COOBER PEDY News & Events

5 ABORIGINAL MEN PERISH DURING HEATWAVE ON  WILLIAM CREEK RD 1960

By David Hewitt for Coober Pedy Regional Times.

1. Tommy Parrott at the Grave of Frank Maynard 2. Monty O’Toole at the graves of Jimmy Graham, Laughing Willie and Rolf Entata. 3. The men’s Vauxhall vehicle.

This week [1-7 January 2023] marks 63 years since five Western Arrarnta Aboriginal men died on the William Creek road, approximately 75 kilometres from Coober Pedy.  Their car had broken down and they ran out of water.  That day, 2 January 1960 it was 50.7C in Oodnadatta, officially the hottest day ever recorded in Australia.

In 2002, the daughter of one of the men suggested a memorial should be placed in the area where the men died.  In 2019 the Coober Pedy police found one of the graves.

The men had all been high achievers in the white-fellow world.  A large bronze plaque was made with a wording approved by the families at Hermannsburg, NT and Norseman and Esperance WA.  It was planned that this should be placed beside the William Creek road, on Anna Creek station.

For two and a half years, relatives and friends have been waiting for approval from the Marree-based Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, Traditional Owners of the land.  

Whilst still waiting, it is sincerely hoped that in 2023, these five fine men will be honoured in the area where they tragically passed away.

4. Jimmy Graham and Jackaboy 5. Rolf, one of the men who died on William Creek road with his wife Millicent and daughter Virginia, Hermannsburg 1940

The Coober Pedy – William Creek Road deaths, 2 January 1960

63 years ago this week five Aboriginal men left Coober Pedy, heading for William Creek in an old car.  They were to catch the Ghan to Alice Springs, eventually returning to their Western Arrarnta community of Hermannsburg.

The relieving manager of the Coober Pedy  Lutheran mission, Keith Hamilton unsuccessfully tried to persuade them not to attempt the trip in a 24-year-old Vauxhall with poor tyres and a leaking radiator. 

Three days later Monty O’Toole in Coober Pedy had not heard from the men and alerted Dick Nunn at Anna Creek Station.  Search parties were mounted from both ends and the motorcar and five bodies were found 80km from Anna Creek Station and only 7km from a waterhole.  Not being from this country the men were unfamiliar with the location of water.  On the day they would have died, 2 January 1960 Oodnadatta, 160km away had experienced the hottest day ever officially recorded in Australia, 50.7C.

Dick Nunn reported the deaths to Port Augusta police by HF radio.  He was instructed to bury the bodies where he had found them. 2 days later Sergeant Colmer and Constables Gamble and Richards from Leigh Creek arrived on the scene in a police Land Rover.  Constable Richards took photos which today are the only record of this tragic incident.

All the men had been high achievers in the white-fellow world.  Rolf Entata was “Jackie” in Ion Idriess’s Lasseters Last Ride.  In 1931 he saved the life of Lasseter party member Phil Taylor after their camp was destroyed by fire at Uluru.  Over 6 days Rolf led Taylor to the safety of Henbury Station, searching for food and water on the way.

Laughing Willy had been a stockman at Narwietooma Station, northwest of Alice Springs and Frank Maynard who owned the car, was a reliable worker in Coober Pedy.

Jackaboy Ratara and Jimmy Graham left Hermannsburg for the Eastern Goldfields in WA as young fellows.  Jackaboy worked for many years as a camel driver, stockman, shearer, yard builder, drover and police tracker.  He was also a good sportsman.  Jimmy Graham was given his name by the owner of  Balladonia Station where he was a stockman. Later Jimmy ran the horse mail from Norseman to Eucla. He and Jackaboy were granted Citizenship in 1953.

Jackaboy and Jimmy travelled to Coober Pedy in late 1959 joining the other men and planning to return to Hermannsburg.

In 2002 Rolf Entata’s daughter, Virginia asked a friend in Alice Springs, Olga Radke if she could help her to place a memorial on her father’s grave.  First, they had to find the graves. With little information available and as the area was 700km away, the search was challenging. Sadly Virginia died several years later.  Finally, the Coober Police and a retired senior SA police officer who was given the photos by John Richards came to the aid of the families. In January 2019 the Coober Pedy police found one of the graves, believed to be that of Frank Maynard.

With the support and encouragement of Umoona Community members, it was decided to place a memorial just off the new road, 75km from Coober Pedy and 2km from Frank’s grave.

Plans for the memorial were presented to the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure in Port Augusta.  A bronze plaque with text acceptable to the families was ordered with a view to the unveiling of the memorial in the winter of 2020.

DPTI advised that it would be within the Lands of the Arabana People and therefore their permission is required.   Despite constant emails and phone calls, a representative advises that he is still awaiting instructions from the Arabuna Aboriginal Corporation. 

Two and a half years after the first approach to the Arabuna people, relatives of the deceased have no idea why there is hesitation for approval from another Aboriginal group.

However, it is hoped that in 2023, the plaque that was produced in mid-2020 will be unveiled on the Coober Pedy – William Creek road to five outstanding Western Arrarnta men.

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