Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda (1900–1934)

by Mickey Dewar

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

Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda (c.1900–1934?), Aboriginal leader, was born near Blue Mud (Caledon) Bay, in north-eastern Arnhem Land, northern Australia, and had a traditional education among the Dhayyi-speaking people; his name was also spelt as Tuckiar, Takia, Tarkiera and Dagier. He had three wives, of whom only Djaparri (Japari, Yapparti) has been identified in the written records.

Following the killing of a Japanese trepang crew at Caledon Bay in September 1932, a party of investigating police, led by Mounted Constable Ted Morey, came across a group of Aboriginal women on Woodah Island on 1 August 1933. Constable Stewart McColl and the women, including Djaparri, became separated from the others. Dhakiyarr, who was hidden nearby, attempted to make contact with Djaparri. Seeing him and believing him a threat, McColl shot at him. The pistol misfired and Dhakiyarr threw a spear, which killed McColl.

It was suggested at the subsequent trial that McColl had been engaged in sexual intercourse with Djaparri, but this has been disputed in an oral account collected by Ted Egan during an interview with Djaparri in 1976. A contributing motive for McColl's murder was possibly that Dhakiyarr believed that McColl had come to Woodah because of the murders of William Fagan and Frank Traynor. These two 'beachcombers' had arrived there in the dry season of 1933 and had negotiated with Dhakiyarr's group for firewood and the sexual use of Djaparri and her mother Wamirapu. One morning Dhakiyarr and another man had swum out to the boat, killed the two men and thrown their bodies overboard.

In April 1934 he and others accused of the killing of McColl and the Japanese trepangers were brought to Darwin by Rev. A. J. Dyer and a Church Missionary Society 'Peace Expedition' to stand trial. Procedural irregularities occurred at every step: Dhakiyarr's lawyer implied in a statement to the court that Dhakiyarr had admitted guilt; few witnesses were called and the accused were not permitted to testify; the police tracker also acted as the interpreter. The proceedings were a miscarriage of justice, but on 5 August Judge T. A. Wells sentenced 'Tuckiar' to death for the murder of McColl. An appeal to the High Court of Australia, heard between 29 October and 8 November 1934, resulted in the quashing of the conviction. Dhakiyarr was freed from Fannie Bay Gaol, where he had been held for seven months, and taken to the Kahlin compound in Darwin on 12 November. Dyer had arranged to meet him at the cinema, but Dhakiyarr did not appear and was never seen again.

There have been many explanations for his disappearance, including that he was the victim of a vendetta or had absconded. The oral tradition in Darwin is that friends of McColl had murdered Dhakiyarr and disposed of the body in the harbour. His family in Arnhem Land, including at least one son, survived him. In 2004 a documentary film was made about Dhakiyarr and a ceremony of reconciliation held at the Supreme Court, Darwin, where a memorial was dedicated to him and to McColl.

Select Bibliography

  • V. C. Hall, Dreamtime Justice (Adel, 1962)
  • M. Dewar, The ‘Black War’ in Arnhem Land (Darwin, 1992)
  • T. Egan, Justice All Their Own (Melb, 1996)
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, vol 52, 1934, p 335
  • M. Dewar, ‘Death in the Gulf: A Look at the Motives Behind the Caledon Bay and Woodah Island Killings’, Journal of Northern Territory History, no 4, 1993, p 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 2004, p 9
  • M. Dewar, Strange Bedfellows: Europeans and Aborigines in Arnhem Land Before World War II (M.A. thesis, UNE, 1989)
  • Tuckiar Vs the King and Territory (Hindsight, ABC Radio National, 2 June 2002).

Citation details

Mickey Dewar, 'Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda (1900–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dhakiyarr-wirrpanda-12885/text23275, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 31 October 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Tuckiar
  • Takia
  • Tarkiera
  • Dagier
Birth

1900
Caledon Bay, Northern Territory, Australia

Death

1934

Cultural Heritage
Occupation