The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

Interlude Pursued – Part 1

Originally Published 12 August 2014:


So, Who Was Dartambaum?


Dartambaum Wordle


When William Dunn walked in to the Albany Police station on Thursday, April 1st, 1880, he told Sergeant Furlong and the staff there that his brother John, ‘had left his station at Cocanarup on the 20th Ulto along with a native named Jumbo. . . ’

The only other person within a mile of John Dunn at the time he went missing was the stonemason Thomas Riley who was on the scaffold about 200 yards away. When P.C. Truslove went to Cocanarup over five months later to investigate, he reported, ‘Have been to Dunn’s Station, can give no reason for suspecting Jumbo except supposed to have been in neighbourhood at time. Riley cannot say whether old or young, man or woman that went with Dunn.’  Riley confirmed as much in his statement to the police by saying about the Aboriginal man his employer went off with, ‘I could not recognize him ever if I saw him.’

This means between Walter and Robert Dunn, who Walter said were fencing at the time, and other brother James, who was shepherding at a separate nearby location, must have themselves arrived at the conclusion it was Dartambaum who came for John. They were so sure of it they said as much to whoever it was amongst them who told their brother William, making William so  sure of it he told the police at Albany ten days later.
From this it is obvious Dartambaum was not only known at Cocanarup but involved in some kind of pressing business there. Leading on from that point, it isn’t difficult to imagine what Walter, Robert and James had done in the five day period between discovering their brother’s body and setting off to tell the family at Woodburn.

It springs to mind they went in search of old Jumbo.

But with two days head start, Jumbo was long gone.

Dartamabum, alias Jumbo, was a traditional Noongar Aborigine of the Ravensthorpe area. By all accounts he was the man who initiated and directed the killing of John Dunn at Cocanarup Station in March 1880. From recorded information, it’s not clear which dialect or tribal group he originated from.  Cocanarup Station was located within Wudjari tribal country, but the Aboriginal domain of that time and that particular region was far from fixed.

Information relating to Dartamabaum was recorded as part of the genealogical work commenced by the anthropologist Daisy May Bates  (1863-1951) during her time in Western Australia at the beginning of the 1900’s.   Bates information on Dartambaum comes from three separate Aboriginal informants, none of whom give his parental lineage. Unlike others, we don’t know where he might have been born or who his parents were. What we know about Dartambaum is who he was with and where he was located as an adult.

There are various illustrations that help to describe the complex relationships which existed between the Aborigines of the South Coast during that era and it’s helpful to make use of them in trying to understand a particular person’s origins and influences.

Horton Map - cropped modifiedAbove: The Horton Map of Aboriginal Australia cropped to cover the south -west corner.


The Horton Map of Aboriginal Language Groups represents research carried out for the Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia by David Horton.The map indicates the general location of larger groupings of people, which may include smaller groups such as clans, dialects or individual languages. The wider Esperance region in this map is shown as Wudjari country. The area proceeding east of Wudjari country is Ngatjumay, otherwise known as Ngadju.

Tindale Tribal Groups Vrs Sth Coast Settlers Map - F.R. plus CocaAbove: This map is taken from Norman Tindale‘s 1974 Tribal Boundaries of Australia held at the South Australian Museum. Click on the link to go to the on-line source, it gives greater detail. I laid the general location of the various settler stations on to the map myself.


Tindale’s map also shows the Ravensthorpe area as part of Wudjari country, but note the existence of the Nyunga group in the far south east, above whom are the non-Noongar groups Kalaakga and Ngadjanmaia (Ngadju).

Fourteen distinct tribal groups make up the Noongar nation, essentially defined by a boundary based on two primary cultural elements; language and the rite of circumcision. Within the boundary sufficient linguistic similarities existed to allow a larger grouping. This grouping was also unified by the rejection of circumcision as a way of law.  The word Noongar is roughly translated into English as people or human beings.

The Wudjari and Nyunga groups of this map were bordered by tribes who abided not only by the circumcision ritual but by the harsher desert practises of sub-incision and female circumcision as well. Israelite Bay was given its name by the Dempster brothers who encountered circumcised Aborigines in the locality when they first scouted the region in 1863.



