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Indigenous Australia

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Hippai, Peter (c. 1835–1904)

by Frances Peters-Little and Jane Lydon

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Peter and Lady Hippi, possibly painted by Katie Langloh Parker

Peter and Lady Hippi, possibly painted by Katie Langloh Parker

AIATSIS

Peter Hippai (c. 1835–1904), also known as Hippi, Hippi Peters, and Peter Forrester/Forester, stockman and cultural custodian, was a Euahlayi (Yuwaalaraay/Yuwaaliyaay) man. He was born and lived on his traditional country, the Southern Downs district of Queensland and the far west of New South Wales, and specifically along the Narran River, which forms part of the Barwon catchment within the Murray-Darling Basin. The Narran rises south-west of Dirranbandi as a branch of the Balonne River in Queensland, and flows south and south-west before reaching its mouth at Dharriwaa (Narran Lakes), a major sacred site between Brewarrina and Walgett in New South Wales. The system has been important for Aboriginal people as a provider of food and medicine, a meeting place, a source of Indigenous artefacts, and a rock quarry. Peter’s second name, ‘Hippai,’ signalled his moiety and class within the Euahlayi language group.

In March 1846, when he was a ‘good sized boy’ (Sydney Stock and Station Journal 1904, 12)—that is, probably between the ages of ten and twelve—Hippai was at the Narran River. There he saw Sir Thomas Mitchell, the New South Wales surveyor-general, whose men, on a previous expedition to the south, had killed Aboriginal people at Mount Dispersion in May 1836. Mitchell’s reports of desirable pastoral land in the north prompted squatters to flock to the district, triggering frontier conflict. Aboriginal groups attacked every station in the district between December 1847 and the end of 1848 and reprisal actions by squatters followed.

From 1849 to 1855 Hippai was at the Moonie River, east of the Narran, having been recruited to work for Assistant Surveyor Robert Bagot. He and two of his friends were ‘yarded … by Bagot's men, who secured them in a hut and, for some days, supplied them with “white man's tucker” … [which] fearing a trap, [they] refused … until Mr Bagot himself came in, broke a piece off the damper, and started eating’ (Sydney Stock and Station Journal 1904, 12). Hippai then accompanied the settler George Forrester who established a station at Cumblegubin (later Bangate) near Angledool, New South Wales, on the Narran River in the late 1850s.

Like many survivors of frontier violence, Hippai worked for settlers to maintain his connection to his country. This permitted a reasonable community life, in which he could travel, maintain ceremonial and social traditions, speak his language, and teach children about culture and history. To Hippai ‘the bush was an open book. He could read every sign, and tell what had happened’ (Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate 1929, 15). Not only was he a ‘magnificent bushman’ but also a ‘splendid horseman’ (Sydney Stock and Station Journal 1904, 12)—it was said he ‘could ride anything on four legs’ (Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate 1929, 15). These bushcraft and pastoral skills were highly valued and respected by settlers, especially in tracking down lost or stolen stock. In June 1866 fifteen horses were stolen from Forrester’s property. Using ‘clever and energetic measures’ (Maitland Mercury 1866, 6), two Aboriginal men, one of whom was probably Hippai, tracked the thieves and recovered the horses.

The same skills could be used to steal cattle. In 1870 over a thousand cattle disappeared from Bowen Downs station, near Longreach, Queensland, and were later sold in South Australia. Hippai was believed to be one of the principals involved in the notorious theft, which inspired ‘Rolf Boldrewood’s’ classic Australian novel Robbery Under Arms, first published in serial form during 1882 and 1883. In the novel, the main character, Captain Starlight, has an Aboriginal assistant, ‘Warrigul,’ who may have been modelled on Hippai.

During the 1880s and 1890s Bangate station was owned by Langloh Parker. Hippai and other Euahlayi people, especially Hippitha, Matah, Barahgurrie, and Beemunny, shared stories and cultural information with Parker’s wife, Catherine (Katie), née Stow. She collected, edited, and published this cultural knowledge in a series of books, the first of which, Australian Legendary Tales, was dedicated to ‘Peter Hippi, King of the Noongahburrahs [Narran tribe]’ (Parker 1896, v). Set in the Dreaming, the stories describe ancestral beings and humans interacting, and comprise narratives of ancestral journeys along the Narran and Barwon rivers, explaining the creation and continuing significance of each watercourse and other landscape features. Parker was careful to ensure that the stories were recorded faithfully; her methodology involved repeated tellings in Euahlayi and English to guard against inaccuracies. In 1905 she published The Euahlayi Tribe: A Study of Aboriginal Life in Australia, an ethnographic account of Yuwaalaraay people and culture. Hippai appears in the book managing the funeral of Beemunny, the camp’s oldest woman; he conducted the smoking ceremony and led the eulogies.

Hippai observed and experienced the changes to his country that followed European invasion. While learning how to coexist with the new arrivals, he spoke his language and followed his law and culture, and, by his teaching and knowledge, made sure that they were handed on to his descendants. Six feet five inches (195 cm) tall ‘with a figure as straight as a gun-barrel’ (Sydney Stock and Station Journal 1904, 12), he worked as a musterer at Bangate station until a few days before his death. His wife was Lady Hippi. Survived by his son Benjamin and grandchildren Cecil, Henry, Rose, Dora, Grace, and Harold, he died at Bangate on 11 October 1904. His descendants include Marjorie Rose Peters who married Jimmy Little, singer and songwriter; their daughter Frances Peters-Little, academic and film-maker; and her son James Henry Little, photographer.

 

Frances Peters-Little is a Yuwaalaraay/Gamilaraay woman. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Peter Hippai. Jane Lydon is a non-Aboriginal historian. She worked closely with Frances Peters-Little to help prepare the article.

Select Bibliography

  • Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate. ‘Sensational Cattle-Stealing Case.’ 15 November 1929, 15
  • Goodall, Heather. Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770–1972. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1996
  • Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser. ‘District News.’ 26 June 1866, 6
  • Parker, K. Langloh. Australian Legendary Tales: Folk-Lore of the Noongahburrahs as Told to the Picaninnies. London: David Nutt, 1896
  • Parker, K. Langloh. The Euahlayi Tribe: A Study of Aboriginal Life in Australia. London: Archibald Constable, 1905
  • Sydney Stock and Station Journal. ‘A Link with the Past Broken.’ 28 October 1904, 12

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frances Peters-Little and Jane Lydon, 'Hippai, Peter (c. 1835–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/hippai-peter-29710/text36782, accessed 30 October 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Peter and Lady Hippi, possibly painted by Katie Langloh Parker

Peter and Lady Hippi, possibly painted by Katie Langloh Parker

AIATSIS