Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alngindabu (1874–1961)

by Mickey Dewar

This article was published:

Alngindabu (1874?-1961), Aboriginal elder, was born probably in 1874 at Chapana, near the Finniss River, Northern Territory, and belonged to the Kungarakany language group whom Europeans called the Paperbark People. Trained as a domestic servant in her girlhood, Alngindabu (Alyandabu) became an expert cook and seamstress. The Whites named her Lucy. About 1900 she married Stephen Joseph McGuinness [sic]; they were to have five children—Bernard, John, Margaret, Valentine and Joseph—all of whom were baptized as Catholics. A ganger on the North Australia Railway, Stephen was stationed at the 'Thirty-Four Mile', outside Darwin.

After an accident in which one of his men was killed, Stephen was dismissed and the family left for Bynoe Harbour to look for work. En route, Lucy found what her brother Maranda identified as tin ore. The Lucy Mine was officially taken up in October 1908 and became the McGinness's home. Alngindabu baked bread for her family and used an old sewing-machine to make them clothes from bleached, calico flour-sacks. Having learned Scottish folk-songs from her husband, she sang them to her children; she also taught them the Kungarakany language and told them about kinship, the land and the Kurduk (spirits) who controlled it. She passed on to them stories of the ancestral Dreaming: of the Kewen (sand-goanna women) and Kulutuk (doves) that protected Kungarakany land.

When Stephen died in 1918, Alngindabu and the youngest two children were taken to Darwin to live in the Kahlin Aboriginal Compound. In 1918-22 Margaret and her husband operated the Lucy Mine; thereafter, it was not worked by the family until 1960 when Val re-pegged the lease. Employed as a laundress and housemaid, Alngindabu was described by Ted Egan as 'around six feet tall (183 cm), straight as a gun barrel, black, proud, barefooted, wearing a simple cotton frock and a wide-brimmed stockman's hat. In her hand she carried a few items tied in a red handkerchief, and she puffed contentedly on a pipe as she walked'. Fiercely independent, she was known for her generosity and esteemed for her devotion to her family. She became an almiyuk—a female elder, a custodian of special knowledge and a bestower of names to children—and her brother Maranda was a namiyuk (elder).

Survived by her daughter and three sons, Alngindabu died on 23 September 1961 in Darwin and was buried in the local cemetery with Catholic rites. To ensure the maintenance of spiritual obligations, a shade-laying ceremony was held for her at Humpty Doo station in 1963. Her son Jack was president of the North Australian Workers' Union in the 1950s. Another son Joe was president of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for most of the period 1961-78; he campaigned for the removal of constitutional limitations on Aboriginal citizenship which was achieved through a referendum in 1967. Alngindabu's familial and cultural traditions continued, the most senior female family member holding the position of almiyuk, or senior elder, the Kungarakany.

Select Bibliography

  • D. W. Lockwood, The Front Door (Adel, 1968)
  • T. Egan, A Drop of Rough Ted (Syd, 1979)
  • R. Layton and N. Williams (compilers), The Finniss River Land Claim (Darwin, 1980)
  • S. Baldwin (ed), Unsung Heroes & Heroines of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • J. McGinness, Son of Alyandabu (Brisb, 1991)
  • Northern Territory Times, 26 Oct 1918
  • Northern Territory News, 28, 30 Sept 1961
  • I. M. Bishop, Lucy McGuinness (manuscript, 1981, Malak School, Darwin)
  • interview with V. McGuiness (transcript, 1984, Northern Territory Archives Service)
  • private information.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Mickey Dewar, 'Alngindabu (1874–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Lucy McGinness
  • McGinness, Lucy
  • Alyandabu

Chapana, Northern Territory, Australia


23 September, 1961 (aged ~ 87)
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.