Indigenous resistance and traditional leadership: Understanding and Interpreting Dundalli

Indigenous resistance and traditional leadership: Understanding and Interpreting Dundalli [1]

European Australians have always had trouble understanding the system of traditional authority which operated in Australia. In the 1830s the German missionaries and British officials at the Brisbane penal settlement referred to local kings and chiefs,1 even though these terms, when explained to Indigenous people, were angrily rejected.2 The democratic and qualified basis of Indigenous leadership was best described by John Dunmore Lang in 1847:

Each of these tribes is under a distinct chief, whose dignity, however, is rather equivocal, and whose position, as well as the way in which it is obtained, resembles pretty much that of the chiefs of the ancient Germans, as described by Tacitus. Heroism and success in battle, and not supposed hereditary rights, constitute the only title to chieftainship recognised by the Aborigines, and the influence of the authority of the chief are acknowledged only in time of war. [3]

This is perhaps an apt starting point when considering the status of someone such as Dundalli who was born into a group of traditional owners, the Dalla of the Conondale Ranges, yet clearly exerted great influence over the Djindubari of Bribie Island. He also worked with and allegedly commanded traditional owners from a wide radius to the north of Brisbane and since he was likely to have at best reached middle age when he died in January 1855, the title, elder, also seems misplaced.

This paper is a reply to Stephen Sheaffe’s presentation on Dundalli to the Society in February 2005. I have not seen the written paper so it is based on the oral presentation of that evening. My interest in the topic is based on two separate research projects, both currently in press, dealing with the biographical evidence concerning Dundalli.

Since Stephen Sheaffe and I have both looked at the legal records covering Dundalli’s trials we have drawn many common conclusions, especially concerning the weakness of the evidence used to convict Dundalli. The main points where we differ are in regard to Dundalli’s importance to the Indigenous community and the extent to which his actions represented resistance to the white settlers at Moreton Bay. In a paper published in 1992 I argued that Dundalli was an important leader and that his actions represented a rejection of British law.4 It is on these two points that this reply will focus in order to present a more balanced view to the official representation of Dundalli as a criminal and a murderer.5 It will consider the evidence regarding Dundalli’s standing in the eyes of the white community, then the Indigenous community and finally consider the issue of resistance. As it refers to Dundalli’s people and other traditional owners with whom he worked, a table of the Indigenous owners north of the Brisbane river is included for reference.


The historian’s favoured sources are written primary documents. While the legal papers of Dundalli’s criminal trials were the starting point for my work and Sheaffe’s they naturally provide an unfavourable and one-dimensional view with only the evidence deemed relevant to his successful prosecution preserved in the crown files. Fortunately the views of contemporary writers and the memoirs of Brisbane residents provide a little more insight into the man and his actions. The Moreton Bay Courier, the Illustrated Sydney News, the lay missionaries, Peter Niqué and William Hartenstein, the Reverend John Dunmore Lang, the pastoralists Thomas Archer and Tom Petrie and the Supreme Court Judge, Sir Roger Therry, all wrote about Dundalli. Of course the interest of the press and the judge related to his criminal trials, but these diverse eye-witnesses do suggest that Dundalli was a person of some standing to the settlers as early as 1841.

The first point to note is that the stereotypical images of the ‘savage’ that emerge from the settler accounts of Dundalli are off-set by evidence of his co-operation and willing interaction with Europeans when the exchanges were favourable to him and his people. For example, two of the German missionaries based at Nundah met with Dundalli and Anbaybury ‘of the Bonya Tribe’ during one of their northern trips in August 1841 when they recorded Dundalli’s efforts to persuade them to establish a mission to the Dalla.6 Soon after this encounter Dundalli went to live with the Djindubari of Bribie Island. Despite their blood-thirsty reputation as far as the rest of the white community was concerned, Tom Petrie was one who sought to break down the Moreton Bay Courier’s relentless representation of these traditional owners as treacherous, vindictive and cruel; he related several stories of his friendship with the Bribie Islanders and Ningy Ningy to his daughter.7 Petrie was not the only contemporary European prepared to associate with Indigenous people who had been accused of being murderous savages.

