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Bill, Beetaloo Jangari (1910–1983)

by David Nash

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Beetaloo Bill, by David Nash, 28 July 1979

Beetaloo Bill, by David Nash, 28 July 1979

Beetaloo Jangari Bill (c.1910-1983), labourer and Aboriginal elder, was born probably between 1910 and 1915 at Beetaloo station (from which his English name derives), near Newcastle Waters, Northern Territory. His father, Roderick (Mirijilkari) Jampin, was Warumungu; his mother, Clara Parrangali Nawurla, was Gurindji. Beetaloo Bill said that this proscribed marriage (Jampin-Nawurla) had arisen because a White man, Billy `Cabby’ or `Cabbage’ (perhaps Kirby), had taken his mother from the Camfield area to Tennant Creek. There, since Northern Territory law prohibited `cohabitation’, `Cabby’ engaged Roderick to give the appearance of the two Aborigines being a couple, which they later became. Beetaloo Bill was their first child; he had a younger brother and several younger sisters. His Aboriginal name was Wirinykari (Weingari).

As a child, Beetaloo Bill spoke his father’s language, Warumungu, according to which his subsection was Jappangarti; in adult life his main language was Mudburra, of which his subsection was Jangari. He also spoke Warlmanpa, Warlpiri and Jingulu, and understood Gurindji. His main Dreaming (his father’s father’s but not his father’s) was the Snake and Star story, which culminates along Hayward Creek. He was made a man in `the year Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup’ (1930), and married Jessie (Jersey) Karnangkurrngali Nampijinpa. His exceptional knowledge of Aboriginal traditions was to assist numerous groups in land claims in 1980 and 1983.

During World War II Beetaloo Bill worked at camps along the Stuart Highway, including the Elliott staging camp, for the Department of the Army, the source of his nickname `D. A.’. After the war he was employed by the Department of Works, eventually on full award wages, maintaining government bores on stock routes radiating for hundreds of miles from Newcastle Waters. A member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, he was to retire on superannuation—rare for Aborigines—in 1975.

Beetaloo Bill wanted his children to have a good life. Early in the 1950s he paid a carpenter £500 to make a substantial iron shed in the Aboriginal reserve to the north-west of Elliott, and he lived there with his family until his death. His second wife, from the 1950s, was Biddy Judambi Nimarra; they were formally married at Elliott on 3 December 1961. In February 1962 the Northern Territory administration decided to integrate local Aboriginal children into Elliott Primary School rather than continue to bus them 18 miles (29 km) to Newcastle Waters. Beetaloo Bill’s daughter Nita was one of the first to be transferred—a move that provoked a boycott by some European parents. The Northern Territory News reported that he wanted his girl to read and write and `would not take her away from the school no matter what happened’. He told the writer Frank Hardy that he would be happy for his daughters to marry whom they liked; however, his children mostly married along traditional lines. He lobbied for the recognition of the entitlement of his wife’s family to their country, which resulted in the establishment of an outstation near Powell Creek.

From his savings, Beetaloo Bill bought a good Holden utility truck, the first of several that he traded in regularly, long before other Aborigines owned vehicles in the region. He said that he would plan to run out of petrol when near a road camp or station where he knew he would get a welcome; his yarns, brilliant humour and comic repertoire would more than compensate for whatever favour he requested. Beetaloo Bill Jangari had a broad and deep knowledge of Aboriginal law, matched by an easy familiarity with Europeans, but largely unconstrained by convention, black or white. He died on 29 September 1983 at Elliott and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife, two sons and seven daughters survived him; a son and two daughters pre­deceased him. His family uses `Bill’ as a surname.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Lockwood, Up the Track (1964)
  • F. Hardy, The Unlucky Australians (1968)
  • F. Stevens, Aborigines in the Northern Territory Cattle Industry (1974)
  • D. Nash, `Beetaloo Bill Jangari’, in D. Carment and B. James (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, vol 2 (1992)
  • Northen Territory News, 13 Feb 1962, p 1
  • series F1, item 1952/837 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Banka Banka journals, 1929-30, 1934-36, 1941-58 (University of Queensland Library)
  • W. E. H. Stanner notebooks and microfiche no 1 (AIATSIS).

Citation details

David Nash, 'Bill, Beetaloo Jangari (1910–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/bill-beetaloo-jangari-12209/text21891, accessed 26 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Beetaloo Bill, by David Nash, 28 July 1979

Beetaloo Bill, by David Nash, 28 July 1979