The Gringai

These are excerpts from publicly available documents, mostly from the 1800s and early 1900s relating to the Gringai, giving an indication of their customs and way of life. In collecting this information, a few problems have been encountered.

The first is, the Gringai are mentioned as occupying the headwaters of the Allyn, Paterson, Williams and Chichester rivers, as well as, according to Scott, the lower reaches of the Hunter and Karuah rivers. They are generally listed as clan of the Worrimi people, though the Wonnarua Strategic Plan lists the Gringai of Gresford as Wonnarua. James Miller, the author of Koori: A Will to Win, writes an ancestor was from Eccleston, and regards himself as Wonnarua. Scott identifies the mob at the North Shore of Port Stephens as Gringai, in an area Miller clearly identifies as Worrimi.

The second is the spelling of Indigenous words. The white people who recorded the language had no linguistic training, and little appreciation of the difficulties of translating between two disparate cultures. They wrote down what they thought they heard, but the Gringai language (Kathang or Gathang) does not have equiv- alent English consonants. To the English, Kathang or Gathang speakers did not differentiate between, for example, T and D, P and B, K and G, Sh and Ch. One author [anonymous] used a crossed d to denote a td sound. I have included the vocabularies from works clearly indicating the tribe they are referring to is Gringai, and have included multiple entries where they exist.

The third difficulty is the racist presumptions of some of these texts. I have edited out many instances of phrases such as ”howling savages” and ”gins” and have tried to keep the excerpts as cultural reportage, not cultural judgement, but inevitably the historical reports indicate the white cultural mores of the time.

The Gringai

The word Guringai/Gringai has no connection to the Aborigines of northern Sydney. It stems from the work of a West Maitland schoolteacher in the 1880s in which

he used the word Gringai to describe a group of Aborigines living near Dungog . Only in recent years has this historical fiction been properly analysed and now the Aboriginal Heritage Office – a joint initiative of and funded by Manly, Warringah, Pittwater, North Sydney, Lane Cove, Willoughby, Ku-ring-gai and Ryde councils –

has publicly denounced the use of the word Guringai.

In a new document, Filling A Void, the heritage office says there is no record of the word Guringai or any of its derivatives, including Ku-ring-gai, in any of the early accounts of the colony after white settlement and no hint that the Aborigines of the northern beaches or any other part of Sydney had ever heard the word.

The root of the problem lies in what the first settlers brought with them – their assumption that the Aborigines would all speak the same language, their belief the Aborigines lacked any cultural complexity and a failure to come to grips with the people they encountered.

What the first settlers also brought with them were a wide range of European diseases, to which the locals had no immunity, resulting in what in other parts of the world has been called conquest by disease.

In 1789 an outbreak of what was probably smallpox in Sydney killed many Aborigines and caused a large number of survivors to flee.

In 1882, Maitland schoolteacher John Fraser wrote what he thought was an authoritative work on the Aborigines of NSW and used the word Gringai when referring to a group of Aborigines in the Dungog area but made no connection between that group and the Aborigines who lived in or around Sydney.

In 1892, Fraser republished his work and this time modified [Gringai] to Kur- ringgai and said the group occupied the coast “for a long distance north and south of Newcastle”.

By the early 1900s, the word Kurringgai had been adopted by others interested in Aboriginal history and languages and was taken to refer to Aborigines living in northern Sydney.

One [researcher] described Fraser’s work as “most unsatisfactory and unquestion- ably the most inaccurate and garbled account ever published about the Aborigines.” Despite this demolition of Fraser’s credentials and abilities, the word Guringai wasn’t demolished with its author’s reputation and it was picked up from time to time until it became widely accepted as the name for the original inhabitants of northern Sydney or of their language.

John Moorcomb - Manly Daily February 20, 2015.


The Gringai people, a group of indigenous people of Australia, are those Aus tralian Aborigines that were united by a common language, strong ties of kinship and survived as skilled hunter–fisher–gatherers in family groups as a clan of the Worimi people, whose traditional land is now known as the Port Stephens of New South Wales, Australia.

Gringai lands are mostly in the Williams River in the Manning Valley, and include what is now known as Dungog, Paterson, Gresford, Brookfield, Tocal, to the headwaters of the Williams and Chichester rivers. Gringai land also includes the southern valleys of the Barrington Tops.

Wikipedia -


The Tribal group I belong to are known as the Gringai Clan and are a part of the Wonnarua people in general.

My clan group concentrated along the Allen and Paterson Rivers and stretched over towards St Clair and the Singleton District. My Descendant Group was respon- sible to maintain the country on the South to South Eastern side of the Barrington Tops and associated Rivers and Valleys, which run into the Hunter Valley.

Boundaries of the hunter valley aboriginal people -


My great-great-great grandmother belonged to the Gringai group of the Won- narua people. This extended family group inhabited the country north of present day Gresford. Their contact experiences with the white men were less violent than for other groups who inhabited the banks of the Hunter River.

James Miller A Will To Win p41.


The blacks living in the district that extends from just about where Brookfield now is to the headwaters of the Chichester and the Williams belonged to a tribe known as the Gringai. They were distributed over the district in local groups known as Nurra were were located [in villages] at distances about [12 kilometres apart]. The [shelters were] merely a few sheets of bark placed against a convenient log, or bushes roughly planted alongside some huge forest giant.

Gordon Bennett The Earliest Inhabitants - Aboriginal Tribes of the District. The Blacks of Dungog, Port Stephens and Gresford. p2


The Kabook and Watoo people of the Gringai clan of the Worimi Nation – (The Cook family) – have lived continually in the Barrington for over 189 years recorded by the first white settlers 1826, until the present ...

Cook Family Descendants from the Kabook and Watoo people speak the Kattang (or ‘Gathang’) language and it has been recorded that they are the last of the true custodians and Clan within the boundaries of the Allyn and Williams river up stream to Gummi Falls on the Manning River known as Kummi Kummi – (Place of many Crystal stones), Barrington Tops – (Beann Beann), Rawdon Vale, Barrington, Gloucester up to the Manning river down to Cresford the Karuah River and the Bulliac – Tugrabakh Bora Ground area, some 13km from Gloucester. . . .

When Europeans settled in the Gloucester-Manning area in the 1820s and 1830s, the Aboriginal people lost their homelands to logging, clearing and livestock. Tra ditional hunting grounds were depleted, and sacred sites were destroyed. Wildlife dwindled. Oral history tells us that by 1840 the natural food supplies were almost exhausted.

Starving Aboriginal people began killing stock. The settlers and government troopers retaliated with random shootings and massacres. Around the Manning River basin, there were reports of waterholes and gifts of food being laced with arsenic known as The Harmony so the jungle of the Barrington became a refuge for Aboriginal people.

The Kabook and Watoo people are West and South bordering the Wonnarura area. In an article ”The Kattang, (kutthung) or Worimi: An Aboriginal Tribe” – by W. J Enright March 1932 Mankind p. 76) [Enright states]

My old friend the late John Hopson stated that he had been informed by J. W. Boydell that in summertime the Patterson River Blacks ascended the Barrington Tops via the Allyn River Valley and on his visit in Dec 1915, we found a stone axe.

...Our Clan occupied the valleys year-round, visiting the plateaus in spring and summer to gather food. During winter would hunt kangaroos, emus, possums and wombats, fish and other animals. A wide range of plant foods was collected from the lowland forests. The edible fruits found in the Barrington Tops area include: orange thorn, wild apple tree, giant stinging tree, figs, native cherry, geebung, na tive raspberry, lillypilly and medicines like Kangaroo apple and corkwood. Other traditional plant foods include the bulbs of many orchids and the starch from the crown of tree ferns and the starch from stinging tree roots being roasted to make bread.

Robert Syron - The Kabook and Watoo People of the Gringai Barrington River Gloucester, NSW


This was the Gringai tribe, a sub-branch of numerous native people that once inhabited the lower portions of the Hunter and Karuah river valleys. . .

I was born at Carrington, Port Stephens, on September 19. 1844, my father, John Scott, being employed in a secretarial capacity at Carrington by the Australian Agricultural Company. . .

Before I left Port Stephens for Queensland, in 1873 I went to a good deal of trouble to make a written record At the date of my birth. Carrington [on the north- ern shore of Poet Stephens] was a considerable establishment, although declining in importance, as the Company by that time was transferring the main centre of Its activities elsewhere. But the blacks remained, and many of my earliest recollections are of them. The lads of the tribe were my playfellows. I learned to speak their language with a certain degree of fluency as did my sister to a greater extent — and we mastered those difficult labials and gutturals that few white men have been able to catch correctly...

It could hardly be said that they had any conception of a God, yet they feared, and feared profoundly, some terrible invisible being they named Cooen supposedly capable of exercising a maleficent influence over their lives. This mighty unknown was not in any way associated with such natural phenomena as thunder or light- ning, nor did he seem to have any particular dwelling place. But he was about somewhere—intangible and dread- conveying. The blacks would not, or could not say anything definite of him that one could advance as an explanation of his where- abouts or his potency, but clearly he had some influence

The belief in a spirit existence is ... exemplified in connection with the burial customs of the Port Stephens tribe. One of a small camp of blacks about a quarter of a mile from our house died of some sickness. To dig his grave a spade was borrowed from us, and the excavation was made on the foreshores, a few yards above high- water mark. The time of burial was fixed for flood-tide (killoongmundi) for they believed that if the interment took place at ebb-tide (wittung), the spirit of the

Figure 1: King Boomerang - King of Dungog

departed would be carried out to sea (wombal) and lost in the great waters. The corpse was neatly encased in a sheet of bark (paper-bark) stripped from the giant tl-tree (Melaleuca) and bound with vines from the scrub. About this again was an outer casing of a freshly stripped sheet of stringy-bark, also bound with vines. When these preparations had been made, the next thing was to find out who was responsible for the man’s death, it being believed that all sickness wa s brought about by the machinations of an enemy. ...The coffin was lifted upon the shoulders


of two men. A third, holding a green branch, stood at the side calling out the names of everyone of whom he could apparently think, at the same time lightly striking the coffin with the wand. It was the belief that when the name of the guilty person was called the corpse would start. My father’s name was called first, followed by quite a number of others, when suddenly, on a certain name being mentioned, the bearers of the body lurched forward as though the corpse had moved. Thus was the culprit found. How he, or she, was dealt with I was never able to discover. Without more ado the corpse was lowered into the grave, which was filled and carefully levelled. The man’s widow then made her camp fire by the grave-side, and every evening as the sun was sinking, she began her loud mournful wailing for the dead. This continued until the grass began to shoot on the grave, and then one night the tribe suddenly disappeared and we saw nothing of them for several months. Never at any time could we get them to men- tion the name of anyone who had died.

Some of [the] superstitions were extraordinary. For instance, a party of us were preparing to go fishing in Fame Cove under the guidance of Billy Steward, a man who had once been steward on a boat. I happened to have a few emu feathers stuck in the band of my hat as an ornament. On perceiving these Billy flatly re- fused to accompany us. “Bail catch fish,” he said. “Take ’em feathers out.” When the offending plume was removed Billy was immediately placated and was ready to start.

Another fishing superstition was In connection with eating fruit. No black would dream of going fishing after having partaken of a feed of fruit ) nor would he accom- pany any- one who had been similarly guilty. One of the most remarkable beliefs I remember, also concerns [fishing]... An aboriginal woman, Fanny, who was a servant of our family for many years, was in her girlhood days dedicated to the art of fishing. When quite young, a ligature was tied about the first joint of her little finger very tightly, and being left there for a considerable time, the top portion mortified and, in time, fell off. This was carefully secured, taken out into the bay, and, with great solemnity, committed to the deep. The belief was that the fish would eat this part of the girl’s finger and would ever, thereafter, be attracted to the rest of the hand from which it had come. Thus Fanny would always have success at fishing because of the peculiar lure in her fingers. She was Indeed a wonderfully lucky fisher. One woman of each small tribe was usually dedicated this way, and to her was entrusted the task ct fashioning the fishing lines, the virtues accruing from her innate powers over fish being of course communicated to the lines she made,

For the most part full dress consisted of a possum-fur belt, with narrow strips of skin pendant there from both in front and at the back. This was all their bodily protection against the elements, and their fullest concession to the conventions im- posed by the white people about. Strangely enough neither men nor women adorned themselves with ornaments of any description, being content to present themselves to the world as Nature so fashioned them. The rugs they used were made of animals’ skins, principally those of opossums. They were very neatly made and provided both warmth and protection from rain when occasion arose.

The men invariably carried their tomahawks In their belts, and a piece of grass- tree gum, which latter seemed to be an indispensable part of their equipment This exudation of the pummirri had so many uses that no blackfellow could be without his supply ready at hand.

The tribe had no special leader or chief during my memory of them, the older

men acting as general advisers, but by what authority I never knew. It may have had some- thing to do with the “mystery bags” that formed part of the equipment of the adults. My father had been admitted as an honorary blood-brother of the tribe and was regarded by them with a sort of veneration. It was their custom to seek his advice and assistance in almost every emergency that arose. The mystery bags carried by the men evidently held some significant superstitious meaning, the profundity of which I was never able to fathom, despite careful inquiry on the subject. Always my requests to be informed what they contained or what they meant were met with blank refusals. Indeed the men would never discuss them at all. These bags were attached to the waist-belt when the men were [doing] ceremony ...My curiosity as to their contents was gratified on one occasion in an unexpected manner while I was still quite young.

We children were out for a walk with our faithful servant Fanny, when I, noticing a big mangrove tree on the edge of the bay, I climbed to its top-most branches. In a hollow fork I discovered one of these mystery bags. Fanny, on seeing it, became greatly agitated and ordered me to restore it to its hiding place at once. Before doing so, however, I peered into it and saw only a piece of rock crystal. Fanny implored us to maintain silence about the find, her perturbation being so intense and impressing us so strongly, that we never mentioned the matter afterwards.

Another superstition was in regard to the treatment of a sufferer from internal pains. Sometimes, when a man was wracked with an internal spasm, he would have his wife “pere-ally” for him, an operation carried out in the following manner. The patient was seated or placed in a reclining position on the ground. A canoe-shaped vessel of bark a couple of feet long, was half filled with water and placed near him. A cord, made of possum hair, was passed around his body a couple of times, the ends being held by the woman who knelt on the ground, leaning over the little canoe of water. She then passed the crossed ends of the cords rapidly to and fro between her closed lips until the blood, drawn by the friction dropped freely into the water, discolouring it to a crimson fluid. It was confidently believed that the pain would leave the man’s body by way of the cord ahd passing down with the blood from the woman’s mouth, dissipate Itself in the water.

In some other tribes there are series of sub-branches identified distinctively with their animal or bird totem, these groups being subject to rigid rules as re-gards inter-marriage, food taboos, and other things. The animal or bird representing the respective totem is of course sacred to the particular person to whom it belongs, and though he may not kill or eat it, those in other groups are free to do so. At Port Stephens, where the tribe numbered in the vicinity of a hundred persons, men, women and children, two totems did duty for the community. The men had as theirs the tiny bat that flies about at dusk, and this little winged sprite was re-garded with deep veneration. He was “gimbi,” the friend of the males. With equal reverence the [women] looked upon the small wood-pecker hailing his appearance with delight as presaging good fortune while he lingered in the vicinity, busy with his sharp strong bill seeking grubs under the bark of the trees. The men took a mischievous pleasure in killing the wood-pecker which represented the totem of the women. They would often knock the feathered forager from a tree trunk with a “purrahmlrre” (the throwing-stick), or a stone, laughing uproariously at the feat. But they seldom did this In the presence of the women. If a wanton slayer of the [women’s] sacred bird were detected in his crime, the women would give way to outbursts of furious passion



and direct savage attacks at the offender, beating him with their sticks until he was glad to fly m precipitate confusion, offering no retaliation or resistance...

