They call me Jimmy Wavehill – that “famous man” reflects on a life in the saddle
I’ve known Jimmy Wavehill for a few years now. People call him “that handsome man” or “that famous man” and Jimmy won’t deny either – though he is usually pretty modest about his long life with the horses and cattle and country to the west and south of Katherine in the Northern Territory where he was born and has lived his long life.
I caught up with Jimmy at Timber Creek earlier this year. This is part one of his story – here he talks mainly about his early life travelling around country with his father and working on stations in the NT’s western districts.
My bush name is Nowandja. I was born near Katherine at Low Level in about 1941, before the Japanese bombed Darwin and Katherine. I was born in the bush. My mother, her name was Little Minnie, put me in the coolamon, carried me ‘round in the coolamon. My father was called Left-hand Charlie. His blackfella name was Mulyungarni. They were from Daly Waters and Newcastle Waters. They used to be travelling together before I was born.
When I was a little boy I used to hear the elders, you know, just talking. That used to go into my brain when I was growing up. Those stories came into my brain then. Then I was thinking, “Oh, well, that is good. When I grow up I just want to do things just like my father does.”
I can speak and hear Mudbura, Jingili, Alawa. I never been to school. It was Welfare time then. They didn’t chase me around. I was learning in the stock camp. I don’t know reading and writing English. I can spell my name but I can’t read and write. I was travelling with my father. I was only a little boy. We started from Nutwood Downs Station and we got to Maryfield Station and they were mustering the cattle, branding and all that.
My father used to do the bronco horses and roping all the cleanskins and take them to the bronco yard. They used to make rope and catch ‘em up. Brand ‘em, cut balls and horn and everything. I was watching and learning all the time. My father was a top man with a horse and with cattle.
One head stockman he had two Blue Heeler dogs and he said to all them elders, you know “I don’t need them camp dogs around – they might spoil my dogs. I don’t want you mob playin’ with my dogs.” No kids been there, only myself. Everyone was off working. Anyway, I went out and was playing with those two dogs. That head stockman seen me and he came out from the yard and smacked me hard on the bum. I was crying and crying. My father was in the bronco yard and my father saw what that bloke done to me.
So he took that bullock to the bronco panel and roped it off and got off the bronco horse and gave it to another bloke and he went and talked to that head stockman “Hey, why you done that to my son?” That head stockman said “I told you I didn’t want that kid to play with my dogs.” He said “What, you taking the place for your son?”
My dad said “Yeah, that’s the only son I’ve got.”
That head stockman and my father had a good go in the yard. He wanted to beat my father but my father been too good for him.
After my father knocked that bloke out he got a rope and jammed that bloke in the bronco panel. He made that head stockman squeal. (laughs)
My father and I pulled out from there. Got his swag, put me in the saddle-bags and we went walking towards Larrimah way, there was an Aboriginal camp there, the compound for the Aboriginal people that used to work for the army. My father got a job there and he used to work with the Army at Gorrie near to Wubaluwan now.
That place was good. The Army used to treat us well, real good tucker.
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