In 1853 William Wilson for example agreed to a name exchange with Dundalli.8 Wilson was the lessee of the ketch Aurora and he had employed Dundalli for twelve months prior to his arrest in May 1854, a claim which is consistent with other reports that Bribie Islanders were frequently employed as crew on boats in the bay.9 In co-operating and working for Europeans, Dundalli does not appear to have assumed the cultural baggage of the British settlers, rather he sought to bring Europeans into the world of the traditional owners. Name-exchange was a cultural means of incorporating outsiders into traditional kinship networks. It was an honour bestowed on those whose friendship was valued but also an obligation that brought with it duties of reciprocity. J.D. Lang’s report on this practice at Moreton Bay in 1847 noted its implications of friendship but also insightfully pointed to its responsibilities.

The natives are in the habit of adopting any particular European with whom they are on good terms as their brother, and of exchanging names with him; and they conceive that they have not only peculiar claims upon the adopted brother, but that the latter is bound to take up the quarrels and to avenge the wrongs of his supposed relative, as if he were a real one. [10]

There are many examples of whites enjoying this privilege at Moreton Bay although they invariably failed its responsibilities.11 Despite this obligation Wilson appeared at Dundalli’s committal hearing to identify him and admitted that throughout the twelve months that they had worked together, ‘I have always understood from the blacks that prisoner is the Dundalli who was concerned in the murder of Mr Andrew Gregor and Mary Shannon.’ [12]

These glimpses of Dundalli and his interactions with Europeans hint at a more open character than the one-dimensional image of the militant white press, an interpretation which is further supported by Dundalli’s employment by the brick maker, Massie, at the time of his arrest in May 1854. [13]
From 1846 up to his execution on 5 January 1855, the Moreton Bay Courier promoted the opposite view of Dundalli. As Denis Cryle has already explored, the Courier in this period led the campaign to avenge the attack on Gregor’s station in October 1846.14 Andrew Gregor and his heavily pregnant female servant, Mrs Shannon were killed in the assault and the Courier’s excessive tone met with a warm response from the settlers. Dundalli was accused of involvement in the Gregor raid but he had come to prominence before this. Tom Archer recorded that ‘Dandalli’ and his accomplice Cambayo who had speared one of his shepherds
in 1842 were ‘of the Ningi-Ningy or Briby’s Island tribe, celebrated for their ferocity and daring.’15 Neither Lang nor Therry actually named Dundalli, but the circumstances they relate make clear their sense of intimidation. Lang related the story of the Indigenous attack on the lay missionary Hausmann in 1845 – another incident Dundalli was alleged to have been involved in; publishing two years after the event the clergyman added spice to the events by claiming that the group intended to roast and devour Hausmann. [16]
The supreme court judge, Sir Roger Therry, writing nine years after his final circuit court appearance in Brisbane, also created an awesome scene for his readers. Dundalli left such an impression that Therry takes up two pages of his reminiscences describing the trial and it is worth drawing on them at some length. Of Dundalli he wrote,

“He was the largest man I ever looked upon. In truth, he was a giant; and so formidable was his ferocious strength, that the sheriff was obliged to bring him from his cell in the gaol with his hands tied with ropes, and in that state he was placed in the dock. His very able counsel, Mr Faucitt [sic], remonstrated against his trial being proceeded with in this manacled condition. I yielded to the objection, and directed him to be released from the ropes that bound him. On the assurance, however, of the sheriff and the small force of six constables in attendance on the court that if he was loosed from his bands he would perpetrate an outbreak which their united strength could not restrain, the objection was withdrawn: an arrangement was made to guard against the apprehended outbreak, and the dreaded exercise of his gigantic strength, and the trial proceed. [17]

Each of these references suggest that the Europeans did not view Dundalli as a common criminal. The repeated telling of stories of his involvement in attacks on Europeans had developed until Dundalli’s standing in European eyes was of mythic proportions. In mid 1854, while Dundalli was being held in Brisbane Gaol awaiting trial, the Moreton Bay Courier reported that he had tried to break out and editorialised that he should be refused a trial and instead be dealt with by a ‘Special Commission’ immediately.18 Yet this status seems all out of proportion to the evidence, as Stephen and I both agree. There was clearly something else going on at Moreton Bay which is outside of the domains of the British criminal justice system.

