Dh'a'kiyarr WirrpandaPrint Page Print this page


Photographs supplied by Stephen Warren

The nine Larrakitj poles were erected in memory of Dh'a'kiyarr who was brought to trial for the spearing of Constable Albert McColl. 

It recalls the criminal case leading up to the trial of Dh'a'kiyarr and his conviction in 1934. The case highlights "tribal" law and customary law and the conviction which was overturned on appeal.

Dh'a'kiyarr Wirrpanda was a man who, in the mid Thirties, briefly became well-known throughout Australia, and even internationally. A Yolngu tribal leader from the Northern Territory, his tribe was located in east Arnhem Land. In 1931, many parts of Arnhem Land were announced Aboriginal Reserve, and any white people had to get a permit to work on, live or visit the land. During 1932, five trepangers from Japan were killed after trespassing on Aboriginal Reserve land at Caledon Bay in Arnhem Land. This angered the Japanese government, and they complained to the Australian government, which prompted them to send a search party to find suspects. Among this party was Constable Albert McColl, who was investigating for clues on Dhakiyarr's land.

Although Constable McColl's party was searching for clues at Caledon Bay, they encountered Dh'a'kiyarr's family about 60 kilometres south of that area. When Dh'a'kiyarrarrived back at his home, he found Constable McColl and his search party had trespassed on his land and had tied up his wife, believing her to be a suspect. Naturally, Dhakiyarr did not take well to this and speared Constable McColl, killing him.

The trial to convict Dh'a'kiyarr of murder was somewhat controversial, because there were no eyewitnesses to the murder, except for Dh'a'kiyarr's wife, but there was a lot of confusion over whether she could testify against her husband, because at the time white women were not allowed to testify against their husbands.

Eventually, Dh'a'kiyarr was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging withing 28 days.This sentence was strongly protested by many people, especially in the Northern Territory, and after a letter to the Governor-General, Dh'a'kiyarr's execution sentence was postponed. After a 10-day appeal, in which Dhakiyarr's defence party protested 24 different grounds, the death sentence was reversed. This would not have been possible without the huge amounts of support for Dh'a'kiyarr and the strength of character shown by both Dh'a'kiyarr and his defence party. Dh'a'kiyarr was moved from Fannie Bay jail, where he was being kept, to an Aboriginal compund in Darwin. The same night as he was moved he vanished completely and utterly, leaving no trace. No evidence of his disappearance has been found, nor his body.



Address:9 Smith Street, Foyer, Supreme Court, Darwin, 0800
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -12.466801
Long: 130.844011
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Art
Monument Theme:People


Front Inscription

       In Memory

On 1st August 1933 at Woodah Island in Blue Mud Bay, Arnhem Land, a police party from Darwin, investigating the killing by Yolnju of Japanese fishermen eighty kilometres north, restrained a group of Yolnju women.

The husband of one of the women, Dh'a'kiyarr Wirrpanda, speared the policeman restraining her. He died. His name was Constable Albert Stewart McColl.

Dh'a'kiyarr came to Darwin voluntarily and was convicted of murder. His lawyer had refused to argue that Dh'a'kiyarr had been defending his wife. On 7th August 1934 Judge Wells sentenced Dh'a'kiyarr to hang.

On the 8th November 1934 the High Court of Australia overturned that conviction and sentence, and ordered the release of Dh'a'kiyarr from Fannie Bay Gaol in Darwin. Tuckiar v. the King (1934) 52 CLR 335. The Minister of the Interior directed the Administrator of the Northern Territory to ensure that Dh'a'kiyarr was safely returned to his country. 

He was never seen again after his release.


Back Inscription

At this site on 28th June 2003 a Wukidi ceremony was conducted by the family of Dh'a'kiyarr to guide his spirit`s return to his ancestral land and to heal the wounds caused by this tragedy.

The memorial poles were prepared by :
Dhukal Wirrpanda - Dhugi-Djapu clan
Wuyal Wirrpanda - Dhugi-Djapu clan
Gawirrin Gumana AO - Dhalwarju clan
Djambawa Marawili - Madarrpa clan
Miniyawany Yunupirju - Gumatj clan
Menja Munungurr - Djapa clan
Wanyubi Marika - Rirratjinu clan
Wukun Wanambi - Marrakulu clan.

This ceremony was attended by the Administrator of the Northern Territory, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory and the Chief Justice of Australia.

It coincided with the celebrations of the twenty five anniversary of self-government in the Northern Territory and was assisted by the Australia Council of the Arts and the Northern Territory Government.


Source: MA, ADB
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au