WARNINGS IGNORED: The Murrumbidgee River (south of Gundagai) in flood after huge rains broke a decade-long drought across a large part of western NSW in 2010
WARNINGS IGNORED: The Murrumbidgee River (south of Gundagai) in flood after huge rains broke a decade-long drought across a large part of western NSW in 2010 PETER VENESS

Heroes neglected: Aboriginal men saved 69 people

WHEN we look back at the history of this country since European occupation, there is often documented, tragic and ugly interaction between indigenous and non-indigenous people. However not all interaction was negative. On the contrary, and this week's story is an example of this. This week marks the 166-year anniversary of an event, which highlighted the bravery of two Aboriginal men, Yarri and Jacky Jacky, in saving the lives of non-indigenous people.

The event took place in Gundagai NSW, in the great Murrumbidgee river flood of 1852. The township of Gundagai had been established 12 years earlier, on the river flats, despite the warnings of the local Wiradjuri people. They told the townspeople that it was not wise to build so close to the river due to flooding.

When the Murrumbidgee broke its banks on June 24, 1852, there were about 250 people living in the town. It is estimated that 89 people lost their lives and over 70 dwellings were completely destroyed. It stands on record as one of the most deadly natural disasters in Australia.

As soon as they could see that the townspeople were in trouble, the Wiradjuri people came to their aid. In particular, a man named Yarri did not hesitate. At the height of the flood, using only his small bark canoe, he spent the night rescuing people who had climbed on rooftops or large trees. He navigated his canoe through the debris-filled, raging floodwaters in total darkness, guided only by the desperate cries of those trapped by the flood waters. He rescued 49 people that night.

The next day another Wiradjuri man, Jacky Jacky, joined Yarri in his rescue efforts. Over a harrowing three days and two nights , in dangerous and difficult circumstances, the men rescued a total of 69 people, who would have drowned had it not been for their heroism.

Although Yarri and Jacky Jacky would arguably be two of Australia's greatest heroes, it is a rare history book that mentions their name, and their brave deeds are not taught in our schools. In fact, most people have probably never heard of them.

In 2016 they were nominated for a bravery award however that nomination was unsuccessful. A new application is being compiled and an online petition on change.org.au is supporting that nomination

To further highlight the pair's bravery, the people of Gundagai, in conjunction with the Brungle Local Aboriginal land Council, erected a statue of Yarri and Jacky Jacky in their town in June last year.

  • Giinagay Jinggiwahla (”hello” in our first nations' language) is a weekly column provided by the indigenous communities of the Clarence Valley covering a variety of topics, opinions and events across first nations areas Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbaynggir.


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