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Issue #1545      2 May 2012

A tribute to Yindjibarndi Elder Mr Cheedy

On April 1, 2012, respected Yindjibarndi Elder Mr Ned Mayaringbungu Cheedy passed away in his home among his family in the north western Australian town of Roebourne. He was 105 years old and during his many years he had seen and done much in the service of his people from his early days on Hooley Station near where he was born. It is close to the Fortescue River, central to the ontology or Dreaming of his people – the valley where the Dreaming Rainbow Serpent had made a deep trench as it came from the north.

At the time of his birth in 1906 until the early 1920’s Mayaringbungu knew and lived the life that his forebears had lived for thousands of years, using only what they needed from the land and caring for the land that sustained them – in what Karl Marx in Capital acknowledged was the first proto-socialist way of life.

However, from the early 1920’s this idyllic and rich tapestry of life would begin to experience its first big change - the introduction of ration camps as the stations no longer wanted to provide sufficient amenity to the Aboriginal people who worked on them for tea, flour, sugar, soap and clothing. He moved around the stations within his homeland with his wife and the children of his growing family.

The era of ration camps involved the Aboriginal people living in camps and receiving rations which were mostly distributed by the local constabulary and were one more step in separating the Aboriginal people from their country, law, customs and way of life. The camps however, still placed most Aboriginal people like Mayaringbungu close to their country so that they could continue to care for it and in return be nurtured by their country.

In the 1950s he went to work at Warrambie Station which is close to Roebourne and after working at Mallina Station settled in Roebourne in 1959 where he worked at the hospital as a gardener. The late 1940s and 1950s saw the end of the ration camps and the beginning of the native reserves, one of which was on the outskirts of Roebourne adjacent to where the town’s caravan park is today. Mayaringbungu lived at the Reserve during the 1960s when all of the Pilbara hinterland had been emptied out not only of his beloved Yindjibarndi people but also Ngarluma, Guruma, Marduthurnia and Banyjima. While the pastoral invasion of their lands was the beginning of the attempt by white colonialism to dispossess the Aboriginal people of their land.

The land still retained much of its spiritual and cultural integrity though a few waterholes were despoiled by stock and other pastoral activities. What was to come from the mid ‘60s onwards had the potential to transform their country completely and permanently. This was the introduction of iron ore mining, starting with Tom Price, Mt Newman and Paraburdoo which were on Banyjima and Gurama country.

By early 2000’s the so called New Force in iron ore Andrew Forrest’s Fortesue Metals Group would begin to gouge a trench through their soul at the Solomon Hub in the southern portion of Yindjibarndi land.

To assist his Aboriginal spirit to stay strong he sought solace in the Christian spirit of Jesus and with other non-Aboriginal people helped to found the Pilbara Aboriginal Church. He would travel far from Roebourne out to Marble Bar and beyond to spread a message of hope and salvation for Aboriginal people, but in the idiom of an Aboriginal man that was just as proud of his Aboriginal spirituality.

It was this fierce and proud Aboriginal spirit that would come to the fore in March 2011, at the Roebourne Town Hall on the occasion of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Yindjibarndi people called by FMG’s Andrew Forrest.

It was here when Forrest sought to wrest control from the Yindjibarndi people of their legitimate land rights under Native Title that the 104 year old Mr Cheedy rose to his feet and called on his people to unite as one to defend their rights.

Andrew Forrest did not get his way that night and the resolve of the Yindjibarndi people to protect their country, land, law, culture and material interests prevailed and has continued to grow in strength from this time.

In the last 12 years of his life he sought to document the knowledge of his people which had been passed on to him from his Elders to the next generation as a, “living encyclopaedia and dictionary of Yindjibarndi law and culture.”

In July 2011, he was honoured at a ceremony in Sydney with a NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless contribution to the Yindjibarndi community. When his daughters brought the award back to Roebourne a traditional corroboree was performed in his honour in an Aboriginal community, Cheeditha.

His funeral service was held in Roebourne on April 21, at the Roebourne Town Hall and attended by over 700 people including many senior community leaders from across Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians who had come to pay their last respects to a gentleman with a beautiful mind in which everyone mattered and for whom the spirit world was so important.

He is survived by four of his eight children, 27 grandchildren, 39 great grandchildren and 1 great great grandchild and a legacy of determination to see the thriving of his beloved Yindjibarndi culture, law and way of life.  


Next article – O’Farrell turns his sights on national parks

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