History - AustralianAustralian CultureCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries


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Relations between Aborigines
and colonists

Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?

Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence

The Stolen Generations
Why paternalism ruled over conquest?

Jimmy Govenor
Not a good fence builder

Mary Anne Bugg
Female Bushranger

Justice or resistance?

Convicts and their legacy

Convict life
Regrets and floggings

Convict crimes
Power and morality

Convict punishments
What purpose?

Thinking different

Convict women
Moral diversity


Can Convict Creations be relied upon?


Ceasare and Pelmuwuy - Fighting and Arrival

Pemulwuy Pemulwoy, Pemulwy, Pemulwei

Justice or War?

One man stood firm, one man stood tall
Now his blood soaks deep in that soil

Clever man, clever man that Pemulwuy

So sang Irishman Peter Baxter in tribute to an Aboriginal man who fought against colonial authorities, was killed by them but ultimately won their respect. Another to sing of Pemulwuy was Australian band Red Gum, with lyrics such as

200 years won't celebrate a story of survival
The spirit of a patriot
All the children singing
200 years won't celebrate a story of survival
The spirit of a patriot
All the children singing Pemulwuy's song
Water and stone, winter and spring
Water and stone, winter and spring
Water and stone, winter and spring

In some ways it is ironic that the songs of Pemulwuy have been written and sung by his “enemies.”  Then again, for many Irish and some Australians, anyone who was against the British was their friend. Furthermore, being an Aboriginal fighting the invading British to defend his land perhaps has more patriotic status than a song about a Convict that is tainted by criminality and the shared label of “invader.”

While there has certainly been a desire amongst many contemporary white people to see Pemulwuy as a resistance leader, in truth, he may have been a caradhy, a man whose position in the Bidjigal tribe empowered him to dispense justice. The definition of guerilla leader or justice man is significant as it has implications for the way Aborigines thought of the colonists, which in turn some Australians would use to model their behaviour on today. If he was a guerrilla leader, it would suggest that Pemulwuy considered all colonists to be invaders and wanted them gone. However, if he was a justice man, then it would suggest that he was not so much concerned about the presence of colonists, but his hostile actions stemmed from concern about some of them breaching Bidjigal law. In other words, he accepted the presence of colonists but felt in a position of authority over them.

Pemulwuy first came to public attention in 1790 when he killed Governor Phillip's game shooter, a Convict named McIntyre. Although McIntyre was suspected of mistreating Aborigines, witnesses of the actual attack said it was unprovoked. Consequently, Phillip became so infuriated that he dispatched a military expedition to bring back Pemulwuy and "any six Bidjigal or their heads." (Phillip's soldiers were reluctant to carry out the orders and they returned empty handed, saying that no Bidjigal could be found.)

Although Pemulwuy killed the Convict McIntyre, he found support amongst the Irish Convict population; some of whom escaped to join his tribe. There they showed him that muskets were useless until re-loaded. As Collins wrote, this, ‘effectually removed that terror of our fire-arms with which it had been our constant endeavour to inspire them.'

With his fear of firearms gone, Pemulwuy increased his attacks against the settlers. In particular, he led a number of raids against farms. Sometimes crops and clothes were stolen. Sometimes maze fields were set on fire. Because such resources were desperately needed by the colony, some historians have argued the attacks were calculated war strategies devised by Pemulwuy to weaken his enemy. (Another possibility was that he was being used by rival landowners to weaken their neighbours in the hope of acquiring their farms. There is no way of knowing for sure.)

 Although Pemulwuy’s actions had the characteristics of guerilla war, he also wanted to maintain friendly relations with the colony's governors. (He wasn't outlawed until 12 years after his initial attack.) Perhaps this would indicate that his attacks were a form of dispensing justice. Most Aboriginal cultures had a payback system where justice could be inflicted on the tribe an individual came from rather than the individual themselves. Consequently, if one settler broke any Bidigal laws, other settlers could be punished for the violation. Once punished, the matter was in the past and a state of peace returned. Unfortunately, settlers knowingly or unknowingly continued to violate local laws, which forced Pemulwuy to keep dispensing justice. Settlers in turn found themselves being punished, but often not knowing what they were being punished for or even knowing they were be punished.

