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Australia: Aboriginal War Heroes You Didn’t Learn About In School



Pemulwuy was one of the earliest recorded resistance fighters of the Frontier Wars. A Bidgigal man of the Darug nation he reportedly had a clubbed foot, suggesting he may have been a Carradhy (clever man). In Port Jackson in 1790 he speared John McIntyre, the gamekeeper of Governor Phillip, who later died of his injuries. The Governor then called for an expedition in retaliation however it failed to find any Aboriginal people.

From 1792, Pemulwuy lead continued attacks on farming settlements: burning huts and stealing crops. The largest conflict was the ‘Battle of Parramatta’ where Pemulwuy lead approximately 100 warriors in an attack on the government farm at Toongabbie before marching towards Parramatta. Pemulwuy was shot seven times and at least five Aboriginal men were killed. Though Pemulwuy was kept in detention at the hospital, he escaped – increasing his already impressive reputation.

Despite recognising Pemulwuy as “a brave and independent character”, Governor King offered a reward for his death or capture and issued a government order than any Aboriginal people seen near Parramatta should be shot on site. Pemulwuy was shot dead in 1802, and his head was removed and sent to Sir Joseph Banks in England for his collection, however its current whereabouts are unknown.


Musquito was born on the northern shore of Port Jackson and by 1805 had begun raiding settlements in the Hawkesbury region. A warrant was then issued for his arrest and he was captured and gaoled in Parramatta. He was later exiled to Norfolk Island where he remained for eight years before being sent to Launceston, Tasmania.

By 1817 he was working as a tracker, hunting down bushrangers including Michael Howe; however he eventually became known as a bushranger himself. After Indigenous people were increasingly pushed out of the main settlements he retreated to the bush and formed a gang. The group of 20-30 conducted raids on farms, killing several stockkeepers on the East Coast between 1823 and 1824. Musquito was wounded and captured in 1824 and later charged with aiding and abetting the murder of a stockkeeper. He was hanged with another Aboriginal man, Black Jack, at Old Hobart Gaol in 1825.


Windradyne, a Wiradjuri warrior, was a key resistance figure in the Bathurst War in 1824. When Governor Brisbane came to power the pace of settlement greatly increased west of the Blue Mountains, placing competition on traditional food sources. Windradyne began leading attacks on small farming outposts using guerrilla warfare techniques. In December 1823 he was blamed for the death of two stockmen. Soldiers were dispatched to capture him and it reportedly took six men to subdue him.

After he was released, the hostilities continued to escalate with Aboriginal women and children being killed and seven stockmen attacked in the Wyagdon Ranges. The town of Bathurst was finally placed under martial law in 1924 and a reward issued for Windradyne’s capture. However he avoided arrest and was later pardoned by the Governor when he appeared at the annual feast in Parramatta.


Born around 1795 Yagan was the son of Midgigoroo, an influential Noongar elder in the area south of Perth. After a young boy was shot near the homestead owned by Archibald Butler, the Noongar man retaliated by spearing one of his servants, labourer William Gaze. Yagan was captured and sentenced for Gaze’s murder in 1832, spending six weeks detained on Carnac Island before escaping. Despite having no knowledge of boats, Yagan and two others managed to steal one and steer it the 13km back to shore.

After his return he eluded capture for another year and became a well-known figure in the Perth colony. Robert Lyon, a minister who studied the local Indigenous people and pleaded to save Yagan from the death penalty, described him as “the Wallace of the age” in the Perth Gazette. Yagan was killed in an ambush by brothers William and James Keates in 1833 and his head was taken to England where it was kept in the Liverpool Museum. His remains were finally repatriated and buried in 1997. A new development in Perth is being named Yagan Square to honour him.


A Bunuba man, Jandamarra was born about 1870 in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. As a youth he spent time living on a remote station and became a good horseman but he later returned and became an initiated man of the Bunuba people. Though he was captured for killing sheep the charges were later dropped when he agreed to care for the horses at the police station. He later became a stockman and joined the police as a tracker, charged with capturing his own people who had been spearing stock.

He was given an ultimatum by the Bunuba and so he subsequently shot his police partner Constable Richardson while he slept and freed the detained Aboriginal people at the station. For the next three years Jandamarra lead his people in resistance to the settlers. Fifty painted warriors fought against the settlers in the ‘Battle of Windjina Gorge’, which left Jandamarra with severe wounds. He later raided his former police station twice before being shot dead by another Aboriginal tracker in 1987.


By: Karina Marlow


Australia’s Evil Secrets

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