This interview with Wuyal and Dhukal Wirrpanda was recorded at Dhurputjpi by Peter Read and Kate Bagnall in September 2004. Wuyal and Dhukal Wirrpanda are the grandsons of Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda. They live at the homeland centre, Dhurputjpi, in the same country as their grandfather. Now in their fifties, they were too young to know their grandfather, but they heard the story of what happened at Woodah Island from their grandmother, whom they call mother. She was one of Dhakiyarr's wives who was captured by McColl and was chained to McColl at the time of his death. She died in 1997.
Dhukal Wirrpanda, September 2004.
Courtesy of Peter Read
The story of Dhakiyarr has never been forgotten by the Wirrpanda family. Rather, his life and disappearance have been frequently discussed. Young people are still shown the places where he lived and have the story explained to them.
Wuyal Wirrpanda, September 2004.
Courtesy of Peter Read
Reader's note: he and she are commonly used interchangeably in Aboriginal English.
The story of that olman [old man]
When we about about eight or nine years of age we started to hear of a bit of that olman, what happened to him when he was taken from Woodah Island and bring it in, and that's when the police get him and take him into Darwin. That olman's story.
She [Wuyal and Dhukul's grandmother] told us what happened at Woodah Island after Constable Albert Stewart McColl came to bring the trackers down to Caledon Bay. But they came to the wrong place. Boat landed [in a spot sheltered from the wind].
Dhakiyarr was sitting down with his people.
They [women] went out early in the morning.
Police came from other side of the island. Men came from Umbakumba [mission station]. Left their boat and walked up to the middle. Billabong in centre. Here. And our man [indicating Dhakiyarr's position on map] was here.
The hands of Dhukal and Wuyal Wirrpanda pointing to Woodah Island on a map of Arnhem Land.
Courtesy of Peter Read
All they [police] could just see a fire way out from this end, they could see the fire on that island. So they went there to check, you know, check it out. They were looking for Caledon Bay, looking for Japanese was killed there. Policeman came round and saw a fire was burning on that island. When they got there, when they left their boat, they try to go by walking.
[The women were on the] other side of that island, little sort of a pond or something. They used to gather food there, fresh water, yam, lily root, they were gathering there, they didn’t know what was going on. They thought that no one would come and visit them. They got a shock seeing those police came round there. Instead of go and asking them a question, they just go, and said to my mother,
you have to go and show us where all these men are.
[Did she tell you about the alleged sexual assault at Woodah Island? (in Parraner’s committal hearing testimony)]
We haven't heard about trousers and all this. Mum didn't say [anything about that]. We were asking her to tell us the truth.
[Meanwhile] So it was later in the afternoon. Dhakiyarr was there sitting down on the beach with the other men. They was a bit worried about his daughter, our sister, she went with her mother. He was a bit worried and it was getting late. So he thought, he [our mother] told us.
I have to go and look around for my daughter and for my wife.
That's what Dhakiyarr said. So while he was walking he could hear my mum singing out to Dhakiyarr, Mum wanted to get help.
Come and rescue us!
And here he was, when he saw through the bush, and he could see all the ladies got chained up. Stewart McColl, he was in front with my mother, and he was at the other end of the chain. There was a couple of more womans. Just took ol woman, show where's your husband. Those woman knew the police wanted to show them where the men was. Pulling them with the chain. Mother was a bit scared, that's why she was calling out for help.
Dhakiyarr! Dhakiyarr!! Where are you? Show yourself!
He was start walking from there now, go and look. Never saw police boat, he was just worryin that his daughter was late. He was a bit worried for our sister.
I have to go and check what's happening.
A hundred metres away he heard our mother singing out.
Dhakiyarr, Dhakiyarr. Where are you?
He just walking very fast now, he know something was happening. He could see through those little bushes, and he can see the whitefeller handcuff walking. Little girl [our sister] on mother's shoulders.
Anyway, and he [Dhakiyarr] could see them.
Eh, what's going on?
And my mother, [sing out]
Dhakiyarr! Show yourself!!
When Dhakiyarr heard her singing out calling his name, he had this woomera, and he was pointing. He could see through the little bush.
Hey, that's a white man.
