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Dinah, Robert Beaufort (1898–1962)

by Mary Anne Jebb and Dawn Wallam

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Robert Beaufort Dinah (c.1898-1962), Aboriginal leader and boxer, was born about 1898 at Wagin, Western Australia, son of 'King' George Jerong Dinah and his wife who was named on Beaufort's marriage certificate as Caroline Dooran. Like many Nyungars in the early 1900s, the family undertook contract clearing for farmers in the Arthur River and Wagin district of the State. George had a homestead farm with a river frontage at Kunalling. In 1906 he was reported to the Lands Department for not improving his property, and thus faced a resumption order. He received support from a neighbour Nicholas Donnelly who, in the following year, wrote to the chief protector of Aborigines: he claimed that local farmers wanted to see the block handed to Dinah and his family 'for all time', and that George had cleared much of his land and fenced some of it. By 1915 the Dinahs were living in a hessian-and-tin camp on the Wagin Aboriginal Reserve.

Beaufort attended the convent school at Wagin and left with his family whenever work arose. In 1922 his father was forced to enter Moore River Native Settlement, but escaped and returned to Wagin; thereafter he lived in fear of removal. When George died in 1926 at Boyalling Estate, near Wagin, Beaufort took the title given to his father by the colonial authorities, 'King' of the Nyungar people of south-west Western Australia. The Wagin Argus reported that six hundred Whites, accompanied by a brass band, attended a corroboree at the camp; the mayor presented Dinah with a chain and a document in recognition of his succession.

As his father had done, Dinah attempted to mediate between police, Whites and his own people with the object of enabling his family and relations to remain in their country, away from government institutions. By 1928, with about 180 Nyungars, he was based at Geeralying, between Williams and Narrogin. With other adults, he asked for a school to be opened at the reserve because the local bus would not collect Aboriginal children to take them to a nearby school. The request was refused. At St Joseph's Catholic Church, Wagin, on 14 December 1929 Dinah married Alice Bertha Khan; they were to have twelve children.

Although he held no official boxing crown and did not compete in the major rings, Dinah was generally known as the South-West's heavyweight champion during the 1930s. His prowess became legendary among the Nyungar. Large and strong, he appeared in boxing troupes at agricultural shows and won hundreds of fights between the early 1920s and 1956. Wins in the tents meant quick money, but A. O. Neville, the chief protector and commissioner for native affairs, placed restrictions on Aborigines in Western Australia that virtually disqualified them from participating in title-events at White City, Perth.

Dinah was issued a certificate of citizenship in 1960. He died of myocardial infarction on 15 July 1962 at Royal Perth Hospital and was buried in Wagin cemetery; his wife, one son and six daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Tilbrook, Nyungar Tradition (Perth, 1983)
  • A. Haebich, For Their Own Good (Perth, 1988)
  • Wagin Argus, 9 July 1926
  • West Australian, 11 Aug 1958, 19 July 1962
  • Daily News (Perth), 19 July 1962
  • C. Tatz, Obstacle Race: Aborigines in Sport (manuscript, held by its author)
  • Aborigines Dept files 35/07, 1782/14, 698/15, 1087/15, 162/28 (State Records Office of Western Australia).

Citation details

Mary Anne Jebb and Dawn Wallam, 'Dinah, Robert Beaufort (1898–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/dinah-robert-beaufort-10018/text17659, accessed 23 November 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012