|227. RIP VAN WINKLE.|
|"The only costume that he wore was an old, greasy felt hat".|
|Blakeley. Dream Millions. 77.|
While travelling through the Petermann Ranges with Bob Buck in early June 1931, Walter Gill made a pertinent observation regarding the naming of Aboriginals by whitefellas, "maybe it is pure bloody laziness, this common refusal to learn the individual's tribal name, and at the very least, to brand him with a mutation of it. It is this lack of inventiveness on the part of the average white man which has been responsible for the horde of Lions, Tigers, Billys, Nuggets, Paddys and Jackys - together with the host of poor devils with unprintable names that litter the countryside". Thus George Sutherland, the prospector on the first C.A.G.E. Expedition, named the first Aboriginal visitor to the camp at Illbilla, Rip van Winkle, with reference to the Aboriginals age, beard and battered pointed felt hat. Rip Van Winkle, or to give him his Aboriginal name, Ngapatjukurrpa, (water dreaming) was the Eumos tribal custodian of Illbilla waterhole at the time the Mackay and C.A.G.E. Expeditions were based in the Ehrenberg Ranges in 1930. Ngapatjukurrpa's trade mark felt hat was probably acquired from a member of the Mackay team.
Ngapatjukurrpa introduced himself and his family to the C.A.G.E. men on the 18th of August, 1930, just as the Expedition was setting off for Mount Marjorie, "he came empty-handed and walked in as though he was part of the show". wrote Blakeley, who failed to appreciate that he and his mates were on Ngapatjukurrpa's land, and making heavy demands on the only water supply in the vicinity and were consuming game and firewood in prodigious quantities by Aboriginal standards. Despite his best efforts with sign language and ground signs, Blakeley failed to understand Ngapatjukurrpa, who apparently thought the White men were doggers and indicated the best hunting for dingoes was to the south. At the end of the first short and unsatisfactory meeting Blakeley concluded that Ngapatjukurrpa was warning the Expedition of the consequences of interfering with water supplies to the west.
The little that is known of Ngapatjukurrpa and his small clan comes from the pen of Fred Blakeley in Dream Millions, unfortunately Blakeley shows considerable prejudice and ignorance regarding matters Aboriginal, he concluded that Ngapatjukurrpa was an outcast of a tribe based on nothing more than first impressions, "He was the poorest specimen of native that I had ever seen, quite evidently an outcast from some tribe". According to Blakeley, unless one is a fine upstanding fellow you are an outcast. Allowing for Blakeley's erratic recollection of people and events at Illbilla his is the most detailed record of Ngapatjukurrpa and his family consisting of Ngapatjukurrpa and one other adult male, three women and five children, it is fortunate for the record that Philip Taylor took a photograph of the family which appears opposite page 116 of Lasseter's Last Ride.
Ngapatjukurrpa was involved in two incidents that are repeated in Idriess's 'Lasseter's Last Ride', and Blakeley's 'Dream Millions', the first an unedifying reflection on the sense of dignity and values of Sutherland and Blakeley where Ngapatjukurrpa's hat is filled with the camp meal scraps which he then placed on his head and leaves the scene, "his chest streaming with custard, his back with porridge". The second incident involves the Sandhill Men and the gift giving ceremony where Taylor acquired the kulpidji, an extremely rare and significant Aboriginal artefact. On this occasion Blakeley makes the point that Ngapatjukurrpa was not present, however Idriess, in keeping with his metaphysical bent, expands the story to the ridiculous. As he writes it, the kulpidji originally belonged to Ngapatjukurrpa but was stolen by the Sandhill Men, with the theft went a curse that was passed onto the white men as a result of accepting the gift, thus explaining the misfortunes of the Expedition, Coote misadventures at Ayers Rock and Lasseter's eventual demise. Chapter thirteen of Lasseter's Last ride is titled 'The Hoodoo' and Coote wondered, "what was the hoodoo this country had put on the expedition". Of course the only hoodoo that cursed the Expedition was the incompetence of Blakeley, Coote and Lasseter.
When Pastor Albrecht visited Illbilla in early October 1930 he made no mention of meeting any Aboriginal fitting Ngapatjukurrpa's description although he does give a fairly complete description of the Aboriginal who he thought was the 'Chief' of the Illbilla area, this Aboriginal he named Kamutu and could be the second male standing at the rear of the family group in the above photograph.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006
1Gill 107. 2,3Blakeley 77. 4Idriess 40. Blakely, Fred, Dream Millions, 76-80. Gill Walter. Petermann Journey. 107. Idriess, Ion. L. Lasseter's Last Ride, 38 40,57,58,69,91,92. Marshall-Stoneking, Billy. Lasseter, in Quest of Gold. 68. Scherer, P.A. Lasseter Demystified & Two German Rouseabouts.12.