Djaru people

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The Djaru people are an indigenous Australian people of the southern Kimberley region of Western Australia.


Djaru is a member of the Ngumbin language family, and is related to Walmajarri.


The Djaru people ranged along Margaret River as far as the Mary River Junction. Their land took in the headwaters of Christmas Creek, ran eastward to Cummins Range, Sturt Creek Station[a] up to the border with the Northern Territory. Its northern boundary lay in the vicinity of the Nicholson Station homestead, and the headwaters of the Ord River above the Dixon Range, and including the areas east of Alice Downs as far as Hall's Creek and the Margaret River gorge. In Norman Tindale's estimation the total land range encompassed something like 13,000 square miles (34,000 km2).[2] The area is now known as the Kutjungka Region.[3]


The Djaru, like the Gija, much admired the composite spears, fitted with barbed pegs, of their southern neighbours, fashioned from mulga hardwood and witjuti bush shrubs and to obtain them would exchange them for stone knives and pressure-flaked spear blades (tjimbala), and pearl shells[4] which filtered down from the coast where they had been collected by the distant Jawi.[5]

History of contact

Massacres of aborigines in the Kimberleys were commonplace as the land was cleared for settlement and pastoral stations. An early massacre at Hangman's Creek, otherwise undocumented in colonial archives, remains undated, but is associated with the name of Sergeant Richard Henry Pilmer.[b][c]

Djaru had been responsible for killing in separate incidents 4 outsiders: a stockman, a surveyor, a miner, and a Chinaman, at Ruby Plains Station. Native tradition holds that Pilmer rode out in a buggy and rounded up a mob of Djaru to get them to dig a 'well'. Once this work was completed he then strung them all up on a walarri[d] gum tree and buried them in the well. The place thereby earned the name of Hangman's Creek.[9] The primary victims of this particular slaughter were, according to Norman Tindale, the Margaret River Djaru.[2]

In September 1922, two settlers, Joseph Condren and Tim O'Sullivan, were murdered at Billiluna homestead. According one account, a Guluwaring man Goose Hill near Kununurra,[10] known as Banjo,[e] seized a gun and shot first Sullivan, and then Condren, while the latter two were branding cattle with the assistance of several natives. The reason given for the murder was Banjo acted to revenge himself on Sullivan who had taken away his wife, Topsy. The other blacks, who tried to intervene, were held at bay by Banjo who threatened them with the rifle.[12]

According to indigenous traditions, the first massacre which ensued in retaliation for these killings took place at Kaningarra between wells 48 and 49 on the Canning Stock Route. The incident is undocumented, and relies on the testimony of the three sons of Riwarri, the only adult survivor.[f] In this account a police punitive expedition came across an encampment where aboriginals were cooking camel meat, and keep shooting into it until they ran short of ammunition. Those who survived were led off tethered by neck-chains to a site called the 'Goat Yard' at Denison Downs.[14] A police party led by Constable J.J. Cooney, engaged ostensibly in a search for the culprit, was in this Walmajarri area from 12 and October 31 at the time of the reported slaughter.[15]

The second incident, soon after, took place at the former Denison Downs homestead on the Sturt Creek Station, in a site referred to as Chuall Pool where many Djaru, together with Walmajarri, were murdered. The victims were the survivors of the Kaningarra massacre. A recent archaeological study of two sites, identified by the tribal custodians, as the goat yard and the women and children's site, turned up ample evidence of calcinated bone fragments that were the residue of exposure to prolonged extreme heat, created by a fire accelerant like kerosene wholly atypical of hunter-gatherer hearths.[16] On the other hand, the 'well-digging' story, it was inferred, cannot have been accurate, since the indicated well had been constructed before that time. Otherwise, the archaeological study confirmed the likelihood that police had massacred an unknown number of aboriginals at this second site.[17]

Alternative names

  • Djaro.
  • Jarroo, Jarrou, Jarrau,
  • Charrau.
  • Jaruo.
  • Djara (? misprint)
  • Deharu.
  • Jaruru
  • Njining,[g] Njinin, Nyinin, Nining, Neening.(language name)
  • Ka:biri.(Margaret River group)
  • Karbery.
  • Kodjangana (northern Djaru)
  • Ruby Creek tribe.[19]

Some words

  • jaji (kangaroo).[20]


  1. ^ 'The Sturt Creek valley in the region of Sturt Creek Station is known locally as 'mix-up' country, that is, country that is accessed by members of adjacent language groups usually because of the need to share resources and the sacred/significant sites along Sturt Creek.'[1]
  2. ^ Pilmer's tour of duty at the Fitzroy Crossing Police Station lasted from 1894 to 1902, during which he massacred people on Bunuba lands. There is some doubt whether the Hangman's Creek massacre recounted here could have occurred at that time. He was however charged with patrolling the Roebourne district, with a huge extension from Port Hedland to the Northwest Cape over to the South Australian border from 1905 onwards, which, Tomlinson argues, would have made his name familiar to the aboriginal people of the East Kimberley area.[6]
  3. ^ In his memoirs, Pilmer was to write that he was outraged on encountering the practice of white men flogging aboriginals, but later took on the practice as part of his duties, receiving 10 shillings per flogging[7]
  4. ^ Perhaps either Corymbia bella or Corymbia grandifolia.[8]
  5. ^ Banjo was a trusted stockman and had been wounded by a spear thrown by other blacks in 1917-1918. In retribution, according to another station hand, Grant Ngabidj, 7 whites, including four policemen from Hall's Creek, came across a mob of aborigines and 'They did not tie them up or take them to the jail house; they murdered the whole lot of them, shot them all: Balgo mob, Sturt Creek mob and Billiluna mob; women, piccaninnies, dogs, old people, young people, middle-sized people - finished them.[11]
  6. ^ Milner Sturt, Boxer Milner and Speiler Sturt.[13]
  7. ^ Smith treats the Nyining as a separate tribe[18] following a distinction made by Ronald Berndt. Tindale dismissed this distinction as incorrect, writing that 'the name Njining applies to all Djaru people and seems to be a true alternative name. It is more in use at Flora valley than it is farther west.'[2]


  1. ^ Smith 2016, p. 4.
  2. ^ a b c Tindale 1974, p. 240.
  3. ^ Smith 2016, p. 1.
  4. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 82–83.
  5. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 82–84.
  6. ^ Tomlinson 2008, p. 81, n.18.
  7. ^ Olive 2007, p. 88.
  8. ^ Meakins & Nordlinger 2014, p. 462.
  9. ^ Tomlinson 2008, pp. 81–82.
  10. ^ Smith 2016, p. 122, n.16.
  11. ^ Smith 2016, p. 50.
  12. ^ Smith 2016, p. 51.
  13. ^ Smith 2016, p. 2.
  14. ^ Smith 2016, p. iv.
  15. ^ Smith 2016, p. vii,pp-52-54,122.
  16. ^ Smith 2016, p. 124.
  17. ^ Smith 2016, p. 126.
  18. ^ Smith 2016, p. ii.
  19. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 240–241.
  20. ^ Tomlinson 2008, p. 80, n.10.


  • "AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia". AIATSIS.
  • Harrison, Rodney (2009). "Materiality, 'Ambiguity' and the Unfamiliar in the Archaeology of Inter-Societal Confrontations: A Case Study from Northwest Australia" (PDF). In Cornell, Per; Fahlander, Fredrik. Encounters/Materialities/Confrontations: Archaeologies of Social Space and Interaction. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 42–57. ISBN 978-1-443-80410-3.
  • Meakins, Felicity; Nordlinger, Rachel (2014). A Grammar of Bilinarra: An Australian Aboriginal Language of the Northern Territory. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-1-614-51274-5.
  • Olive, Noel (2007). Enough is Enough: A History of the Pilbara Mob. Fremantle Press. ISBN 978-1-921-06445-6.
  • Smith, Pamela A. (February 2016). Purrkuji: Massacre on Sturt Creekj Report onf the History, Archaeological Survey and Forensic Investigation (PDF). Department of Archaeology, Flinders University.
  • "Tindale Tribal Boundaries" (PDF). Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Western Australia. September 2016.
  • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Djaru (WA)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-0-708-10741-6.
  • Tomlinson, Derrick (2008). Too white to be regarded as Aborigines: An historical analysis of policies for the protection of Aborigines and the assimilation of Aborigines of mixed descent, and the role of Chief Protectors of Aborigines in the formulation and implementation of those policies, in Western Australia from 1898 to 1940. University of Notre Dame PhD.
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