Further evidence for this claim lies in the fact that Dundalli re-appears in the writings of the second generation of European accounts of the history of Moreton Bay. Archibald Meston whose family did not arrive in Australia until 1859, four years after Dundalli’s execution, Thomas Welsby who was born in Ipswich in 1858 and Constance Campbell Petrie born in the colony in 1872 all wrote about Dundalli long after his death and without first-hand knowledge.19 Of course these writers drew upon not only European oral history and written sources but, most importantly, Indigenous accounts. As Mark Cryle has already noted, one of the agendas of Constance Campbell Petrie’s book of her father’s reminiscences was to refute widespread beliefs about Aboriginal ‘treachery and barbarity’ by putting on record some of the provocations and assaults by settlers that had led to violent Aboriginal reprisals.20 Right at the start of her account Petrie explains why this evidence is omitted from the records of the criminal justice system.

My father knew the blacks well who told him this, and was satisfied they spoke truthfully. It may strike the reader why he did not make use of his information and bring punishment to the offender? Well, because in those days a blackfellow’s evidence counted as nothing, and no good would therefore be gained, but rather the opposite, as the bitterness would be increased, and the blacks get the worst of it. [21]

Even more remarkable is Thomas Welsby’s explicit defence of Dundalli’s reputation and praise of his leadership. Welsby’s sources were the Ngugi and Nunukul of Moreton and Stradbroke Islands, the traditional enemies of the Djindubari, which perhaps led him to over-compensate for their critical view of Dundalli. Welsby’s account reflects the romantic nationalism of the twentieth century:

He was like unto the Arabs of that wonderful personage, Lawrence. An escapade here, a murderous attack there; a robbery at another place … and a day or two afterwards he would be miles away, amid his own known haunts… [22]

The strongest evidence that Dundalli was seen as more than a criminal was the responses of the white and black community to his public execution. There had been four public executions outside the Brisbane Gaol in Queen Street in the previous five years but none had attracted the attention of Dundalli’s [23]. The white men, women and children of Brisbane gathered on Queen Street at the foot of the gallows. The town police were under arms, prepared for any attempt at escape and a detachment of native police under Lieutenant Irving was also on duty lest there be any attempt at rescue.

More importantly for our understanding of his status among the traditional owners of the region, the Undanbi and Turrbul gathered in the protection of the trees which then lined the hill opposite the gaol, now the site of the Central Railway Station, and let out a loud cry as his body fell [24]. Upon his arrest in May 1854 the Moreton Bay Courier had boasted of his capture on the grounds that he held ‘great influence’ among ‘his countrymen’ and it described him as both a ‘hero’ and a ‘leader’ of his people and this large gathering appears to confirm it [25]. Of the ten public executions held in Brisbane in the period 1839 to 1859, [26] this is the only case where the authorities explicitly acknowledged the strength of Indigenous opposition to a hanging to the point where they worried about a forced rescue. It was an anxiety shared by the town’s civilian population and which became part of the town’s folklore until the 1920s. [27]

Dundalli’s name lived on in the oral history of the Indigenous community of southeast Queensland even if, at the end of the twentieth century, it had become forgotten among most of the white community. By the 1990s, before any recent academic interest in Dundalli had been published, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Program established Dundalli House at Windsor as a shelter for homeless youth [28]. Constance Campbell Petrie also sought to commemorate his name. Her Clayfield home was on Old Sandgate Road, now Bonney Avenue, and she honoured this warrior by naming her home, Dundalli [29].

