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Dick Cubadgee (1870–1889)

by Philip Jones

This article was published:

Dick Cubadgee (1870-1889), by unknown artist, 1887

Dick Cubadgee (1870-1889), by unknown artist, 1887

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S14/06/87/92

Dick Cubadgee (1870-1889), Aboriginal guide and cultural broker, was born in 1870 near Tennant Creek, South Australia (Northern Territory), second son of a ceremonial leader of the Warumungu people, known to Europeans as 'King Tapanunga'. The names Tapanunga and Cubadgee would be rendered today as Japanangka and Jappaljarri. Cubadgee—whose name has also been recorded as Kubadji—held primary ritual responsibility for Jurnkurakurr waterhole, a 'Carpet Snake' dreaming site on Tennant Creek. He grew up in the vicinity of the newly established telegraph station, becoming familiar with English and European ways and acquiring his first name, Dick. By April 1886, when he met the explorers David Lindsay and his brother George at Eva Downs near Anthony Lagoon, he was initiated and was probably familiar with the extent of Warumungu country.

Becoming 'a first rate camel man', Cubadgee assisted Lindsay in surveying new pastoral leases verging on Warumungu territory and then accompanied the party to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Lindsays embarked for Adelaide by ship. Cubadgee and the Afghan cameleer took the party's camels and horses overland to Hergott Springs (Marree) without loss, an epic 1250-mile (c.2000 km) journey accomplished in four weeks.

On Cubadgee's arrival in Adelaide by train he became David Lindsay's coachman and lodged with Lindsay's father-in-law, who was director of the Destitute Asylum. Cubadgee met influential Adelaide figures including Chief Justice (Sir) Samuel Way, a noted ethnographic collector. When Lindsay contributed an exhibit to the Adelaide International Exhibition of 1887, combining Aboriginal artefacts with prospecting charts and samples of 'rubies' from Harts Range, Cubadgee became its centre-piece, as 'King of the Warramanga'. He used the opportunity to tell visitors of his country.

Cubadgee stood 6 ft 6 ins (198 cm) tall. His slim physique and striking looks, confident demeanour and ready sense of humour made him a popular figure and attracted the attention of medical anthropologists and scientists. He threw boomerangs on Adelaide Oval and demonstrated the rotary drill fire-making method with his own fire-sticks in the Exhibition Building and for select groups at Government House. Not simply 'Lindsay's boy', he was aware of the increasing pressure which European pastoralism imposed upon his people; his southern experiences gave him confidence to seek a different outcome.

After appearing at the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, Cubadgee returned to Central Australia with the Lindsays in late 1888 and assisted in their ruby prospecting. Learning that his elder brother had been murdered, he considered taking revenge, but his time there was cut short by illness. Lindsay arranged his admission to Adelaide Hospital on 19 April 1889 and the surgeon Archibald Watson performed a successful operation on a neck tumour. During Cubadgee's long convalescence he informed his hospital visitors that, although Europeans were established in his country, they should pay with cattle for usurping tribal land, so as to enable his people to have a viable future. Five months after his operation, Cubadgee succumbed to a secondary infection and died of 'tubercular meningitis' on 15 September 1889, aged just 19.

Watson and the South Australian Museum director (Sir) Edward Stirling, who had become Cubadgee's friends, regarded him as an 'outstanding specimen of his race'. They persuaded the Lindsays to allow them to preserve his skeleton for science. Following a service at Holy Trinity Church of England on 19 September 1889 his remains were buried in West Terrace cemetery. The mounted skeleton was displayed in the South Australian Museum until the 1950s. On 4 June 1991, after consultation with the Warumungu community, Cubadgee's skeleton was buried in a moving ceremony in his ancestral country, at Jurnkurakurr.

Select Bibliography

  • P. G. Jones, Ochre and Rust (Adel, 2002)
  • Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australia), Proceedings, 1952-53, p 35
  • Land Rights News, July 1991, p 14
  • P. G. Jones, ‘A Tracker Comes Home: the Story of Dick Kubadji’, Adelaide Review, Sept 1991
  • Observer (Adelaide), 21 Sept 1889, p 30
  • Mail (Adelaide), 2 July 1927
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Philip Jones, 'Cubadgee, Dick (1870–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Dick Cubadgee (1870-1889), by unknown artist, 1887

Dick Cubadgee (1870-1889), by unknown artist, 1887

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S14/06/87/92

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jappaljarri
  • Kubadji

Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, Australia


15 September, 1889 (aged ~ 19)

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.