Ethel Hassel Native Map 001Above: This third map is taken from Ethel Hassell’s book My Dusky Friends which was compiled from her conversations with the Aborigines who lived on and around the Jarramungup Station between 1878 and 1883, exactly the period we are concerned with.


Mrs Hassell’s map shows the localised family groups living in the area she was most familiar with. The Corackerup, Bremer Bay, Qualap and Mongup tribes she refers to are localised territories, or kalas. She doesn’t realise it but the Wheelman Tribe she inputs is the regional group name. In the previous two maps Jarramungup Station is shown to be located within the Goreng/Koreng group, but yet there is no mention of this name in Ethel Hassell’s writing, indicating the influence of the Wheelman group in her locality at that time. What is also interesting is her description of the eastern most tribe as Kaa-Kaa. This is the non-Noongar Kalaakga group shown in the previous Noongar nation map. That this group is shown in the coastal area east of the Gairdner River is an exaggerated reflection of the nearness –perceived or otherwise- of the desert groups at that time.

South Coast Tribal Areas - Goog Earth - modifiedAbove: This map is of my own making. It’s an attempt to show what I think was happening at that time, but on a much broader level. I think a general view is not only easier to understand but actually more indicative of the overall reality. The red shaded area represents desert culture extending as far west as the Gairdner River. The blue shaded area represents the so-called Shell People whose place of living hugged the coast. The pink line represents the general border between the Noongar nation and other Aboriginal territories.


There was a strong desert culture influence along the coast at the time of first settlement. Desert people were used to living in harsh conditions where resources were extremely scarce. Tribal laws were comparatively extreme and rigidly adhered to, survival was foremost. The Noongar nation was not part of the desert culture, it existed within a more generous geo-climatic area. Noongars lived with greater resources, especially along the coast where a lesser known sub-group called the Shell People lived. Shell People is a term applied to those who lived along the coast and considered their origins as coastal. Even today the term Shell People might only be recognised among those living between Albany and Esperance. Shell People were Noongar, from Albany to Cape Arid they spoke the same language. We know this because Edward John Eyre recorded in his Journals of Expeditions of Discovery that Wylie had spoken fluently with the natives who came down to the boat at Rossiter Bay, east of Esperance.

June 5th Entry, 1841. Chapter IV

During the time I remained on-board the vessel, a party of natives once or twice came down to the beach, and as I was anxious to enter into communication with them, two were induced to get into the boat and come on board; as expected, my boy Wylie fully understood the language spoken in this part of the country, and could converse with them fluently. Through him I learnt they had never seen white people before the Mississippi anchored here, which was somewhat singular, considering the frankness with which they visited us, and the degree of confidence they appeared to repose in us. Of the interior I could gain no satisfactory account, they said that as far inland as they were acquainted with the country, it was similar to what we saw, that there was an abundance of water in the valleys in small wells, that there was a lake and fresh water river, but that there was little or no wood anywhere. In turn they were curious to know where we came from, or where we were going; but Wylie, who in this respect, at least, was prudent and cautious, told them that we had come from the eastward to join the ship, and were now going to remain.

Settlers along the coast east of Albany experienced a mix of both strong and mild resistance. When the Dempster pastoral company sought inland grass at Fraser Range the resistance they encountered there increased in both frequency and savagery; a reflection of the extreme militancy of the desert culture. My belief is that in this Noongar borderland only the truly coastal people were inclined to accept and work with the settler presence. In the minds of all other Aborigines there simply wasn’t enough food and water to accommodate them.

The white presence was a threat to their survival.

Other settlers at Cape Arid, Balladonia and Eucla met with the kind of resistance which led to the war-like killing of Aboriginal people on a scale believed to have been only partially reported, if at all. In 1877, along the coast at Stokes Inlet, John Moir had been killed without apparent retaliation, but in 1880 when John Dunn fell victim, the eventual settler response was overwhelming.