No definite conception of an existence after death appeared to exist among the members of the tribe. In some vague fashion they sensed a spirit existence, but in the ’fifties and ’sixties it was generally accepted that a dead native would “go down blackfellow, jump up white-fellow.”

...[T]here was the fear of darkness, general among all members of the tribe. There was also a fear of certain localities for no given reason; there was the disincli- nation to do certain things at certain times; there was the strange refusal to speak of, or mention the name of one that had passed away. Fame Cove was taboo after the sun had fallen, and no native would linger in that vicinity when the shadows began to lengthen. I once inquired the reason of this fear of the place and was quaintly informed that “too many shark” were there. There was, I knew, another and more pregnant reason that no one would disclose. ...Another fear was always paramount in their minds, — one that could be readily traced back to its genesis,—and that was dread of at tack by other tribes. The blacks were always fearful of a raid by the Myall River natives, who were reputed to be very warlike and aggressive. They also feared other blacks who came from farther north, and of whom they spoke in a vague way...

I recollect a very terrible time in my youth, when an outbreak of measles deci- mated the tribe In a most tragic manner. The congestion, the Insanitary conditions that obtained, and an entire lack of appreciation of the necessity for isolation caused the disease to spread with disturbing rapidity. It wrought great havoc, the mortality being exceedingly heavy. ...Fortunately sickness troubled them but little. Nature appeared to have safeguarded them In her own Inscrutable fashion against most of the ailments that afflict civilised man but she had not prepared them against the diseases that the white man brought in his train. In th e endurance of pain the blackfellow Invariably exhibited the most surprising fortitude. Knocks and bumps, cuts and scratches, sustained in the ordinary course of daily life, troubled them not one whit. Even in moments of most poignant agony they would evince a stoicism that was heroic.

Their attitude towards visiting blacks was also worthy of note. I remember on one occasion conversing with a group of natives at their camp when there was a sudden hissing whisper: “Cooree Cooree!” (Blackfellow! Blackfellow!) Glancing about I saw a strange aboriginal walking across a cleared space and approaching the camp. He came straight up to the group, and within a dozen or so paces of us, threw on the ground his spears and boomerangs. Then he came forward to the fire no one speaking to him, nor apparently looking at him. The stranger produced a small pipe from his belt, stooped down to the fire, lit the tobacco with a coal, and took a few puffs. As the smoke swirled and eddied about his curly head, the silence was broken as though this had been the signal for speech. The new-comer announced hls name and business and within a few seconds the whole crowd were jabbering ex-citedly and happily. Thus their visitor was put at his ease, and in a most tactful manner. Among themselves there were seldom any disputes or quarrels. They seemed always to regard life as a huge joke to be enjoyed to the utmost. With their children they were patient, affectionate and marvellously forbearing. Never once In all my life at Carrington did I ever see a [child] slapped or chastised, and the younger fry could be mischievous and very trying on occasions.

Children were not weaned until six or seven years and it was quite a common thing to see a boy or girl of that age suddenly leave oft playing about the camp to obtain a little refreshment from... the mother’s breast. They were fond, too, of pets, for the place was always alive with parrots, bears, opossums, squirrels, kangaroo rats and bandicoots that had been caught in the bush and tamed to the domesticity of camplife. With these birds and animals,usually well trained, they would amuse themselves for hours, indulging in fits of mirth at the antics and feats of their pets.

Although there was some kind of communal ownership of everything about the camp, there was a distinct proprietary interest by individuals in certain things, particularly weapons. Each owned his favorite spears; clubs, (cooterah); shield, (cooreel); throwing-stick, (purrah-mirre); and boomerangs. These were sacred to the owner. Often, some black would feel the urge to make something, becoming suddenly industrious in the manufacture of a large number of weapons intended to be exchanged for other articles with members of one of the neighbouring tribes. For weeks and weeks he would labor, fashioning with the crude tools at his command, such things as he believed would bring him the best return in his bartering. When he had finished the required number, he would cache them in the bush, either in a hollow log or cave, until such time as opportunity arrived for their disposal. And, no matter where he deposited his store, nor how many knew of its existence, the weapons were never touched again until the owner removed them. I never knew the ’blacks to steal anything from our premises except water-melons, of which they were extremely fond. On one occasion my father, having caught several of the youths in the act of purloining some of these delectables, remonstrated with them, and upbraided them sternly for stealing.

They were astonished and indignant. “Bail” steal ’em, master” they protested vigorously, “We only take it.” This naive explanation was their manner of discrimi- nating between something taken with malicious intent, and something taken merely to gratify a fancy. There never was anything of permanency about a blackfellow’s home. He did not plant his roots deep in the soil as does a white man and his house was not constructed to withstand the ravaging hand of time nor to defy the fury of the elements. A few sheets of bark, leaning on a pole against a tree, served him as shelter through days of sunshine or nights of storm and rain. There was no pretence at architecture or even orderly erection of the crude break-wind. But tho summers (kurrawarn) were temperate and the winters (tuokerah) genial for the most part, so that constitutions inured through centuries of experience to vagaries of the seasons took no hurt from the changes bf temperature when they did come.

Sanitation was unknown to the tribe, with most unpleasant consequences when a camp had been established at one spot for some length of time. Any danger that might have arisen, through residence in malodorous and unhygienic environment was avoided in a very simple and practical fashion. When the camp became go noisome that even the accustomed noses of the inhabitants revolted, the tribe would ... move in a body to another site, distant beyond [the] smell of the old homes. Nor would they return to the original spot for months.

Fires were always kept burning about the camp. In most seasons the blacks slept between two small fires, getting the warmth on both sides of their bodies so that they could slumber in a reasonable degree of comfort. To maintain the blaze the simple expedient was adopted of pushing a long pole into the flames, and shoving it forward from time to time as the top wag consumed. It needed but little to divert the simple minds of the natives. As I have said before, life was a joke, and the more laughter they could crowd into it the merrier passed the days. Good temper pervaded their whole conduct, and it was hard to put any of them out of countenance. Naturally there was someone or other among them who had a striking physical peculiarity, either an over-emphasised feature, a deformity, a trick of gait or speech common to himself. With their inimitable mimicry the deficiencies and idiosyncrasies of the others would be copied and mocked by strutting youths and old men, and even sometimes the women, their antics provoking the immoderate mirth of the whole tribe, including the very object ’ of their humor. He more than anyone, seemed to enjoy the joke best.

It has often been said that the blacks had neither music nor melody in the cor- roboree songs... Such is far from being the case, for they had [a] keen an ear for melody... That they understood harmonisation I am able to vouch for, and there were popular melodies, some quite catchy, in their repertoire... What accompani- ment was played to their songs was contributed by means of the gentle clashing together of boomerangs or spears, the rhythmic beating making a not unpleasant obligato to the lusty choruses they sang. They [roared] out their lusty choruses until the very echoes trembled on far-away Yacaaba Head. Their songs consisted mostly of a few lines, repeat- ed over and over again, with a loudly shouted “wy-yahng” as a re- frain. Each singer seemed to be trying to outdo his neighbor in vociferation. and the only cessation was when all burst into screams of laughter. There is one chorus that I well remember, for it was sung nightly, over and over again, by the whole tribe. The words were: — Pindi pindeingy pindreingl cou-a-yana poon-maree wyv-gneahu Yangaronga gnaralonga cou-a-yana poon-maree wy-gneahn. What it meant I could never discover. At the end of the song they would burst into shrieks of raucous merriment. It was no uncommon thing for some wandering visitor from another tribe to come along at certain intervals to teach our blacks another song, probably one of his own composition. This nomadic minstrel was a most important individual, posturing, gesticulating and leaping about the fitful flames of the camp fire he would sing, over and over again, his latest melody, which usually had to do with some well known incident. His audience would listen intently until they had mastered the words, the tune and all the business that went with it. Then they would begin on their own account. Their minstrelsy was to amuse, and they extracted from it the maximum of pleasure.

The sports of the children were the daily labors of their parents in miniature. They played at warlike games with spear and boomerang, fashioned for their own youthful and harmless purpose, They could swim almost as soon as they could walk. They could throw their little spears with deadly accuracy; they could use a shield with the skill of their fathers. They learned to track the native animals, became wise in the ways of fish and bird, and made a game of life generally. They were a happy lot, the children, tumbling about with little regard to cleanliness as we knew it, and as healthy as could be. They liked noise. One toy with which they delighted to play was a contrivance that gave out a deep booming din like the bull-roarers the elders used in the initiation ceremonies. It was made of a flat piece of wood, a few inches in length, in which two holes were bored. Through these holes two cords were threaded. By working the cords the wood was made to revolve rapidly, giving out the noise that gladdened their young hearts.

At Port Stephens the tribe was happily situated in the matter of provender.

Figure 2: Richard Browne (1771–1824) was an early Australian convict artist and illustrator who was transported from Ireland to New South Wales. After his sentence was completed in Newcastle in 1817 he lived in Sydney selling watercolour illustrations of natural history subjects and of the Aborigines. His depictions were not of the Gringai, but the assumption is made that the Gringai shared some of the ways of dress with the Indigenous Browne depicts. The illustration above is captioned Natives of New South Wales - Mr Leigh knew them and had them taken from life by a convict. Note the way the dilli-bag is slung.


The waters of the bay teemed with fish of every description, easily taken at all times. The foreshores were covered with oysters, which formed a staple part of the diet. The bush abounded with game in the form of kangaroos, wallabies, possums, emus, flying-foxes, wild duck, swans, parrots, pigeons. There (were edible roots In the gullies, wild- fruits in the brushes. It required but little effort to keep the communal larder filled to repletion. The business of fishing was per- haps the most important of all to the natives. Fishing lines were cleverly made from the inner bark of young kurrajong trees, the finished article being of extraordinary strength and capable of landing the heaviest of edible fish. I verily believe that they would have held a shark. As previously stated, it was the function of selected women special- ly dedicated to the fishing ; to pre. pare the lines. The bark would be stripped carefully from the tree and soaked in water until the outer portions could be readily scraped off with a shell. This left a white, flax- like fibre, very tough and strong. The women twisted this fibre to the required thickness and length by rolling it on the front part of the thigh with the hands. Where the line was rolled the skin of the operative was hardened by the application of hot ashes, and in time be- came calloused, smooth, and as hard as dried leather. These fibre strings were also used to make dilly-bags in which [young children] were carried as well as articles of food, and puppies. The fishing line was called “ylrra- warn,” and the hook “pirrewuy.” Some of the hooks were fashioned of bone after the primitive style, but they usually preferred the hooks that my father was able to supply. The other method of securing fish was by spearing them. While the women used the lines, the men mostly fished with the spear, and they were extraordinarily skilful. The fish spear (tutti) was .made In three distinct parts. The main shaft was the dried stem of the gigantic lily (pooloongearn), and into this was fitted a secondary portion, a part of the dried flower stem of the grass tree (pummirri). The head was of four prongs made of iron-bark and hardened by fire. The weight and strength of the whole spear was regulated according to the purpose for which It was specifically intended, thus the heaviest of them were utilised only for spearing the big sea mullet which swarm into the harbor in countless millions at certain seasons of the year. The fashioning of these prongs was an important piece of work. The section of the tree intended to be used for the purpose was first shaped in the rough and then put In the sea water for a lengthy period until the sap had gone and the tissue toughened. This also made it easier for the maker to scrape the billet down to the required thick- ness with the crude tools at his command. When the prongs were properly fashioned and barbed, the head would be fitted to the shaft with fibre cord and gum from the grass tree. The fitting was done so cleverly that the whole would be as solid as though in one piece. Other spears, of smaller size, were made for other fish and called “mooting.”

It was Interesting to watch the onslaught on the sea mullet when they came into the harbor. By some unerring instinct the blacks knew to within a day when the first of the great shoals would appear through the heads. The women would be on the look out for the shining, shimmering mass of fish to come round some wooded headland, and when their shrill outcries told of the approach of the finny prey, the men would rush to the shore. The fish always travelled from west to east, and close inshore, on the northern side of the harbor, usually making their appearance off Carrington about the time of “wo-kercoopa,” or high-water. At the given signal the men would dash into the water until up to their mid. dies and stand motionless, spear poised on woomerah, ready to launch the fatal dart. Tho leader, scanning the

water with eager eyes, would watch until the shoal came within striking distance. “Muh!” (Now!) he would cry. ...What huge quantities of fish these blacks could eat! They never seemed to tire of the diet, and the schools of mullet yielded them more than enough for their wants during the period they would be in the harbor. They were not over-particular about the thoroughness with which the delicacy was cooked. So long as it wa s well warmed in the fire they would eat it with avidity. They had a clever and simple method of cleaning any fish they caught, and one that 1 have not seen practiced elsewhere. They would take a fish, thrust a finger through the soft flesh just beneath a side fin, and through that small orifice withdraw all the entrails. The fish after being cleaned appeared as though, it had just come out of the water. That this method was a good one I can bear strong testimony, for the natural juices were preserved within the fish, and the flesh tasted better than when treated any other way. Removing the scales was, of course, never thought of. The fire got rid of those. Oysters were to be had for the gathering, and the blacks appreciated the succulent shell-fish mightily. But very seldom did they eat them raw.

At fixed seasons they would set off to the heads to catch lobsters, .... The lobsters were caught by the [women] who, on the sea front, dived down among the rocks for them. Their men ...played a somewhat important, if commendably cautious, part in the business by throwing stones into the water as the [women] dived, the purpose being to scare away the sharks. It was a risky game for the women I but I never heard of one being [attacked].

The canoe was an essential part of the fishing operations, and these crude but effective craft were greatly in evidence. [The] vessels enabled many a meal to be obtained by the fisherwomen when the great schools of fish were not in evidence. It was no uncommon sight to see a dozen or so out on the waters of the bay, a little fire, built on a heap of clay in the centre, glowing and smoking... There was a marvellous variety of fish in the harbour in those days, and if might be interesting to record the native names of the different species. Fish, as a general term, was “muckeroo.” Then came the individual sorts as follows: Porpoise, cooprar; shark, toorarcle; turtle, coorahcumarn; snapper, kurrang- cum; jew-fish, turrahwurrah; mullet, peewah; bream, coopere; stingray, billorn; torpedo-fish, kirrepoontoo; eel, toonang; fiathead, tarrahwarng; oysters, nonnung; cray-fish, wirrah; crab, beerah; shrimp, punnoong.

When it became necessary to change the fish diet, the blacks had a wide expanse of bush wherever to forage, a territory at that time teeming with game of all descrip- tions. Marsupials were in abundance among the ridges and on the flat lands; there were birds In the trees and on the swamps. It was really a land of plenty. Even the casual white man, uninitiated Into the ways of the chase, could have gleaned a living with little difficulty in that land of milk and honey. The kangaroo, practically ex- tinct about Port Stephens now was in the middle decade of last century, the favorite food of the blacks. The marsupials ran in large mobs, easily driven by the nimble natives to a point where waiting groups could spear them with ease. It was a very simple process for the tribe to kill all they needed. The men of the tribe, armed with spears, boomerangs and throwing-sticks, would seek out a certain spot where it was known the kangaroos could be found at a particular period. A few would be detailed as beaters, driving the mob towards the armed hunters hidden in the bushes. When the kangaroos came hopping along, a cloud of spears and purrahmirre



Figure 3: Richard Browne (1771–1824). The illustration above is captioned Natives returned from fishing and sub captioned Drawn by Mr R. Browne No. 27 Philip Street Sydney N. S. Wales 1820.

would be launched, wreaking deadly destruction in the ranks of the unsuspecting prey.

