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Nemarluk (also known in literature as Nemaluk) was the son of Yembunhi-Wallaganh of Wernteknganay / Kirnmu and Wurdungkulli of Nardirri. He is a Murrinhpatha man and his homeland is Wernteknganayi / Kirnmu 20k north-west of Wadeye on the coast where some of his family still live. His siblings were: Nigalkal, Nganbe, Kumewath, Witni, Ngintinit and Malkarren.* Born around 1911 he was 6'2' tall and strongly built. He bore initiation scars on his shoulders and chest. He wore a headband to tie back his long hair and wore a belt made of human hair. Nemarluk had 5 wives but only one child to a wife named Marpu. As an adult he lead a group of nearly 100 warriors who would paint their bodies red and set out to attack isolated travellers from their base on the Moyle Plain purportedly as a form of resistance to occupation of tribal lands as well as spearing livestock and carrying out blood feuds with other Aboriginal groups. Murders In August 1931 Nemarluk killed the 3 Japanese crew of the rented shark lugger OUIDA at Injin Beach, near the mouth of the Fitzmaurice River in Treachery Bay, west of Port Keats. One account suggests that the Japanese fishermen had absconded for several days with some Aboriginal women they had lured onto the vessel and then dropped them off miles along the coast thereby enraging Nemarluk who swam to their anchored vessel at night and slit their throats. Another account suggests that the killing was because of an upaid debt of tobacco promised in exchange for the company of the women and oral storytelling suggests Nemarluk had vowed to kill those who intruded onto his country as a form of resistance. The fishermen killed were: Nagata Yoshikiya, Yusama Owashi and Ryukichi Yoshida. Manhunt When word of the killings reached Darwin it sparked a manhunt and Nemarluk was arrested along with his companions Minemarra, Montespare (Mangul Mangul), Nargoon, Marragin and Mankee at Legune Station on 4 May 1933 and taken to Darwin. Escape and Manhunt Nemarluk escaped in September before his trial by following a work gang carrying latrine buckets to empty into the sea at Fannie Bay and then slipping away into the rain forest. It is said he swam across Darwin Harbour to Cox Peninsula where his lover fed and sheltered him (see Sydney Sunday Sun article in right column). Constables Birt and Fitzer accompanied by 4 Police Trackers took up the manhunt. Tracker Bul-Bul who had incredible tracking skills led the party to him and he was captured on Legune Station near the mouth of the Victoria River in 1934. Trial After 6 months on the run he was captured and tried in April 1934. The sentences were death but were commuted to imprisonment for life at the Darwin Gaol and Labour Prision (Fannie Bay Gaol) after submissions from the Chief Protector of Aboriginals who raised the issue about the women from Nemarluk's tribe who had been living on the vessel at the time. Nemarluk enjoyed celebrity during incarceration variously as a bushranger who perpetrated a reign of terror in the region or as a resistance fighter hero. Many stories about him have alternative versions. Ion Idriess wrote "Mantracks" (1935) and "Nemarluk, King of the Wilds" (1941) which increased his notoriety. Death Nemarluk died of pneumonia or tuberculosis in early August 1940. He was taken to Darwin Hospital with pneumonia but escaped only to return to the Gaol asking to be let back in. He woke the wife of one of the prison guards, Margaret Widdup, who said he seemed to be starving. He died shortly afterward. An alternative version would have him released during the general prisoner amnesty after the Bombing of Darwin but this contradicts recorded events. Locations Today the Nemarluk family outstation is located on a tributary of the Moyle River on the southern end of the Moyle Plain south of Peppimenarti (place ID 716 - NT Place Names Register). There is a Nemarluk Drive and Nemarluk Court in Ludmilla, Darwin, which is also the location of Nemarluk School. Fitzer Drive in Ludmilla is named after Tas Fitzer who was involved in the hunt for Nemarluk. The two streets do not meet as was the case in the lives of both of their namesakes. *Information supplied by Tobias Ngardinithi Nganbe (son of Nganbe).

Nemarluk in Fannie Bay Gaol - wearing a Darwin Mobile Force slouch hat - Picuture courtesy NT Library Service. The photograph was taken by William Whyte DX149 and donated to NTLS.


The following story is a summary from the book "Bandy's Boys - The Darwin Mobile Force" by June Collins (NTC 940.54 COLL).

During the war he was put on a road gang to work building a tactical road being constructed by the Darwin Mobile Force from Darwin to Casuarina Beach. Nemaluk spoke english well and became friends with the military members of the road gang. The guard carried a .303 rifle and his drill practice interested Nemaluk who started imitating the movements with his shovel. The soldiers gave him a rifle so he could practice properly and he apparently became quite proficient but when word of this got out he was removed from the crew.

Images to obtain Nemarluk (1911-1940), by unknown photographer NTGP Collection, Northern Territory Library, PH0107/0247 Newspapers Sydney Sunday Sun 8/10/1933 (transcription below) (online link) In Terror of Dying Alone Nemaluk's Journey of Pain Tribesman tell of Native's Remarkable Escape Darwin, Saturday. Lame, and bleeding from bullet wounds, Nemaluk, the giant Aboriginal murderer who escaped on Tuesday from a police party after a fierce struggle, is making desperate attempts to win his way to his own country, 150 miles away. Although Nemaluk showed a savage courage in winning free, he is haunted by a great fear as he fights his way on - the fear of dying alone. Constable McNab yesterday raided the cap at Talc Head, near Delissaville, where Nemaluk had been sheltered since his escape from Fanny Bay Gaol, by six of the Fitzmaurice River tribesmen of whom he is overlord. Bribed with tobacco to loosen their tongues the tribesmen recounted details of Nemaluk's amazing escape. In his duel with police boy Smiler, the black desperado had his side laid open by a bullet which lodged in one arm. His forehead was cut open by a blow from the police boy's revolver, and he was severely shaken and lamed when he was flung over a 50ft cliff. Escaped Cordon Despite his battering, Nemaluk dragged himself through seven miles of mangroves, doubled back behind the police cordon, and waded across the tidal creek that separates Delissaville from Talc Head. Constable McNab thinks his quarry, in the grip of the black's superstitious dread of dying alone, is following the beaten path to Finnis River, hoping to find a camp of the Daly River blacks, with whom his tribe is friendly. In the company of others his courage will return. Hero Worship Swift pursuit has commenced. It is realised that if Nemaluk gets back to his own country and regains his strength, he will become a great hero among the blacks. In that event, every white man venturing into Nemaluk's territory will carry his life in his hands. Thanks Thanks to John Richards - Northern Territory Library Service for his assistance with this page. References: Fannie Bay Gaol Stories - Nemarluk's Story - 4 Jan 2012 Australian Dictionary of Biography. - 4 Jan 2012 Shaw, Bruce (2000). "Nemarluk (1911? - 1940)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University

  • I. L. Idriess, Man Tracks (Syd, 1935)

  • I. L. Idriess, Nemarluk, King of the Wilds (Syd, 1941)

  • K. Willey, Eaters of the Lotus (Brisb, 1964)

  • J. Pye, The Port Keats Story (Syd, 1973)

  • B. Parry, The Story of Nimalak (Batchelor, NT, 1983)

  • D. Carment et al (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, vol 1 (Darwin, 1990)

  • Walkabout, Sept 1973

  • Northern Standard, 10, 13 Apr 1934, 13 Aug 1940

  • A1, 1933/2852, A1, 1937/5697, A659/1, 1939/1/9949 (National Archives of Australia).

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