Aboriginal people like Dartambaum, whose families lived between both groups, found themselves in a world attempting to cope with the change. By 1880, white people had been washing up along the coast for the best part of a hundred years -either literally as sailors or seamen of some kind or as convict transportees- so much so there was a recognisable presence of mixed race individuals within the Shell People grouping. Settlers may have been small in number but white skinned people were hardly new; hardly djanga, those mystical beings from across the water. Once settlers started competing for resources in resource starved places, they were very simply viewed as the enemy. An enemy, due to superior weaponry, which forged a lasting presence, but one, due to its smallness of number, which was still vulnerable. Desert culture resisted, was inclined to fight against the newcomers, while coastal culture was more inclined to assimilate.

Reading through documents relative to the time and place the desert culture people were referred to as ‘wild’ or ‘Bardocs’. When the Dunn brothers were first raided at Cocanarup in the period very soon after the death of their neighbour John Moir, the Police Gazzette, 19th September 1877, Pg 150, carried the station’s report;

Shepherd and station robbed by wild natives; shepherd also cautioned by my native; life in danger; property stolen, valued (pounds) 50; natives armed with shear blades , stopping within three miles of station; went after natives to recover stolen property; found them; told them to stop in native language , continued running, property with them; fired , wounded one, arrested two; have them chained up, want to know how to act, want them punished.

Within this scenario of interspersed native families being pushed and pulled by their differing ancestral experiences and temperaments, there was a lot of friction between individuals when it came to disclosing attitudes towards settlers. Leaning too much in a particular direction could be dangerous.

The Noongar world, to my mind, will always have been in a state of flux. It is not and was not something that could ever be described in fixed terms except for general linguistic and ritualistic practises. Within the general boundary, essentially described by the so-called Circumcision and geo-climatic line highlighted by the satellite views we can so easily avail of today, people moved about in all directions. The small family groups had to marry and procreate well away from themselves, which explains the incredible distances people traveled and the extraordinary familiarity they came to have with the vast landscapes they inhabited. Bear in mind there were no maps and the Aboriginal world was not literate. The knowledge they had of the huge areas over which they travelled were contained in their minds and expressed through language; through dialogue, stories and songs.

Thus, Dartambaum lived within an area which at that time in particular was influenced by the both desert and coastal cultures. In all probability his wider family was made up of both groups.

With that in mind we can now look more closely at the genealogies which include his name.


Ngadgu men - State Library ImagesAbove: Ngadju men from Balladonia around 1897. The photograph comes from the State Library Collection, Ref: SLWA B3800560_1 The sticks the men are holding are called Dowaks. A spear lies on the ground before them. There was much debate as to the nature of John Dunn’s neck wound and whether it had been caused by a spear or dowak. Walter Dunn and Andrew Dempster were certain it was made by a spear.  The Ngadju were desert people, not Noongar. They practised circumcision and subincision on both male and female genitalia. The Dempster pastoral claim over Fraser Range was met with strong resistance by this group who were long accustomed to harsh living. The theft of  essential Ngadju resources at Fraser Range was countered by theft of the pastoralist’s livestock, something the pastoralists could not tolerate. The pastoralists tried using European law and order procedures but often reverted to use of the gun.  Hostile encounters were fierce and savage. Ngadju language and culture ran eastwards from the Nullabor Plain and Fraser Range, over the Dundas salt lakes to the plains behind the Ravensthorpe Range where both the Dempster and Dunn brothers held leases. Dartambaum may not have been Noongar. He was influenced by Ngadju culture and resistance. He was more inland than coastal Aborigine; like many, caught between the two. His world had been turned upside down by the Dempster and Dunn presence at the Ravensthorpe Range, something he and his son Mulyall were unable to cope with.


As far as my reckoning goes, Dartambaum was born around 1830. His range, the country over which his family connections were spread, ran from east of the Fraser Range at Balladonia all the way to Nyabing, in the Wheatbelt north east of Katanning, but his kala, his localised place of living, looks to have been the Ravensthorpe area.

