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(T)jalkalyirri, 'Tiger' (1906–1985)

by R. G. Kimber

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

‘Tiger’ (T)jalkalyirri (c.1906-1985), Aboriginal guide, elder and land-rights campaigner, was born about 1906 probably at Wintawata, South Australia, in Pitjantjatjara country south of Ayers Rock (Uluru), second of three sons of Kutunari and his second wife Antumara. Also known as (T)jalkaljeri, Douglas Dalgalyerry and ‘Charcoal Jerry’, he was a man of the Nyintaka (perentie lizard) totem. After living a traditional life for two decades, he migrated with other family members to the Watarrka (Kings Canyon) country in the Northern Territory, where his two brothers had been born and with which he had direct ancestral associations. He also had strong claims to the Mala (hare wallaby) totemic sites of Uluru.

In the mid-1920s (T)jalkalyirri moved to Henbury cattle station on the Finke River, where he learned to ride horses and camels, and became a stockman noted for his tracking abilities. Because of his familiarity with Yankuntjatjara and Pitjantjatjara country, he was chosen in 1928 to be a guide for the missionary E. E. Kramer and J. H. Edgar on a 3728-mile (6000-km) trek by camel to take a census of Aboriginal people in the reserves in south-western Northern Territory, northern South Australia and an adjoining portion of Western Australia, and to explore the region. (T)jalkalyirri’s knowledge of Uluru prompted Kramer to observe that it was the ‘most sacred spot in all the country around’. This was an early recognition of its significance to the local Anangu people.

During a severe drought in 1925-32 (T)jalkalyirri was one of many people who moved to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, where he acquired the nickname ‘Tiger’. Although he appreciated aspects of Christianity, he did not embrace it as had his younger brother Pastor Peter Bulla. The friendly face that greeted the tourists who visited the mission by bus, (T)jalkalyirri dressed in surplus army clothing, onto which he proudly added an ever-increasing number of badges and insignia. He also worked as a stockman and cameleer-dogger (dingo-hunter) and helped linguists and anthropologists to understand Anangu culture. Renowned for his knowledge of songs, dances and artefact manufacture, he was an occasional cameleer-guide to Uluru. Married twice—to Wintjira and Pantjiti (Tanjita)—from the late 1940s to the 1960s he took their older children to Uluru on dogging expeditions and shared with them the stories of the travels and deeds of the creator ancestors.

(T)jalkalyirri played an active role in the 1960  centenary celebrations of John McDouall Stuart’s first expedition and ‘discovery’ of Central Australia. In the early 1970s he participated in the spear-throwing and fire-making competitions at the annual Yuendumu Games (‘Aboriginal Olympics’). He often took part in traditional dances. As a wiry, athletic elder he ‘painted up’, marched and danced at land rights meetings. His anthem was ‘we will overcome’, which he gently and encouragingly sang in Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara.

In his last years ‘Tiger’ lived at Uluru. Powerfully demonstrating his ‘primary spiritual responsibility’ for the lands around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), he was present in November 1983 when Prime Minister R. J. L. (Bob) Hawke promised that the Federal government would ‘hand back’ Uluru to its traditional owners. He died on 2 June 1985 at Alice Springs and was buried at Hermannsburg with Lutheran forms.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Groom, I Saw a Strange Land (1950)
  • R. Layton, Uluru (1986)
  • Lake Amadeus Land Claim (1989)
  • Aborigines’ Friends’ Association, Annual Report, 1928
  • J. Carter, taped interview with Tjalkaliri (1975, National Library of Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. G. Kimber, '(T)jalkalyirri, 'Tiger' (1906–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/tjalkalyirri-tiger-15659/text26855, accessed 24 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012