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Paddy Woodman: d. 18 August 2010.

Paddy Woodman was an esteemed Elder of the Alyawarr language group of the Sandover River basin in the Northern Territory. He passed away at Alpurrurulam community near Lake Nash Pastoral Station on the Northern Territory--Queensland border. Like many desert Lawmen, he had a humble persona, not talkative, often preferring to speak with signs rather than words, always wearing a battered stock hat, well-worn dusty clothes and either bare feet or a pair of thongs; and never without a tin of chewing tobacco and ash. Paddy's centurial longevity enabled him to span the early frontier culture of arid-zone Aboriginal Australia and the modern era of land rights and Native Title. He projected his intellect and practice as a classical Lawman into many religious and judicial contexts during his generous life span.

Paddy Woodman died as the patri-clan leader of the Areyn estate, located in the south-easterly part of Elkedra Station (Northern Territory) on Newlands Creek, where the principal Dreaming is the Rayerrp (Black-headed Python) (see Figure 1). He was also the senior Law authority for the Tjaw estate of the central Elkedra River (also Alyawarr), as well as further Wakaya estates connected to the Rayerrp travel line in the Purrukwarra and Arruwarra estates of the Wakaya Desert.


Paddy's grandfather (father's father) was Ilparkarakar (Akemarr skin), the old boss of Areyn at the time of the Overland Telegraph Line construction from Adelaide to Port Darwin. Paddy's mother was Ninalker, or Rosy, from Aharreng estate (Ngwarrey skin). One of Paddy's father's brothers, Rayerrp, grew Paddy up. Paddy Woodman experienced a traditional birth at Ilkeyetr (spelled Elkedra in English) in Tyaw country on the Elkedra River, some time between 1902 and 1908. Paddy could not remember the names of the pastoral station owners during his childhood (e.g. at Frew River Station), but referred to them as 'the cheeky mob', 'the cowboy mob' or 'the shooting mob'. He compared local station owners who 'came lately' (in his teenage years), who 'were a little bit easy'. As a child, Paddy walked to the Hatches Creek Wolfram mining field when it was established in the Davenport Range during 1913-16, and worked in an underground shaft for a time. He also went walkabout to the estates of Arlangkw (Yatinyila Creek), Aharreng (Ammaroo), Alharrilpa (Annitowa) and Arrkert-arrkert (Argadargada) (see Figure 2). He then worked as a carpenter at the newly established Elkedra Station on the lower Elkedra River in about 1915.

Paddy Woodman underwent his first initiation to become a 'man' at marrengarr at the 'low down' near kenalkereng (i.e. downstream on Yatinyila Creek before it floods out into the Wakaya Desert). Paddy then went to Soudan Station on the Ranken River, walking north-easterly via a series of soakages that formed a walking route through the Wakaya Desert (later to become the WakayaAlyawarr land claim area). He was travelling with the families of Alyawarr kinsmen William Philimac, Tommy Beasley and Mick Butcher, leaving the harsh and violent pastoral frontier conditions of the Davenport Ranges ('revolver time') to seek safer employment on the Queensland frontier. When Paddy arrived at Soudan in about 1921 he was growing his first whiskers and was in his mid-teens.


Paddy Woodman became engaged in pastoral work at Soudan, and during the wet season underwent higher initiation into Law business at the 'Gidgea' camp near the Station, attended by Aboriginal people from Creswell Downs, Alexandria, Gallipoli, Avon Downs and Alroy Downs--a mixture of Wakaya, Alyawarr, Indjilandji and Wambaya peoples. Wakaya Elder Avon Willy assisted with 'schooling' Paddy in Kwaty (rain-making), Apenterweng (Giant Antbed) and Rayerrp ceremonies.

Paddy married his wife Ivy at Soudan, with whom he was to have nine children. He worked for about three years respectively at Soudan, Alexandria, Austral Downs (carting wood on a horse-drawn wagon) and Lake Nash Station, where he obtained the surname Woodman since his job was to collect and chop wood for the Station homestead and for steam-driven windmill engines. From Lake Nash, Paddy Woodman went to Barkly Downs in Queensland, then back to Austral Downs and Avon Downs and then to Rocklands (also in Queensland), and returned to Lake Nash again. He then worked at Avon Downs taking bullocks to the Queensland railhead at Dajarra with a droving team. Travelling between cattle stations in the pre-war period often involved returning his stockman's clothes and walking naked along the traditional river paths for a hundred or so kilometres, subsisting on bush resources. In recounting these experiences, Paddy calculated time, not quantitatively but serially according to the owners or managers of particular cattle stations.