The men, exultant over the result of their prowess ...would immediately proceed to make a fire. Whatever number of animals were required for the feast would be selected and opened...The paunch would be ripped open and it s con tents of undigested grass devoured with the greatest relish. If it chanced the long white worms commonly found in bush animals, these ... would be swallowed ...with with rare gusto as the greatest delicacy of all. After these singular appetisers, the chief would throw the carcase on the fire and leave the game to cook.

The kangaroos that were to be taken back to the camp were usually thrust into the fire and half roasted. This stiffened the carcase fairly effectively, thus making it more convenient to carry over the shoulders, a factor appreciated by the man that had to bear the burden for per- haps many a weary mile. They always declared that it was far easier to carry the rigid body than one that was limp and flopping. The opossum, with his pronounced eucalyptus flavor, was also esteemed a great delicacy, and these dainty little arboreal citizens received scant consideration when the tribe was on a foraging expedition. The blacks had an uneering instinct for “spot- ting” a tree that harbored a possum. By scratches on the bark and other signs not comprehensible to a white person, they would select the forest giant in which the little animal had made his home. One would he deputed to climb for the quarry, and with his tomahawk would set about making toe-holds In the bark up the straight bole. It was marvellous how swiftly the blacks could climb by means of these tiny notches ¿ literally swarming up the smooth tall trunk. The ’possum was hauled from his hole in a rotted limb or spout and tossed to the ground. Sometimes a blow on the head er e he fell would kill him, or if he were thrown down alive, those beneath would perform the final ceremony of dispatch. 1 have been informed that in some tribes the blacks use a vine to aid in climbing, putting it round the tree and working It upwards to form a continual support. The men at Port Stephens did not employ this method the toe-hold affording them all the assistance necessary. Snakes were greatly esteemed by our epicurean friends, their flesh, when roasted, being beautifully white and apparently very tasty. As they were fairly plentiful in the bush they were often on the menu.

I once saw a black named Charlie Dee mount a huge turpentine tree, more than 100-feet to the first limb, by simply using toe holds cut with his ready tomahawk. As a feat of agility it was more than ordinarily remarkable. Another favorite food was the cobra found in decaying logs on the banks of the tidal watercourses. These were particular favorites, and it was no uncommon sight to see a group of excited blacks hacking at a log and dragging out the long, squirming worms ( which they would swallow raw and wriggling. They would eat them in the manner of a Mediterranean peasant with his spaghetti; the head would be thrown back, the mouth opened to receive the end of the dainty, and then there would be sucking sounds denoting a fine gusto.

Birds were easily secured and were an abundant part of the daily meal. Little trouble was taken over their preparation, it seeming to be a point of practice to scorch feathers and flesh into a delectable outer covering One of the most fancied foods was the flying-fox (kundewung), and great was the excitement that prevailed when these... creatures were about. In those days the flying-foxes were plentiful around Port Stephens there being a densely populated harborage on Cabbage Tree



Island, and on Low Island, near the head of navigation of the Karuah River. The blacks would capture them by tugging down vines and limbs to which the huge bats clung, knocking them on the head when they tumbled to the ground. The flying-foxes would be thrown on a fire to cook, and strangely enough when roasted properly in aboriginal fashion, proved quite tasty. The flesh was a delicate white color, and I confess that I tasted it one one occasion only and found it good. Since those times the flying-fox has changed his habits considerably much to the loss of orchardists and those that cultivate fruit. In the days of which I speak the great bats subsisted entirely on gum blossoms and what native fruits were available In the brushes. Cabbage Tree Island was literally covered with them then, and I recall dropping fourteen in one discharge of my little double-barrelled gun. The foxes soon learned to raid fruit trees in gardens and seemed to abandon their original diet of gum-blossoms when cultivated fruits became available...

While the men procured meat from the chase, it was the particular function of the [women] to provide what represented the vegetables of the dally dietetic regimen. Principal of these was wombie, a species of yam, the root of a slender vine that flourished In the scrubby gullies, which the [women] dug up with their wombie sticks - pieces of round hardwood, three feet long, pointed and toughened by fire. The tubers varied in thickness from an inch to an Inch-and-a-half, and were a few inches in length. When baked in the ashes these yams were very palatable; and we, as children partook of them on every occasion that offered. The young, tender stalks of the gigantic lily (ipooloongearn), was another form of vegetable delicacy, only procurable, however, at certain seasons of the year. These stalks were soaked in water for some time, probably to remove any toxic properties that might be present and then roasted in the coals. Another bush dainty, easily procurable in the right season, was the curramali, a fruit that grew on a little vine in the bush. These tasty morsels were shaped like tiny puddings, and when ripe would be eaten raw. When green, if the camp needed vegetables for the menu, they were roasted and eaten In that fashion. The children, even from the tenderest years, appeared to have appetites as voracious as their elders. It was amazing the quantity of food the toddlers could consume, and It was astonishing that it did them no harm. The manner in which they ate fish was always a marvel to me. Whereas my parents were always careful to remove bones from any fish served to us at our table, the aboriginal mothers tossed their imps great slices of fish and let them manage as best they could. The little ones would cram into their capacious mouths as much as could he managed, bones and all, and I never knew of one of them suffering in convenience or trouble...

In those early days the blacks knew little of matches, and certainly never used them for the purpose of lighting their fires. They had a simple and quick method of their own, that used by their forefathers through centuries of time, one indeed common to savage peoples all over the world, —the creating of a spark by the friction of two pieces of wood rubbed together. The fire-making sticks they used were usually parts of the dried stem of the grass-tree (pummirri). The principal piece would be about two feet In length and about half-an-inch In diameter, from the front of which would be removed a narrow strip of the outer shell exposing the hardened pith. The other piece would be thinner, and rounded In a blunt point. The fire-maker would squat himself on the ground, the soles of his feet on the larger length of wood to hold it firm, the thinner section between the palms of his hands, its tapered point on the


Figure 4: Richard Browne (1771–1824). Coola-benn, Native Chief of Ashe Island, Hunter’s RIver. 1820.


exposed pith of the under piece. Rubbing the palms together he would cause the upright stick he held to revolve rapidly, the point gradually boring Its way through the pith beneath. When nearly through, smoke would begin to rise, whereupon the efforts of the operator would be re-doubled. Whirling the stick with amazing speed its hardened point would emerge from the pith, spilling a fiery dust that dropped on a little heap of soft, fine bark placed to catch it. The sparks would be gently blown upon until a flame appeared, when thereafter it was no trouble to build up a roaring fire. The operation took but very few minutes when carried out by expert natives, but although I tried on many occasions to light a fire by this method I never quite succeeded, much to the amusement of my aboriginal, companions...

Naturally they avoided as much as possible the necessity of going through this process. Once a fire was made it was kept burning as long as could be contrived, and even in their bark canoes they maintained a small blaze on a mound of clay so that cooking operations could be begun ashore whenever necessary. In travelling from place to place a fire-stick was always carried, the brand being whirled and twisted so that it would not go out. As I have mentioned before the natives never moved off camp at night without carrying a fire-stick to ward off attacks of evil spirits... In times of wet weather when long continued rain (Kueywon) made everyone and everything miserable and gloomy, the old men of the tribe would perform a remark- able ceremony to ensure a recurrence of fine weather. Snatching fire-sticks from the camp fire, they would hurl the blazing brands in the air, presumably at the clouds (yarreel), at the same time puffing loudly with the mouth (kurracar). No doubt the Idea was that the fire would dry up the teeming heavens, and the artificial gusts from their mouths blow the storms away...

At Port Stephens it was the custom, when some of the boys had reached that stage of adolescence that their admission to the full privileges and prerogatives of the adult men of the tribe was deemed advisable by the older wiseacres, to segregate them for preparation for the ceremonies. What this Initiatory preparation was I never learned, for the boys maintained a strict silence on the subject. But there were ceremonies in the bush, wherefrom the women were rigidly excluded. The men would decorate themselves with pipe-clay and ochre, painting fantastic patterns about their faces and bodies, and they would wear head-dresses of weird and wonderful designs. While the ceremonies were in progress, there would be an incessant noise of the bull-roarers (flat notched sticks whirled at the end of a cord to drive off “debbil- debbils,” keep the women at a distance, and impart the correct amount of terror to the trembling lads who were soon to become men. Of the ceremonies that they did permit white people to see, I was the fortunate spectator on one occasion, when I was about eleven years of age.

At Port Stephens they called it the “poombit” though generally it is spoken of as the “bora.” On the flat there was an oval cleared space with a banked-up margin, and in the centre of it a heaped-up conical shaped fire. The [women], who played a part in this ceremony were made to lie down around the edge of the oval, al- though whether within or outside the defined ring I am not able to say with certainty. As soon as they had prostrated themselves they were covered up with blankets and possum skin rugs by an old black who kept guard over them, with a heavy waddy in his hand, ready to knock any of the women on the head if they evinced signs 0 f restlessness or undue curiosity In the proceedings. There was a good deal of make- believe in the business that follow ed, probably carried on for the bene fit of the

women. A troop of painted savages would bound into the magic circle, and prancing about and clash, ing thelir spears, would announce in hoarse tones that they could not find the poomblts, (the ’boys who were being initiated). This ap peared to cause great confusion among the women, who probably believed that their offspring had been captured by the evil spirit. After a great deal of fuss the men announced that they would make an- other attempt to find the poomblts, and to the accompaniment of clashing spears and hoarse shoutings, dashed out into the screen of bushes again. There followed a quiet space for a little time when suddenly the men returned ( with loud triumphal cries, having in their midst the boys they had supposedly sought. Holding the lads firmly, the men then began a mad, wild dance, about the fire, working themselves up to a pitch of terrific excitement until they suddenly sprang on the ’blazing coals and began to stamp them out. Amid dust, sparks and smoke this wild revel went on until the fire was completely obliterated. At this stage the coverings were removed from the women, all of whom were covered in perspiration, as much the sweat of fear probably as of the heat of the day. But one and all appeared greatly relieved to see the boys safe and sound in the midst of the men. The boys then went through a strange and most symbolic ceremony. Each lad approached his mother, or in default, his nearest female relative, and kneeling before her simulated the act of suckling nourishment from her breasts; this it being explained to us later, signifying the putting aside for ever of all childish things. That, so far as I can recollect, concluded that particular ceremony.

On another occasion, at a much later date, I came across another initiation ceremony when proceeding through the bush. I had been riding over the hills after kangaroos, and at a spot about a mile from where the ceremony previously described took place I saw that a number of blacks were camped at the foot of a hill, the camp being in the form of a half circle, round an oval cleared space some 30 or 40 square feet in area. The edges of the space were raised about nine inches. This cleared space was connected with the top of a hill and another cleared space by a narrow path. The women were not allowed to go up this path nor approach the top of the hill at all. When going to the creek for water they were careful to look in some other direction. When riding past the camp I heard the most extraordinary noises proceeding from the top of the hill, —a bellowing, or booming sound, continuing for a long time, then diminishing in volume to a low humming monotone, from which it would gradually swell again into a terrifying crescendo of dissonance... Turning my horse I rode quietly around the hill and up its side opposite from the camp. From my point of observation I beheld a conical fire burning in the midst of a cleared space, very similar to the one I have described as being at the foot of the hill. About this fire, and in lines radiating from the centre like spokes of a wheel, were a number of naked blacks, their heads bowed to the earth. Their bodies were painted in ... patterns so that they resembled weird and wonderful skeletons. Within the cleared space, and on one side of it was a crude wooden effigy, colored vividly with some red pigment, having a cross-piece for arms, and a striking head-dress of grass and bark similar to the pattern used by the blacks when stalking kangaroos.

So absorbed were the men in the ceremonies [that] my presence passed unnoticed for some considerable time... In deference to the very evident wish[es] that I should depart, I rode away. A few days later an Invitation [was extended] to me to witness the great finishing ceremony. Naturally I was eager to see this Interesting spectacle, and rode once more to the camp at the foot of the hill some days later. There I



saw a large fire burning in the centre of a cleared oval space. The booming noise from the top of the hill was again to be heard, and It seemed to become louder and louder. As it reached a terrific climax it ceased suddenly, to be succeeded by great shouting and yelling from the men. This appeared to be a signal for the next part of the proceedings, for soon after some two hundred leaping blackfellows appeared over the brow of the hill. They were painted grotesquely, and armed with boomerangs, shields and spears which they clashed together [rhythmically] as they ran. They were formed in two divisions, and kept crossing and recrosslng the path, interlacing as the met at the run, and descending the hill rapidly, all the time yelling at the top of their voices.

Arriving at the foot of the hill the men threw down their weapons on the ground, and springing on to the cleared space, danced on the fire with their bare feet until it was extinguished. In their midst, throughout the duration of this fantastic dance, remained the youths who were being made “poombit.” The women were covered as in the other ceremony be- fore mentioned. They were always so covered while the fire dancing was on. When the last spark of the fire had been extinguished and the last wreath of smoke had eddied into nothingness, the women were uncovered and the Port Stephens blacks, accompanied by the “poombits,” ran up the nearby trees like so many monkeys and began breaking small branches off the limbs. These they shrew down to the ground among the women who scrambled and struggled for them with a great eagerness, each [woman] on securing a piece placing it in the woven dilly- bag. The up-country blacks took no part In this part of the ceremony, one of them informing me that the branch breaking was never done in his part of the district at the “poombit” making. This seemed to conclude one de- finite part of the ceremonies, for the women were not permitted to witness what followed. They were made to lie prostrate on the ground, and were covered with rugs and blankets, an old man guarding them, waddy in hand, as I had seen many years before. Just as preparations were being made for a continuation of the rites, some of the strange blacks raised an objection to my being present with a gun, for I had with me a small sixteen-bore fowling piece I Invariably carried on my excursions in the bush. One of our blacks asked me to give it up but rather than part with it I decided to let them finish their celebrations in peace ...The initiation of the novices was a memorable and important event. The young boys ...were carefully instructed by the elders of the tribe for long periods before the actual ceremonies began. What was the nature of this preliminary induction I was never able to learn, But their period of probation must have been a trying one indeed. When they would emerge from the ordeal eventually, they would be haggard, thin and worn. Their hair would be closely cropped; they would be covered with grease and charcoal, and their whole appearance would be as though they had indeed undergone some tremendous mental and physical strain.I have been told that circumcision was practiced among the coastal blacks in the early days, but during my time at Port Stephens this was never part of the ceremonies, nor was it ever the custom to knock out one of the front teeth of the initiates, although this was done in the early twenties when the A. A. Company first established itself on the shores of the harbor.

