After the Rescue

Wally Wilfred – is oriented around the story of Ayaiga, an Alawa man who courageously rescued Mounted Police Constable William Johns from drowning in the Northern Territory’s Roper River region. In 1911, during the wet season, NT police officer Constable Johns arrested Ayaiga, also known as ‘Neighbour’ and three other Aboriginal men accused of robbing a white man’s hut. Johns shackled the four prisoners and they began the 32-kilometre journey to Roper Bar Police Station on foot, escorted by Johns on horseback. Arriving at the flooded Wilton River, the prisoners crossed the bursting waters, but when Johns followed, his horse kicked him, and he went under. Risking his own life, Ayaiga, still in shackles, dove in and pulled Johns to safety. After saving Constable Johns, Ayaiga’s charges were dropped. News of Ayaiga’s courage travelled and in February 1912, King George V awarded him the Albert Medal for Lifesaving, the British Empire’s highest award for bravery, which was presented to Ayaiga in Darwin. These events took place amidst colonial violence in the Gulf Country – massacre, dispossession and degradation – which was the reality lived by Aboriginal peoples in the region. During the rapid pastoral settlement of Gulf Country, between 1885-1910, over 600 Aboriginal peoples were killed (about one-sixth of the population) and many more displaced[1]. Those like Ayaiga who remained were subject to intrusive and paternalistic laws. Even after Ayaiga received his venerated award, NT officials did not allow him to keep the medal. The layered story of Ayaiga’s compassion and courage has been retold in numerous variations and shaped by many people. In After the Rescue,, Mounted Constable Johns and King George V. Alluding to the historical and cultural complexity of Ayaiga’s narrative, the three figures from starkly different places and life experiences stand next to each other in a simple configuration, interacting without understanding one another. King George V is adorned with medals. Johns is still on horseback, situating him in a moment of power before the event, and Ayaiga is triumphantly bringing home the Albert Medal. After the Rescue opens Ayaiga’s narrative up to critical re-interpretation in the present. The humanising story of Ayaiga’s bravery has often been used to exemplify a moment of cross-cultural unity between Aboriginal peoples

61×46cm | Cat. no: 66-21