WILLIE WIDGELL, KING OF TINNEBURRA
Willie Widgell, a Badjiri man, was proclaimed King of Tinnenburra in recognition of his status as a leader is buried in the Cunnamulla cemetery. He was given a brass plate inscribed “Willie Widgell, King of Tinenburra, 1943”. Brass king plates — also known as breastplates, brass plates and gorgets — have a contentious history because of the way they were used to control local Aboriginal people. Despite this, the individuals bestowed with these titles were usually powerful leaders in their own societies and it was for this reason that colonisers identified them as key negotiators between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Willie Widgell was very proud of his plate and his family remember that he always wore it.
Willie’s father, Billie Widgell, was also a known leader and he was similarly given a brass plate, inscribed “King Billy of Warrego”. Billy Widgell’s king plate is part of the collections held at the Anthropology Museum at The University of Queensland at St Lucia in Brisbane, but sadly the whereabouts of Willie Widgell’s breastplate is unknown. However, there are photographs that show him wearing it, and visitors can see similar plates from the region in the displays at the Cunnamulla Fella Art Gallery and Museum. The legacy of Billy and Willie Widgell lives on in their descendants who remain a key part of the Cunnamulla community today.
Willie Widgell wearing a brass plate, with his four sons at Tinnenburra (copied with permission of the Stockman's Hall of Fame and the Widgell Family.