It Is marvellous what the blacks were able to fashion in the way of weapons and equipment of various kinds. With no knowledge of science to aid them, with only the most primitive ideas of handicraft as white men comprehend it, they could do a vast quantity of very excellent work in a very brief space of time. Instinct and

Figure 5: Richard Browne (1771–1824). The illustration above, Broken Bay [Hawkesbury RIver]Jemmy. Note the belt. The apron was probably a European conceit.


necessity no doubt guided their deft hands, for the art of fashioning their weapons was inherited from countless generations who had to pit their wits against Nature in the battle for survival. Like the aboriginals all over Australia they used what tools they found ready at hand, or which were adaptable from the material Nature had strewn so liberally about... The spears were really wonderful weapons; long, slender and graceful, and fashioned with a balance that was amazingly perfect. I have already described how the fishing spears were made, and have told something of the skill with which they were used. There were other types of spears, of course, for hunting purposes, and perhaps war. These were called “cumiml,” and varied considerably in size and construction according to the purpose for which they were designed. Some had straight, long shafts tipped with pointed bone, either of fish or animal; others were pointed and barbed. I have seen small nails used for tipping spears, lances made in this fashion being particularly dead- ly. The shafts of the spears were made of various hardwood, scraped carefully to the required thickness with shells or pieces of broken bot- tles. The ironbark (teekurah), was mostly favored for making them. A straight young sapling would be chosen, cut to the required length, and set to soak in water for some three or four weeks. This would take out the sap and render the wood reasonably soft for application of the tools used as scrapers. The harden ing was, of course, done by fire later on. The end piece, comprising the barb, or pointed tip, was affixed to the main shaft very skilfully, con- sidering that the hole for its recep- tion had to be bored with a piece of hard-wood, twirled between the hands, the best substitute for an auger procurable. The top, fitted into this slot, would be made firm with cords of animal sinews or flbre ( and coated oyer with gum from the grass-tree. I have mentioned that the blacks were ver y accurate in the use of the spear, being able to hurl this weapon for remarkably long distances. It would be no exaggeration to say that their aim was very accurate up to a hundred yards, and it was possible for them to throw the lance farther than this. With a woomterah to aid the cast, the y could hit a mark at almost every throw up to a distance of 50 to 75 yards. The boomerang, a weapon universal throughout Australia among aboriginal tribes, naturally held a prominent place In the communal arsenal. At Port Stephens there were two varieties in general use. the slightly curved weapon, utilised for striking down game of all descriptions, and the sharply curved var- iety which would return to the thrower. These weapons were usually made of wood from the wild myrtle, hardened, like all their other wooden implements, by fire. The throwers had marvellous command over them, and could actually direct and control their flight in any direction. It was no light task to make a boomerang, for a good deal of skill and more than an ordinary amount of patience was necessary. A piece of suitable wood invariably myrtle had to be found, curved as much as possible in the rough shape to be assumed by the finished article. This would be chip- ped and shaved with extreme care until the desired curve had been ob- tained, when the finishing touches would be put on it with scrapers made of shells or glass. How they worked out the mathematics of the curve and balance was ever a puzzle to me, as it has been to anthropologists all over the world, but though they always seemed to be making boomerangs, one never heard of any being spoiled or made in such fashion as to prove useless when put to the crucial test. The womerah, also common M most aboriginal tribes, was used to give further Impetus to the flight of a spear. It was a well-balanced flat or round piece of hardwood, 24-in. to 30-In. long, having at the narrow end another piece of hardwood, about

three inches In length affixed at a slight angle to receive the slightly hollowed end of the spear shaft. This smaller section was held in place by a binding of fibre and grass-tree gum. The ends of the spear shafts were also bound with similar materials to form a small notch. The added leverage launch-* ed the lance with Incredible swift- ness. Most of these womerahs were highly polished by fat and ashes rubbed into them. The waddies. or ”wattles” as the blacks at Port Stephens called them, wer e very neatly fashioned and per- fectly balanced. They ranged in length from three-feet to three-feet six-inches, being shaped like a club and having a slightly tapering end . Som e of them were notched at inter- vals along their whole length, or else carved in fantastic patterns. These weapons were said to be very effective in a fight. Their appearance certainly gave every indication of the justice of this claim for them. Th e nullah nullah was another weapon in the same category as the “wattle,” but of different shape. It usually had a head of some descriptlon at one end, shaped either like a hammer or a hall. Ironbark was used in their manufacture, and the bulging knob was capable of putting an enemy out of action with little trouble.

I remember one old black discoursing on the merits of the nullah a s against the “wattle” in a fight. H e explained that he never felt a hit from a nullah, and only realised he had been struck when he noticed the blood streaming down his [face]. The “wattie,” however, was deadly in its execution, and there was never any doubt about it when it fell. Clubs (cootarah) were also used, roughly fashioned from any suitable piece of timber. The shield (cooreel), was an important article of warlike equipment to the warriors. It was an oval- shaped piece of hardwood some two feet wide having a hand-grip on the back made of a length of vine affixed In holes made for the purpose. With this seemingly in- effective guard, they could ward of with extraordinary dexterity spears and stones hurled at them from any angle. Indeed it seemed almost im- possible to hit a black with lance or missile if he had his cooreel in his hand.

... In fashioning their canoes the blacks showed a skill and craftsmanship that was surprising, considering that any form of building was to them practically an unknown art. ... The hull of the little vessel was made of a single sheet of bark of the stringy-bark (punnah) tree, obtained from a tall, straight clean bole. Great care was exercised in selecting the right tree for the purpose as any fault, caused by a knot or protuberance, would spoil the value of the sheet when stripped. The stripping operation was carried out with an exact judgment, lines being cut cross- wise with a tomahawk around and across the tree so that the section removed would be of the required size and shape. Very carefully was the length of bark separated from its hold so that not a crack appeared in Its tough surface. As soon as it was taken off, the blacks would pass it back and forth across the flames of a fire to turn up the ends, which would be tied into position with sections of string and fibre. The rough, outside bark, the exterior of the canoe, would be care fully trimmed away with the blade of a tomahawk until the surface was smooth and clean. The inner part, the inside of the craft, would of course be the naturally smooth sappy portion. The gaps between the ties of the vines at stem and stern would be plugged with clay, so skilfully introduced that the whole craft would be absolutely watertight. To give th e canoe rigidity so that It could bear Its passengers safely, stretchers were ingeniously fitted at intervals along its length somewhat after the manner one sees In an ordinary clinker-built boat. Nothing in the nature of an outrigger was ever



used or I believe ever heard of by our blacks. On the floor of the canoe, usually at the stern, there would be the inevitable mound of clay, the floating fireplace. on which a few embers were always burning. I never remember any black starting out on a voyage, however short, without this fire burning. It was amazing the speed at which these seemingly cumbersome craft could be driven through the water by their owners, their lightness and shallow draught having a good deal to do with this. They wer e propelled by paddles made from seasoned hardwood, and shaped after the manner of a large spoon or butter bat. Kneeling in the middle of his canoe, the ... mariner would dip deeply on one side and then... half turn and dip on the other side.

[The canoes] were generally 15 feet long, and with a fair beam, required some handling by an amateur. The canoes were greatly prized by them and were so fragile that they would not stand rough usage. There were, of course, capsizes, and sometimes a fatality, but these occurrences were rare... Sharks were about the only thing the blacks feared in the water. The fury of the elements seldom disturbed them.

Figure 6: Richard Browne (1771–1824) The illustration above is captioned Niga, Fishing in the surf with his Mutton / Burgon. Celebrated Fisherman of New South Wales, in a canoe – the woman sitting down is supposed to be is [sic] wife. Note the construction of the canoe, and the fact that the man stands and the woman sits.

An implement greatly In use was the tomahawk. In my days they had progressed beyond the stage when they used the old stone tool, The tomahawk of the early days was a good deal different from the one in common use now. It was longer and narrower, shaped more like a wedge than the axe of to- day. As soon as a black got hold of a white man’s tomahawk, he would remove the handle to substitute it with one of his own fashioning. It would be made of a long, flat piece of hardwood, pointed at one end, fitted loosely Into the ey e and made firm with a wooden wedge driven along the side. There was a good reason fo r this, as the longer handle gave

more weight to the head when it was wielded, and its flat form enabled it to be thrust easily and firmly under the owner’s possum fur belt, thus leaving his hands free when climbing a tree or carrying a burden...

I have mentioned that the aboriginals (possessed a keen sense of humor and were marvellously clever mimics. Their good temper and childish relish of fun was never more exemplified than when someone made a present to a stalwart black of an old hat, coat, or other discarded garment. The recipient would don the gift, usually after a fashion never originally Intended, and would strut proudly about the camp displaying himself and his adornment. After the owner had spent some time in exhibiting his prize, a comrade would calmly approach him and secure possession of it to go through the same performance. Then quickly it would pass from one to another, and each man in turn would extract a maximum of merriment from its possession. Afterwards the gift, whatever it was, never seemed to have any particular owner, for it would be free for all the tribe. The first recipient never troubled about being deprived of possession, and enjoyed more the uses to which It was put by his friends. ...Very rarely did an aboriginal stoop down to pick up any article from the ground. Having long, prehensile toes they would use them as a white man does his fingers to grasp the object needed and thus would rise it to within reach of the hands.

When I departed from Port Stephens in 1873 to go to Queensland the tribe had dwindled to about fifty members. Perhaps there were fewer than that.

The Port Stephens blacks : recollections of William Scott


Dungog was the ultimate limit of settlement for ten years or more. ...In the far- off days of the first decade of the nineteenth century, the locality that we know as Dungog was called by its primitive inhabitants ’Tunkok’ or ’Tungog,’ both of which words mean, in the Awabakal dialect, the place of thinly wooded hills.

The blacks living in the district that extends from just about where Brookfield now is to the headwaters of the Chichester and the Williams belonged to a tribe known as the Gringai. They were distributed over the district in local groups known as ’Nuria’ and were located at distances about eight miles apart in what the histo- rians of those days termed villages. The mia-mias of these rude aborigines were of the most primitive description, being merely a few sheets of bark placed against a convenient log, or bushes roughly planted alongside some huge forest giant.

A census taken by Dr. McKinlay in the early [1830s] showed that there were about 250 blacks in the valley of the Williams. Across the range, on the watershed of the Paterson, was another, and an important branch of this tribe with whom the natives of the Dungog district inter-married, and Dr. McKinlay and Mr. J. W. Boy- dell record that these tribes married also with those of the tribes on the Gloucester watershed. Below Dungog, and extending to Lake Macquarie, the Awabakal tribe was the most important and their language is recorded in interesting treatises writ- ten by the Rev. L. E. Threlkeld. Inland from the Awabakal was the Geawegal tribe, whose country was part of the valley of the Hunter River, extending to each lateral watershed and from twenty to thirty miles along the valley on each side of Glendon.



These aborigines spoke the language of, and intermarried with those of Maitland, less frequently with those of the Paterson River and rarely with those of Muswell- brook. They were always in dread of war with the Kamilaroi, a fierce and warlike tribe, who followed down the headwaters of the Hunter from the Talbragar to the Nunmurra waters, and even occasionally made raids as far as Jerrys Plains.

A section of the Kamilaroi occupied the upper waters flowing into the Hunter and Goulburn, and the easy gap from the west probably afforded them ready access for their raids. The fear that this race inspired in the natives of localities adjoining their boundaries reached as far as Dungog, and twenty years ago when ’Brandy’ was the last of his tribe in the district he would often mention with apparently genuine fear, the possibility of a raid by the wild blacks from the west.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tuesday 25 March 1919 p3


The manner in which the Grlngai communicated their movements to following friends was noteworthy. Dr McKinlay relates an interesting anecdote in this connec- tion that is worth repeating. He wished to see some blacks that had been camped near where Brookfield is now, but when he reached their settlement he found it deserted. His black boy said that he would see where they had gone, and going to the camp showed, a snear stuck in the ashes of the fire with a corn cob tied on the point. Tho spear was leaning in a certain direction, and the boy explained that they had gone to a place in the direction the spear pointed in order to pick corn, but they would be back shortly. This proved to be the case.

... Mr R. Dawson describes a meeting with some strange blacks. He told those that were with him, ’to make the sign of peace with them which they did by waving the right hand over the head and then pointing to the ground. No return was made to this, and on repeating the sign an answer was returned in a loud and as it seemed menacing tone. The natives of each party harangued each other in turns, and then the strange blacks placed their spears against a tree and gave an invitation to join them. This account is very characteristic of similar meetings observed by anthropologists in the Cooper’s Creek country.

The attire ...usually consisted of a kangaroo skin tied round the middle with a belt of fibre or sinews. Charms were worn round the neck and consisted of shells, seeds, pieces of quartz, etc. When it became the custom to carry blankets they usually pinned them across their chests with a bone nose-peg. When not in use for this purpose the peg was kept in the cartilage of the nostrils which were pierced for the purpose.

A curious practice obtained among these tribes, that of flattening the children’s nose by the mother to improve its appearance. This was usually done immediately after birth by the mother or some of the old women of the tribe, and as tho practice is common among blacks in all parts of the continent it can be accepted that this marked feature of the aboriginal physiognomy is thought to be beautiful.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 25 Apr 1919 Page 3 The Earliest Inhabitants.


Mr Angus McDonald, who was living at Underbank House... could remember a camp of over 300 on Canningalla estate. They did not do much work, but would catch fish or get game for a bit of ’nulli’ (bread). The blacks were often sent out to get bark, as they were excellent at the job. The whites also got them to rob bees nests. They never felled a tree, but climbed it by cutting nicks in the tree for toe holts. The honey comb would be pulled out of the hollow limb and thrown down to a couple of mates below who caught it in a wide strip of bark. Stings never seemed to trouble them beyond a shake of their woolly head and a squeak. Possum, bears [koalas] and snakes were relished ... Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 3 Sep 1918 Page 3 DAYS GONE BY. Re the name of ’ Canningalla ’ being called after Lord Canning. This is an error, as the word is an aboriginal one— meaning, a place between two rivers near their junction’ — hence, the name of this Estate, according to the blacks’ pronunciation, is ’ Caning-gula ’ . Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 12 Apr 1910 Page 3 (TO THE EDITOR.)


King Micky, of Cooplacurripa, was well tattooed on the chest and on the muscles of the arms. The Queen [women], so far as I could ascertain, were marked some- what similarly on the back and across the tops of the shoulders. Billy Barlow once explained to me how this remarkable marking was done.

The flesh was cut with a little sharp stone, and then the black so operated upon would lie out in the sun. The rays of the sun then accomplished the remainder of the task. The markings— as those who have seen the figures of early-day blacks will know— when finalised were quite a white and weird color. Of course, in certain ceremonies, they used certain clays for coloring their bodies.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 21 Jun 1932 Page 6 TATTOOED BLACKS.



Marriages were arranged by the parents and kindred, and a wife was chosen from a neighboring tribe; for instance a man living at Gresford obtained a wife from the Hunter River. The woman about to be married made a camp and a fire, to which the man was led by his father or any old man of the tribe. After they had camped together the ceremony was complete. Capture of women from other tribes and elopements were common. In regard to the captured women, if she belonged to the same sub-class or totem as the capturer, he would have to let her go or yield her up to someone of a different class. In regard to elopements, if a man and woman



Figure 7: Map of The Hunter Valley Kooris - reproduced from James Miller’s A Will to Win

of the same class ran off together they were punished by death if captured....A man was not permitted to speak to his wife’s mother and could only do so through a third party. Before the advent of the whites to the district it was death for a man to speak to her, and for many years after settlement was first established the punishment was a temporary banishment from the camp.

