Mr Charlie One Lampungmeiua

By Jenny Rich

Charlie One Lampungmeiua (Tippaklippa) (1920-1974), coastwatcher, was born probably in 1920 on Melville Island. Belonging to the Ironwood and Tukkarinna (mullet) groups, he was affiliated with the Munupi country, and spoke Tiwi, English and Malay.

In 1942 Lampungmeiua was one of 39 Australian Aborigines recruited for coastwatching work around Bathurst and Melville islands by Jack Gribble, a patrol officer based near Snake Bay, Melville Island. Gribble was commissioned in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, but his men were not formally enlisted. Selected for their local knowledge and bush skills, the Aborigines received no wages; they were given a few rations, clothing, clay pipes and tobacco, and were told that they would be paid after World War II had ended.

Issued with naval uniforms and weapons, the Aborigines practised drill, and were trained to use rifles, machine-guns, grenades and two-way radios. They also learned to identify Japanese aircraft and ships. One visitor patronisingly reported that they acquitted themselves "in a manner comparable with white servicemen". The Aborigines carried out armed patrols in the motor vessel, Amity, and in dugout canoes; they performed guard duty, built a jetty, dam, store and huts, and made bricks and cultivated gardens at their base. Lampungmeiua was a machine-gunner in the Amity. He and 'Strangler' McKenzie made several secret trips by submarine to Japanese-occupied Timor to assist in landing small parties of allied troops and stores. They were chosen because they spoke Malay.

The main tasks of Gribble's Aboriginal patrol were to watch for enemy invaders, and to search for downed planes and airmen. Members of the group escorted several Allied airmen to safety, including the crew of a Dutch bomber and an American fighter pilot. They also rescued eleven survivors from an American supply ship which was sunk off Melville Island. In addition, they warned authorities about a number of Japanese submarines, piloted visiting ships and located enemy sea mines. In one 15-month period they patrolled over 2250 miles (3600km) by boat and 1150 miles (1800km) by foot to provide security for the two airstrips and the radar stations in the area. They were taken to Darwin for a special parade.

After the war Charlie One lived near Garden Point, Melville Island. A "strong and determined leader" who insisted that his "people respect and maintain their culture", he was held in high regard. He refused a party of miners access to his land to explore for mineral sands. His woven flax ropes, attached to harpoons for catching dugong and turtle, were valued by the Tiwi. He married three sisters Dorie, Elizabeth and Gladys Puruntatameri. In August 1962 the RAN honoured surviving Aboriginal coastwatchers in a ceremony on Melville Island. Tippaklippa received £200 and was awarded the Defence, War and Australian Service medals. Accidentally spiking his head on a nail, he died on 22 September 1974 at Nguiu and was buried in Garden Point (Pirlangimpi) cemetery. Gladys survived him, as did the daughter of his marriage to Elizabeth.