While working on these stations of the Barkly Tableland between the 1920s and 1960s, Paddy participated in much ceremonial activity with various tribal groups. He travelled into the border town of Camooweal for rodeos and Christmas holidays and was taught about the sacred sites and Dreamtime geography of the Georgina basin, meeting some of its last Indjiladji Elders who were alive in the 1930s. Paddy worked with some of the best known Rain-makers of the region: Dijeru Jack, the Indjiladji Elder from the Buckley and Georgina Rivers, and Leichhardt Toby, the Kalkadoon Rainmaker from the Leichhardt River, as well as Avon Willy from Lorne Creek. In every decade of his life he was accruing knowledge of Aboriginal geography and religious practice from a region that extended from Barrow Creek in the south-west, Elliott in the north-west, Borroloola in the north and Mount Isa in the east.

Paddy Woodman was 'pensioned off' from Lake Nash at about the time when the Aboriginal (Northern Territory) Land Rights Act was introduced in 1976. He relocated to Epenarra Station on the Frew River, where he resided into the early 1980s, as well as spending some time at the Tennant Creek Town Camps and later at Awuratila (or Owairtilla) Outstation at Canteen Creek (on another 'floodout' creek into the Wakaya Desert). In the 1990s Paddy shifted to the Alpurrurulam community in close proximity to Lake Nash, and remained there for his last years, with his daughter Barbara.

Paddy's knowledge of Aboriginal Law, Dreamings, sites, songs and ceremonies extended throughout the entire central-east of the Northern Territory and into Queensland onto the Georgina River basin. His Law knowledge was exceptionally extensive and systematic. He memorised many hundreds, probably thousands, of site names with their respective stories and Dreamings. He could recite the country for hours on end by calling the sequences of place names along desert creeks and lines of soakages, always following familiar walking paths in his mind and drawing maps in the sand. Paddy was often sought out for his Law knowledge by Aboriginal and white people alike, and unselfishly assisted other Aboriginal groups with their land claims, Native Title claims and cultural heritage projects.

Paddy was consulted for more than 30 years for his knowledge by anthropologists, site recorders and lawyers from the Central and Northern Land Councils, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority in the Northern Territory and the Carpentaria Land Council in Queensland. He carried out desert fieldwork, mapping with such expert anthropological witnesses as Ken Maddock and Jeff Stead (also myself) and on claim research directed by eminent lawyers such as Ross Howie, Tom Keely, Andrew Chalk and Philip Hunter.

In 1985 Paddy Woodman appeared as a senior ceremonial manager at a series of ritual demonstrations before Hon. Mr Justice Maurice (Land Commissioner) in the Warumungu Land Claim around Tennant Creek. He again led a large series of ceremonies in 1989 for Hon. Mr Justice Olney (Land Commissioner) in the Wakaya-Alyawarr Land Claim in the central-east of the Northern Territory. These ceremonies constituted restricted exhibits and all involved secret ground paintings, decorated artefacts and displays of sacred objects, together with painted-up novices for particular Dreamings and sites in the respective claim areas. During 1991-92, Paddy travelled with the current author to document some 24 sacred sites in his own estates of Areyn and Tyaw along the Elkedra River for the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (NT). More recently, Paddy's geographic and religious knowledge informed the Davenport Ranges National Park (NT), Indjilandji-Dhidhanu (Qld) and Lake Nash (NT) Native Title claims, although his contribution became increasingly handicapped by the onset of deafness in his later years. (Only the first of these three has come to Court.)

In 1999 Paddy assisted with the Cultural Heritage clearance for the new Georgina River bridge through a complex of sacred riverine sites and intense archaeological remains, complementing the local traditional owner group's knowledge (the Indjiladji) with his regional perspective of long-distance travelling Dreamings. The construction of this bridge had been formerly stalemated by overlapping competing Native Title claims, which Paddy also assisted to resolve. Once the bridge was completed, the seasonal flooding of the Georgina River was no longer an obstacle to east-west highway traffic across the centre of Australia.

One of Paddy's most significant contributions, based on his site and estate geographic knowledge (notwithstanding collaboration by many others), was the production of an accurate map of language group estates in the central east of the Northern Territory (see Figure 2) that corrects local errors generated originally by Walter Roth (1890s) and transmitted inadvertently by both Norman Tindale and David Horton on their tribal/language group maps.

Paddy could travel without possessions or money as people respected him everywhere and would tend to his modest needs of a piece of ker (fresh meat), a tin of 'baccy', an extra blanket in winter, a pair of thongs or a clean change of clothes. Paddy expired on 18 August 2010. His age was conservatively 103, but he was possibly as old as 108. Vale a wise old artwampw of the desert.

Paul Memmott, Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, University of Queensland

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Title Annotation:OBITUARY
Author:Memmott, Paul
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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