The Earliest Inhabitants - Aboriginal Tribes of the District. The Blacks of Dungog, Port Stephens and Gresford. Gordon Bennett (reprinted 1964) p4


Intermarriage of families was strictly forbidden, and incest was a crime pun- ishable with death. Each child, at birth, was placed in a certain class or totem, and could only marry some person from an entirely different class or totem, their particular classification being indicated by its distinguishing name. Most of the Gringai were named Kumbo, but there were some Ipai, Kubbi and Murri among them. The Earliest Inhabitants - Aboriginal Tribes of the District. The Blacks of Dungog, Port Stephens and Gresford. Gordon Bennett (reprinted 1964) p3


Dr. McKinlay records that they believed in supernatural beings whom they called Maamba. These spirits were supposed to dwell in the bodies of the medicine men,

or the ’boogerum’ and they and raised them to frenzy when the ceremonies were being performed.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 6 Jul 1943 Page 4 WILD BLACKS


They [the Gringai] are afraid of ”Coen,” an evil spirit of the woods, which they say ”crammer” (steals) them when they are “nangry’ (asleep). . . . [Coen] delighted in tormenting and carrying them away when he could get opportunities. . . . Coen was responsible for the storms, floods, droughts and fires and had carried off many...for offences against tribal laws. Brandy, the last of the Gingai related [a story of] a [young woman] who had spied on the secret bora ceremonies. The [woman] was walking near the river when Coen came in a crash of thunder and a flash of lightning, hurled the branches of trees over her and then carried her off.

...Coen [also spelt Koin] is an imaginary male being who has now, and has always had, the appearance of a black; he resides in thick bushes ... and he is seen occasionally by day, but mostly at light. In general he precedes the coming of natives from distant parts, when they assemble to celebrate certain of their ceremonies, such as the knocking out of teeth in the mystic ring, or when they are performing some dance. He appears painted with pipeclay and carries a fire-stick in his hand; but generally it is the [clever men] who alone perceive him and to whom he says ’Fear not come and talk.’ At other times he comes where the blacks are asleep and takes them up, as an eagle his prey, and carries them away for a time. The shouts of the surrounding party often makes him drop his burden; otherwise he conveys them to his fireplace in the bush where he deposits his load close to the fire. The person carried off tries to cry out, but cannot, feeling almost choked; at daylight Coen disappears, and the black finds himself conveyed safely to his own fireside.

The Earliest Inhabitants - Aboriginal Tribes of the District. The Blacks of Dungog, Port Stephens and Gresford. Gordon Bennett (reprinted 1964) p11-12


Among the tribes in the Williams valley it was not uncommon for the medicine- men of hostile tribes to sneak into a camp at night under cover of the darkness, or a cloud, and with a net of peculiar construction garrotte one of the tribe, drag him a few hundred yards from the camp, cut up his abdomen obliquely, take out the kidney and caul-fat and then stuff a handful of sand and grass into the wound. The strangling net was then unwound, and if the victim was not already dead he would be a ghost inside twenty-four hours. Some are said to have survived the operation for three days. The fat so stolen was greatly prized and was divided among the adults who anointed their bodies with it, and generally carried portions with them in the belief that the prowess and virtues of the deceased would pass to them. His bad attributes remained with the corpse.

Around Dungog the blacks believed when a man became ill with a wasting sick- ness, that one of these medicine-men had crept in under cover of darkness and



removed the kidney fat without the painful operation above described. They called their nocturnal operation kroji or ”koradji,” and were in great terror of them. They also believed that the koradji were possessed of wonderful supernatural powers and besides bringing disaster to others could affect cures of all manner of ills among theIr own tribe. It may be taken generally that sickness of all kinds was believed to be caused by the incantations and magic of the koradjis or medicine men of hostile tribes.

The Earliest Inhabitants - Aboriginal Tribes of the District. The Blacks of Dungog, Port Stephens and Gresford. Gordon Bennett (reprinted 1964) p6-7


The Gringai had a great dread of thunder and believed it to be the demonstration of the anger of some supernatural being rebuking them for some impropriety. This being they knew as Coen.

The Earliest Inhabitants - Aboriginal Tribes of the District. The Blacks of Dungog, Port Stephens and Gresford. Gordon Bennett (reprinted 1964) p8



The juvenile males of this (the Dungog) tribe were, from the age of about twelve to eighteen, allowed to accompany their parents and friends in hunting excursions, and assisted in the incidental fagging necessary about the camps. In the course of time, they were, therefore, thoroughly disciplined and properly trained. When they are considered ready to be made full members of the tribe the elders hold a convention and decide on a ’bumbat’ being held, generally when there are three or four youths to be initiated.

Members are despatched to summon tribes from far and near, and on their return full preparations are made for the celebration, a place being selected and a day appointed. As part of the ceremonies, the aspirants undergo the ordeal of having an upper front tooth either bitten off or knocked out with a stick prepared for the occasion. It is said that the youth’s mother is custodian of the tooth and takes great care of it. As everything relating to these ceremonies is kept very secret it is only hearsay. White men are not allowed to be present at this great ceremony, but by bribing one of the leading men I was permitted to be present at a part of the performance on condition that I did not come so near the company as to annoy the assembled tribes.

On the eventful morning I went to the place indicated, where I found about two hundred of the tribesmen differently, but tastefully, painted in red, white, and yellow, and armed to the teeth. They were in groups here and there in a little valley. On riding about I noticed a large gum-tree deeply carved with hieroglyphics, which I was informed was a record for future generations that a bumbat had been celebrated

in that locality. A circle of eighty to ninety feet in diameter was dug, or scratched, on a level piece of ground, leaving a space of four or five feet undisturbed to enter the circle by. In the centre of this circle there was a fire of moderate dimensions and attended to by one of the men. Shortly there was. a stir when a detachment entered the circle, and with dancing, yelling, and gesticulations, and brandishing of arms at intervals, all made a rush to the fire, yelling, and jumping on it until extinguished, when they retired. The spot where the fire had seen being now cool, the embers and ashes were levelled and boughs were brought and disposed of in the middle of the circle. Then two men proceeded to the camp of the females, two or three hundred yards distant, and marched them and the children with their heads prone to the circle, where they were made to lie down and be covered up with boughs, rugs, bark, and whatever was at hand. This being done, the whole force of the assembled tribes came up, running, shouting, and striking their shields with their clubs, and using a roarer which produced the most fearful and unnatural sounds.

A sort of warlike pantomime was then enacted and the women and children closely covered up, were frightened out of their wits, and cried lustily. Suddenly the fearful noises ceased, and all the men rushed out of the ring, and seemed to be engaged in a most fearful fight:.spears and boomerangs flying about in hundreds. This, I was told, was the end, but to me it now seems clear that it was the beginning of the ceremonies, being the time when the contingents have arrived, and before the final part when the boys who are initiated are taken from their mothers. However, it did not tally with what I had seen elsewhere, or had been told by natives whose confidence I had won.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 9 Jul 1943 Page 4 THE DUNGOG CEREMONIES


One in particular was situated near the Allyn River not far from the town the white man now calls Gresford. It was probably at this site that my great-great- grandmother’s kinship fathers passed those intermediate days between boyhood and manhood. The kackaroo (ceremonial ground) was surrounded by carved trees and bushes. A large public circle was carved into the flat ground. From this circle, the yuppang (pathway) stretched 550 paces to the goonambang (excrement place). This latter circular area was smaller.

These two circles connected by the path formed the sacred ground. After being prepared by their families, the boys were now ready to experience the transition from boyhood to manhood. They were taken from their mothers by their main guardian and walked to the kackaroo where they waited silently, pensively, for what was to come... The women and children walked to the kackaroo and were told to lie face down in the middle of the large circle. They were covered with pieces of bark and bushes. By this time the men had commenced a steady clapping of barragans (boomerangs) or any other implement they may have had. The women started humming in a low drone. This activity was to keep them from being aware that their boys were being taken stealthily from the kackaroo to the goonambang.



Figure 8: A sketch of a bora ground near Gloucester, showing the position of the two rings 18 chains or 362 metres apart. The sketch appeared in the Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales. Ethnological series No. 3.

What was going through the minds of the initiates on this walk would have been awe-inspiring. The mysticism of the event was incomprehensible to them at this point, and complete trust in their guardian was all they had. What the guardian said, the boombits (initiates) believed. Anxiety states were deliberately contrived by the guardians who told the boombits that the Goign (great spirit) was attacking the camp and killing the women and children. The men at the goonambang had already been informed that the boombits were on their way. The ceremonial break from their mothers signified the first step towards manhood, it was the beginning of an event that would make them spiritually as well as physically different from women. No longer would they eat the female species of game, or collect fruits and yams or even eat with the women. At the goonambang, a fire lit the centre where a number of elders were sitting.

The boombits were seated on some bushes that were placed in the inside of the ring, near the side that was nearest to their country, and told to put their heads between their knees. This position was held for some time. As the boys took this symbolic leave of their mothers, the ceremony geared towards its climax. At the goonambang, spirit world and tribal world united in what was probably the deepest religious experience a Koori male would ever have. To signify the religious importance, the initiates were given rock crystals warmed in an open fire and told that these were the excrement of the great spirit Goign (hence the meaning of goonambang—the place of excrement). It was also here at the goonambang that the boys experienced what was to be their harshest physical ordeal of the ceremony. It was this ordeal that tested their physical and emotional abilities almost to breaking point. At various times they were ordered to assume uncomfortable positions and to remain so until the sun crossed the sky. Climactically the upper tooth was extracted by an elder and the slightest indication of objection or pain resulted in ridicule. It is today difficult to ascertain what actually happened at the climax of the ceremony, but the spiritual experience was to be impregnated in the memories of these young boys until their final return to the spirit world.

Finally the initiates were sent out into the bush, to prove their capabilities as hunters and men. They had to fend for themselves. As they departed their mothers tied some green leaves to yamsticks, and when these leaves turned brown, the mothers knew their boys would return for the final symbolic suckling of the breast. The bush provided the secular climax of the ceremony. Here a boy drew on all his previous learning to become one with the land and he was given the opportunity to demonstrate his knowledge of every animate and inanimate object.

When this experience assured him that he was a self-sufficient hunter, he re- turned, when the leaves turned brown, to take his rightful place amongst his people as well as the responsibility that went with this status. Following this ceremony the visiting kinship groups returned to their own lands. The kinship group was the economic and social unit of the tribe. Members were related to each other by their kinship classification, common language and law. It was the kinship group that moved within various allotted areas of Wonnarua lands in search of food, and it was only occasionally that these groups would meet to discuss important matters concerning the Wonnarua people as a whole.

Wonnarua Nation Strategic Plan 2009-2012 -


I have been to two corroborees, said Mr. Irwin. One was held on the top of the ridge in Irwin’s paddock, at the back of the house which is now situated at the Underbank-Wangat turn-off. Old Mr. Collier, the school teacher, asked the blacks to permit the school boys to see the ceremony. They saw some of it. There were blacks present from Port Stephens, Gloucester, the Allyn and Paterson Rivers. It was the biggest collection of blacks ever seen in the district.

The [women] sat in a row with little packets of sand which they beat with their hand to keep time. ... What struck him was the wonderful time they kept, and their singing at the end of every performance. The blacks had very strong voices. They never smiled nor did they ever applaud.

The principal bora ground was in Mr. Harold McLeod’s paddock and today one can see the ring plainly. Grass never grows on the bora ring. Mr. Irwin remembers a spotted gum ridge on which all the trees were marked. Some with animals, others with birds and hands cut out of the bark. There were also other hieroglyphics. [Women] were never allowed to see a bora ceremony; they always had to lie down, and woe betide one if she lifted her head. It is quite true, he added, when it is said that no white man ever saw a bora ceremony.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 21 Sep 1943 Page 1 CORRO- BOREES


It will perhaps be interesting to describe another keeparra ground visited by me, which is situated between three and four miles north-easterly from the village of Gresford, New South Wales. The main camp of the natives who were present at the ceremonies was pitched in an open forest, on some gently sloping ground a few chains easterly from the left bank of a small watercourse, a tributary of the Allyn River, within Portion No. 55, of 2,000 acres, in the parish of Lewinsbrook, county of Durham.

The local Allyn River tribe were the first to erect their camp, around which the other tribes took up their positions, each in the direction of the country from which they had come. Close to the eastern side of the general encampment was the kackeroo, 40 feet by 29 feet, from which the yippang or path led away on a bearing of N. 85 E., ascending some sloping ground for a distance of 17 chains to the goonambang, on the crest of a low ridge. The diameters of this oval space were 28 feet and 20 feet respectively, being smaller than the oval near the camp. The usual heap of earth on which the fire is kept burning was in the centre of this enclosure. There were formerly several marked trees, around the goonambang, but they have all been burnt down and destroyed by bushfires. At a distance of about 7 chains in a north-north-westerly direction from the goonambang, along the top of the ridge, were a few other marked trees, the dharroong on some of which are still distinguishable. . . .

Mustering the Tribes.-When it is found that there are a sufficient number of boys old enough for initiation, the head-man of the tribe whose turn it is to call the

Figure 9: A map of the area described. The tributary mentioned is Dog Trap Creek. The map was determined by overlaying an old parish map onto a topographic map.

community together, who may be called the ”Chief Initiator,” sends out messengers to all the neighbouring tribes whom it is desired shall be present. The headman does not take this step on his own responsibility, but after due consultation with the elders of his tribe. When one of these messengers arrives at the camp of the tribe he has been directed to summon, he sits down in sight of the men’s quarters, and some of them go over to him, knowing by his manner that he is the bearer of news to their tribe. They would treat him hospitably, and talk with him about general matters of tribal interest. On the following morning he would accompany the men to the ween’garah’, or meeting place where they assemble to discuss all such matters as they do not wish the women or uninitiated youths to take part in.

On reaching the ween’garah, which would be only a short distance from the camp, the messenger would tell the headman and elders the purport of his mission, and would hand them a white quartz crystal which had been given to him by the chief initiator when dispatching him on this errand. If these people, after deliberation among themselves, decide to accept the invitation, they give the messenger another


white stone to be carried back to the headman who sent him. The latter, on receiving this token of their concurrence, then selects a suitable plan in some part of his own territory where game is sufficiently plentiful to afford food for his visitors, and there he commences to prepare the ground.

If, on the contrary, the tribe to whom the white stone was sent consider the time inopportune, or that there are other weighty reasons for post-poning the general gathering, no white stone is returned by the messenger, and the initiator then knows that they do not approve of his proposal, and the matter lapses for the present. As- suming that the invitation has been accepted, the initiator immediately commences to prepare the keeparra ground, and dispatches another set of messengers, each of whom are on this occasion provided with a bull-roarer (goonandhakeea), several tails or kilts, a belt, and other articles. Each messenger on arriving at his destination would be received in the manner already described, and would hand the bull-roarer to the head-man, who would take charge of it, and the tails would be distributed to the men to whom they had been sent. Nothing would be said to the women about these proceedings until the time arrived for making a start for the place of meeting. One of the men would then sound a bull-roarer just after dark in the vicinity of the camp, and next morning everyone would pack up and proceed by easy stages towards the appointed tryst, dances and songs being indulged in at night at each of the stages along their route. At these camping places, one of the men swings the bull-roarer in the adjacent forest just after dark, and again a little before daylight, and the women reply to it by beating on their rugs, and singing; the men give a shout in unison. When such a contingent gets within about a day’s journey of the main camp, a messenger is sent on to report that they will arrive next day or the day following. When they get near the camp, the men, women and children sit down a short distance out of sight of the goonambang.

