Japangardi Miller spent his early childhood living a traditional and nomadic Warlpiri
life. The first time he saw white men was around 1928, during the time of the
Coniston Massacre which was one of the last events of the frontier wars. He saw
the men and their guns and heard about their bullets which had already killed
many Warlpiri people. Japangardi was placed under the control of a white
pastoralist and was used, along many other indigenous peoples, for free labour
in the mines and cattle stations. He drove cattle from near the West Australian
border to near Brisbane, at the end of the trip, his boss sold the horses,
forcing Japangardi and his colleagues to walk all the way back home.
After a lifetime of hard physical work, he moved back to Mount Theo and with his sister in law, Peggy Brown, began to provide refuge and help for those youths addicted to sniffing petrol. Mrs Brown and Japangardi began this rehabilitation program completely out of their own pockets, using their age pensions to run activities for the kids and buy extra food and clothing. All their work was voluntary. His methodology was simple: take young addicted people out into the bush, teach them traditional law and country skills, and let the power of the land and culture heal their spirit. In 1994, half the teenage population of Yuendumu (Central Australias largest indigenous community) was sniffing petrol, but eight years later no one sniffed at all, and ex addicts went on to become youth leaders and community workers. Modern treatment does not commonly advise such ‘alternative’ methods as this. Australian social policy analysts deemed petrol sniffing in central Australia an ‘unsolvable problem’, and to primary western methods of treatment, it was.
Japangardi passed away on the 31st of October last year.