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Frontier War Stories – Paddy Gibson – Preventing the Punitive Expedition Planned in Arnhem Land in 1933

Frontier War Stories - Paddy Gibson - Preventing the Punitive Expedition Planned in Arnhem Land in 1933

In this episode of Frontier War Stories Boe from Murri Radio yarns with Paddy Gibson activist and Senior Researcher, from Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney.

The Caledon Bay crisis, refers to a series of killings at Caledon Bay in the Northern Territory of Australia during 1932–34, referred to in the press of the day as Caledon Bay murder(s). Five Japanese trepang fishers were killed by Aboriginal Australians of the Yolngu people. A police officer investigating the deaths, Albert McColl, was subsequently killed. Shortly afterwards, two white men went missing on Woodah Island (with one body found later). With some of the white community alarmed by these events, a punitive expedition was proposed by Northern Territory Police to “teach the blacks a lesson”.

However, it was feared that a punitive expedition would lead to an event similar to the 1928 Coniston massacre (when a number of innocent Aboriginal people were killed by a white patrol group after a murder). A party from the Church Missionary Society travelled to Arnhem Land and persuaded Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda and three other men, sons of a Yolngu elder, Wonggu, to return to Darwin with them for trial. In Darwin in April 1934, Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of McColl. The three other men were sentenced to 20 years’ hard labour. After a seven months’ investigation, the Federal Government freed the three men imprisoned for the killings. On appeal to the High Court of Australia, in a case known as Tuckiar v The King, Dhakiyarr’s sentence was quashed in November 1934, and he was released from jail, but disappeared on his way home.

Now, both the NT Administration and the Department of the Interior in Canberra began to prepare a “punitive expedition” that would ride into Arnhem Land and “teach the natives a lesson”.

Dhakiyarr’s act of resistance inspired an unprecedented movement of support for Aboriginal rights across broad sections of Australian society.

Boe Spearim (98.9 FM) and Paddy Gibson (Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney).

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