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Memento : Issue 27
In November, we will be launching the latest in our series, which tells the story of Dhakiyarr (also spelt Tuckiar) Wirrpanda, the first Indigenous Australian to be represented in the High Court of Australia. An elder of the Dhudi-Djapu clan of east Arnhem Land, Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda had been found guilty of murdering a white policeman, Constable Albert McColl, and was sentenced to death by the Northern Territory Supreme Court in 1934. After a public outcry against both the verdict and the sentence, a successful appeal to the High Court was lodged on his behalf. Finding that the earlier trial had been unfair, the High Court overturned the conviction. Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda was released from gaol and was to return to Arnhem Land, but disappeared in mysterious circumstances in Darwin a day later. The events which led to the 1934 High Court appeal captured the interest and imagination of many Australians. It was a complex tale involving the deaths of seven men, punitive police expeditions, the capture of Aboriginal women, missionary interventions and large public protests. The case touched on some of the most contentious issues of the 1930s, and some that still resound today -- the rights of Aboriginal people to their land, the differences between white and Aboriginal law, and the treatment of Aboriginal people by police and the legal system. Government officials in Canberra were among those captivated by events in the far north in the early 1930s. Two in particular were HC Brown, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and JA Carrodus, Chief Clerk of the same department, who acted as the Administrator of the Northern Territory for six months at the height of the case in 1934. Their files show how they not only followed events but also played a part in shaping them. The High Court appeal that eventually freed Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda was lodged by the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Darwin at the request of Department of the Interior officials in Canberra. The Uncommon Lives website uses the records of government to unravel the complex tangle of events that eventually led to Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda's disappearance. The website features government letters and telegrams, public letters of protest, photographs, press reports and legal documents, including In memory of Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda Records of the past bring to light stories that might otherwise remain unknown or forgotten. Our Uncommon Lives website is a series that illuminates the famous and not so famous Australians whose records are held in our collection. 10 MEMENTO News from the National Archives