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Jandamarra O’Shane is the nephew of magistrate Pat O’Shane, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner Terry O’Shane.

When he was six years old, he became the victim of a terrible attack. Paul Streeton, a charity worker in his mid-twenties who was a stranger to the O’Shane family, entered Jandamarra’s school with a tin of petrol, and set the small child on fire with a cigarette lighter. With burns to 70% of his body, Jandamarra was not expected to live. He spent long periods in hospital and needed extensive skin grafts.

Streeton was arrested and convicted for the attack, being sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder. During the trial, Streeton revealed he had been planning to burn someone at his former school since Year 2, because of the bullying he had endured there. It is not known why he singled out Jandamarra as his target.

The horrific injury he sustained, the seemingly random nature of the attack, and Jandamarra’s young age made him an immediate focus for an outpouring of public sympathy. There was a fundraising appeal on Channel 7, and rock band Midnight Oil held a benefit concert. Boxer Lionel Rose gave Jandamarra his World Title belt, hoping to lift his spirits. At the age of 10, he was chosen to take part in the Torch Relay for the 2000 Summer Olympics.

By his 18th birthday, Jandamarra said publicly that he had forgiven Streeton for the attack, and even considered visiting him in prison. Part of the reason he felt able to forgive is because he was bullied at school himself, due to the scars all over his body from the burns.

Yesterday, Jandamarra celebrated his 21st birthday. He says that forgiving his attacker was necessary for he and his parents to move on, so that it wouldn’t be an obstacle in his way all his life. He would like to meet Paul Streeton when he is released from prison to let him know he forgives him.

Jandamarra and his partner Tara recently had a baby boy called Raupena. Raupena is a Maori name, but I’m not sure of its meaning. I consulted a Maori dictionary, and learned that if you read each syllable separately, it means “to gather and cherish” which certainly sounds nice, but may be a coincidence. There’s a Maori name Reupena, which is a form of Reuben, and I wonder whether Raupena is a variant spelling of that?

Jandamarra’s own name has an interesting history. He was named after Tjandamurra (the name can be transliterated both ways), a 19th century tracker, warrior and resistance fighter from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. In Indigenous culture, he is a folk hero, sometimes said to be the Aboriginal equivalent of Ned Kelly. As far as I can work out, his name may mean something like “moving hands” (but if so, probably has a deeper metaphorical significance); the name is not uncommonly given to Aboriginal boys because of its cultural resonance. It’s a name of charismatic power.

Jandamarra O’Shane’s parents may have wanted him to possess some of the warrior spirit of his famous namesake, and he has certainly proved himself strong and brave. Jandamarra goes by the name Janda in everyday life.

Apart from the story of someone overcoming horrendous circumstances, I just thought it would be good to show a couple of less common names from different cultures – not everyone is called Jack or Lachlan! It also seems to show that it’s hard to find information on Aboriginal and Maori names, and I would very much like someone to bring out a large and comprehensive dictionary of names from these language groups.

(Story and photo from abc.net.au, August 12 2011)