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Yanggendyinanyuk (c. 1834–1886)

by Jill Giese

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Yanggendyinanyuk, c. 1867 [detail from team photo]

Yanggendyinanyuk, c. 1867 [detail from team photo]

State Library of New South Wales, 110317990

Yanggendyinanyuk (Jungunjinanuke) (c. 1834–1886), tracker, cricketer, and cultural exponent, also known as ‘Dick-a-Dick’ (Dicky Dick), King Richard, Richard Kennedy, and Richard Barney, was born in the Wimmera region of north-western Victoria. Said to be the eldest son of ‘Chief Balrootan of the Nhill Tribe’ (McKenzie 1943, 3), he was a Wutyubaluk (Wotjobaluk) man who spoke Wergaia. In Wergaia, Yanggendyinanyuk means ‘his walking feet.’ Gamaty (black cockatoo) was his totem. His two children, Richard and Ida Kennedy, had seventeen children between them.

At a time when the only traces of European influence in Wutyubaluk country were ominous rumours and the mysterious dray tracks of passing explorers, Yanggendyinanyuk’s early years were steeped in lore and traditions. However, by the 1840s the ngamadyity (white men) began to colonise their country. In 1844, when he was about ten years old, Yanggendyinanyuk and his clansmen encountered two European squatters and an Aboriginal guide in search of a sheep run in their open country. The Wutyubaluk men told them that the nearby swamp was called nhill, meaning ‘white mist wreathing up from the water’ (McKenzie 1943, 18), a name later used by a town in that locale of the Wimmera.

Under government regulations, squatters could lease ‘new country’ (G. F. B. 1904, 5) for ten pounds a year, and so began the rapid dispossession of the Wutyubaluk. As Yanggendyinanyuk grew to manhood, violent clashes over land gradually subsided and squatters’ stations became workplaces where his strength and intimate knowledge of the landscape were valued assets. During the 1850s he worked as a mail rider, plying the postal track between Horsham and the South Australian border and making acquaintances across the Wimmera. He mastered European games such as draughts, cribbage, billiards, boxing, and cricket, but chose lifelong abstinence from alcohol.

Yanggendyinanyuk’s expertise as a tracker was well known. He was working as a boundary rider at Mt Elgin station in the winter of 1864 when a frantic father rode through the night seeking help to find his three young children lost in dense Natimuk scrub. For eight days, thirty-six men had searched fruitlessly, and now torrential rain had obliterated the children’s tracks. The next day Yanggendyinanyuk led the search with two other Aboriginal trackers, at times crawling and then running over his familiar country as he discerned the children’s movements and exhausted condition. With ingenuity and unerring accuracy, he found them lying among saplings, barely alive, just before sunset. As a reward for his efforts, he received fifteen pounds and was dubbed ‘King Richard.’ The story of the rescue captured headlines and inspired paintings and children’s books across Australia and England, although most of the remembering centred on the bravery of the children themselves, especially the older sister, Jane Duff. Generations of Victorian schoolchildren read about King Richard’s tracking expertise through the story’s inclusion in a compulsory school reader from the 1890s to the 1950s. Duff, reflecting on the famous incident as an older woman, said: ‘Good old King Richard, how I love his memory and loved him after I first knew him’ (Horsham Times 1932, 1).

Four years later, Yanggendyinanyuk’s traditional skills brought fame once more. He was one of thirteen Aboriginal men from western Victoria who formed the first Australian cricket team to tour England. Described as ‘one of the best of long-leg’ (Bendigo Advertiser 1868, 3) fielders out on the boundary, he was said to have equally admirable running and throwing skills. Yet, unlike Johnny Mullagh, who impressed audiences with his exceptional cricket playing, Yanggendyinanyuk was more often noted for his post-match performance. Each cricket match concluded with ‘native sports’ (Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser 1868, 5)—an exhibition of skills and weapons from a people believed to be on the brink of extinction. After changing from cricket whites into black tights, possum skin trunks, and a headdress of lyrebird feathers, the men threw boomerangs and spears and staged warrior fights. The star of the show was Yanggendyinanyuk. Armed with only a slender shield and L-shaped club, he stood at fifteen paces as all-comers hurled cricket balls in rapid succession, skilfully dodging them to the delight of audience members. His showy, provocative manner was as captivating as his dexterity. Evoking traditional warrior practices he defied his opponents with contemptuous indifference or a merry grin, sometimes moving towards them with a yell, sometimes dropping his weapons and dancing as he emerged unscathed from the pelting. His performance drew gasps and cheering—and abundant shillings for his pocket. Feted throughout England, he was carried shoulder-high off the hallowed turf of Lord’s by the storming crowd.

The English cricket tour had been strongly opposed by a Wimmera policeman, Constable Thomas Kennedy, who believed the exploitative venture would expose the Aboriginal men to potentially fatal alcohol excesses and chest disease. His fears were realised when Bripumyarramin, also known as King Cole, died of pneumonia midway through the tour. Yanggendyinanyuk admired Kennedy and, while away in England, asked him to care for his son, Richard, who adopted Kennedy’s surname. Later, Yanggendyinanyuk also called himself Richard (or Dicky) Kennedy.

