advised to visit these ruins.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shoemaker, 1989, p. 137.
  2. ^ Shoemaker, 1989, p. 138.
  3. ^ Shoemaker, 1989, p. 141.
  4. ^ Pedersen and Woorunmurra, 1995.
  5. ^ "Jandamarra". Theatre Reviews. Theatre Australia. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  6. ^ Laurie, Victoria (31 January 2008). "Warrior's language of resistance". The Australian. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  7. ^ "Jandamarra's War". ABC Television. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-11. 
  8. ^ http://www.kimberleyaustraliaguide.com/gibb-river-road/windjana-gorge-and-tunnel-creek/


External links[edit]