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Dalaipi (c. 1795–c. 1863)

by Ray Kerkhove

This article was published online in 2020

Dalaipi (c. 1795–c. 1863), headman, orator, rainmaker (medicine man), guide, philosopher, and mediator, also known as Deliapee, Deliape, Dolaibi, Daleipy, Delaibi, and Dailpie, was born in the mid-1790s in the Pine Rivers area north of Brisbane, Queensland. His language group may have been Turrbal, Yugara, or Nalbo (Kabi Kabi), as his country was located in a border area. He had a brother, Wugon/Wagon, with whom he was close in his youth; a son, Dal-ngang; and a wife—‘a tall splendid woman’ (Petrie 1904, 182)—whose name is no longer remembered. Other family were said to include Bianco, Yohmbo, and Delaiko. Kerwalli (King Sandy) was probably a close relative.

Dalaipi formed an enduring association with Andrew Petrie, one of Brisbane’s first free European settlers. Between 1838 and 1842 he helped to care for Petrie’s son, Tom, whom he may have viewed as a bora (male initiate) candidate in training. During this period Dalaipi and his family frequented the Zion Hill (later Nundah) mission, assisting the missionaries with their needs and accompanying them as guides and porters. The mission had been established in 1838, the result of joint efforts by Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Pietists. In 1845 or 1846 Dalaipi was Tom Petrie’s chaperone when the fourteen-year-old visited the Bunya festival in the Blackall Range. By then Dalaipi had emerged as headman of the Pine Rivers clan. An important rain-maker, initiated man (turrwan), and senior bora councillor, he may have been one of the authorities behind the resistance actions of Aboriginal warriors such as Dundalli and Yilbung. He was said to own the Ninder-ngineddo (leech-sitting-down or rain-making) bora at North Pine (later Petrie) and was often called on by both his people and settlers to bring rain during droughts.

In the 1840s and 1850s Dalaipi shared knowledge of his country and his skills in reading the land and environs with various settlers, while further cementing his strong relationship with the Petries. In December 1841 he and Wugon showed the Zion Hill missionaries their country, enabling them to explore and conduct missionary work between the Pine Rivers area and Redcliffe. The following year he was probably involved in Andrew Petrie’s expedition into Maroochy (later Sunshine Coast) and Cooloola, identifying timber reserves and locating and returning David Bracewell and other escaped convicts to the settlement. Between September and October 1855, Dalaipi was part of an early private scientific voyage in Australia. Led by the Brisbane botanist Walter Hill and the naturalist Frederick Strange, the expedition ventured to the Percy Isles off the coast of Mackay. Most of the party were killed by local Aboriginal people, possibly Guwinmal. Hill and Dalaipi, the only survivors, were rescued by the ketch Vision, which returned them to Moreton Bay on 13 November 1855. Dalaipi was also part of the 1862 Petrie–Pettigrew expedition, guiding the exploration of Wide Bay, Maryborough, and Fraser Island, and helping to identify suitable harbours and stands of timber.

Conflict escalated in the Pine Rivers area during 1856 and 1857, culminating in a battle between local Aboriginal groups and Native Mounted Police in April 1858 on Whiteside station and an expansion of land sales nearby. Concurrently there was a push for self-government, leading to Queensland’s separation from New South Wales on 6 June 1859. While this unrest was unfolding, Dalaipi based himself at Breakfast Creek, an Aboriginal village comprising several camps that formed the base of attacks on European settlers. The Breakfast Creek camps were burnt down by police and early colonisers at least six times, but were continually rebuilt. They lay opposite Newstead House, home of the government resident and police magistrate Captain John Wickham, and host to the governor-general during the separation debate.

Probably for all these reasons, Dalaipi and Dalinkua (who may have been Dalaipi’s relative Delaiko), describing themselves as ‘delegates for all blackfellows’ (Moreton Bay Courier 1858, 2), launched a series of accusations or indictments against Europeans. These were printed in six instalments in the Moreton Bay Courier between November 1858 and January 1859. Dalaipi and Dalinkua’s first indictment, which was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald, discussed purported deficiencies in their own culture and the value of the Christian message but claimed that Christians were hypocrites: ‘these Anglo-Saxons have not behaved towards us as if they believed that His eye was on them’ (Moreton Bay Courier 1858, 2). The second emphasised how Europeans had taken their people’s land, chased them away, and reduced them to starvation with no provision for their welfare. The third to fifth indictments continued the theme of Christian hypocrisy, noting how the British government funded non-Christian religions in India but made no provision for Aboriginal religious practices. Against the common Christian view that Aboriginal people were a ‘dirty degraded doomed race for whom nothing [could] be done,’ the final indictment declared: ‘the difficulty does not lie with us. If Christians will remain so inert—so worldly and selfish—they must see that our blood lies at their door’ (Moreton Bay Courier 1859, 3).