In 1794, Pemulwuy attacked a group of Convicts and ending up fighting John 'Black' Caesar. With his commanding physical strength, Caesar managed to crack Pemulwuy's skull and many people in the colony celebrated because they thought he was dead. Although seriously wounded, Pemulwuy recovered to fight on.

In 1797, Pemulwuy led a sustained attack on the Toongabbie outpost, capturing more food and clothing. He then led the Bidjigal to Parramatta. Here on open ground near the Parramatta River he led about 100 other Bidjigal men in what has been defined as a pitched battle against the English. Pemulwuy was quickly identified and subsequently felled after being hit by seven bullets. The Bidjigal suffered great losses and were forced to retreat. Pemulwuy was left lying in a pool of blood and thought to be dead.

Amazingly, he was only severely wounded. In a display of mercy and admiration, the soldiers took him to the hospital at Parramatta. He lapsed in and out of consciousness for many days and his death was thought to be a certainty. Against expectations, Pemulwuy recovered. Several weeks later, he escaped into the darkness - his leg-irons still in place. According to the Bidjijal people, his impossible escape was achieved by turning himself into a bird.

Pemulwuy's ability to recover from his wounds gave him a Rasputin-like reputation for being invincible. The local Aborigines believed that bullets couldn't harm him, nor could chains hold him. Even the colonists started believing the myths. John Washington Price said:

"He has now lodged in him, in shot, sluggs and bullets, about eight or ten ounces of lead."

Despite the conflict, the colony’s governors as well as Pemulwuy seemed to want to build some kind of relationship. In 1897, Governor Hunter met several parties of Aborigines near Botany Bay. Pemulwuy was among them. According to one report, Pemulwuy,

‘spoke with one of the gentlemen of the party; enquiring of him whether the governor was angry, and seemed pleased at being told that he was not.’

Although Hunter was forgiving, his successor was not. In November 1801, Governor Philip Gidley King outlawed Pemulwuy and offered a reward of 20 gallons of spirits or a free pardon for his capture, dead or alive. When justifying his motivate, King stated his intention was to protect settlers and return to a friendly state with Aborigines. In a letter to Lord Hobart, Secretary of State for the Colonies, King wrote:

"Decided measures therefore became necessary to prevent the out-settlers from being robbed and plundered, and to restore the natives to a friendly intercourse. With these views (founded on the opinions of the principal officers coinciding with mine), I gave orders for every person doing their utmost to bring Pemulwye in either dead or alive …

The prospect of spirits or freedom proved an ample incentive to prove that Pemulwuy was mortal. In 1802, he was shot and decapitated. His head was preserved in alcohol and sent to England as a gift for Joseph Banks. Accompanying the head was a letter from Governor King stating that,

 "although a terrible pest to the colony, he was a brave and independent character...."

Pemulwuy's son Tedbury also had an ambiguous relationship with colonists. He made trouble for some settlers but was on friendly terms with John Macarthur, an ex-soldier who became a very powerful pastoralist. Macarthur often entertained Tedbury at his Elizabeth farm. Later, when Macarthur had Governor Bligh removed from office in 1808, Tedbury arrived at Macarthur’s cottage with a bundle of spears and announced that he had come to spear the governor. Tedbury was shot by a settler in 1810 when he made another attack on a farm.

Tribes Sydney

Justice man or guerrilla leader?

