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Hobbles Danayarri (1925–1988)

by Deborah Bird Rose

This article was published:

Hobbles Danayarri (c.1925-1988), Aboriginal lawman and community leader, was born about 1925 at Wave Hill station, Northern Territory. He was a Mudburra man; his name has been also spelt as Daniari, Danaiari and Danayari. His spiritual history began with a barramundi. His father speared the fish, his mother ate it, and the spirit became the baby who grew into the man known as Hobbles Danayarri. On his right temple he had a small mark said to be where his father speared the fish. He grew up partly in his own country along Cattle Creek, and partly on Wave Hill station.

As a boy, when Danayarri’s father took him to see Aboriginal men and women constructing a dam under the direction of a European overseer, he became aware of the injustices his people suffered. He realised that the workers did not receive adequate wages for their back-breaking labour, and that they continually encountered discrimination. Although constrained by the requirements of the Wave Hill and Victoria River Downs cattle stations where he worked, and by his status as a ward of the state, he learned the songs, visited the sacred places and performed the rituals of the country into which he had been born. He became a respected lawman.

In 1966 Danayarri was among the Aboriginal pastoral workers on Wave Hill who went on strike, demanding land rights and fair wages. Afterwards he went with his wife Lizzie Wardaliya, a Ngarinman woman, to her country, and helped to found the Yarralin community. By this time he had become a senior lawman and ceremony leader and, with citizenship, travelled widely in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley on law business.

Danayarri devoted his later years to the analysis of race relations since European settlement. He was a deep thinker who could pull together isolated facts to link past and present. Expressed primarily in the form of stories, the oral narratives were set in historical rather than Dreaming time. They were a blend of political exhortation, parable, history, myth and legend. In his saga of Captain James Cook, for example, he described how, following the arrival of the Europeans (represented by Cook) in the Victoria River district, some Indigenous people were murdered and others were dispossessed of their land, captured and forced into work on the cattle stations, for little or no pay. There was an added dimension to his account: British law was seen as lacking the moral basis that characterised `true’ (Aboriginal) law.

Although generally sensitive and thoughtful, Danayarri occasionally erupted into action. He was particularly concerned about the continued presence of Pentecostal missionaries among his people, despite requests from community leaders to stay away. On one occasion he chopped up a Bible with a butcher’s knife, shouting, `Strike me dead, God, if this is your book, strike me dead!’ Turning to the people who had witnessed his action, he exhorted them to follow their own law.

A moral rather than a political leader, Danayarri had no time for regret, nostalgia or recrimination. Rather, he had a passionate desire to see Aborigines achieve a better future, based on social equality. This could only come with understanding of the processes of European power and control. He believed that greater unity would enable Indigenous people to make choices. His vision of the nation’s future was both compassionate and challenging. He urged all Australians to develop a sense of shared lives and of shared potential. Encouraging settler Australians to make peace with Aboriginal people, he said:

We’re not trying to push you back to London and big England, but what’s your feeling? You the one been making lot of mistake, but we can be join in, white, and black, and yellow. This a big country, and we been mix em up [people]. We’re on this land now. We can be friendly, join in, be friends, mates, together.

Survived by his adult children, Danayarri died of cancer on 24 March 1988 in Katherine Hospital and was buried at Wave Hill. His adult children include some community leaders; all of them are knowledgable in Aboriginal law, as are many of his grandchildren, and all have been active in acquiring land rights. Danayarri expected that his spirit would go the way of those of his ancestors: that he would become a shooting star, a set of bones, a spirit that would become new life and another spirit that would stay forever in its own country.

Select Bibliography

  • D. B. Rose, Hidden Histories (1991)
  • C. Healy, From the Ruins of Colonialism (1997)
  • D. B. Rose, `The Saga of Captain Cook’, Australian Aboriginal Studies, no 2, 1984, p 24
  • D. B. Rose, `Danayarri, Hobbles’, in D. Carment and H. J. Wilson (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, vol 3, 1996.

Citation details

Deborah Bird Rose, 'Danayarri, Hobbles (1925–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Daniari, Hobbles
  • Danaiari, Hobbles
  • Danayari, Hobbles
  • Danaiyarri, Hobbles

Wave Hill station, Northern Territory, Australia


24 March, 1988 (aged ~ 63)
Wave Hill station, 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.