And he knew straightaway, that's the police. And our mother wasn't just looking around there, she was looking at every bush, and she could see the head of the woomera telling her to move. So here they were walking together, and all of a sudden our mother got away from that police, and when he [she] got away then he threw the spear, when it was clear. Forty-five metre.
And he got that spear and spear the police. And just got him.
And the other one [policeman] behind, he had a gun too, he was behind this other woman, make sure no woman escape, and the second spear got his hat.
[Dhakiyarr] bashed off the chain with a rock or something.
And Stewart McColl, when they finished stabbing that police, they dug a hole and buried him, and the spear was sticking out.
When those other tracker down the beach, they could hear gunfire. They were just looking round. Two days they were searching for him, couldn't find him. And the next, saw this spear sticking out.
[After killing McColl, Dhakiyarr's people] they got into a dugout canoe and they paddle to [another island called] Gunyuroo Island and sink their canoe, and women sent down to get water. Police couldn't find them.
What happened to Dhakiyarr after he was released from Fannie Bay gaol? Other [ie some] people say he was hanged, other people say that police shot him for revenge.
Kahlin Compound. That's where they left him there, that's what the other Aboriginal people was staying there. That's where they came round and got him. After we got to Darwin for this Wukidi ceremony, and after we were talking to this Ted Egan, and what Ted Egan heard, she was very old, she was a writer, they took him down to pictures or something, and this old lady was sitting down there and he heard a gun at that place, and that ol lady knew straight away. That was Dhakiyarr. We can't understand because of this story. When she heard that shot, she was looking round for Dhakiyarr – so she was at the pictures too.
He was tied to that tree and got shot and got burnt.
[Wuyal and Dhukal also spoke about the long range cause of the tragedy: the Gan Gan massacre, 1911. Gan Gan is in Dhakiyarr's mother’s country.]
Gan Gan. He [ie Aboriginal people] was get shot here, on the river, and burnt them. And they get shot here on the river, didn't burnt them. It's a long story. And a sad story too. I know it's been told before. Because what they did was shot them and let them float in the water, river, make them lie everywhere, just left him there.
One of the trackers, he was from Roper River that feller. After they kill his sister, those Gan Gan people, because she was against the law. Sister, she was collecting firewood – they were telling stories, you know and this all this other old people said:
Oh that's the lady.
They were having men's ceremony, and this lady came up and disturb the men's ceremony, and they kill this sister. And this brother of the sister travel back to the river, and told [the police]:
Oh lots of Yulngu [Aboriginal people] at Gan Gan. I'll show you where they are.
Because he knows where those people, and he knows where to get them. Show the policeman. And then they were coming round now.
Oh you want some food, we'll give you food.
That's our grandmother's place, people that got shot. He [Dhakiyarr] could know their armbands, recognise them. Only two survive, they ran away.
After they heard that guns shooting here, at Gan Gan, they went over to give a room to the horse parties going up and down, so they went to Woodah Island so they can get safe there. He went to that island, he was going to sit there and have a peace, with his family, no disturb, and the policeman come up. Came round, and disturb his way of living. Straightaway came into his mind that Gan Gan shooting. That's what Dhakiyarr thought, because when they shot all those people, Gan Gan, that's his mother's people, so what came into his mind when the police came round there, the horsemans came round there, was in his mind, maybe Gan Gan [all over again] because they were shooting his mother's clan.
That was why, in his mind, was Gan Gan.
From November 1933 the Balumulu were waiting for Dhakiyarr to return home. Lots of Balumulu people were waiting for him at Roper River, waiting for every vehicle. Those three sons of Wungu, when they got out, they were safe to get home. When Donald Thomson took those three, when they went back. Wungu also asked his sons – they didn't know.
[About the Wukidi reconciliation ceremony in Darwin, June 2003.]
That's when we asked for a real reconciliation with the McColl family. It's happening now. They [the modern day McColl family] help us, paint all our rooms, made us a cupboard, show us how to make a fence. About 10 of them. Working closely together.
They all went back red from mosquito.
So how we going to find out that truth now? Where is he now?
We don't know.
We don't know.
Only God knows.
[Is he resting in peace?]
Yes. Which area he is now, he rests in peace. All the ceremony that he left, behind, it's in our hands.
[On McColl's grave]
We want it to say, 'Killed by Dhakiyarr', not 'an Aborigine'.