The Haunted Well
Story:Lipuru is called the ‘haunted well’ because of the many violent deaths that occurred near the well since droving began on the stock route. The first of these occurred in 1911, when three drovers, George Shoesmith, James Thompson and Aboriginal stockman ‘Chinaman’ were attacked by desert people near Lipuru.
Thomas Cole, the next drover to come down the route, found their bodies. Rumours later circulated that, in revenge for their deaths, Cole killed a Martu family at Lipuru. But a police investigation could not: 'substantiate … that Thos. Cole shot or even had any trouble with natives coming down Canning’s route. If such was the case the members of his party were very careful not to mention anything about it on their arrival or afterwards.' (Police Investigation Report, 1911)
In the summer of 1911–12 Sergeant Richard Henry Pilmer was despatched from Perth on an official punitive expedition in search of the ‘murderers’ of ‘Chinaman’, Shoesmith and Thompson. The police party killed two Aboriginal men near Well 35 and another seven at Well 46. Pilmer claimed that ‘most of the guilty men had reaped their just desserts’.
But William Snell, who worked on the stock route nearly ten years later, was convinced that Pilmer ‘got the wrong natives. The whole thing would make a sad story so I will not mention more’.
Pilmer did corroborate the rumour that Cole had exacted his own revenge on a family at Well 37. This story gained weight in the 1930s, when head drover Wally Dowling noted that there were another five bodies buried at Lipuru. Jigalong elder Mavis Arnott described the deaths of the family who are buried there:
'At another windmill, other side of Lipuru … whitefellas shoot ’em … stock route blokes. Click, click, click, click … everywhere. How many funerals? … Two men this side, wife and two kids other side.'
In 1922 another death occurred near Lipuru. Three members of the Locke Oil survey expedition, John McLernon, Leo Jones and William Turner, were camped at a site about two days south of Lipuru when they were attacked while they slept. Turner woke to see an Aboriginal man standing over Jones, ready to strike. Looking up, he saw another man about to strike him. As he tried to warn Jones, he received a heavy blow to the side of the head: it broke two of his teeth and knocked out another. Turner reached for his rifle and, noticing a third man, fired. The men scattered, and he fired again. As he tried to fire a third time, the cartridge jammed in the gun, and the three men fled.
McLernon had been the first to be attacked, and Turner and Jones went to see how he had fared. His face had been smashed in and he never regained consciousness. His companions transported his body by camel to Lipuru, where he was buried.
Martumili artist Nyangapa Nora Nangapa recalls an event at Lipuru that is uncannily similar to the story of McLernon’s death. If it is the same event, it presents another side to the story not mentioned in the reports of Turner and Jones.
'At Lipuru my three fathers were digging a soak. When they saw the kartiya [white people] coming they went down low and hid themselves. They got the ladies to call out to the kartiya and go to them — to trick them. The kartiya kept the ladies there until these three came and killed him in the night.
'The other two kartiya got up and seen that man was dead and they started shooting, but it was so dark that my three fathers ran away into the bush. They ran into the night after killing that one bloke south of Tarltarl (about two days south of Lipuru). So the kartiya picked up the dead man and took him on the camel’s back all the way to Lipuru and they buried him there at the well.' (Nyangapa Nora Nangapa, 2008)
Media Creator:John Carty
Media date: 2007
Story Location: Lipuru (Well 37)
Media Description:Photograph of the Haunted Well at Lipuru (Well 37)
Story contributor(s):Nyangapa Nora Nangapa, Mavis Arnott
Art Centre(s): Other
Media copyright: FORM
This material is sourced from Ngurra Kuju Walyja — the Canning Stock Route Project, which was initiated in 2006 by FORM and developed in partnership with Birriliburu, Kayili, KALACC, Mangkaja, Martumili, Ngurra, Papunya Tula, Paruku IPA, Warlayirti and Yulparija artists and art centres.