Jandamarra’s War

Jandamarra’s War was on ABC tonight. It’s based on the book Jandamarra and the Bunuba resistance (Howard Pedersen and Banjo Woorunmurra, Magabala Books).

In the jagged red and grey country of the Bunuba, a boy is enticed by new technology and new ways of behaving and relating to others, which gradually estrange him from his people. He becomes friendly with a white police aide, and travels with him. But this leads him into being complicit in the mistreatment of Bunuba people. The pressure on Jandamarra grows and grows, forcing him eventually to the choice – acquiesce to the torture of his family, or commit the ultimate frontier betrayal – murdering a mate.

In the world of G A Henty and H Rider Haggard, he’d be the typical treacherous savage. But that world with its counterpoint of chivalrous Englishmen is turned upside down by the savagery of the settlers. They took Jandamarra’s wife hostage, murdered his mother and at least 30 other Bunuba (official count, unofficially many more). The despair Jandamarra must have felt when he saw that relentless brutality, and his doomed resolve to keep on fighting, is well imagined in excellent low-key commentary – some in Bunuba – by Dillon Andrews, June Oscar and others. And then, when the settlers had killed him with the help of an Aboriginal man from another country, they cut Jandamarra’s head off and sent it to London for the collection of a gun manufacturer. Savages?

4 thoughts on “Jandamarra’s War”

  1. Jack Bohemia and Bill McGregor recorded the story of Jandamarra in Chapter 1 of Nyibayarri, Kimberley tracker published in 1995 by Aboriginal Studies Press. The story is rather more complex and subtle in their account.

  2. I can’t tell whether Peter’s comparandum is the TV broadcast, or the book. Movie versions of books typically cut various corners, this movie wasn’t entirely lacking in subtlety I thought.
    Anyway, as it happens, another publication on the story has just been announced, (Sand and Stone – PIGEON by Kevin Moran, with a Foreword by Peter Conole (author of Protect & serve : a history of policing in Western Australia). I haven’t seen this book, and mention it to support Peter’s point that the story lives on in various tellings and perspectives.

  3. One version (can’t remember which, sorry) highlights the interplay between Jandamarra and the tracker and their skills as doctormen. Not only are they fighting with new technology; they’re using all their skills as mabarn men and spirit-world communicators.

  4. There’s a hint of the clever man combat in the film, more in the book (power in the hands and thumbs), and also the incorporation of a white man into this mabarn world.

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