The men then paint themselves with white stripes on their chests, on their arms, and on their legs from the knee down. When this painting is completed, two of the men go ahead by themselves, each of them carrying one or two boomerangs in his belt and one in his hand; in the other hand he carries a small bough ready for use by and bye. The men belonging to the local tribe and other mobs, if any, who have arrived previously - who may be called the ” hosts,” repair from the main camp to the goonambang, and sit down within it, having their faces turned in the direction of the camp. When these two men get close to the goonambang they gently hit the boomerangs which they carry in their hands against those in their belts, and the hosts answer, huk! Then they advance a few paces, and stamp one foot on the ground, and the hosts answer heh! This beating of boomerangs and stamping is repeated till the men get quite close to the back of the goonambang. The two men now separate, one going round one side, and one round the other, and again meet at the entrance of the goonambang, where they stand and dance, shaking their boughs and boomerangs for a brief period. They then throw down the boughs, and go away back to their comrades, who have remained at the place where they painted themselves, and all of them now approach the goonambang, lightly tapping their boomerangs together as they walk along, and on arriving at the ring they form a circle round it. The hosts now get up and go outside, where they remain standing in a group, and one or more of their number commence sounding, the goonandhakeea or bull-roarer. The women at the camp, on hearing this, assemble at the kackaroo, and begin to sing and beat their rugs, and some of them dance. The women belonging

to the new mob also started from where they had been sitting down, as soon as their men started for the goonambang, and proceeded direct to the main camp, where they joined the women of the hosts. As soon as the bull-roarers commenced to sound, the men of the new mob entered the goonambang, and walked round, and then started towards the kackaroo in a meandering line, in single file carrying their boomerangs and other weapons with them. They were immediately followed by the hosts, each of whom carried green bushes in their hands. On arriving at the circle they walked once round it, and then entered it through the opening in its wall, the women at the same time going out of it by stepping over the embankment at the other end, where they remained as spectators. The men then dance and jump about in the ring, uttering guttural noises, the men of the new mob calling out the names of a few principal camping grounds in the country from which they have come. All the men and women then disperse into the camp, and the strangers commence erecting their quarters. These arrivals generally take place in the afternoon a few hours before sundown.

Daily Performances at the Main Camp.- Every day the men go out hunting,, and meet each other in the evening an hour or so before sundown at the goonambang. If some of the men have remained in the camp all day, they also will proceed to the goonambang and meet the others there. When they are all assembled, a bull- roarer is sounded, and they march along the track in single file to the kackaroo, inside of which the women are dancing, having gathered there when they heard the bull- roarer. The men then march once round the outside of the circle in the same manner as on the arrival of a tribe, already described. The women then step out of the ring, and stand a few yards from it, where they remain till the conclusion of the performance. The men now enter the ring, and dance round a few times, shouting out the names of remarkable places, after which all hands walk away to their respective camps. A level patch of ground in a convenient part of the camp is cleared and made smooth for dancing on. Almost every evening one of the tribes present gets up a corroboree for the amusement of the others. The men of one tribe dance one evening - their women beating time for them; the next night the men and women of another tribe provide the evening’s amusement.

Taking away the boys.–On the evening of the day preceding the principal cere- mony, all the tribes remove their camps close to the kackaroo, or public ring, where they remain for the night. Some of the men go to the goonambang and camp there, and during the night they swing a bull-roarer at intervals, and the women at the kackaroo beat their rugs and sing in response, whilst the men give the customary shout. At day-break the following morning a number of the men who have been camping with the women at the kackaroo proceed to the goonambang, tapping their boomerangs together as they walk, and join the other men who were there all night. All the men at the goonambang then start towards the kackaroo in single file, march- ing in a meandering course, and shouting as they go. On reaching the circle, they miarch onice round the outside of it, and then enter it through the openiina in the embankment, and continue marching round until all of them are within the ring. They now jump and dance, forming a group in the centre, after which they step out of it, and all the people go and have their breakfast. After the morning meal has been disposed of, all the young men, accompanied by some of the old fellows, again start away to the goonambang, carrying their spears and other weapons with them, and coinmence painting their bodies jet black with powdered charcoal and



grease. The chiefs and other old irien remain with the wom-nen at the kackaroo, and preparations for the ceremony are at once commenced.

The relatives of the novices now take them to some convenient place adjacent, and paint them all over with red ochre and grease. Some sheets of bark are now laid on the ground just inside the boundary of the back part of the ring, or, in other words, on that side of it which is farthest from the pathway leading to the goonambang. Leaves are then thickly strewn on this bark, forming a kind of couch, and when the painting of the novices is completed, they are led into the ring and placed sitting down in a row on the couch of leaves - the novices belonging to each tribe being put in a group by themselves on that side of the ring which faces their own country. The headmen now ask the women to come up close, and the mother of each boy sits on the ground just outside the ring, near her son; his sisters and relatives are a little farther off, and the other women and children outside of the last named. If the earth is damp, owing to recent rains, pieces of bark stripped from the adjacent trees, or heaps of bushes, are laid on the ground for the women to lie on. The mothers of the novices are painted with red and white stripes on the face, chest and arms. The principal headman then walks along the row of novices, bending down the head of each one until his chin is resting on his breast.

The women and children are also told to lie down, and are covered over with rugs and bushes, some of the men running round amongst them to see that this formality is properly carried out. As soon as the mothers are covered over, they are directed to continue making a low humming or buzzing sound, in order that they may not hear the guardians taking away the novices. While the covering is being placed over the women, a man runs away to the goolambang and tells the men there that everything is ready. These men, armed with their boomerangs and nulla-nullas, then start towards the kackaroo, some of them taking up their position on one side of the ring, and some on the other, but the majority of them stand near the front of it-that is, on the side from which the path emerges. The headmen are walking about directing the proceedings, being sometimes in the ring, and sometimes outside of it. All these operations are carried out as speedily as practicable, so as not to keep the women - some of whom have infants at their breasts - any longer under such rigorous concealment than is necessary. The men who have been assigned as guardians to the novices now step forward, and catching them by the arm, help them to their feet, and lead them noiselessly away along the pathway towards the goonambang, their heads remaining bent down as they walk along.

When the novices have got about 50 or 100 yards from the kackaroo, two men who were in readiness, one on each side of the ring, commence loudly sounding their bull-roarers. All the armed men who are standing round, make a noise by beating together two boomerangs, or any two weapons which they may happen to have with them. This noise is made so that if the string of one of the bull-roarers should break - which sometimes happens - the women would not hear it falling on the ground. One of the men goes into the ring, swinging his bull-roarer, and the other walks along one side near the women. This only lasts a few minutes and then all the men follow after the novices. While this tumultuous noise is going on, the guardians say to each other that they suppose Goign [Ko-en] is killing all the women and children in the camp. This puts the novices in a great state of anxiety and alarm, but they are not allowed to speak or gaze about them. The novices are conducted along the pathway to the goonambang, and are placed sitting down on a couch of small bushes and


Figure 10: Bull-roarers. The Katthang word for bull roarer, Goo-nan-duk-yer, means human shit eater. The bull-roarer was attached to about 1.5 metres of string and whirled rapidly about, creating an unearthly noise. Illustration from Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales - Plate 9 Bull-roarers used by the Australian Aborigines source: Wikicommons

leaves which have been prepared for them, between the fire and the embankment bounding the ring, their guardians sitting down behind them in such a way that each boy may be said to be sitting in a man’s lap. The boys of each tribe sit on the side of the ring nearest the country they have come from.

The Kweealbang Camp.-A short digression will now be made for the purpose of describing how the women are released from their prostrate position, and their subsequent proceedings. As soon as the guardians, novices, and the contingent who follow them are out of sight of the kackaroo, the covering is taken off the women by the men who have charge of them, and they are permitted to rise. First, the mothers of the boys are set free - then the sisters - and lastly, the other women and children are uncovered. The mothers and sisters of the novices generally give vent to tears and lamentations when they find the boys and all the men gone away; and such of the young girls and boys who have never been to a keeparra before, appear to have been very much scared, by the strange ordeal through which they have just passed. They immediately pack up all their movables, and start away some distance to another locality which has been previously decided upon by the headmen of the several tribes, and there they erect a new camp, being assisted in this work by some of the old men who have been directed to remain with them.

The usual rule of each tribe camping round the local mob, each in the direction of their respective districts, is observed in the erection of this new camp. The mother of each novice, before leaving the kackaroo, picks some small green bushes, which she ties on the top end of her yamstick. When these leaves get dry, it will be considered about time to bring the boys back to the Kweealbang. The sisters of the novices each pick up a piece of burning bark from a fire close by the ring, where they have been smouldering ready for use. These fire-brands, renewed as often as necessary,


must be carried bv them, when going from place to place, till they again meet their brothers at the kweealbang. Before finally quitting the main camp, a small sapling is cut down, and one end of it inserted firmly in the ground at the kackaroo, in a slanting position, the elevated end pointing in the direction of the new camp. If it is intended to erect the camp only a little way off, the pole is short; but if the new camp is some distance away, the pole is long. The upper end of this pole is ornamented by having, a bunch of green leaves or grass tied around it. This pointer is left for the purpose of guiding to the kweealbang camp any tribe which is expected, but has not yet arrived. In the proximity of the new camp, on the side of it nearest the place to which the novices will be taken by the headmen, a piece of tolerably level ground is selected, and cleared of all timber and loose rubbish, and a large fire kindled in the middle of it. This cleared space and its adjuncts is called kweealbang (fire place, or place of the fire). Here the mothers and sisters of the novices assemble every day for the purpose of singing and dancing, and on these occasions the mothers carry the yamsticks, ornamented with bunches of leaves tied on their ends, already referred to.

Ceremonies in the Bush. - As before stated, the novices are taken to the goon- ambang (excrement place), where they remain till the women and children have departed from the other circle, which would occupy half an hour, or perhaps longer. During this time some old men perform feats of juglery, and exhibit white stones (quartz crystals) to the novices. These stones are raked out of the heap of earth and ashes in the middle of the ring, and are warm, owing to the fire which is burning on top of the heap. These quartz crystals are believed to be the excrement of [Ko-en]. The novices are then helped to their feet, and are taken to each of the marked trees in succession. The men stoop down, and clear away with their hands all leaves and rubbish from the surface of the ground around each tree, and the novices are brought to this clear space, with their heads bowed, and are told to look up at the marks on the tree. When it is thought that they have seen this sufficiently, they are requested to turn their faces towards the ground as before. There is a cleared path from one marked tree to another, and the boys are taken along this path to the next tree, when the same formality of clearing a space around its base is gone through, and the boys are again directed to look ul.

When the men are approaching each tree they throw pieces of stick at it, and dance round it on the clear space referred to, rubbing their hands upon the tree and telling the boys to take particular notice of the marks upon it. The men make a guttural noise as the novices are shown each tree, and also in going from one tree to another. After the novices have been shown the goonambang, and all the marked trees around it, they are next taken away by their guardians and the old men, several miles into the bush, to a camp called keelaybang (urinating place). During the journey thither the novices are not allowed to gaze about them, but have to keep their eyes cast upon the ground at their feet, and their hands held on their stomachs as they walk along with their guardians. The headmen and young fellows who accompany them, are also a little way behind the novices, shouting and making a great noise as they march along. At the keelaybang a camp is formed by erecting a long, continuous gunyah or mia-mia in the following manner.

A row of wooden forks, about 4 or 5 feet high, are first inserted in the ground, and saplings laid from fork to fork, resembling a fence with only one top rail. All along, one side of this top rail, reaching from it to the ground, bark and bushes are


Figure 11: The various tree-markings described.


placed in a slanting position, forming a shelter, covered in on one side, leaving the other side open. Under the open side leaves are thickly strewn on the ground, for the men and boys to lie upon. The back of this shelter is towards the women’s camp. A row of fires are lit in front of this shelter, and beyond these fires the surface of the ground is cleared of all loose rubbish and grass for a distance of several yards, the rubbish forming a sort of embankment around the farther side of the cleared space. Such a camp would be formed on some tolerably level ground near a running stream or water-hole. When the camp at the kweealbang has been completed the novices are placed lying, down in a row on the leaves which have been spread on the ground under the shelter, and are covered over with rugs, each boy having his guardian beside him. The novices and guardians occupy a central position, and the rest of the men camp under the remainder of the shelter, in both directions. During the day-time the novices are sometimes allowed to sit up, keeping their eyes towards the ground, but are not allowed to speak to anyone. If a boy wants anything, he must touch his guardian, who then commences asking him the most likely things, until he guesses correctly, when the boy nods assent. If he wants to micturate, the guardian leads him out to the fire, and he micturates in the ashes.

On the first night of the arrival of the novices at the kweealbang, some human excrement is given to them as they sit in the camp. It is laid on pieces of bark, and each boy has to eat the share which is allotted to him by the headmen. At this camp they are also required, on more than one occasion, to drink the urine of some of the men, collected in a coolamin for the purpose. During the celebration of these rites, a bull-roarer is sounded in the neighbouring forest. At this camp there are pantomimic performances nearly every night, the men dancing and acting on the clear space already described. Sometimes the animal imitated is the kangaroo - the men hopping along one after the other. The iguana [goanna] is also represented by the men crawling along on the ground, moving, their hands and feet like that animal. At other times the soldier bird is imitated; sometimes the flying fox [fruit bat], the native bear [koala], the rock wallaby, the wombat, and other animals. These performances are generally carried on at night by the light of the row of camp fires-the novices sitting in the shelter, while the men are acting on the other side of the fire. Some of the performances are, however, enacted during the day, after the men return from hunting. All these pantomimic representations are largely mixed with abominable and obscene gestures. After the dances and games are over, one of the men sometimes sounds a goonandhakeea (excrement-eater) in the bush near the camp. The guardians or some of the other men then shout out, as if addressing someone, ”The boys are here yet! Don’t interfere with them !” The novices are told that the noise they hear is the voice of Goign, who would come and eat them if he got the chance.

During the early part of each day, the men go out hunting, and bring home the results of the chase, consisting of kangaroos, iguanas, birds, and other game, as well as wild honey. The novices are not allowed to leave the camp, but must sit in the shelter all day with their eyes cast down, some of their guardians remaining with them. Some of the game caught during the day is cooked for the novices, the bones and sinews being taken out of it, and the pieces cut small, so that they may not be able to distinguish what animal’s flesh is being given to them. Some of the old men go round to see that the food for the novices is prepared according to rule, and when it is ready the guardians carry it to them. One or more of the tribes who intended

to be present may have been unavoidably detained on the way, and do not reach the main camp until a few days after the novices have been taken away. Such a tribe, on reaching the main camping place, and finding all the people gone away, would go to the kackaroo, and on seeing the index pole would start away in that direction, and join the other people at the new camp, and take up their quarters on the side nearest their own country. The young fellows belonging to these new arrivals are always eager to be present and assist at the performances at the kweealbang, and accordingly they start out to the camp in the bush. On the way they paint their bodies with powdered charcoal, obtained by burning the bark of the apple tree or bloodwood, and mixing it with grease. These men, who are called keerang (bushes), approach the kweealbang in single file, each one holding a green bush in front of him, which hides his face and body as far as the waist, and as they walk along they make a shrill sound resembling the howling of the dingo, or wild dog. On hearing this noise, the guardians and other men present say to each other, ” That must be Thoorkook’s dogs coming to kill the boys; let us cut steps in the trees near us so that the boys can climb up out of their way.”