Invaluable genealogical information assembled from various sources by the late Bob Howard, to whom these pages owe an enormous debt, shows Dartambaum had relationships with three different women. Effectively, these relationships were marriages. The information relating to them, which I lay out below, comes with a caveat and a strict warning given by Bob Howard himself, that it is not entirely accurate.

Persons interested in Bob Howard’s genealogies are welcome to contact me via these pages for the link.

I have been through Bob Howard’s trojan work (much of which is translated directly from Daisy Bates’ work carried out between 1900 and 1910) and other genealogies many, many times and there are always contradictions. Nonetheless, I have the confidence to continue because the persons and relationships described are close enough, given the time frames involved, not to cause distress or dispute among descendants, and in any case where there is doubt I use the terms might, possibly or maybe.

Out of respect, I will not use the well-known Anglicised family names of today.

Probably Dartamabum’s first wife was Anna Ryan or Anna White/Whitehand. Anna was most likely Ngadju, from Balladonia. Her Aboriginal name has been forgotten. For a while, Anna was partnered with a co-founder of the Balldonia Station, William Ponton, with whom she had a daughter, Topsy. Topsy Whitehand married into the well-known Dimer family of the Nullabor Plain. Dartambaum and Anna White are not known to have had any children. Aside from Bob Howard’s genealogies, information about Anna White is available in Peter Gifford’s book about Arthur Dimer, Black and White and In Between. Dartambaum’s marriage to Anna Ryan illustrates his links inland and well to the east of Ravensthorpe.

There are many variations on the spelling and pronunciation of Dartambaum’s name. To give you an idea why, his English alias was Jumbo. To ears attuned to the English language, Dartambaum sounded like Jumbo. Those who recorded Dartambaum’s name and the names of his relations were English speaking. They tried to be accurate but between the varying accents and dialects of the informants it was next to impossible to be consistent. One variation of Dartambaum’s name was Wurgam or Wooragum. As Wurgam he was partnered with a woman known as Yungurt or Yejan with whom he is recorded as having three sons and a daughter. One of these sons was Yagong, also known as Mulyall. Dartambaum’s daughter’s name was Notuman. Notuman was also known as Kitty, a name mentioned in the Regina Vrs Yungala trial notes by Dartambaum.

Details about Dartambaum’s family were also given by Walter Dunn during examination.

Walter Dunn - Dartabone has childrenAbove: Under examination in court Walter Dunn said, ‘Dartabone (sic) has children, a good xxxxx?, a woman about 22 or 23 years. He also has a wife and three children. Has no other male relation.’


Walter Dunn - Darabone came to he house for a weekAbove: Under examination in court Walter Dunn said; ‘Dartabone (sic) came to the house a week before, had been there twice since the natives had run away. He was informed that they had run away on the first occasion and left the sheep in the yard. I did not think it strange him coming back again a second time. He came to enquire for his boy. Always understood that Barron was his son.’


Dartambam trial - I have a daughter KittyAbove: Under examination in court Dartambaum (co-interpreted by Native Joe and Andrew Dempster) said, ‘I have a daughter named Kitty. Kitty was at Fanny Cobh (Moir’s place at Stokes Inlet) when J Dunn was killed. I did not see her but expected she was at Fanny Creek. I knew that she was alive. He said she might have been there but he did not see her.


As far as I can make out Kitty and Barron lived much longer lives but Mulyall and Dartamabum’s were diabolically affected by the settlement of the Dunn brothers in the region of the upper Phillips River. Dartambaum was dead by December the following year. Mulyall’s trail ended while in the custody of Constable O’Halloran in June 1895. He was a wanted man but it’s not known what happened to him.


Tough Guy - Scallawag - Dartambaum DeathAbove: Cutting from Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954)Thursday 23 September 1937


Dartambaum was also with a woman known as Batakan, with whom he is recorded as having a daughter. Anecdotally, Batakan (Buticam) is said to have been with Dartambaum at the time of his death in December 1882. Batakan is also mentioned by another source as having a son to a man named Bulyenar and that her son’s name was Barin. Barin’s father’s name may not be correct but it looks as if Barin was probably the Baron referred to in the Regina Vrs Yungala trial documents as Dartamabum’s son. In fact, it looks more like Baron was Dartambaum’s grandson.

