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Bornc. 1873
DiedApril 1, 1897
Tunnel Creek, Western Australia
Place of burial
Napier Range
Years of service1894-1897
Battles/warsAustralian frontier wars

Jandamarra or Tjandamurra (c. 1873—1 April 1897), known to European settlers as Pigeon,[1] was an Indigenous Australian of the Bunuba tribe who led one of many organised armed insurrections against the European colonisation of Australia. Initially utilised as a tracker for the police, he became a fugitive when he was forced to capture his own people, he led a three year campaign against police and European settlers, achieving legendary status for his hit and run tactics and his abilities to hide and disappear. Jandamarra was eventually killed by another tracker at Tunnel Creek on 1 April 1897, 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), and a stage play.

The beginning[edit]

The Bunuba land was positioned in the southern part of the Kimberley region in the far north of the state of Western Australia, and stretched from the town of Fitzroy Crossing to the King Leopold Ranges; it included the Napier and Oscar Ranges.

From about the age of 11, Jandamarra was working for the settlers as a slave. In his teens, he was initiated into the law of the Bunuba;[1] when Jandamarra's close 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.[2]

Aboriginal people were spearing stock, an effective form of resistance against the settlers. Jandamarra was ordered to track down his own people; the captives, among them his uncle, chief Ellemarra, were taken to Lillimooloora Station. Chief Ellemarra forced Jandamarra to decide where his loyalties lie: to kill his friend Richardson or be an outcast from his tribe, he shot Richardson and became an armed fugitive.[1][2]

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.[citation needed] Two of these men were killed and guns and ammunition captured. In the late 1894, two weeks after Richardson was shot, the police and Jandamarra’s band faced had to face each other at Windjana Gorge, a sacred place in Bunuba culture. After eight hours of standoff Ellemarra was killed, Jandamarra was wounded but escaped.[1]

Western Australia's first Premier, John Forrest, ordered the rebellion to be crushed.[1] Police attacked Aboriginal camps around Fitzroy Crossing. Many Aboriginal people were killed, some purely on suspicion that they had ties to Jandamarra's band.[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 Aboriginal person 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 company's 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).[3] Mudrooroo's novel, in counterpart to Idriess's, was written for an Indigenous audience to bring to their attention a hero of their own[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

A stage play (Jandamarra) was produced by the Black Swan Theatre Company in 2008.[7][8] Australian singer and song writer Paul Kelly was involved in this and his song Jandamarra/Pigeon was released on his album "The A to Z Recordings".

Jandamarra's War, a documentary about his life, was made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Indigenous independent production company Wawili Pitjas in 2011.[9]

In 2010, singer/songwriter Neil Higgins wrote and recorded "Jandamarra's War". A song that reflects the brutality and harsh treatment of the "Bunaba" people in the region; this song was released in late 2016 as part of a full album.

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.[10] 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. ^ a b c d e Rebe Taylor, in: Taylor (2004)
  2. ^ a b Dillon Andrews, in: Taylor (2004)
  3. ^ Shoemaker, 1989, p. 137.
  4. ^ Shoemaker, 1989, p. 138.
  5. ^ Shoemaker, 1989, p. 141.
  6. ^ Pedersen and Woorunmurra, 1995.
  7. ^ "Jandamarra". Theatre Reviews. Theatre Australia. 13 February 2008. Archived from the original on 29 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  8. ^ Laurie, Victoria (31 January 2008). "Warrior's language of resistance". The Australian. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  9. ^ "Jandamarra's War". ABC Television. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-11.
  10. ^ http://www.kimberleyaustraliaguide.com/gibb-river-road/windjana-gorge-and-tunnel-creek/


External links[edit]