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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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by Neville Green

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Calyute (flourished 1833-1840), Aboriginal resistance leader, also known as Kalyute, Galyute or Wongir, was a man of the Pinjareb group, then known as the Murray River tribe, about 60 miles (100 km) south of Perth. Nothing is known of him before 1833. His brothers Woodan (also known as Jungil) and Yanmar are recorded and he had at least two wives, Mindup and Yamup, and two sons Ninia and Monang.

In December 1833 a dispute between the Murray people and those of the Swan River district was resolved at a corroboree that restored to the former a right of access for ceremonies and kinship visits. These visits, beginning in February 1834, led to conflict with British settlers when the visiting Aborigines' dogs killed stock. In one stand-off, a soldier held a musket to the tall, imposing Calyute's side while the latter's spear was pressed to the soldier's chest. Such incidents renewed the rift between the Aborigines of the two regions, forcing a duel between Calyute and a Swan River man Yaloot in which both were wounded.

On 24 April 1834 some twenty to thirty Murray men and women, led by Calyute, besieged a flour mill within sight of Perth, threatened the miller George Shenton, and stole a large quantity of flour. Swan River men identified Calyute, Yedong, Monang, Wamba and Gummol as the leaders of the raid, the reasons for which are unknown. Although Calyute's territory fell partially within the 250,000 acres (101,000 ha) granted to entrepreneur Thomas Peel, the traditional owners had not yet been physically dispossessed by settlers and their stock and were able to hunt, gather and fish with little interference.

Several days later, Captain T. T. Ellis, the superintendent of the mounted police, and a detachment of troopers captured Calyute, Yedong and Monang. During the struggle Calyute was bayoneted and the others wounded by gunfire. They were taken to Perth where, despite their injuries, they were flogged in the main street, Calyute receiving sixty lashes. As the raiders' ringleader, he was confined at Fremantle prison until 10 June 1834. His organization of Aboriginal resistance to white settlers, however, continued.

Next month he, Yedong and seventeen others killed Private Hugh Nesbitt and wounded a former sergeant Edward Barron in an ambush at Peel's property in the Murray district. Settlers' concerns at the increase in hostilities in the region led to the decision by the governor Sir James Stirling to punish Calyute's clan. With the surveyor-general J. S. Roe, Stirling assembled an armed party of twenty-five, including soldiers of the 21st Regiment, mounted police and civilians, at Mandurah on 27 October. Next morning, at about 8 a.m., the Murray camp—with an estimated eighty men, women and children—was found on the west bank of the Murray River, south of the present town of Pinjarra. Stirling and fourteen others lined the east bank. Armed men commanded the fords above and below the position. Ellis, Captain Norcott and three troopers rode into the camp looking for the wanted men. In the melée that followed at least five Aborigines were killed and the others—men, women and children—retreated to the river, then about 100 ft (30 m) wide, with sloping wooded banks, where they came under gunfire. In the 'Battle of Pinjarra', a soldier was speared in the arm and Ellis was mortally injured; he died on 11 November. The Aboriginal dead were never counted and estimates vary between eleven and fifty. The official report by Stirling put the toll at fourteen. Calyute and Yedong escaped, but Calyute's son Ninia was killed and his younger wife Yamup, her leg shattered by a shot, died soon after.

The survivors retreated south-west to Lake Clifton. Calyute's name did not appear on the census conducted by Francis Armstrong in 1837, but was recorded again in May 1840 when, with others from the Murray, he attacked an Aboriginal camp near Perth, spearing five people. Yedong was accidentally shot at the Murray in 1838 but there is no record of Calyute after 1840 or of his death, although he reputedly survived into old age.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Bunbury, Early Days in Western Australia (Lond, 1930)
  • A. Hasluck, Thomas Peel of Swan River (Melb, 1965)
  • R. Richards, The Murray District of Western Australia (Mandurah, WA, 1978)
  • N. Green, Broken Spears (Perth, 1984)
  • S. Hallam and L. Tilbrook (compilers), Aborigines of the Southwest Region 1829-1840 (Perth, 1990)
  • F. Armstrong census, CRS 58.158-163/1836, and J. S. Roe, Field book no 3, 1834-1839, Acc 629/2, and Despatches to Colonial Office, Sir J. Stirling to E. G. Stanley, 1 Nov 1834, 14 Sept-6 Dec 1938, letter no 14 (State Records Office of Western Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Neville Green, 'Calyute ', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kalyute
  • Galyute
  • Wongir
Cultural Heritage