The killing of John Dunn and the resultant fall-out is the single biggest story of Aboriginal/European conflict in Western Australia still to be told. By told, I mean researched, reconstructed and described to the vast majority of people.

I refrain from using the term murder, although in today’s world it was exactly that, because the circumstances behind it indicate Dunn’s death was more a traditional tribal execution. As the European justice system during the Colonial era employed capital punishment, so too did the justice system employed by the Aborigines. John Dunn’s death took place on the frontier during a time when the settlers were imposing themselves over a resistance stronger and more persistent than they expected. During this time they committed many acts of violence and abuse which went unrecorded. Johnny Dunn, as Station Master at Cocanarup, was deemed responsible by Dartambaum for his share.

Within Aboriginal circles, especially those whose origins connect to the South Coast, the story of Cocanarup is nothing new nor sensational. It is an old story passed down from generation to generation reinforcing sentiments of sorrow, cruelty and injustice. Ten years ago, the report, KUKENARUP – TWO STORIES; Historical Accounts of  a Massacre Site at Cocanarup Near Ravensthorpe W.A.  was produced by Mrs Roni Gray Forrest of the Yarramoup Aboriginal Corporation. It was re-released in Albany during Harmony Week 2007 in an effort to stimulate discussion, but was largely ignored.

A memorial to those who lost their lives at Cocanarup looks soon to be set in place at Ravensthorpe and the subject, once again, will come up for discussion. Hopefully, this time, with the benefit of some of the information set out here and directly by members of the Indigenous Community who have worked long hard for the recognition, there will be much more to go on and the conversation can be more fully participated in.

Hopefully, the very many descendants of all those old settler families connected to the stories in the OUTDONE collection will be able to understand, accept and acknowledge what actually happened and how.

In the very final post of this blog series, when I’ve completed the background to all the stories, I’ll lay out the accounts detailed in Mrs Forrest’s historic report. As it stands,  nobody really knows what John Dunn did, or whether it was Walter, Robert or James -anyone or all four of the brothers in any combination- that led Dartambaum to organise the killing, and in the end it’s actually not that important. Who killed John Dunn and why, compared to what the Dunn brothers did in retaliation, is a small, small thing.

I became interested in the story of Cocanarup when I started reading Noongar literature. It’s evident in almost everything written about the families associated with the South Coast. It’s a measure of the cruelty and exclusion the minority race have had to endure since settlement heralded the new Noongar age. That Cocanarup remains an unacknowledged aspect of the history of the State and the South Coast in particular, is wrong. It’s a wound that can’t heal. Like Pinjarra and Wonnerup (Bussleton) it has to be brought in to the conversation, discussed and revised as part of the State’s historical curriculum, and it has to be talked about on a continual basis.

Spiritually, no society or culture can successfully progress without this process.

2 responses to “Interlude Pursued – Part 1”

  1. S Avatar

    The people you write about are Bibbulumn people and not noongar people, respect them as they are the original family members that were hidden from us, we are still researching. We’re experiencing many emotions as we connect with them, as other ride the band wagon again for their own gain.

    1. Avatar

      I know Daisy Bates shows through her records the true name for the Noongar people is Bibblemun. I’m not sure exactly how Noongar/Nyungah, etc came into use over Bibblemun except to say Mrs Bates lost a great deal of her credibility for a while as her notes and writings were often confused and her motives curious and questioned by many who followed her work. I would use the term Biblemun more often, perhaps even all the time, if I thought it would be understood, but what I am trying to do here is show the White audience what the records reveal about their attitude toward and treatment of Aboriginal people since settlement commenced. I do my very best to maintain the fullest respect toward those who my writing and research focusses on as I am all too aware I am a White man discussing Black history, but it is not just Black history, it is the intersecting of White with Black and all that has come from it over the last two hundred years. The story of what happened at Cocanarup is critical to our understanding of what took place along the South Coast of Western Australia and I think I have gone some distance toward describing the truth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *