Jandamarra: A Legend of the Bunuba people

Tunnel Creek Entrance

Tunnel Creek Entrance

Inside Tunnel Creek

Inside Tunnel Creek

Windana Gorge

Windjana Gorge

Jandamarra Location Map

Location Map

Source: Wikipedia

Bunuba Country and Jandamarra

The Bunuba land is in the southern part of the Kimberley region in the far north of the state of Western Australia, and stretches from the town of Fitzroy Crossing to the King Leopold Ranges. Bunuba lands include the Napier and Oscar Ranges.

During the 1890s, Jandamarra was a bounty hunter, a skilled horseman and marksman. During a patrol of the Napier Ranges in the West Kimberley, Jandamarra helped to capture a large group of his people, men and women. They were held at Lillimilura Police Post. Belatedly, Jandamarra's tribal loyalties came to the fore. He gunned down a policeman named Richardson, stole a number of guns and set the prisoners free.

The Bunuba War

On 10 November 1894, Jandamarra and some followers attacked five white men who were driving cattle to set up a large station in the heart of Bunuba land. Two of these men, Burke and Gibbs, were killed. This was possibly the first time that guns were used against European settlers in an organised fashion and began what became known as "The Bunuba War". There was outrage in Derby and Broome when news of Jandamarra's action became known. In late 1894 a posse of 30 or so heavily armed police and settlers attacked Jandamarra and his followers in Windjana Gorge. Jandamarra was wounded but escaped. Police attacked Aboriginal camps around Fitzroy Crossing. Many Aboriginal people were killed, some purely on suspicion that they had ties to Jandamarra's band. At the time, this was regarded as a normal police action.

For three years, Jandamarra led a guerrilla war against police and European settlers in defence of his lands and his people. His hit and run tactics and his vanishing tricks became almost mythical. In one famous incident a police patrol followed him to his hideout at the entrance to Tunnel Creek in the Napier Range, but Jandamarra disappeared mysteriously. It was many years later that it was discovered that Tunnel Creek has a collapsed section that allows entry and egress from the top of the Range.

Jandamarra was held in awe by other Aboriginal people who believed he was immortal, his body simply a physical manifestation of a spirit that resided in a water soak near Tunnel Creek. It was believed that only an Aborigine with similar mystical powers could kill him. Police chasing Jandamarra were also in awe at his ability to cross the rugged ranges with no effect on his bare feet, despite their boots being cut to shreds by the sharp rocks.

Jandamarra's war was relatively short-lived and ended when police recruited Micki, a remarkable Aboriginal tracker. Micki was also reputed to possess magical powers, and was neither a Bunuba tribesman, nor did he fear Jandamarra. Micki tracked Jandamarra down and shot him to death at Tunnel Creek on 1 April 1897. The white troopers cut off Jandamarra's head as proof that he was dead and it was sent to England as a trophy. His body was buried by his family at the Napier Range where it was placed inside a boab tree.


Jandamarra's life has been the subject of two novels, Ion Idriess's Outlaws of the Leopold (1952) and Mudrooroo's Long Live Sandawarra (1972). Mudrooroo's novel, in counterpart to Idreiss's, was written for an Indigenous audience to bring to their attention a hero of their own and cuts between the story of Jandamarra (called Sandawarra) and the contemporary story of young urbanised Sandy and his friends who are inspired by Jandamarra.

More recently the story of Jandamarra was the subject of the Western Australian Premier's Book Award-winning history, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance. A stage play (Jandamarra) was produced by the Black Swan Theatre Company in 2008. A one hour ABC documentary about his life has now been completed..


Pedersen, Howard; Woorunmurra, Banjo (1995). Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance. Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books. ISBN 1875641602.
Shoemaker, Adam (1989). Black Words White Page: Aboriginal literature 1929-1988. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 070222149X.
Taylor, Rebe (26 September 2004). "Jandamarra". Rewind (transcript). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2008-10-23.

Jandamarra Bunaba Films