Wally Wilfred’s sculpture Dhyakiyarr vs The King delves into the story of Dhakiyarr, a respected Balamumu leader from north-east Arnhem Land. In 1932, five Japanese and two white trepangers were speared at Woodah Island in Blue Mud Bay. The fishermen had violated territorial rights, threatened local people with guns and raped women. In 1933, Constable Albert Stuart McColl arrived from Darwin to investigate the killings, but he too was speared and killed. Shortly after, the accused men — Dhakiyarr and three other Balamumu men — were taken in iron shackles through the Roper Gulf.
At trial, Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death for the murder of McColl, while the three other men were sentenced to twenty years imprisonment. Dhakiyarr’s case was appealed at the High Court and his charges were quashed. He was supposed to receive a police escort from Fannie Bay Gaol back to his Country, but he disappeared and was never found again. It’s believed he was murdered.
In Dhyakiyarr vs The King, eight sculpted figures (three police officers and five Aboriginal prisoners) enunciate rather than represent the story of Dhakiyarr, while the figure of Dhakiyarr himself remains absent. As told by Wally Wilfred:
This story is from East Arnhem Land, but it is also a story from all over Australia. It is a story about two laws. One law is handed down by ancestors, it is written on the body and it stays the same. The other law is written on paper and it always changes.
Text by Tristen Harwood.