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Grant Ngabidj (1904–1977)

by Bruce Shaw

This article was published:

Grant Ngabidj (c.1904-1977), Aboriginal stockman, was a Kadjerong man who was born near Cow Creek, between Brolga Spring and the north-eastern coast of Western Australia. The black-mouthed and striped tiger snake, danggamang, and the water goanna, yelaugiing, were his conception totems and marrimarri, the pelican, his subsection totem, from which came the name Wilmirr, given to him by his mother. His people moved across their traditional area between the Keep River (Northern Territory) and the Cambridge Gulf. As a child of about 3 at Grant Creek, with his elder sister and mother, he was separated from the rest of their group. While they were being taken away on horseback, he later recalled, he heard the sound of gunfire behind them. The shooting was that of many men of Ngabidj's group, who had been chained to a tree. Although not mentioned in the records, the killings were known in the oral tradition of the Miriwoong and Kadjerong.

Ngabidj was taken to Ningbing cattle station, where he was reared and introduced to droving and stock work. All his life he remained deeply involved in the traditional world and the spiritual life of his people. He visited relations over long distances in Miriwoong and Kadjerong country and as far west as the Forrest River, participated in ceremonies and fought in clan battles.

In his youth Ngabidj was a tough man—he had cicatrices from collarbone to navel. He killed at least two Aboriginal men. One homicide, about 1924, was an act of impulse in an inter-group skirmish. The other in 1929, in the company of his countrymen Waddi Boyoi and Joe Nurunggin, was a payback against a man named Toby, an outsider from the Halls Creek area, who had become involved with Boyoi's wife and then threatened him. Ngabidj and Boyoi were arrested in June 1929, but the hearing in the Supreme Court at Wyndham two years later resulted in a verdict of not guilty. The two defendants were released and Ngabidj walked to Forrest River Mission.

About August 1926 he became betrothed to Kalwik and in the 1930s they lived at Ningbing station. Following the death of Kalwik by 1932 and of another wife Daarrn some two years later, Ngabidj married Daisy Djanduin about 1940. After World War II he worked as a stockman at Carlton Hill station. In 1962 in Wyndham and Perth hospitals he was treated for tuberculosis. By 1969 he had moved with Djanduin to the Aboriginal reserve at Kununurra, where he recorded his life history on tape in 1973-74. Ngabidj's memories told of his having had 'comparatively more violent experiences at first hand under white cattle-station management than many of his contemporaries'. However, such crimes—some at levels described as 'massacres' but more usually isolated killings—were also reported by other Miriwoong and Kadjerong people. Highly respected in the community, Ngabidj died on 1 July 1977 at Kununurra. His wife and at least one son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. C. Shaw (ed), My Country of the Pelican Dreaming (Canb, 1981)
  • D. Horton (ed), The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, vol 2 (Canb, 1994).

Citation details

Bruce Shaw, 'Ngabidj, Grant (1904–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 4 December 2023.

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, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


Cow Creek, Western Australia, Australia


1 July, 1977 (aged ~ 73)
Kununurra, Western Australia, 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.