Posted on February 14th, by Liam in Books, Portfolio. No Comments


Darby: One hundred years of life in a changing culture

Author: Liam Campbell
Photographer: Scott Duncan
ISBN: 0733319254
Publisher: ABC Books 2006
Format: Hardcover and Audio CD

This entertaining and educational book (and CD) offers a view into an aspect of Australia rarely seen with this detail and sensitivity. The stories and artwork for which Darby Jampijinpa Ross was famous and revered are included. The book features photographs by Emmy award-winning cinematographer Scott Duncan.

“That was how we were in the good old days.”

Born in the bush before Whitefellas entered his country, Darby lived through a time of great change for his people and died the day after his hundredth birthday.

“Children. Oh, everything there! Women there, young girl; they kill ’em whole lot there.”

Darby survived the deaths of his family in the 1928 Coniston massacre before travelling widely as a stockman, cameleer, drover and prospector. After assisting the war effort, he returned to his traditional country northwest of Alice Springs where he became a much loved community and ceremonial leader. He gained recognition as a successful artist and a strong advocate for Aboriginal Law and Culture.

“We would paint them with ochre and feathers. We would say, ‘We’re going to teach you youngfellas so you can look after the country’.”

At Yuendumu, Darby became a strong supporter of the Baptist Church, a consultant for Parks and Wildlife and was the curator for the Yuendumu Men’s Museum. He was an enthusiastic storyteller in Warlpiri and English and inspired others to follow in his footsteps.

“Old Darby had an idea. He cut these sticks and made ’em like a little boomerang – little tiny clutch out of mulga (wood). He was really Bush Mechanic that old man!” – Francis Jupurrurla Kelly.

An amazing life of good humour and willingness to share his stories of Jukurrpa (Dreaming), Law and Culture make him one of Australia’s unsung heroes. His contributions range across activities as diverse as television, sport, spirituality, natural history and art.

The voice of Darby Jampijinpa Ross represents the richness of Indigenous Australia.

“European peoples, Aboriginal peoples – we’re living in one lot, now. All family.”

Liam met Darby in 1989, and began recording his stories in 1995. Darby wanted them to be made into a book and they looked for support to expand the project to visit country, record further stories and create an archive of photographs. Darby identified a small group of participants in the project. Darby’s nephew Thomas Jangala Rice was identified as kirda (owner) for the material and Paddy Japaljarri Stewart as kurdungurlu (guardian). Elders Jack Jakamarra Ross and Paddy Japaljarri Sims were also major participants. This model reflects Warlpiri codes for the management and dissemination of cultural information.

Darby’s story is also a record of the Warlpiri people and deals with the Indigenous experience in Central Australia in the twentieth century. Warlpiri Media and Warlukurlangu Artists provided community support and oversight of the project. A wide range of individuals and organisations took part and aimed to create a book that not only Darby could be proud of, but all people of Yuendumu would have an interest in, with historical, cultural, social and academic value beyond the Warlpiri community.


Short-listed for Community and Regional History Award, NSW Premier’s History Award 2007 and the NT Chief Minister’s History Book Award 2007

(to read the full review click on the names below)

Darby is one of the first comprehensive attempts at writing the biography of a traditional Aboriginal man… The ideal formula is elusive: should the biographer write on Aboriginal terms or should the narrative be unfolded in strict chronological form, much like a Western picture of a life? Campbell’s solution is to involve many other voices in his written tapestry and to borrow from European notions of multidisciplinary research and Warlpiri communal ceremony-making practices. The portrait Campbell develops is unsparing in its details, yet shot through with deep and poignant affection…

– Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian

Liam Campbell seemed to have been highly aware of the tension between indigenous and whitefella storytelling in composing his biography of Darby Jampijinpa Ross, and doesn’t shy away from the relevance of social history to Darby’s lived experience: it’s right there in the subtitle of the book, “one hundred years of life in a changing culture.” His focus, though, is laudably on the Aboriginal culture and the life of a man within that culture as it encounters and adapts to the presence of Europeans in Central Australia.

– Will Owen, Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye

In this beautifully produced book, Campbell tells of his friendship with Darby, relates his stories and provides a historical context for Darby’s life.

– The Age

Darby Ross Memorial Cup – Yuendumu Sports Weekend

Make sure you visit Scott Duncan’s website and blog where you’ll find some great photos and films!

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