The Bendigo Advertiser hailed the indictments as a ‘remarkable letter … impeaching the whites with breaking the laws of [their] God in the treatment of the aborigines’ (1858, 3). By contrast, William Wilkes, a Sydney journalist and Moreton Bay Courier editor, ridiculed Dalaipi and Dalinkua as ‘aboriginal curiosities’ who ‘talk nonsense’ (Moreton Bay Courier 1859, 4). Dalaipi and Dalinkua’s indictments offered frank and detailed condemnations of European settlement from an Indigenous perspective. Although they were probably embellished by a European ghost writer—presumably someone who met the delegates at their Breakfast Creek camp and supported their cause—the articles’ tone and topics closely align with views Dalaipi voiced on other occasions; for example, he made statements to Tom Petrie on Christian double standards and the injustices his people suffered. The indictments’ religious references can probably be traced to Dalaipi’s frequent visits to Zion Hill.

In 1859 Tom Petrie married and sought a home for himself and his wife. Dalaipi, who likely regarded Tom as an intimate due to his earlier close contact with the Petrie family, offered part of his own country between Sideling Creek (a tributary of the North Pine River) and Redcliffe. This action was apparently engineered by Dalaipi to replace the previous settlers, who were unpopular with Dalaipi’s people. Dalaipi’s patronage not only protected Tom Petrie and his family but also extended to their associates, unwittingly leading to further settlement of the area. Petrie blamed white people for the ‘bad conduct of the blacks’ in the area; he told the Select Committee on the Native Police Force in 1861 that, due to his good treatment of Aboriginal people, he was able to live ‘where no one else was able to remain … [with] several hundreds of the blacks about me’ (Qld Parliament 1861, 111). During his later years, Dalaipi resided mostly at Petrie’s property where he and his people were provided with a measure of protection from the ravages of frontier violence, including the colonial-sanctioned systematic killing of Aboriginal people by the Native Mounted Police. They helped Petrie build his home, Murrumba, and stockyards, working the local timber, taking care of the property, and minding the cattle. Dalaipi planted a grove of hoop pines that still stands (‘Dalaipi Forest’) at Murrumba. An expert fisherman, he and his people kept the Petrie family regularly supplied with fish and other foods.

Stocky and not tall, Dalaipi had a reverent and authoritative bearing and ‘his word was law’ (Petrie 1904, 182). A reliable, gentle, and courteous man, his character was upright, honest, and trustworthy. He abstained from rough jokes and denounced alcohol and tobacco. While visiting friends at Bulimba on the south side of Brisbane, probably in 1863, he caught a cold and died. His reputation was so extensive that his death caused mourning across a large part of southern Queensland.

Dalaipi’s surviving thoughts and impressions, written up in Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences and as articles in the Moreton Bay Courier, form some of the earliest and most powerful published statements of early Aboriginal perspectives on the tide of settlement. They have been repeatedly quoted in academic works on Indigenous rights and intergenerational trauma. During the 1990s Dalaipi’s name was used for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation in Caboolture Shire, Queensland. The main hall of Our Lady of the Way School at Petrie is named after him. His people remember him as an exemplary statesman—a steadying influence during the turbulence of early European settlement who could also powerfully elucidate their grievances.

 

Ray Kerkhove is a European man. He was living on Turrbal, Yagara (Jagera), Nalbo (Kabi Kabi) land when he wrote this article.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.). ‘Odds and Ends.’ 30 November 1858, 3
  • Bond, Alex. The Statesman, the Warrior and the Songman. Nambour, Qld: ICP Aust Inc., 2009
  • Moreton Bay Courier (Qld). ‘Aborigines—to the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier.’ 17 November 1858, 2
  • Moreton Bay Courier (Qld). ‘Aborigines—to the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier.’ 26 January 1859, 3
  • Moreton Bay Courier (Qld). ‘News and Notes by a Sydney Man XXIII.’ 9 February 1859, 4
  • Dornan, Dimity, and Denis Cryle. The Petrie Family: Building Colonial Brisbane. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1992
  • Petrie, Constance. Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences. Brisbane: Watson, Ferguson and Co., 1904
  • Queensland. Parliament. Report from the Select Committee on the Native Police Force. Brisbane: Fairfax and Belbridge, 1861.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Ray Kerkhove, 'Dalaipi (c. 1795–c. 1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dalaipi-29713/text36785, published online 2020, accessed online 6 December 2020.

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