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Jimmy, Andruana Ann Jean (1912–1991)

by Geoff Wharton

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Andruana Ann Jean Jimmy (1912-1991), Aboriginal leader, land-rights activist, local government councillor, and poet, was born on 30 September 1912 near the Pennefather (formerly Coen) River, south-west of Mapoon Presbyterian Mission, on western Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, youngest of three children of Philip, a member of the Rakudi people—probably a Yupangathi (Yupungathi) clan group—and Lorna (Maggie), believed to be a Yupangathi woman. Jean’s traditional name in the Yupngayth (Yupungayth) language was Andruana, meaning wattle flower—a name signifying a strong woman, through the power of the tree.

In Jean’s childhood at Mapoon, the Presbyterian missionaries housed children in a dormitory, where she lived from the age of about five until she left school at fourteen. She rarely saw her parents in those years, because her father was an Aboriginal evangelist to traditional people near the Batavia outstation some 15.5 miles (25 km) south of Mapoon. In her late teens she was able to spend more time with them, learning traditional customs and knowledge from her mother.

The missionaries taught the girls crocheting, sewing, and other handicrafts, as well as domestic science. In later life Jean was to recall with sadness that the mission teachers taught only in English, leading to the loss of spoken traditional languages at Mapoon. At the mission’s church on 29 August 1933 she married Gilbert Jimmy, a seaman who sailed in pearl-shelling and church vessels. Towards the end of World War II, the couple moved to Thursday Island, where Gilbert worked for Burns Philp & Co. Ltd and Jean was employed in domestic work.

Church and government officials decided in April 1954 to abandon Mapoon, seeking to reduce costs and move the residents to communities more conducive to assimilating them into white Australian society. Few of the decision-makers understood the deep cultural and spiritual connections that the people had for their traditional land and sea country, so the stage was set for a long and bitter dispute. The conflict was complicated in 1957 when the State government included more than one-third of the former Mapoon Aboriginal Reserve in an area leased next year to the mining company Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty Ltd (Comalco).

About 1958 Jean and Gilbert Jimmy returned to live at Mapoon. With other community elders, they vigorously campaigned against the settlement’s closure. In November 1963 the Jimmys and their fellow resisters were forcibly removed by police under orders from the director of native affairs, Patrick Killoran, and their homes were destroyed. They were transported to a new village, Mandingu (Hidden Valley), near Bamaga, about 124 miles (200 km) to the north-east; it was to become known as New Mapoon.

Mrs Jimmy’s commitment to the fight for her traditional homeland was sustained by a sense of mission that combined her traditional spirituality with the Christian religion she was taught in the dormitory. In 1964 she travelled to Canberra to attend the annual conference of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). She spoke about the community’s attempts to be self-sufficient and how the government had broken its morale. The conference secretary, Pauline Pickford, found her ‘a most capable, dignified Aboriginal woman’ (Taffe 2005, 192). Mrs Jimmy was to continue her advocacy through her participation in national forums during the next ten years.

From 1969 to 1971 Jean Jimmy chaired the New Mapoon Community Council. About 1974 she and Gilbert moved to the Weipa South (Napranum) community, which brought them closer to the original Mapoon. Again recognised as a leader, she was elected to the Weipa South Community Council on 15 January 1982. While chairing the council from that year until 1985, she oversaw the early stages of the transition from government control of the community to a self-management model under Queensland’s Community Services (Aborigines) Act of 1984.

As a young woman, Jean had been taught about bush foods and medicines by her mother. She generously shared that knowledge not only with later generations of her people, but also with the Australian Army’s survival specialist, Captain Les Hiddins, who recorded information she provided at Mapoon in 1983.

Next year Mrs Jimmy worked with others to establish the Marpuna Community Aboriginal Corporation, formed to assist Mapoon people back to their lands and to provide a vehicle towards self-management. At Napranum on 26 April 1989 the Queensland minister for community development, Bob Katter junior, presented a deed of grant of land in trust over 183,960 hectares of the former Mapoon Aboriginal Reserve to six trustees, including Jean’s daughter, Constance. Small-statured, but with great courage, determination, and grace—qualities that shine through her free-verse poems—Mrs Jimmy had inspired her people’s successful struggle for their land.

Predeceased by her husband and survived by their daughter, Jean Jimmy passed away in Weipa Hospital on 17 October 1991 and was buried in the Mapoon cemetery (Musgrave outstation). A photograph of her by Charles Birkett was placed in the foyer of the Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council offices, and Mapoon’s Jean Jimmy Land and Sea Centre was named in her honour.

Select Bibliography

  • Bauxite Bulletin (Weipa, Queensland). 'Survival Project.' 13 May 1983, 1-2
  • Bauxite Bulletin (Weipa, Queensland). 'Mapoon People Given Land Title.' 28 April 1989, 1
  • Bauxite Bulletin (Weipa, Queensland). 'Mapoon Elder Passes Away.' 25 October 1991, 2
  • Jimmy, Jean. Interview by the author, recording on compact disc, 1 July 1975
  • Jimmy, Jean. 'Christmas Day', 'Child Growing', and 'Tribal Dancing.' Napranum Cha (Weipa South, Queensland), November 1985
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID 507740, Correspondence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID 511511, Correspondence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID 506593, Correspondence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID 646022, Correspondence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID 509022, Correspondence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID 271658, Papers
  • Roberts, J. P., ed. The Mapoon Story: By the Mapoon People. Fitzroy, Vic.: International Development Action, 1975
  • State Library of New South Wales. Report of Mapoon Conference held at Mapoon on Thursday and Friday, 8th and 9th April, 1954, File AQ/7, BOEMAR Records, Box 19, MLMSS1893 Add on 1872
  • Taffe, Sue. Black and White Together: FCAATSI: The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, 1958-1973. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2005
  • Wharton, Geoffrey. `The Day They Burned Mapoon: A Study of the Closure of a Queensland Presbyterian Mission.’ BA Hons thesis. University of Queensland, 1996

Citation details

Geoff Wharton, 'Jimmy, Andruana Ann Jean (1912–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/jimmy-andruana-ann-jean-18627/text30261, accessed 23 July 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012