A few of the men at the back of the kweealbang commence chopping at a tree, and the boys are helped to their feet, and are put standing in a row near the fires, each boy being supported by his guardian. By this time the keerang have reached the clear space at the keelaybang, where they throw down their bushes and spread out in a line in front of the novices, and jump about, swaying their arms, after which they retire to one end of the camp. The other men then go and pick up the bushes thrown down by the keerang, and pull the leaves off them, making a continuous grunting, noise while so employed. The novices are then put back in their former places, and the keerang proceed to erect their quarters, by adding to one end of the same line of forks and bushes already described. After the novices have been about a week at the keelaybang another mob of men from the women’s camp make their appearance during the afternoon. They approach the camp in the same manner, carrying, bushes and imitating the native dog, like the previous mob, and the novices are brought out to see them in the same way. The men at the camp pull the leaves off the boughs thrown down by the keerang, who sit down at one end of the clear space. After the formalities of their reception have been gone through, the new arrivals, who are not painted black on this occasion, ask some of the other men to accompany them a little way from the camp, where they hold a consultation as to the date on which the novices will be taken to the kweealbang.

If the course of performances in the bush have been completed, the boys may be returned next day, but if some further instruction is necessary, the date is arranged accordingly. The keerangy then take their leave, and return to the kweealbang camp. After this visit of the keerang the novices are allowed greater liberty, being permitted to sit up straight in the camp, and occasionally to stand. Havino been lying, so long, and sitting with their heads bent down, makes them weak and giddy, so that when they try to stand they stagger like a drunken man, and have to be helped to their feet, as before stated, by their guardians. It is therefore necessary to give them a little relaxation to afford them an opportunity of regaining their strength before attempting the journey to the kweealbang.

During, the last night of the sojourn at the kweealbang the old men sing [Ko- en’s] song while the boys are lying in the camp. The day after the arrival of the Keeranga-or it may be in a few days’ time-very early in the morning, perhaps before



sunrise, one of the headmen pretends to see a large brown squirrel [possum] going into a hole in a tree growing near the camp, and asks one of the men to catch it. The tail of a squirrel or opossum has previously been fastened on the side of this hole by one of the men, unknown to the boys, to convey the idea that the rest of the animal is within. The novices are then brought out and placed standing in a row between the camp and the fires, with their eyes cast down. A man standing at the butt of the tree commences to cut steps as if going to climb it, and a few of the men run about and throw sticks at the [possum’s] tail. Others say, ”You should not interfere with [Ko-en’s possum], or he will come and kill both us and the boys.” Two bull-roarers are then heard close by, and some of the men call out to those throwing the sticks, ”We told you to beware of Goign - here he comes !” This is said to impress the boys with supernatural terror. The bull-roarers increase in loudness, and come quite near, and the guardians tell the novices to raise their heads and look. They then see two men swing each a goonandhakeea (excretement-eater) on the cleared space beyond the line of fires. The boys are then cautioned by the old men that if ever they tell the women or uninitiated that they have seen this instrument the penalty will be death. The bull-roarers are then given into the hands of the novices, who touch their bodies with them.

Return of the Boys.- A start is now made towards the women’s camp, all the men and boys leaving the kweealbang in single file. Some distance on the way they hear the keerang coming to meet then, cooeeing like the dingo as before, and walking in the usual way. The men and boys then change their position, and all march abreast. When the keerang come near, they spread out in a row in front of the men and boys, and throw pieces of bark over them, dancing as they do so. These pieces of bark about 9 inches or a foot long, and 2 or 3 inches wide, are cut off trees or saplings for the purpose.

The keerang then march right through the line of men and boys, some going through at one place and some at another, the line opening to let them pass. When they get to the rear, they turn round and again throw pieces of hark over the heads of the men and boys. The latter keep marching on, and the keerang follow them till they arrive at a water-hole or running stream, which has previously been agreed upon as a suitable bathing place. Here a halt is made, and the keerang start away back to the women’s camp, and report that the men and boys will arrive in a few hours’ time. The women then assemble at the kweealbang fire, and assist the men to cut bark and bushes, which are laid in a ring round the fire ready for use by and bye. The mothers are painted on the chest and arms, and are invested with their personal adornments. The men and boys who remained at the water-hole or creeL in the busl, as soon as the keerang left them, proceeded to wash the coloring matter off their bodies. They went into the water-hole one after the other, and came out in the same way.

The novices entered the water first, and as each boy plunged in, the men standing around gave a shout. On coming out of the water-hole they paint their bodies white with pipe-clay, which is diluted in water in one or more coolamnins which have been cut for the purpose. The men help each other at this work, until every man and boy present have been painted white all over their bodies. The hair on the heads of the inovices is now singed, for the purpose of making the women believe that Goign has had them in the fire during their sojourn in the bush. The belt and four tails or kilts are now put upon each boy, as well as head-bands, and bands across the body

like shoulder-belts. Strings are bound tightly round the upper arms of the novices to make their muscles swell, which is supposed to cause their arms to grow stronger. The men also decorate themselves in their full regalia. The journey towards the kweealbang (fire place) is now resumed, all hands starting away from the water-hole in single file; and on going a short distance they are again met by the Keerang, who salute them in the same manner as before, and then return to the kweealbang, alnd report that the novices will shortly arrive. The keerang and other men who have remained in the camp then muster up all the women, and place them lying down round the fire, a little way outside the ring of bushes before referred to, the women of each tribe being kept in groups by themselves on the side next their own district, and are covered over with rugs and bushes. The mothers of the boys are on the outside, or farthest from the fire, which is composed of pieces of wood and bark, slowly burning within the circle of green bushes which are laid around it.

If the ground is wet and cold, pieces of bark are spread upon it for the women to lie upon. As soon as they are covered over, the women keep up a humming noise the same as they did on the morning the novices were taken away from the kackaroo. A few of the old men remain standing near them, armed with spears, to see that the covering is not interfered with. One of the keerang now goes and meets the men and novices -who may be distinguished as the ”white mob” - who are by this time waiting just out of sight, and tells them that everything is ready. They then march on quickly, and on arriving at the kweealbang they disband, the men and novices belonging to each tribe taking up their position on the side which is in the direction of their country. Their movements are made as noiselessly as possible, so that the women may not hear them coming. All of them then join hands, each man having hold of the hand of the man or boy on his right and oni his left, having their faces toward the fire in the centre, and form a complete circle round the women.

The rugs are now taken off the women, and the mothers are called up first, after which the other women are permitted to rise. Owing to the humming noise which they have themselves been making, and the quiet manner in which the men and boys have come in, such of the younger women who have not been to a keeparra before are surprised to see the cordon of ”white men” standing around them. On account of the novices hair being singed short, and the white paint on their bodies, the mothers are sometimes unable to recognise their own sons. The old men who are in the ring with the women, therefore, conduct each mother to her son where he is standing holding the hand of the men on each side of him. His mother then approaches him, and holds her breast to his face, pretending to suckle him. The sisters of each boy then go up to him, and rub their feet on his ankles. The mothers then pass out under the arms of the men; then the sisters pass out, and lastly all the other women and the men who had charge of them in the ring, and stand close by as spectators of the remainder of the proceedings.

The mothers and other women belonging to each tribe go out of the ring of ”the white men” on the side next their own country. The pieces of burning bark which the sisters of the novices have been obliged to carry, as before stated, are left at the kweealbang. Two old men, and two of the elder women, now go inside the ring, of men and boys, and walk round - a man and a woman going one way, and the other man and woman going in the contrary direction. The men tap the ends of their boomerangs together as they walk, and the women wave their arms. The ”white men,” who are still holding each other’s hands, swing their arms up and down as



Figure 12: The men and novices silently surround the women at the Kweealbang.

the men and women march round. Having gone round in this manner two or three times, the men and women come out, and the ”white mob ” keep closing in nearer and nearer the fire - the guardians and novices being in the centre. The bushes which had previously been laid round the fire are now thrown upon it. The novices are then lifted up in the men’s arms, two or three men, including the guardian, to each boy, who advance and stand on the green bushes, which by this time are emitting a dense smoke, which ascends round the men and boys. As the neophytes are held

up in the smoke, the men raise a guttural shout, and the women wave their arms up and down. When the boys have been sufficiently smoked, their guardians take them away, and they are followed by the other men for about 100 yards. All the men, except the guardians, now return to the fire and stand on the green bushes in turn, until they have all been smoked. The keerango, and other men who remained at the women’s camp have been standing by as spectators, directing the proceedings all the time - the principal headmen being among them. When the fumigating of the men and novices has been completed the women go away to their camp, which is close by, and the men proceed to theirs–the married men joining their wives later on. In the meantime the novices, who are now called keeparra, have been taken a short distance from the main camp, where quarters are prepared for them, and their guardians remain with them. The next morning the women proceed again to the kweealbang and light a fire. The mothers of the novices stand in a row facing the fire, the other women being behind them (Fig. 5, Plate XXXI1).

Each mother has her yamstick with her, and sticks it into the ground beside her, the top end of it being ornamented with the bunch of bushes which were fastened to it the morning the novices were taken away from the kackaroo. Nets are spread in a line upon the ground, and beside them are some coolamins containing water. When all is ready, some of the old men who are assisting the women give a signal, and the gupardians and novices approach the kweealbang. The mothers wave their yamsticks, and when the men and boys come near, the women shout, and throw pieces of bark over the men’s heads. The guardians also throw pieces of bark over the heads of the women. The novices are placed sitting down on the nets, and bend forward and drink water out of the coolamins which are on the ground in front of them. Then the mothers go back to their own quarters, and the novices are taken by their guardians a short distance away, where they make a camp. That night a white stone is given to each neophyte by some of the old men; it is put into a small bag, and is fastened to the boy’s girdle. The novices are also forbidden to eat certain kinds of food until relieved from this restriction by the old men.

Conclusion.-The following day, the strange tribes begin to disperse, and start away on their return journey to the districts from which they have come. The local tribe also shift away to another part of their own hunting grounds. Each tribe take their own novices away with them, and put them through the remaining stages of initiation in their own country. This is done in the following, manner: At the end of a certain time of probation, which is fixed by the headmen, the neophytes, painted and dressed as men of the tribe, are brought to a fire near the men’s camp, where there is food ready laid on rugs spread upon the ground. All the women are there, and the novices sit down and eat the food which has been prepared for them. That night they camp in sight of the men’s quarters, and each succeeding night they come a little closer, until at last they get right into the single men’s camp. From the time the novices left the kweealbang until now they have been compelled to carry pieces of burning bark everywhere they went, but they are now released from carrying the firebrands any more. If any of the boys are very young, they may be required to carry a fire-stick till their hair grows as long as it was before being singed at the water-hole in the bush, as already described. This is said to be done to cause the novices hands and arms to grow stronger. The novices are now given a new name, and are permitted to mix with the men, but must not go among the women until they have attended a few more keeparras, and have lost their boyish voice.



After they have qualified themselves by passing through all the stages of probation attached to the initiation ceremonies of their tribe, the novices are allowed to take a wife from among those women whom the class laws permit them to marry. In some parts of the tract of country to which the ceremonies herein described apply, one of the front incisor teeth was formerly extracted during the time the novices were away at the keelaybang, but as this custom is not now enforced anywhere... From conversations which I have had with very old black fellows, there appear to be some grounds for supposing that the custom was not universally carried out in the districts referred to.

Mathews, R.H. 1897. The Keeparra Ceremony of Initiation. Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 26: 320-340.


I was present at [a corroboree] 55 years ago with the rest of our family. The affair took place on the flat about 100 yards south of Cameron’s fence. There was a big fire and round it were seated the [women] who were beating possum skins stretched tight across their knees. The noise was something like a drum. The men stood behind beating boomerangs. What makes me remember the corroboree was the fight that followed. The cause of it was ’Flash Tommy.’ He collected money from the whites who were watching the performance, and when asked what he was going to do with the money by ’Long Tommy,’ a black who worked at Irwin’s, he said he was going to keep it. ’Long Tommy’s’ [wife] picked up a fire stick and flattened ’Flash Tommy’ out. The fight then began. ’Black Jack Macarty,’ another native who had some authority let out a terrible yell and the fight stopped for a while. Macarty then took the whites and put us across the creek where the dam now is.

As soon as [Macarty] re-crossed the creek he let out another yell and the fight began again. We could hear the clashing of nullas and spears, and the sound of the boomerangs clipping the tree leaves. ’Flash Tommy’ was almost killed and lay insensible for several days. This ’Flash Tommy’ used to put on a long white shirt and walk up and down the town saying he was ’Tommy Gorton.’ Mr Gorton was the Magistrate at the time. There was a bora ring on the property of the late Justin Bruyn, on Sugarloaf, and was situated on what was known as Bora ridge. I saw the trees tattooed and marked for a hundred yards round the ring, but I never saw any ceremonies there. Mr J. E. Irwin told me the trees are still marked round the Tillegra bora.

I was working at Irwin’s once and remember the [women] coming down opposite Tillegra house. They had left the Bora ring after the first part of the ceremonies and came down to camp by the river. They used to start and cry at nightfall and beginning with a very low moan that would rise to a high shriek. There have been as many as 2OO blacks at the Tillegra initiation ceremony, some coming from the Karuah. As a boy I got a great fright when working on the flat at Irwin’s, a lot of natives in war paint and carrying their arms came suddenly on me. They were going to the bora ceremonies.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 15 Apr 1919 Page 5 BURNT GULLY CORROBOREE.


I have seen the totems Mr Bennett mentions — small ’chrystally’ pieces of quartz, stalactites with beautiful natural facets — sexagon, octagon, and other shapes. These were obtained by all the neighboring tribes in the vicinity of one of the most beautiful spots on the Manning waters, namely, Gummi Plain. ...It is situated on the right bank of the Manning, a few miles from its source — the source of the Manning being on the north-eastern slopes of Polblue. Altitude 5360 feet — the highest point between Kosciusko and Mount Lindsay.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 6 June 1919 Page 2 Our Earliest Inhabitants.


Funeral rites

Throughout the Gringai country [there] were many [aboriginal cemeteries]. The dead were carried from miles around to be buried in these places. Most of the older hands in Dungog can remember the old aboriginal cemetery near Mr William Abbot’s home at Violet Hill and at the rear of the Rectory. ...When the grave, which was very neatly dug with the rudest implements, was considered to be of sufficient depth a man got into it and tried it by lying down at full length. The body, nicely tied up in bark, was carried to it by friends of the deceased. Before being lowered into the grave the medicine man, standing at the head, spoke to the corps to find out who caused its death, and he received answers from the other medicine men at the foot. All the articles of the deceased were buried with him, and every[one] contributed something to the collection. All the things were placed at the dead man’s head, and the grave was then filled in.

Venerable men, and men of distinction were buried with much ceremony, but ordinary members of the tribe, and females, were disposed of in a perfunctory man- ner. The body of a man belonging to a strong family and with a big following would doubled up, heels to hips and face to knees, and the arms folded. It was then wrapped in sheets of ti-tree secured by cords of string- bark fibre. A hole was dug in easy soil in a well shaded locality, about two-feet deep and circular. The body was dropped in sideways and after a stone hatchet and a club were placed beside it the grave was filled in and the ceremonies ended. The grief displayed at the funeral of a venerable.and honored man was unquestionably great and genuine. The lamentation at the grave and the chopping of heads.and burning of arms was something not easily to be forgotten.

The Earliest Inhabitants - Aboriginal Tribes of the District. The Blacks of Dungog, Port Stephens and Gresford. Gordon Bennett (reprinted 1964) p9




When a death took place there was great weeping and wailing. The men and the [women] cut their heads with various implements, until blood flowed freely. This was to show that they were [grieving].

Dungog Chronicle and Gloucester Advertiser - Peep Into the Past March 24, 1932.


The blacks superstitiously avoid mention of their deceased brethren. We boys did not know that for as a result of ingenuously asking Nancy if she was lonely after the death of Jack, the writer was only saved from personal violence by the presence of some adults.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 17 Aug 1923 Page 3 Early Recollections of Dungog.


