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 The history of Warmun Aboriginal Community




Before the intrusion of white settlement in the 1880s, Kija people occupied a huge tract of land to the north of Halls Creek. For millennia they had maintained this rugged country, and had developed a way of life in keeping with the harsh climate and its extremely high temperatures. The order of life was dictated through Ngarrankarni - the Dreaming.

The arrival of pastoralists in the last two decades of the nineteenth century had an enormous impact on the lifes of the Kija. Kija territory was usurped by the forming of cattle stations. Through over-grazing the cattle destroyed the ecological balance of the country. Sacred waterholes were despoiled. New thoroughfares were cut across the traditional Dreaming Tracks marked out by the ancestors.

Conflicts grew between the two groups. There was aggression and fear on both sides. When Kija people speared cattle for food, this often led to extreme reactions of pastoralists, resulting in numerous massacres. It is estimated that about half of the Aboriginal people of the East Kimberley were murdered in the first fifty years of colonization. Aboriginal people tried to fight back, but were overpowered by the kartiya (white people).
To stop the killings, the Department of Native Welfare set up a ration depot at Turkey Creek in 1901, followed by reserve stations at Moola Bulla in 1910 and Violet Valley in 1911. Being pushed of their land, the Kija people had no other choice than to move to the reserves or to work at one of the private cattle stations. At the latter they were usually better off, being able to continue their traditional way of life outside work hours. In contrast, the reserve stations were nothing more than centres of assimilation. Traditional culture and language were repressed, and people were treated cruelly. Both reserves were finally closed (in the forties and fifties), and the people moved to work on cattle stations for basic rations.

Yet another change was coming up. The Pastoral Award of 1969 ensured the payment of equal wages for black and white stockmen. This was no improvement, however. The stations retained only essential labour. Aboriginal families were forced to leave and find shelter on the fringe of Halls Creek, Wyndham, or Kununurra. Here they faced confusion, poverty and further culture shock. Often, alcohol became a substitute for the loss of meaning in their lifes. 


Settling at Warmun

Some Kija people who had previously lived at Violet Valley, decided to do something. Armed with a strong political consciousness born of dispossession and poverty, they asked for government assistance and established the Warmun community at Turkey Creek. The area that was set aside for them, was an excision of Mabel Downs Station. For years people had spent their Wet Season holiday break here.
Over the years, more and more people joined their relatives at Warmun. The main factor that drew kin back
together was the Kija language, which had remained strong throughout the years of dispersal.
Most people who settled at Warmun had negative experiences of town life. They wanted to get away from the alcohol, the violence and hopelessness.
As families moved in they set up camps along the stream that runs through the settlement. In the beginning there were no permanent dwellings, people were living behind wind breaks or in humpies and had no access to a regular water supply. In setting up their camps they tended to stay close to others who had worked on the same or nearby stations. In time five distinct camping areas came into being, and these still exist: Top Camp, Garden Area, Middle Camp, Bottom Camp and Other Side.

Warmun, 1978

In 1977, Warmun became officially established as a permanent living area. Today it is recognised as one of the largest Aboriginal communities in the East Kimberley, with a fluctuating population of 400 people. Since the beginning it is administered by an Aboriginal community council.. Many key management positions are filled by local Aboriginal people.

Over the years the community has built up a good infrastructure with an oval, recreation centre, gym, basketball courts, administration office, mechanical workshop, community centre, child care centre, clinic and school from pre-primary to year 10. The community also owns the Turkey Creek Roadhouse and a smaller community store, in addition to operating a road maintenance/machinery hire enterprise.

The Daiwul Gija Cultural Centre was opened in June 1998 to operate a cultural resource centre promoting the continuation of Kija culture for future generations. Also in 1998, leading Warmun artists established Warmun Art Centre, which provides them with economic independence and the ability to share their culture with outsiders. Some of the Warmun artists are famous all over the world!

 Children nowadays - enjoying the bush!

Over the past 10 years numerous smaller outstations have been established in the area surrounding Warmun, as Kija people have gained excisions from pastoral leases, or purchased stations, and so been able to return to their traditional countries to live. Bow River, Doon Doon and Violet Valley are all Kija-owned cattle stations in the local area.