One hundred and fifty years later, piecing together the basis for his standing among the white and black communities is more difficult than acknowledging his contemporary reputation. Australian historiography on frontier conflict would be much simpler if the frontiers had been clear geographical divides. Unfortunately they were not and understanding Dundalli’s place in this cultural and physical conflict is also not clearcut. We know Dundalli had reached adulthood by 1841 so he had grown up in the Blackall Ranges, at the heart of the economic and ceremonial life of southeast Queensland, before the arrival of the Europeans. [30]

His adult life provides evidence of both resistance and hostility to European incursions and curiosity and desire to benefit from European contact. As early as 1841 he had sought to induce the missionaries to establish a mission on Dalla lands. At some point after this he moved to Bribie Island and the Djindubari then developed a reputation for fierceness in their dealings with the Europeans, [31] yet this hostility did not make them a closed society. They worked and traded with Europeans – fishing, collecting oysters and providing boat crews for Europeans in the bay. Their incorporation into the European economy was only ever partial however. Traditional ceremonies and great gatherings continued in the region throughout the 1840s and 1850s and were frequently reported in the Brisbane press. The traditional enmity between the Megantyn and the Ningy Ningy and Djindubari and between the Ngugi-Nunukul and Ningy Ningy and Djindubari was maintained. In other words the social and cultural life of the traditional owners was upheld well into the 1850s.

The military historian, John Connor, reminds us that ‘Traditional Aboriginal warfare must be understood in its own terms and not by definitions of ‘war’ imposed from other cultures.’32 Although Welsby’s description of Dundalli’s actions echoes the European sense of guerrilla warfare tactics there are problems with making the events at Moreton Bay between 1841 and 1854 fit into this mould. For example Gregor’s young farm boy, Ralph Barrow, was warned of the attack on the station several days before it happened. [33]

Indigenous women cautioned a field naturalist who spent several days collecting on Bribie Island in 1848 that if he remained any longer he would be attacked. [34]

The Megantyn Turrbal alerted the authorities that if Mickaloe, one of Dundalli’s alleged accomplices in the Gregor attack, was released from Brisbane Gaol, Mickaloe would lead his people in attacks on Europeans in the district to retaliate for his imprisonment.35 In other words these were not surprise attacks and nor were they intended to be. These events were clearly widely discussed, debated and planned among the Indigenous communities of the southeast. As Lang noted in his discussion of the Moreton Bay peoples, ‘their form of government is rather democratical than patriarchal or kingly.’ The violence too of the Indigenous response is also explained by Lang and worth emphasising:

Their internal polity, however, is far from being arbitrary, being very much regulated by certain traditionary laws and institutions, of which the obligation is imperative upon all, and the breach of which is uniformly punished with death. [36]

Dundalli’s authority appears to have derived from his ‘heroism and success in battle’ as the opening quote suggests, but these warrior skills were in the service of traditional law rather than the overt insurgency of the European tradition.

War and criminal justice systems are two distinct ways Europeans have invented to deal with conflict. Australians would be rightly upset if a Turkish scholar sixty years hence, without any access to European sources, declared the evidence of weaponry and Australian participation on the beaches at Anzac Cove were proof of murder and savagery by the Australians. Surely such a scholar would have to look at the evidence that there were New Zealanders, British and French participants too and realise that there was something much more at stake. Similarly we would be disturbed at a French interpretation of Waterloo that failed to analyse why there were Austrians on the battlefield not just British. But that is the problem with looking only at the legal records to explain the events at Gregor’s station in 1846.

We have to understand the traditional owners’ system of law and rules of dealing with conflict. We have to know who was there, where they were from and what their motives were before we can have any real understanding of this event. Among the twenty or so people named by the boy witness, Ralph Barrow, I have so far identified three sets of brothers and a fourth Djindubari young man who features again in many of the events for which the white community blamed Dundalli. More importantly, these three pairs of brothers came from two separate groups of traditional owners, from the Gubi Gubi of Wide Bay and the Dalla to the northeast. Although only one-third of the participants have so far been investigated, there are three identifiable groups represented in this one attack. Many years later Frederick Walker, commandant of the Native Police Force, added significantly to the information presented in the criminal justice records. In 1853, nearly seven years after the attack on Gregor’s station, he wrote a letter officially objecting to the ongoing prosecution of young men alleged to have been involved in the case. ‘He was a mere boy at the time’ he wrote of the convicted Mickie, ‘and … the murderer made every boy, woman and child carry away the property.’37 Walker’s comments hint at the communal meaning of this attack, its planning and co-ordination and the involvement of perhaps scores of traditional owners, not the mere twenty or so named at the coronial inquest by the ten year old boy, Ralph Barrow. Several other attacks investigated by the criminal justice system involved up to ten young men and again it is possible to show that these attacks were sometimes intertribal [38]. Only one other attack was on anything like the scale of the Gregor raid. Mrs Cash, whose hut in the Pine River district was robbed in1852, claimed that it was attacked by 200 people. [39]

