Photo bt Tamara Penniket

BillHarney1.jpgYoung Bill on the right as a little stockman

BillHarneyFamily1929.jpgThe Wardaman Elders who "grew Bill up"


YIDUMDUMA BILL HARNEY, an Elder and Senior custodian of the Wardaman people of the Victoria, Flora and Katherine River Districts of the North Territory of Australia.

Yidumduma was born on the bank of Brandy Bottle Creek in the MUY MUY clan country of the Wardaman people, in the early 1930's to his mother Ludi. Yidumduma himself is of the YUBULYAWAN clan of the Wardaman Nation. The Nation once comprised 11 clans, today the members of a mere 5 clans, survive.

Wardaman were an extremely aggressive and successful tribe having controlled the major parts of three river systems. They drove the early pastoralists from the traditional Wardaman lands. Over 40 years elapsed before the Wardaman were finally subdued by the European and then at a tremendous cost to the invader. Wardaman were massacred in their hundreds and returned that horror many times on the European usurpers, killing police and pastoralist alike, in reprisal for their own maltreatment.

A proud and resourceful people, the elder warrior males, observed in their splendour still, as late as the 1930's and described in the records as "the hereditary Lords of the Wardaman people" by an author who happened upon them in close proximity of the township of Katherine.
From this high quality of human stock descended Yidumduma.

Yidumduma was raised and educated in the traditional ceremony's of his ancient people by Jumorji, a senior lawman of the Wardaman and Yidumduma's Aboriginal father. From Jumorji, Yidumduma takes his country and his heritage, for the Wardaman practice a patralinial hierarchy, with eight moiety groups. Yidumduma is steeped in the law and ways of his people as well as having a strong knowledge of the laws and ways of the Muningja (White man).

Yidumduma is not formally educated in the system of the white man, the systematic process of his people's dispossession deprived him of that, yet his white man knowledge, gained by his life experience, is vast. He is semi-literate and semi-numerate. As an Aboriginal he speaks seven languages and is the last senior lawman (knowledge custodian) of his people. In the White man way of things Yidumduma is an Emeritus Professor. In the law of his people and their closely affiliated tribal neighbours, he is the equivalent of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. The Big Lawman, wherever he is, among the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, a man accorded the
highest respect.

In the white man's world he began work at 8 years of age in the stockcamps of the big English Pastoral Company, Vestey's, who for a time possessed the rich traditional land of his people. Vestey's pursued and won a huge fortune from the grazing of cattle on the lands of Yidumduma and those of his ancestors. He began as a lowly horse-tailer and rose to become head-stockman, the highest employment category and responsibility an Aboriginal male could achieve at that time.
He was, for a time head-stockman for the famous family of European Cattle Barons, the Durack family. Yidumduma retains that family's respect to this day and that of many other Europeans.

He has travelled widely in this land and in other nations of this world, promoting his cultural heritage and the magnificent art record of his people. Yidumduma is widely regarded as a Master story teller or songman of his people; his fame is both national and international. As an artist in his own right, Yidumduma has works all over the globe, paintings in the National Gallery of Australia, the Federal Parliament and the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. He is a co-author of 2 books ' Born Under the Paperbark Tree' (1996) or the University of the Bush and 'Dark Sparklers', a Wardaman interpretation of the cosmos (2003).

He gathers and processes the traditional didjeridu timber, makes, paints and performs with that haunting instrument. From this and the paintings of his 'Dreamings' he now makes a living, supporting an extended family of some 30 people. Yidumduma has never been on the Welfare Line and although of Pension age, steadfastly refuses to be kept by the Government.

Yidumduma has at various times in his long working life been a crocodile hunter, a Buffalo hunter, a fisherman, a fencing contractor and today still conducts guided tours of his traditional lands. An extraordinary and successful businessman (a rarity amongst his peoples) his products, stories and tours are in incessant demand.

Amongst humans, Yidumduma is best described as 'one of Natures Gentlemen', others have described him one of Australia's living 'National Treasures'. An extremely knowledgeable, intelligent and gregarious man. Yidumduma, since 1976, has been responsible for the return to his people of 5,000 square kilometres of their traditional lands. He is actively leading his people in the acquisition of further Freehold land at present.

More About Yidumduma: Artist Bio

Yidumduma Bill Harney is recognized throughout the world as an artist of high esteem on many different stages. He is a Master Storyteller, Songman, Didjeridoo Player/Maker, Painter, and Writer. All his art forms have the deepest roots in the celebration of his Wardaman Aboriginal heritage and his unique ability to “walk in both worlds” and communicate the joy of
his culture to a global audience.

Yidumduma grew up in the “Bush University”, undergoing the fullest Wardaman ceremonial traditions and education. He was “grown up” by old Joe Jormorji, his Aboriginal step father, and his mother Ludi Yibuluyma. His white father was the famous master storyteller and writer Bill Harney with whom young Bill had little contact growing up. Being of mixed descent, he successfully evaded being a victim of the “Stolen Generation”, and continually avoided being taken away from
his Aboriginal upbringing by the government. Growing up in the early 1930’s on his traditional lands, young Yidumduma worked 6 months with the rest of the Wardaman on cattle stations and then 6 months going Walkabout continuing his ceremonial Bush University education.

Wardaman country houses hundreds of internationally recognized rock art sites, in particular the famous Lightning Brothers site, where the children have been educated for thousands of years through song, story and painting.

Today Yidumduma is the last fully initiated male Custodian of his people, the last male “Emeritus Professor” of his culture. He speaks 7 languages. His latter life has been filled with walking in both worlds as a successful Aboriginal businessman, actively working to win his traditional lands back to continue the education of his grandchildren, and sharing his culture with hundreds of world visitors to his art sites.

As an artist his work is deeply rooted in this education he received growing up, the songs, stories and paintings as passed on from the Ancestors, from the Dreamtime. He has been formally acknowledged as one of “Australia’s living national treasures” and his knowledge has been described by anthropologists as “encyclopedic in nature.” As a writer, he is a coauthor
of 2 books, ' Born Under the Paperbark Tree' (1996), an autobiography of his amazing life, and
'Dark Sparklers' (2003) with Hugh Cairns, which shares the incredible beauty and depth of the Wardaman star knowledge and cosmic worldview. He is currently working with Hugh on a third book articulating the depth and complexity of Wardaman Customary Law.

Yidumduma grew up painting and formally entered the world art stage in 1988. He has been a finalist several times for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Telstra Art Awards. He has works all over the globe, paintings in the National Gallery of Australia, the Federal Parliament and the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. In recent years Yidumduma presented a master work on his Customary Law to the Law Faculty, University of Sydney and Bond University on the Gold Coast. He is represented by Art Mob in Tasmania and MIMI in Katherine.

As a performing artist he has performed at the Darwin Festival, Sydney Opera House, Sacred Music Festival CA, Joshua Tree Didjeridoo Festival, UC Fiske Planetarium in Boulder CO and Universities throughout the US. He has twice toured the US in 2008 and 2011, with YDP Director Paul Taylor, to great acclaim.