Matthias Ulungura Print Page Print this page

The bronze life size statue was unveiled in 2016 to commemorate indigenous Australian, Matthias Ulunguru, the first Australian to take a Japanese prisoner of war on Australian soil during World War Two. 

The government of the Northern Territory had previously unveiled a memorial to Ulungura in 1985. The dedication for the memorial, which took the form of a cairn, was attended by Chief Minister Ian Tuxworth and Opposition Leader Bob Collins. 

Matthias Ulungura (1921–1980)  was an Indigenous Australian from the Tiwi Islands, who in 1942 became the first Australian to take a Japanese prisoner of war on Australian soil. The statue points towards the place where he captured the prisoner and to his hunting camp.

Ulungura was a member of the Tiwi people, who in 1942 was living on Melville Island. On 19 February, a damaged Japanese fighter returning from an attack on an aerodrome on nearby Bathurst Island crashed near Snake Bay on Melville Island. The Japanese pilot, Hajime Toyoshima, survived the crash, but Ulungura crept up behind him, surprising him with a tomahawk, and took him prisoner.In Ulungura's words:

  "I walked after him and grabbed his wrist near gun. He got proper big fright. I take revolver from his right side near his knee. Then I walk backwards pointing gun, I say "Stick 'em up, two hands, no more holding hands on head."
— Matthias Ulungura

Ulungura took his prisoner to the RAAF guards stationed at the Bathurst Island aerodrome, where he was transferred into their custody. Toyoshima initially used the alias of Tadao Minami and claimed he had been washed ashore in an attempt to prevent his captors from locating his downed aeroplane, but after questioning police saw through his story and located the wreckage. The wreckage was transferred to Darwin, and Toyoshima was taken to a prisoner of war camp, where he died in 1944 during the Cowra breakout. 

Although Ulungura could not be enlisted because of his race (Australian military policy at the time forbade Indigenous Australians from enlisting), Corporal Moore, one of the two guards permanently stationed on Bathurst Island, took Ulungura on as his personal bodyguard and assistant.

Despite Ulungura's role as the first Australian to take a Japanese prisoner of war in Australia, he remains relatively unknown. Indigenous leader Mick Dodson has remarked that "the fact that an Aboriginal man took the first Japanese prisoner of war on Australian soil was hardly known in Australia."


Address:Kerinauia Highway, Wurrumiyanga, Bathurst Island, 0822
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -11.755255
Long: 130.640487
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Statue
Monument Theme:People
Artist:Paul Smits


Actual Monument Dedication Date:Thursday 23rd June, 2016
Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au
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