The quest for the historian, then, is not to label and dismiss these events as ‘casual ferocity’,40 but to search for the Indigenous sources to explain their meaning. It is not as difficult a task as it might first appear. The Moreton Bay Courier acknowledged that Indigenous ‘payback’, the ritual punishment under traditional law which relatives were obligated to enforce, was the cause of many acts in this period.41 J.J. Knight added to our understanding of what at first appeared as unrelated violent attacks by Indigenous people when he pursued this theme in his 1898 history.42 In August 1851 the Moreton Bay Courier even reported on Dundalli’s challenge to the field naturalist, Frederick Strange, who had been collecting near Bribie Island, to fight him.43 Given the many calls for his capture Dundalli clearly believed that Strange was trying to ensnare him. Although the paper emphasized Dundalli’s audacity, hand to hand combat was a common means of resolving disputes among traditional owners [44]. Thanks to the Indigenous accounts preserved by Petrie and Welsby there are other episodes which may be added to the hostile accounts of the Courier and Knight to provide a fuller context to events of 1841-54 and later. This is a much bigger subject than can be covered in this reply and is part of an investigation which is still in progress [45]. It necessarily has to go beyond the disciplines of law and history and draw on anthropological evidence. It requires a sympathetic historical imagination tempered by the limits of our extant sources.

Who then was Dundalli? A battle chief whose authority was acknowledged only in times of war? Traditional law at Moreton Bay appears not to have made the distinction between criminal justice and war that European culture does. The weight of evidence suggests that Dundalli’s great success among widespread groups of traditional owners in southeast Queensland was his enforcement of traditional law and its obligations upon European and Indigenous violators alike. To continue to assert traditional law in the face of British insistence on the ascendancy of their own system of laws was an act of defiance which made him a greatly feared enemy of the white community.

Dundalli’s central and successful role in the promotion of the ancient ancestral law of southeast Queensland might well explain his disdain for the British court at Moreton Bay. His lack of respect certainly upset Justice Therry who interpreted his conduct as ‘the indications of marked inferiority of mind’.46 Yet Therry had little appreciation of the wider implications of his own court and its role not just in the legal homicide of Dundalli but also of juricide of an ancient system that Dundalli was obligated to uphold.

Delivered in the Banco court on 25th February 2005
by Dr Libby Connors [2]

* This article has been peer reviewed

† Dr Libby Connors is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Southern Queensland

