06 May 2011
Minister for Statehood
The first ever medal of gallantry awarded to an Indigenous Australian will go on display today at the Northern Territory Library – 100 years after it was awarded to him.
The Aboriginal man known as Neighbour, from the Roper River region, south-east of Katherine, was awarded the prestigious Albert Medal by King George V for saving a policeman from drowning on the Wilton River in 1911.
Launching the exhibition, Statehood Minister, Malarndirri McCarthy said that in this Centenary year it was fitting to reflect on the bravery on an Aboriginal prisoner who saved his captor’s life 100-years ago.
“Mr Neighbour was being brought to Darwin to stand trial for raiding a fencer’s hut, and while the party was crossing the flooded Wilton River, Mounted Constable W F Johns was kicked in the face by his horse as it was swept down river,” said Ms McCarthy.
“Constable Johns clung desperately to some pandanus palms, and Neighbour, all the while wearing a neck chain, went to his rescue and saved Constable Johns’ life.
“When Neighbour went on trial for murder in Darwin later in 1915, his team, including the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, saw to it that Neighbour wore the impressive Albert Medal in court.
“Neighbour’s lawyer, who made what was reported as ‘a very eloquent appeal’ for his client, reminded everyone of his bravery and Neighbour was duly acquitted.
“Mr Neighbour’s gallantry was proven again in 1940, when the Roper River was in flood and he helped in rescue efforts, ferrying supplies and rescuing people stranded by the flood waters.
“Mr Neighbour was a brave man and he is to be applauded by all Territorians for his humanity.”
Mr Neighbour’s family from the Roper Region and Constable Johns’ family from Adelaide will attend the exhibition opening today – it runs until 21 July.
Neighbour was born around 1882 and died on 21 June 1954. Throughout his life, Neighbour periodically served as a police tracker. He also worked as a stockman at Hodgson Downs and Nutwood Downs Stations.
Mounted Constable Johns had a distinguished career in the police force, eventually becoming the Commissioner of Police in South Australia. He kept in touch with Neighbour throughout his life.
The Albert Medal (AM) was introduced in 1866, and was named after Queen Victoria’s consort,
Prince Albert. Twenty seven Australians received the medal before it was discontinued and
replaced by the George Cross.
Media Contact::Ursula Raymond 0457 825 507