There are numerous facts of history that suggest Pemulwuy was more concerned about upholding Bidjigal law than fighting a war of resistance. Firstly, when Pemulwuy speared McIntyre, there had been no settlement in Bidjigal land, and very little contact with the Bidjigal at all. As a game shooter, McIntyre probably ventured into Bidjigal territory. He was disliked by Aborigines and had been suspected of some kind of unsavoury conduct. His spearing may have been punishment for breaking Bidjigal laws when on shooting expeditions. Secondly, it was almost 11 years between Pemulwuy's spearing of McIntyre and the date he was outlawed. If the governors saw him as a guerrilla leader then he would have been outlawed far earlier. The failure to outlaw him was probably a sign that the governors didn't view him as a threat as they had had positive relations with him and/or, he was not showing behaviour consistent with a guerilla leader. Instead, they may have seen his actions as retaliation against poor behaviour by settlers. Thirdly, Pemulwuy's left foot had been clubbed, which was a sign that he was a carradhy (clever man/justice man). Finally, his son Tedbury maintained a good relationship with Macarthur. So much so, he came to spear Governor Bligh after he was arrested in the rum rebellion. If Pemulwuy had been guerrilla leader, then Tedbury probably would have been taught similar values. As a consequence, Tedbury wouldn’t have formed relationships with colonists and wouldn't have had a desire to inflict justice on behalf of Macarthur.

Presently, most white historians want to define Pemulwuy as a guerrilla leader and they have done so in the name of helping Aborigines by giving them a hero. In truth; however, perhaps they have been on the lookout for a hero for themselves.


1) Myth making

In your opinion, should Pemulwuy be thought of as an Australian patriot?

2) The Irony of Cesare’s and Pemulwuy’s battle

Born in the West Indies, John Caesar fled to England to escape plantation slavery. His escape from bondage was short lived as he soon found himself transported to Australia on the first fleet where he once more faced a life of slavery. There are many ironies wrapped up in the battle between John Casare and Pemulwuy. What are the ironies?


3) Why does he appeal to the "enemy" ?

Look at the song lyrics by Peter Baxter and Red Gum. What aspects of the Pemulwuy story are they trying to celebrate? Why do you think those aspects appeal to the musicians?

Peter Baxter - Pemulwuy

Pemulwuy lay by the side of the road
His body was silently numb
A soldier raised his sabre high
Did what no man should have done
In a silence conspired their lives would backfire
Their shadows would follow and haunt them
What fool would expect a proud man to forget
The land he fought to defend

Clever man, clever man that Pemulwuy

Pemulwuy died with blood in his eyes
In a land now others call home
They brought their ways, they brought their laws
They brought their disease and their rum
With furrowed brows pushed broken ploughs
Crippled the earth with their toil
One man stood firm, one man stood tall
Now his blood soaks deep in that soil

Clever man, clever man that Pemulwuy

The Crow he watched with a wounded stare
And a solemn chant he begun
His death wish flew on a wind that blew
From the west, across and beyond
Centuries on and still now this song
Echoes through the valleys and mountains
To the deserts away. On the great Ocean spray
In the sunshine and the cold southern rain

Clever man, clever man that Pemulwuy

Red Gum - Water and Stone

Breathing in the stars
In the cool comfort of night
Water and stone winter and spring

Hearts rise with the dance
The days remembering
Water and stone winter and spring

Face of the earth
Painted by the light 
water and stone winter and spring

Just listen to the fire
And you will hear him sing
Water and stone winter and spring

Around the fire spirits dance
The story of the ocean
Of fishing birds and 
For winds to carry
Pemulwuy's song

All that I am and all that I have
Water and stone, winter and spring
Are in this place this land
These ways I understand
Water and stone, winter and spring

A thousand pities fell like rain
The day the world changed color
Tears of rage filled out eyes
And ears were ringing
A thousand pities fell like rain 
the day the world changed color
Tears of rage filled our eyes
And ears were ringing
With Pemulwuy's song

Come fools with promises
To throw into the fire
Water and stone, winter and spring
To burn like fragrant flowers
And turn to smoke and ashes
Water and stone, winter and spring

200 years won't celebrate a story of survival
The spirit of a patriot
All the children singing
200 years won't celebrate a story of survival
The spirit of a patriot
All the children singing Pemulwuy's song
Water and stone, winter and spring
Water and stone, winter and spring
Water and stone, winter and spring

All that I am, and all that I have
Will make the day again
The rising hope

Water and stone, winter and spring
Water and stone, winter and spring





John Caesare
The first

Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered

Eureka Massacre
Dying for liberty

Post Convicts

Why is it not celebrated?

White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese






"Let no-one say the past is dead, the past is all about us and within"(Oodgeroo)