After the successful appeal, Dhakiyarr was released from Fannie Bay Gaol, where he had been held for seven months, and was taken to the Kahlin Aboriginal Compound in Darwin. The authorities planned to take him back to Arnhem Land, but the night after his release Dhakiyarr disappeared.
Dhakiyarr (left) was held in Fannie Bay Gaol the whole time he was in Darwin.
AIATSIS: Wilson.E2.BW, N3639.15
We know that on 8 November 1934, Justice Starke intended that Dhakiyarr be protected on his journey back to Arnhem Land. We know that on the next day, Dhakiyarr was taken from Fannie Bay Gaol to the Kahlin Compound, to be protected by a 'half-caste'. The Kahlin Compound had been established outside Darwin in 1913 for Aboriginal people. From Kahlin, Dhakiyarr was to be brought by train to Pine Creek, then to the Roper River police station where he should have been escorted to his proper country. But what actually happened?
The first accounts of his disappearance were that he had 'gone bush', that is, he had taken himself home. The following year, anthropologist Donald Thomson travelled to Yolngu country and reported that Dhakiyarr had not returned home and was presumed dead. Many believed that Dhakiyarr had been killed.
Summary of results from Donald Thomson's Interim General Report of Preliminary Expedition to Arnhem Land, Northern Territory of Australia, 1935–36.
NAA: A52, 572/99429 WEB, pp.3–4
What do the records show?
The day after Dhakiyarr's disappearance, the Northern Territory Administrator, RH Weddell, cabled the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, HC Brown, that:
ALTHOUGH CHIEF PROTECTOR TOOK PRECAUTIONS HOLD TUCKIAR BY APPOINTING HALF CASTE TO GUARD HIM TUCKIAR LEFT HUT DURING HEAVY STORM RAIN OBLITERATING ALL TRACKS ... REVEREND DYER WITH TUCKIAR DURING PORTION SATURDAY AFTERNOON AND ARRANGED TO TAKE HIM TO PICTURES AT NIGHT WHEN HE WAS DISCOVERED MISSING (p. 7)
Lettergram from the Northern Territory Administrator to the Department of the Interior, 13 November 1934.
NAA: A1, 1936/4022 Part 2, p.7
On 12 November 1934 Brown wrote to the new Minister for the Interior, Thomas Paterson: 'In view of the specific instructions forwarded to the Administrator the above is most unsatisfactory'.
Decode of telegram from the Northern Territory Administrator to the Department of the Interior, 12 November 1934.
NAA: A1, 1936/4022 Part 2, p.18
Two months later the Crown Law Officer reviewed the events as follows:
On the evening of his running away from the Aboriginal Compound where he was being taken care of there was a storm, and it was after this storm that he was last seen at about 5.30 pm in his hut ... It appears, therefore, that since it was not possible to detain him by force, no blame can be attached to anyone when he left the Compound of his own free will (p. 92).
Review of Dhakiyarr's disappearance, Crown Law Officer to Australian Aborigines' Amelioration Association, 26 January 1935.
NAA: A1, 1938/12974, pp.88–93
There are no reports of interviews with the 'half caste guard' to find out when Dhakiyarr was last seen. Nor is there speculation on the possible significance of the shirt and trousers left behind in Dhakiyarr's hut.
Given the wealth of newspaper clippings and correspondence from concerned citizens and groups before and during the trial, the archival record reveals a silence on the part of the Australian public. The Association for the Protection of Native Races telegrammed its concern about Dhakiyarr's disappearance and later reported in its 1935 annual report that:
Nothing further has been heard of Tuckiar, and the only comment to be made is that the circumstances of this alleged 'escape' are as unsatisfactory as were those of his trial in the Darwin Court.
But, overall, it appears that the protestors and the press suddenly forgot about Dhakiyarr.
Dhakiyarr belonged to a people whose treatment by the national government was under highly critical examination even in London. But there are few demands for an explanation of his disappearance. No telegram asks the Administrator: No inter-office memo asks: 'What are you doing about his disappearance? Have you found him? Where are you looking? What clues have you gathered together?' Instead, the archives hold no records at all.