1) See P. Niqué, ‘The Aborigines: Diary of Messrs Niqué and Hartenstein of the German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay,’ Colonial Observer, vol.1 no.4, 1841 (Oxley L., Brisb) where he refers to the King of Toorbal.
2) See Lang’s discussion of the traditional owners’ rejection of the claims of the brass plate worn by their elder, Moppy. John Dunmore Lang, Cooksland in North-Eastern Australia … with a disquisition on the origin, manners and customs of the Aborigines, (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans) 1847, p. 393.
3) Lang, Cooksland, p. 393.
4) Libby Connors, ‘The Theatre of Justice: Race Relations and Capital Punishment at Moreton Bay 1841-59’ in Rod Fisher (ed), Brisbane: The Aboriginal Presence 18241860, (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 1992) p.53.
5) He was convicted of the murders of Andrew Gregor and William Boller at the Supreme Court on Circuit to Brisbane on 21 November 1854. Supreme court, Criminal Jurisdiction, Judgment Book: Brisbane circuit court, 1854 4/5745-5753 (NSWA); . R v Dundalli(1) (2) & (3) in Supreme Court, Criminal Jurisdiction: Clerk of the Peace, Brisbane 1854, 9/6386 (NSWA);
6 P. Niqué, ‘The Aborigines: Diary of Messrs Niqué and Hartenstein of the German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay,’ Colonial Observer, vol.1 no.4, 1841 (Oxley L., Brisb)
7) Constance Campbell Petrie, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland, (Melbourne: Lloyd O’Neil, 1975) [facsimile of 1904] eg pp. 170-75
8) Wilson’s testimony 25 May 1854 in R v Dundalli in Supreme Court, Criminal Jurisdiction: Clerk of the Peace, Brisbane 1854, 9/6386 (NSWA).
9) MBC 3 May 1851; 21 October 1854.
10) Lang, Cooksland, pp. 398-99.
11 Lang describes two such ‘brother’ exchanges at Moreton Bay and another well known
one was the relationship between John Campbell and Multuggerah of the Jagara. Ibid; John Campbell, The early settlement of Queensland, (Ipswich: Ipswich Observer, 1875), 9-10.
12 R v Dundalli(1) in Supreme Court, Criminal Jurisdiction: Clerk of the Peace, Brisbane 1854, 9/6386 (NSWA)
13 Thomas Welsby, Collected Works, Vol.2, (Brisbane: Jacaranda, 1967) pp. 383-84; Petrie, Reminiscences, p. 175
14 Denis Cryle, ‘Snakes in the Grass’ in Brisbane: The Aboriginal Presence, (Brisbane, 1992) pp. 69-79.
15 Thomas Archer, Recollections of a Rambling Life, (Brisbane: Boolarong, 1988) [facsimile reprint of 1897], p. 77.
16 Lang, Cooksland, p. 430 fn.
17 The Moreton Bay Courier spelt the name of Dundalli’s defence counsel as Faucett. MBC, 25 November 1854. R. Therry, Reminiscences of Thirty Years Residence in New South Wales and Victoria, (London: Sampson, Low, Son & Co., 1863) pp. 287-88.
18 MBC 10 June 1854.
19 Meston published an article in the Daily Mail, 21 January 1924; Thomas Welsby wrote about Dundalli at length in his Collected Works, Vol.2, esp. pp. 374-76, 383-84; Petrie, Reminiscences esp. pp. 175-77.
20 Mark Cryle, ‘Introduction’ in Petrie, Reminiscences, p. xxii.
21 Petrie, Reminiscences, pp. 6-7.
22 Welsby, Collected Works, p. 383.
23 Supreme court, Criminal Jurisdiction, Judgment Book: Brisbane circuit court, 18501854 4/5745-5753 (NSWA)
24 Petrie, Reminiscences, pp. 175-76; J.J. Knight, In the Early Days, (Brisbane: Sapsford, 1898) pp.336-37; MBC 6 January 1855, 13 January 1855.
25 MBC 27 May 1854.
26 Six Indigenous men, three Europeans and one Chinese were sentenced to hang in this twenty year period. See Connors, “Theatre of Justice’; E.L.A. Connors, The Birth of the Prison and the Death of Convictism, (PhD thesis, Univ Q, 1990)
27 See the account in the Brisbane Courier, 18 January 1919; note also Daily Mail, 21 January 1924.
28 It is not clear when the house was first set up but it was established and running when discussed in a news report in 1993. See Green Left Weekly, Issue 107, 21 July 1993.
29 Cryle in Petrie, Reminiscences, p. xxxix.
30 Niqué, Diary; MBC, 27 May 1854; J.G. Steele, Aboriginal Pathways in Southeast Queensland and the Richmond River, (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1984), 206-14.
31 John Dunmore Lang cites at length Uniacke’s positive and sympathetic 1823 Observations which are in stark contrast to the field naturalist’s report in MBC 17 June 1848; Lang, Cooksland, p. 408-415.
32 John Connor, Australian Frontier Wars, 1788-1838 (Sydney: University of NSW Press, 2002) p.2.
33 Inquest papers included in the depositions of R v Mickie, in Supreme Court, Criminal Jurisdiction, Clerk of the Peace, Brisbane Circuit Court, 1853, 9/6378, NSWA.
34 MBC 17 June 1848.
35 MBC 10 January 1852.
36 Lang, Cooksland, pp. 393-94
37 Cited in L.E. Skinner, Police of the Pastoral Frontier, (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1975), p. 111.
38 See for example the attack on Hausmann as reported in MBC 3 June 1854 and the description of the attack on Smith, Boller and Waller in R v Moggy Moggy, in Supreme Court, Criminal Jurisdiction, Clerk of the Peace, Brisbane 1851, 9/6366 (NSWA).
39 R v Stinkabed alias Johnny, in Supreme Court, Criminal Jurisdiction, Clerk of the Peace, Brisbane 1853, 9/6378 (NSWA).
40 See Inga Clendinnen’s discussion of the problems with using colonial documents in Inga Clendinnen, ‘Spearing the Governor’, Australian Historical Studies 33, no. 118 (2002) p. 174.
41 MBC 17 January 1852 & 7 February 1852.
42 Eg J.J. Knight, In the Early Days, (Brisbane: Sapsford, 1898) p. 315.
43 MBC 2 August 1851.
44 See for example ‘Account of a Fight witnessed by Thomas Pamphlet’ in Lang, Cooksland, pp. 410-11.
45 Libby Connors, ‘Traditional law and Indigenous Resistance at Moreton Bay 18421855’, paper to be presented at the Australian and New Zealand Law and History Society conference, Auckland, 2005, forthcoming.
46 Therry, Reminiscences, p. 288.

