Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

King, Irrapmwe, Unchalka

Referred to as Irrapmwe in Melbourne Museum displays. ‘Irrapmwe was the headman of the Alice Springs Arrernte in the late part of the nineteenth century. He probably died in about 1905. Spencer and Gillen knew Irrapmwe by other names – King Charlie or Ntyarlke, which refers to a species of caterpillar that was Irrapmwe’s personal totem. According to Arrernte law, large parts of the Alice Springs area were created by caterpillar ancestors. It was Irrapmwe’s direct connection to these ancestors, combined with a distinguished ritual career, which gave him the influential role as headman of his group. Like Spencer, Irrapmwe was a highly knowledgeable man with great authority in his own domain. He was what Aboriginal people often call a ‘law-man’ – a ritual expert. Irrapmwe and his people gave Spencer and Gillen a great deal of material and information. He worked particularly closely with Frank Gillen, who often relayed information, specimens and artefacts to Spencer in Melbourne. Arrernte people say that Irrapmwe was a good friend to the white settlers who invaded his country, welcoming them, guiding them to water sources and generally working in concert with them. Yet Irrapmwe’s relationship to the settlers was not always cordial. Sometimes, like when Gillen sent his sons to jail in South Australia, Irrapmwe protested violently against the unfair treatment of his family.’ (http://museumvictoria.com.au/pages/2327/bunjilaka-exhibition.pdf) TGH Strehlow's genealogies (see FT V, 16) note that a Charley Ntyarlke was also known as Erapmua Paltara [rendered in the current Arrernte orthography as Irrapmwe of the Peltharre section].


King Unchalka Irrapmwe
Skin Name
Ancestral Country
Alternate Names
  • Charley
Language Groups