Willaberta Jack (2007)

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History remembers Willaberta Jack as man whose courage survives an evil pastoralist and an unjust law system, but will it be enough to protect him from his own community.

A clash of bush craft and pride as an Aboriginal man runs for his life pursued by the law of the day. Set in 1929, this is an extraordinary tale of survival and resilience set amongst the harsh landscape of Central Australia.

25 min documentary
Nganampa Anwernekenhe Series 19
Director: David Tranter
Writer: Steven McGregor

Donald Thompson, better known as Crookhat, is a senior Alywarre man. As is common in Aboriginal culture, a legendary story has been handed down to him. Crookhat recounts a story of a clash of bush craft and pride as Willaberta Jack, an Aboriginal man, runs for his life, pursued by the law of the day. Set in 1929, less than a year after the infamous Coniston massacre this is an extraordinary documentary about the largest manhunt ever to take place in the Northern Territory.

In the 1920’s Hatches Creek, north of Alice Springs, was a thriving mining town and was surrounded by large cattle stations run by white men. One of these men was World War One veteran Harry Henty. By all accounts he is said to have been a harsh man who treated the Aboriginal people who lived and worked on his station cruelly.

Along with the livestock, Aboriginal people on Henty’s cattle station belonged to him. As his possessions, Harry Henty could and would take any Aboriginal woman he wanted. Henty had on many occasions forced Willaberta Jack’s wife to his bed, but it was when he tried to take Willaberta’s niece, who was not yet into puberty, that the tension started between the two men.

Willaberta Jack took his family and found refuge with another pastoralist, Dan Curry.

A round the same time, in a separate incident, another Aboriginal man, Philomac (Billy Mac) was so afraid of Henty that he tried to flee for his life. When Henty eventually caught up with him, Philomac was brutally beaten and chained. Several nights later Philomac escaped again, dragging the chains with him.

Aboriginal tracker Jack Spratt accompanied Harry Henty in pursuit of Philomac. His tracks led to Dan Curry’s Homestead, however Philomac was an expert bushman and unbeknown to Henty had doubled back into the hills and watched as the two men rode in.

Trusting Willaberta Jack to manage his homestead, Dan Curry had gone into Alice Springs to replenish his supplies. Henty came to the door with his rifle cocked, demanding that Philomac be returned to him. Willaberta tried to deny that Philomac was in the hidden in the homestead.

Henty stared firing his weapon. Inside the homestead, Willaberta Jack reached for a rifle that Dan Curry always kept above his door. He loads it. Henty comes crashing through the door. Willaberta Jack, afraid for his life, fires, killing Henty immediately.

Having intimate knowledge of the mindset of the times and terrified of the repercussions of killing a white man, Willaberta Jack and his wife vanish into the land.

This is a story of survival and resilience set amongst the harsh landscape of Central Australia. Concluding with the capture and trial of Willaberta Jack, he is found innocent of the murder of white pastoralist Harry Henty, but there are those in the community unhappy with the court’s decision.


Featuring - Donald Kamara Thompson, Alec Pitjara Peterson
Also featuring - Lyle Jagamarra Gibson, Sabrina Nungarrayi Gibson
Director - David Tranter
Cinematographers - Allan Collins ACS, Warwick Thornton, Jason Ramp, Colin Richards, Robyn Nardoo
Sound Recordist - David Tranter
Editor - Dena Curtis
Script Writer - Steven McGregor
Translator - David Moore
Research Assistant - Lisa Steffanoff
Composer/Musician - David Page
Narrator - Paul Henness
Assistant Editor - Keith Skinner
1st A.D. - Peter Bartlett
Sound Post Production - ABCTV
Producer in Development - Trish Morton Thomas
Series Producer - Barbara Clifford /
Executive Producers - Rachel Clements / Citt Williams

Special thanks

The family and decedents of the people involved in this story.
Jerry Flattum
Archival – George Birchmore
Nick Gill
Archival Photos
Tennant Creek Overland Telegraph Line Staff
238/0380 Spillett Collection NTL
Sergeant Harry Henty
12th Battalion – Claire Henty-Gebert Family Collection
Police records 1928/1929(?)

Developed with the assistance of the AFC Indigenous Unit. This activity is supported by the Australian government through the Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records Program of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

Awards and Screenings

2007 Broadcast ABC
2007 Nominated for Best Documentary at Winnipeg Indigenous Film Festival
2007 Screened at Garma Festival
2007 ImagineNATIVE Film Festival Canada
2007 Aotearoa Film Festival (NZ)