Jandamarra – Sing for the Country by Colleen Keating

Jandamarra  – Sing for the Country  by Colleen Keating


It amazes me how a word or a story that comes to your attention, and that was not consciously known by you previously, comes to meet you often after that. This happened a few years back with the word segue. Maybe, well it was in my reading but I had never recognised it. Maybe it was spoken but I had never heard anyone speak it, until, there was an instant where it came to my attention and then it was frequently heard and seen.

Jandamarra is another such word . . .Jandamarra was like an unknown planet,  never heard, never spoken, and then it came into my orbit and I realised it is one of the rich historical sounds of Australia.

This happened on our trip to north western Australia.

We took a tour from Broom in Western Australia along the iconic Gibb Road past the now notorious Derby Prison Boab Tree into the Bunuba.

We explored the oasis of Windjana Gorge with its 350 year old mountain range , once a Devonian reef with its sheer 90 metre cliffs and its salt-water crocodiles and bird life and bush tucker and into the intricate system of Tunnel Creek, a most mossy sanctuary of this cool tranquil gorge.  Here we heard the story of Jandamarra from our local guide. 

The poet in me touched into the story’s sensibility  and then I found many  already knew this story and there was there was a movie, a book , songs and many writings.

It took this  awakening to have the word in my orbit.

I believe Jandamarra’s story is one every year 3/4 Australian child should know. And that is coming so more and more.

When I was at the Conservatorium for anther event I saw the add for Jandamarra the musical. Booking was lucky with some friends for it seemed a full house.

The world Premier of Jandamarra  – Sing for the Country (Ngalanybarra Muwayi.u)

was a breath-taking evening.

“ The story of a young man trapped between black and white worlds. 

Jandamarra’s story is told with traditional song woven

 into the texture of symphonic and choral forces.”

It was a packed house with a standing ovation at the conclusion  for the Bunuba people, the women’s choir,  the young choirs,  Orchestra and  Bunuba actors .



Suite for Jandamarra 

Tunnel Creek

Windjana Gorge fresh pristine
permanent water percolated
from ancient rains that deluged the land

slippery marbleised boulders
bluff the uninitiated
sustain mystery
deter and challenge efforts to go further
into the secret of Tunnel Creek

without hand or foot grip
trust plumbs the abyss
tumbles into coolness

a sombre space
deeply carved from Devonian times
salted with yellow light
its rays tinkling like tiny bells
decor of stalactites and stalagmites
pendants of bats and glint of eyes
timid fresh water crocs

in this sandy echoing amphitheatre
with long bare arm i scoop up spring water
and hear of Jandamarra

his spirit is here<
this was his last place to stand

Flash back

Tunnel Creek
the Kimberley outback
land of the Bunuba people
the time is late nineteenth century
the last stage of white invasion
being played out
herds of cattle trample the grasses
water holes gone

spirit is broken
faded sepia shots capture for history
naked black men neck and ankle chained
on a track to Derby lock-up
there to be packed
in a thousand year old hollow Boab tree<


yet one warrior
Jandamarra takes a last stand
turns against his white masters
fights heroically
to save his people
and his country

a mythical figure he appeared fought
disappeared unable to be tracked
for years he held out
the one burning flame

betrayal and a bullet
a fight that died to a flicker
it was in his Tunnel Creek cave<
Jini his mother held him as life petered out<span
a Pietà on the rock of Golgotha

Bunuba Country

a city poet can not glean
the essence of the Bunuba people
their story is easily lost
in white history and chronological time
the plunge into Tunnel Creek<
further connects to mystery
it is about feeling<
rather then hearing stories told

and still today
documented as criminals
who died because they defied<
legitimate laws and white society<
redacts another history

by Colleen Keating

Our visit to the beautifully renovated Sydney Town Hall for the performance .