April 2008


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Jackey Jackey & the Yadhaykenu

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

His true name is nowhere recorded, nor his date of birth. Born in the Hunter Valley around 1833, he was known to his white employer simply as Jackey Jackey. A clever and skilful lad, he was recommended to Edmund Kennedy, an assistant surveyor of Crown lands.

Kennedy had arrived in the colony in 1840 with "an almost mad ambition to distinguish himself". So far, he'd served on Mitchell's expeditions in central and western Queensland and established himself in Sydney society as a charming bachelor with a good singing voice. In 1848, not yet 30, he was given command of an expedition to explore the Cape York Peninsula. He landed in May, near what is now Mission Beach, with 27 horses, 250 sheep, three wooden carts, four convicts, a taxidermist, a botanist, four ex-convicts and Jackey Jackey.

It took two months to cover 20 miles. Ill and exhausted, the party was kept moving only by the inspiring leadership of Kennedy and the bushcraft of Jackey Jackey. A strong rapport developed between the two and when Kennedy decided to leave the bulk of the group behind and strike north for the waiting relief ship, he took Jackey Jackey with him.

The peoples of the Cape York "sandbeach" country had a long history of contact with other races. Of their five main language groups, the most warlike was the "cruel" Yadhaykenu. As Kennedy and Jackey Jackey thrashed through the flooded, croc-infested tributaries of the Escape River, Yadhaykenu warriors closed around them. Kennedy hoped they were friendly. Their barbed spears and muttering convinced Jackey Jackey otherwise. "Those blackfellows, they too much speak," he told the boss.

A hail of spears felled the horses and skewered Kennedy through the back and thigh. Jackey Jackey managed to get off a round of buckshot, but Kennedy's powder was wet and his gun misfired. Fatally wounded, he entrusted his notes and maps to his companion, fell back into his arms and died. Still under sustained attack, JJ hastily buried Kennedy, hid his papers and escaped through the rain. Lionised in Sydney, he was presented with a silver breastplate and a £50 bank account. An admiring public plied him with "ardent spirits".

‘Jackey Jackey' entered the vernacular. For whites it was a generic dismissive, denying blacks their individuality and hence their dignity. To blacks it meant a collaborator, the subservient native complicit in his own people's dispossession.

Jackey Jackey died after falling, drunk, into a campfire. He'd never worn his breastplate and his untouched reward money reverted to consolidated revenue. In the 50 years following Kennedy's expedition, the Indigenous population of Cape York fell from 3000 to 100. Their descendents welcome tourists.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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