Noting the Passing of a true champion – Aunty B Nabarula

Warning – contains pictures of Warlmanpa, Warumungu, Alyawarra and related people who have passed away (but Nabarula’s family has approved use of name and pictures for funeral coverage elsewhere).



Some memories of Aunty B Nabarula – a true champion.

By Bruce Reyburn

Aunty B was always looking after other people as far back as I can remember. And looking after country and community as well.

And I can remember back to 1980 when I first came to Tennant Creek doing research for the Warumungu land claim. The senior men said I was to work with men, so I did not work with women during those years. Jane Lloyd worked with the women and knew them much better than I did. Later on, I got to know some of the women much better

In February 1980, starting work on the Warumungu land claim, I made some tape recordings with men at Ngurrantiji. I sent some tape recordings I made to Rod Hagen in Melbourne, another anthropologist working on the land claim. He asked me who were these “Arnie and Barney” the men were talking about on the audio tape. “Not Arnie and Barney!” I said, putting him right, two important women. [Annie and Bunny]

Later in 1980 I was working with M. Taylor Japanangka, a key man for the Tennant Creek area. We killed a big goanna one day while out on country doing land claim work. Japanangka wanted Aunty A to get this treat. I remember driving around with Japanangka in the dark streets when we got back to town to deliver it to the house the two sisters were staying.

Aunty B was often with her sister (Aunty A) and their families.

After the Country-Liberal Party Northern Territory Government jumped the Warumungu land claim in November 1982, the claimants and CLC decided to challenge the government in the High Court.

Aunty B came on the 1983 bus trip to the High Court in Canberra. A long hard trip, and she helped looking after the kids. The kids were always happy. She did a good job.

We stopped at Bourke on the way down. Local Wumpurrarni people at Bourke put us up at the Wally Byers Memorial Hall. Two photos in the hall were we stayed. Aunty B and lots of kids.

When we got to the High Court in Canberra and the serious land claim business was going on inside with the Judges and lawyers (no place for children) some of us took the kids for a run outside and into the National Gallery next door. One photo is in front of a very famous painting at the time called ‘Blue Poles’. Aunty B with the kids, again.

When I left the Land Council and came to live in Tennant Creek, in the mid-1980s, I worked at Julalikari Council as a Community Development Officer for a while. Aunty B was a very hard-working Council member, and one of my jobs was to drive the 12 seater bus around the town and town camps to pick people up for the regular Council meeting. I found it was quickest if I did what Aunty B wanted me to do – drive here to drop this kid here, drive there to do this etc. That was the fastest way back to the office where Co-ordinator John H. was waiting for the meeting to start. If I tried to do it my way, we would be a lot slower. Nabarula was a very good ‘director’ once you learnt to listen to her.

The Julalikari Council members were vitally important for the housing and community projects we were working on. Aunty B always gave her time and experience freely. She always worked hard for other people in all the town camps.

Aunty B and Aunty A always took part in the Sorry Camps when someone passed away.

Aunty B was always interested to make sure my children, Rocky and Fuchsia, were happy too during our years in Tennant Creek. They are Sorry to hear the sad news of her passing.

It was always a pleasure to go out of town for a day with Aunty B and members of her family.

“Stop. Get that good firewood, Japaljari, for my old mother!” She would tell me if we were driving somewhere in winter. It burns long into the cold night.

On one trip when we drove back to Tennant Creek from Ali Curung Aunty B recounted how, when they all lived at Warrabri back in the days when they were confined to such places (late 50s and early 60s) there had been major life-directing decisions made by the elders, led by such men as T. Plumber – and these had been relayed to the rest of the group. And accepted.


I got a sense of a kind of collective consensus at work, in which younger people accepted the wisdom and direction of their elders, as she did. All one family. Aunty B always had respect.


On that trip from Ali Curung, after we passed through the Devil’s Marbles, about 100 km south of Tennant Creek, Nabarula sighed and told me about the great extent of country which had been assigned to her and which was her responsibility.


It extended far to the north from where we were. Much of it was then under pastoral lease. Some station owners would not allow people to collect traditional bush-food on country because they might upset cattle on agistment. Big job getting Papulanyi to understand.


I knew Nabarula had special attachment to a place known as Alluvial, north of the Warrego road (which heads westerly out of Tennant Creek to the Warrego mine).  She had long hoped to get an outstation for her family there, away from the humbug of town.


I do not recall the exact details of what areas of land Nabarula was responsible for,  but what I do recall was her words to the effect that “Papulanyi (Whitefellas) have no idea about how much country we Wumpurrarni people have.”


“True words.”  I could only agree with Nabarula. It is a big job looking after country and culture properly. Big job looking after family too. She always took on the hard yards.


I cannot remember if Nabarula played a role when we all stopped the Toxic Waste Incinerator which the government wanted to locate near the Warrego mine smelter. Maybe someone else has a better memory than me. I am sure Aunty B would have been in that struggle – which was won by the people of Tennant Creek town all working together.


After we left Tennant Creek in late 1989 for Coledale (Wollongong) we always kept in touch with Nabarula. Sometime during the 1990s we came back to Tennant for a visit. One time Aunty B and Aunty A came to visit us in Coledale. People who met them in Wollongong have very fond memories of their visit – and always asked me about them.

Helen has written about their visit to Coledale and Sydney and has some more pictures.

And we always visited Aunty B when we came back to Tennant Creek over the years, including, more recently, during the campaign and court case to stop the radioactive waste facility at Muckaty. I will always remember the YouTube video of Nabarula in the demo in Paterson Street where she is getting along using her walking frame. A true champion to the end.

Aunty B called me her Lumbarra, and this has been an honour for me.

Knowing her enriched our lives.

We will miss her.

Rest in peace – your hard work over Aunty B.


Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn


14-15 Sept 2015


For story of Aunty B Nabarula funeral service by the local paper, The Tennant and District Times see




Pictures above – in Bourke on way to High Court


Picture above – we take a break on the bus trip to Canberra, south of Dubbo?




Pictures above – National Gallery in Canberra while Warumungu Land Claim High Court Case is underway


Picture at Circular Quay, Sydney – catching ferry to Manly. Aunty B on left.