Under new regulations prescribing where Aboriginal people were permitted to reside, Yanggendyinanyuk joined a dwindling band of Wutyubaluk people at Ebenezer mission on his return from England. Located on a bend of the Wimmera River near Lake Hindmarsh, the mission had a complex history as both a Wutyubaluk corroboree site and a place where Aboriginal people had been killed by colonisers. On 19 February 1871 at Ebenezer mission, Yanggendyinanyuk married a widowed Aboriginal woman, Eliza Townsend. His cricketing and ball-dodging skills won admiration at sports days, and he coached a successful Ebenezer cricket team for the district competition.

In 1875 an epidemic of measles ripped through Ebenezer, killing a fifth of the residents. Yanggendyinanyuk survived the virulent infection but suffered serious complications with brain inflammation, leading to mental disturbance. He became gripped by melancholy and an urge to end his life. Refusing to speak, he was sent to Ararat Lunatic Asylum in September to keep him safe. Although mental illness carried terrible stigma, an enlightened treatment had been adopted in Victoria’s asylums that aimed to promote recovery through fixed routines, purposeful occupation, and uplifting activities. The asylum’s annual picnic was held in November at a nearby creek with sports and a special lunch. Yanggendyinanyuk’s mood brightened considerably when a cricket match got underway. From then, he steadily recovered under the therapeutic regime and was discharged after eight months.

It seems Yanggendyinanyuk’s adaptability aided his response to treatment, whereas other Aboriginal patients died within weeks, months, or a few years of isolated asylum confinement. Yanggendyinanyuk rejoined his people at Ebenezer, but significant mental vulnerabilities remained. Five years later, he succumbed again to his debilitating brain disorder and asked to return to Ararat asylum to be cured. Responding once more to care, he was back at Ebenezer in a few months.

In 1883 Yanggendyinanyuk’s enduring fame as a tracker led to an urgent request to trace a toddler who was lost in Yanipy scrub despite two days of searching. With sharp eyes and intuition, Yanggendyinanyuk soon tracked the tiny footprints and found the little girl lying down, six miles from home. A collection from local settlers rewarded him for saving her life. By now around fifty years old, Yanggendyinanyuk received a breastplate to honour his achievements. Perhaps emboldened by this recognition, he asked a Horsham justice of the peace, Angus Cameron, to apply on his behalf for a land selection, then on offer to attract European small farmers to his country. A favourable response set the plan for Yanggendyinanyuk’s own piece of land in motion, but it was scuttled by Rev. C. W. Kramer, superintendent at Ebenezer, on the basis of the applicant’s asylum admissions. Yanggendyinanyuk became increasingly troubled and soon required asylum care once more. After six months he returned to the mission, but ‘his constitution [was] broken down’ (Vic. Board for the Protection of Aborigines 1886, 7) and he died of bronchitis at Ebenezer on 22 August 1886.

Yanggendyinanyuk is remembered for his dignity and resilience in enduring the devastating effects of European colonisation, his resolve to resist alcohol, his collaboration across racial divides to search for children lost in the bush, his proud display of Aboriginal culture to an international audience, and his tenacious battle with mental ill-health. The Wutyubaluk warrior and elder’s cultural resilience lives on in his descendants, who were instrumental in achieving Wutyubaluk native title in 2005 (the first to be granted in south-eastern Australia) and in reawakening Wergaia, the ancient language of Yanggendyinanyuk.

As a member of the 1868 cricket touring party Yanggendyinanyuk was among the first professional Aboriginal sportspeople. The Sport Australia Hall of Fame recognised his and his teammates’ contribution to sport in 2002. Marking the sesquicentenary of the tour, Australia Post released a commemorative stamp in 2018, and male and female Aboriginal XI teams undertook a re-enactment tour of England, inspiring new generations of Aboriginal cricketers.

 

Jill Giese collaborated with Richard Kennedy and Jennifer Beer, Wutyubaluk elders and great-great-grandchildren of Yanggendyinanyuk, in preparing this entry.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian News for Home Readers (Vic.). ‘The Lost Children.’ 24 September 1864, 1
  • Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.). ‘Parliament of Victoria.’ 19 August 1868, 3
  • G. F. B. ‘Early Reminiscences.’ Geelong Advertiser (Vic.), 16 April 1904, 5
  • Horsham Times (Vic.). ‘Bush Heroine Passes.’ 22 January 1932, 1
  • Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser. ‘Aborigines v. Mote Park.’ 1 June 1868, 5
  • McKenzie, Fred. Monument of History: Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Discovery of Nhill 1844–1944. [Nhill, Vic.: F. K. McKenzie, 1943]
  • Mulvaney, D. J. Cricket Walkabout: The Australian Aborigines in England. South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1988
  • Victoria. Board for the Protection of the Aborigines. Twenty-Second Report of the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines in the Colony of Victoria. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1886

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jill Giese, 'Yanggendyinanyuk (c. 1834–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/yanggendyinanyuk-30059/text37299, accessed 22 September 2021.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Yanggendyinanyuk, c. 1867 [detail from team photo]

Yanggendyinanyuk, c. 1867 [detail from team photo]

State Library of New South Wales, 110317990

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jungunjinanuke
  • Dick-a-Dick
  • Dicky Dick
  • King Richard
  • Kennedy, Richard
  • Barney, Richard
Birth

c. 1834
Wimmera, Victoria, Australia

Death

22 August 1886
Dimboola, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

bronchitis

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