One thought on “Indigenous resistance and traditional leadership: Understanding and Interpreting Dundalli

  1. “Traditional law at Moreton Bay appears not to have made the distinction between criminal justice and war that European culture does.”

    I disagree with Libby’s perspective. She has assessed Dundalli by way of her own personal frameworks of religious pacifism and misconstrued guerrilla war as simply a defiant faithfulness to tradition.

    I challenge Libby’s perspective on three grounds –

    1/ There was/is literally a world of difference between how customary law deals with criminal justice matters amongst families practicing customary law and how it deals with foreign invasion. Libby’s suggestion that Dundalee killed white people in accord with customary payback is based on a very wrong understanding of what payback is. Payback is not revenge where the victims family inflicts punishment on the perpetrator’s family, where the victim pays back the perpetrator – that is the white mode of guilt and punishment. Payback is where the perpetrator’s family pays back to the victim’s family what they have lost – reconcilliation, peace and the final end of the matter for ever. The suggestion that Dundalee’s guerrilla raids and killings were a device of reconciliation and peace is not tenable .

    2/ Dundalee grew up in a war zone. His guerilla raids were not first responses to white invasion but developed over a lifetime in war.

    The guerilla war began in 1825 when the first British colony in Queensland, in Redcliffe, was driven out by guerrilla attack. At about the same time, colonies and resistance were occurring in Northern New South Wales where refugees from that war moved north along Bunya songlines (into which they were deeply connected) to join the resistance/survival in the Moreton Bay region. This, and the arrival of the native police, is the historical context of Dundalee. By the time he was a man there had already been smallpox, the native police, mass “dispersals”, town fringe camps, and a great number of the country’s sites and ceremonies disrupted or destroyed. When Brisbane was declared a “free” colony in 1838 the colonial onslaught accelerated and widened. This is the Dundalee’s war, not some first contact attempt to teach the white man a moral lesson as Libby’s analysis implies.

    3/ The ten year Kalkadoon resistance leading up to the battle of Battle Mountain in 1884 has been used as a basis for modern guerilla warfare theory, by socialists revolutionaries and S.A.S. units alike. They are taught about it in Duntroon and the army named a helicopter “Kalkadoon” of which the Kalkadoons today are very proud as it acknowledges their war history. The Kalkadoon war is one of the defining histories of the modern mode of guerilla war. Why would Dundalee have had such a different understanding of his own violence to the Kalkadoons? He wouldn’t!

    I’ll admit this next bit is speculative but I think it is highly likely that Dundalee learnt of Guerrilla war from the battles further south and developed them in his own context. This new knowledge of a new kind of war spread North and West with the white frontier, adapting and evolving along the way with different terrains and increasing intelligence of white weapon systems and tactics, eventually leading to the Kalkadoons’ refinement of the strategy. The police/military had to bring in support from all around Australia to defeat the Kalkadoon, for ten years they could not do it. In the end they were massacred and the guerrilla war ended in the North West, opening up the sheep industry. The battles continued in Cape York for much longer though, it was just starting to heat up when the Kalkadoons were crushed.

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