A long neck of land formed by the junction of a creek with the river [near Gresford] was the place chosen as that of interment. It was as pretty a place as I know of anywhere. (I may here mention this burial place has been held sacred by his descendants, and many of the tribe have been buried there since then, ’the dead being conveyed many miles in order that they might make this their last resting place.) When I approached an old man was digging the grave, which was a most laborious task, the ground being very hard, and the only tools used for the purpose a tomahawk. The form of the grave was oval, and its depth when finished short of four feet.

There were about sixteen [men] squatting or standing around; amongst them the father, mother, and several of the brothers of the deceased. They were all howling in company; the females more treble than the rest. This noise they kept up sans intermission. The body was trussed up in as small a compass as possible, wrapped in rugs, and supported by two relatives, about four yards from the grave, lying on their knees, while they bent over it full of grief and affection. The digging of the grave being finished, the sexton went to some of the youngest and freshest trees, breaking off the small branches with leaves, and proceeded to line the grave with them, which being done a brother of the deceased was desired to [ensure] the grave was comfortable, which he did by lying in, it in the posture in which the deceased was to be placed. After some slight alteration he again, got into it.

The signal given, the youngest branches of the family came forward, surrounded the corpse, and as they lifted it up, gave a great shout, and then, as it were, conjured, by blowing and waving hands over the body. The same noise and blowing was repeated upon lowering the remains into the arms of his brother, who received them, and carefully placed it in what lie considered the most comfortable position, being most careful not a particle of earth should touch the body. The shout then set up by all was deafening. The old father rushed past me, seized a tomahawk, and cut his head in several places, until the blood gushed in quantities from the wounds; another old man snatched it from him, amid commenced upon his own bead. Three

or four more did the same, some most viciously, while others seemed to think a little of that sort of thing went a great way.

The howling continued all the time. Bark was then carefully placed over the body. The old men stretched themselves out on the ground and howled dreadfully. One of them at last got up, took a sheet of bark, laid it across the grave, and stretched himself upon, it, crying pitifully. ...The [deceased’s] father and mother stayed for some days by the grave, making the top of it their bed; the mother never left it for some days after, and was found dead by a relation at the place, the cause being undoubtedly grief. She was buried by falls side....One of the last of the tribe was buried there some time ago. He was supposed to possess supernatural powers— in other words, to be a ’karaaga’ or wizard. . .

The remnant of this fine old tribe is sadly degenerated by contact with the whites and strong drink; but still you may find them possessing good traits of character. The last of their kings died only some four years ago, a fine, manly old fellow. . . . who fully believed in an after existence, and told me many curious and interesting legends, especially one relating to the stars. ...He had two wives, to both of whom he was most kind. The Grengai tribe were possessed of a wonderful marriage law, which prevented relations from marrying, and this law extends to Queensland. Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931) Sat 24 Aug 1895 Page 3 WITH THE BLACKS

The river

One subject that has interested me for years is the way big- logs were across the Williams River; one, and often two, on each of the smaller farms. There are hardly any left, except in odd places, just a wreck of what they were. White men never put them there. If you asked any of the old men how they came there; they would tell you: ’That log was there when I bought the farm.’ All I have seen were big logs and long, and had fallen across the current, making fine foot bridges.

There was one over the river near the beginning of Fosterton Road. All the people from Dingadee side crossed over it when the river was up, for groceries, mail, etc.

Then there was a big log near Mr. Fitzgerald’s or Lowery’s, which may have been cut by the pioneers themselves. It was their only bridge, and all their children went to school over it. There were short boards nailed across the dangerous parts. . . These logs were generally supposed to have been left by floods, but I never felt satisfied, for they were mostly about the same distance apart. And then I read Mary Gilmore’s book ’Old Days, Old Ways,’ telling of how the blacks felled, the trees across the rivers to make fish traps. Filling in under the logs with stones fitted, or saplings, with twigs woven in and out to let thee smaller fish get away. I have heard my father say when the blacks lost control of the river, the river lost its fish. When first his family came here, he said, the rivers were full of big fish, perch mullet and herrings, so that any evening he and his brothers went fishing, their mother’s large pan was heard to sing, and sing again. These men in their old days never forgot how to fish, and were never satisfied unless they brought home two or three monster perch. They had their little ’spots’ over deep water (and the



river was deep in those days), and would climb along a steep bank hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

Mary Gilmore and her father saw the blacks get one of these logs in place. They undermined the roots on the river side,’ and waited for a flood, then guided the tree to where they wanted it, but you would need to read her book to understand.

I often heard my father speak of the blacks’ fish traps but it was years after his death that I read Mary Gilmore’s book, and so I could not ask the questions I wanted to.

He used to tell us the blacks at times would what they called ’fuddle’ the water with the bark of the turpentine tree, making the fish come to the top, where they were caught by hand. The gins peeled the bark off the long straight limbs of the white myrtle and soak it in water holes till the brown skin came off. The clean, white bark was then split into string, and crocheted into dilly bags and such.

... On the Main Creek, somewhere in the region of Mr. Gam’s timber mill, there is a stone standing on end, bending down hill. The stone is about the height and size of a [woman]. I have seen it. The blacks had a story of it being a young [woman] running away from her husband to another black fellow, when by some magic she was turned into a stone — like Lot’s wife.

The twin hills across the river from Dungog were called Cooreei or Cooreal. I believe the blacks had a story about them, but I do not know it. The native name for the Williams was Durabang; the Paterson River, Yimmang. The ridge Dungog is built on was called Dunbah.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Sat 20 Aug 1949 Page 2 NATIVE WAYS AND NAMES


In regard to the food supply of a camp, Dr McKinlay states that the aborigines lived well and happily about Dungog. In the early days of the settlement they had not come into very close contact with civilisation and he speaks of them as refusing to eat bread when it was offered to them. They lived for the most part, he says, on opossums, kangaroos, wallabies, birds and fish. The chase was a big part of the lives of the males, and strange to relate the spoils were usually divided equally among the various members of the tribe. The meat was cooked in the most primitive fashion. A possum or kangaroo would be placed on top of a glowing fire and when half cooked one of the older men would remove it and proceed to dismember it. The flesh was never more than half roasted — indeed it was sometimes almost raw.

The men took their share first and the women and children made a meal of what was left. Birds and fish, however, were cooked by being plastered with mud and placed amid hot coals or in a hole packed with heated stones. In this way they were deliciously cooked, and indeed the doctor relates that he frequently dealt with his own game and fish in this manner.

...There is none left now of the populous tribe that once inhabited the district, and the sole surviving relic, poor, unfortunate ’Brandy’ passed to the care of the great spirit, Coen, more than fifteen years ago.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 25 Apr 1919 Page 3 The Earliest Inhabitants.


As with all aspects of Aboriginal history in the Hunter Region, evidence relating to diet is almost exclusively related to the coastal areas. While it is likely that many of the foods eaten on the coast were also eaten inland when they were avail- able, of this there is no direct evidence, and exploitation cannot be assumed from availability...

The bias towards the coast applies to plant foods as to others, and this aspect of the evidence makes impossible any comparison between the relative importance of plant foods in coastal and inland environments.

Barrallier (1802:81-82) observed at Newcastle that the Aborigines ate the roots of Fern [which he surprised a youth in the act of collecting] and a sort of root or yam. The rhizome of this fern, probably Blechnum sp. (Vinnicombe 1980: VI 4), was also eaten at Lake Macquarie (Threlkeld in Gunson 1974:55) and in the Dungog area (Ebsworth 1826:71), where it was called ”Bungwall”. It was roasted in the ashes and pounded to a paste between two stones.

There are indications that yams (Dioscorea transversa) were eaten elsewhere on the coast (Scott l929:4l) and Backhouse (1843:399) noted that in the Raymond Terrace area, in the more fertile spots by the sides of brooks, there was a species of Yam, the root of which was eaten by the Aborigines. Backhouse also noted the Giant Lily (Doryanthus excelsa) flourishing along the route from Newcastle to Threlkeld’s mission on Lake Macquarie. These stems are roasted, and eaten by the Aborigines, who cut them for this purpose when they are about a foot and a half high, and thicker than a man’s arm.

The Blacks also roast the roots and make them into a sort of cake, which they eat cold. The seeds of Zamia spiralis [a species of cycad] were soaked in a creek or swamp for several weeks, pounded and then roasted (Threlkeld in Gunsom 1974:55; Backhouse 1843:380). Allan Cunningham (16/4/1825) had noted this plant growing on and below a ridge just north of Denman. Two days prior to this, while in the Jerrys Plains area, Cunningham had noted ”Exocarpus [Native Cherry] and Sterculia heterophyllus [Kurrajong - NSW Herbarium] appearing in every part of the Forest”. The latter, he continued, were of ”robust growth and at this season of the year laden with its clustered Capsules ... which I am informed are gathered by the Aborigines, who roast and eat them after the manner of Maise.

Many years later Enright (1937-40:91) wrote of having been given a grinding stone which had been found on the bank of the creek at Milgarra, near Bunnan. Of basalt (maximum dimensions 13 8 2.25 inches), the stone was flat on both sides, one having been worn smooth by constant rubbing. The upper stone was ... a water- worn basalt pebble flattened on one side only from use: It was used for grinding seeds, including those of the Kurrajong ... and it is the first I have seen from eastern New South Wales.

The literature makes no reference to grass seeds having been ground, although Themeda australis was widespread (Bigge Evidence BT Box 5:2028-30, 2033) and it



provided seeds suitable for grinding and baking into seed cakes (McBryde 1976:65), as may the ”kind of oat-grass” seen by Cunningham (Joumal 7/5/1823 ) in the upper Goulburn Valley.

Other plants indicated by the literature to have been exploited for food in coastal regions include various fruits (Caswell 1841), including a ”sort of wild plum” (Threlkeld in Gunson 1974:55) and the stalk of the water lily (Scott 1929:41; Fawcett 1898:152). The blossoms of the honeysuckle provided nectar, as did that of the grass tree, and of the latter children were especially fond (Dawson 1830:244). Vinnimmbe (1980:Table 3 ) lists an extensive array of plants occurring around Brisbane Water of which a number are known to have been eaten, and indicates their seasonal avail- ability. Most of these plants would have occurred somewhere in the Hunter Region, and probably constituted part of Aboriginal diet in those areas.

Aborigines of the Hunter Valley Helen Brayshaw -


Sir, — I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 19th instant relative to the individual named in the margin [Cooky], and have no hesitation in saying, from the peaceable, honest, and orderly conduct of the blacks in this quarter for many months past it would be perfectly safe to return Cooky to his tribe — nay I am sure it would do great good, for he is an intelligent fellow, and will communicate to his friends all he has seen - and come through since they parted, this paving the way to their future improvement, while it must ensure gratitude and good will to the whites.

I do not hesitate to say that so long as the present prosperity continues we shall have no outbreaking with the blacks, for was starvation alone that drove them to perform the cruel act they did two years ago. The whites, themselves, being oppressed with scarcity and dearth of provisions, were forced to withdraw that countenance and support they had formerly afforded to the blacks, and that was indeed the cause of all the mischief that occurred some little time since.

Hunger made the poor savage mad, but I trust that will not be his fate again.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 22 Dec 1905 Page 5 Scraps of Early History



Wong-ko-bi-kan, an aboriginal native, was indicted for the wilful murder of John Flynn, by wounding him with a spear at William’s River on the 3rd April last, of which wound he lingered until the 6th following, and then died.

The Reverend L. E. Threlkeld was sworn interpreter between the Court and the prisoner at the bar. The Reverend gentleman was assisted by another aborigine, who could understand English, but who being of no religion at all, could not be sworn as

an interpreter. On being asked by what jury he would be tried, the prisoner replied by ”black-fellows ;” but this of course the Court was not empowered to grant.

Thomas Rodwell being sworn, said—I am a free man residing at Mr. Mackenzie’s establishment at William’s River; Mr. M. is resident magistrate there; on a Thursday morning in April, about two o’clock, I was awoke by two of Mr. Archibald Mossman’s men, who informed me on the previous night they had been attacked by a party of blacks, and that they expected before they returned to the station, the remainder of the men there would be murdered by them; the distance between the two stations, is about seven miles; I acquainted Mr. M. of the circumstance, and he gave me some arms and ammunition, and told me if I could find any men on his or Mr. Mossman’s stations, to take them with me, and apprehend two or three of the depredaters; I mustered seven stand of arms and ammunition; I and the two men, who came with the information there, went to Mr. Mossman’s, where we obtained six other men, making in the whole party nine persons, all of whom were armed save two, and we then went to the blacks’ camp, which was about two miles from Mr. Mossman’s station [on the opposite bank of present day Seaham], near a small creek; when we arrived there, we saw about 20 black men; we divided ourselves into two parties; a blackboy, called ” Lumpy,” who we took with us, pointed out the blacks to us; we had seven stand of arms, which we did not conceal from the blacks; the deceased John Flynn, was not in the same party with me, but both parties were to meet before we went up to the blacks, with whom we intended to speak peaceably. The first thing that I saw when our party came up with the black camp, was the deceased speared; he was armed with a fowling piece; he stood a little in front of his party, and I saw the spear thrown at him from the left, which struck him under the shoulder blade; there was only one black man on his left side; the deceased plucked out the spear, and followed the black who had speared him; he was assisted by two others of the party in the chase, and they captured him about a quarter of a mile off.

It was here intimated to the Court, that the prisoner wished to retire for a short time, and he was therefore directed to be removed in charge of a constable. On his return into the dock, the reverend interpreter stated, that the constable in charge of the prisoner had just been using him with unnecessary roughness ; upon which the constable (John Proctor) was interrogated from the bench, and he stated that the prisoner made an effort to free himself entirely from his clothes. . .

Examination of Rodwell continued— was not more than a minute after we came up to their camp, that the blacks threw their spears, and boomarings at us; they attacked us without any provocation on our part; after they threw their spears, four or five shots were fired from our party; I fired, and the deceased fired also I think at the man who wounded him ; the blacks still continued to throw their spears at us after they had wounded the deceased; ...Flynn pulled out the spear first, then discharged his fowling piece, and followed the prisoner; the deceased called out to me that he had been speared, and pointed to the black who had speared him; I afterwards took off Flynn’s shirt, and examined the wound ...; the wound bled very little; I did not think it a dangerous one; the deceased did not complain of much pain; he walked the first day after he had received the wound, I should think 13 or 14 miles; on the next day he walked to the Courthouse at William’s River, which was about eight miles distance ; on the following morning he left the Courthouse to go to the General Hospital at Newcastle, but on the way I heard that he was taken ill, and conveyed by one of the drays of the Australian Agricultural Company to



Paterson’s River, where he died on the same day...

By Mr. Nichols — I had no warrant to apprehend any of the blacks; I know

that some of the stock-men in the interior cohabit with the black gins (women) but I do not know whether Mr. Mossman’s stockmen did ; I have visited their station frequently as a constable, but have never seen them with any of the women....

Mr. Nichols rose to make an application to the Court... It was manifestly a mere mockery to call upon the prisoner to make his defence before persons by whom he could not be understood, Mr. Nichols then submitted that the prisoner was entitled to his acquittal in point of law. The aboriginal natives were the primary tenants of this soil ; they subsisted in the woods by fishing and hunting:, and it was illegal for any one to disturb them in the possession of these natural rights...The jury af- ter having retired for considerably upwards of an hour, returned with a verdict of Guilty of Manslaughter, but recommended the prisoner to mercy, from the peculiar circumstances under which the offence was committed. The prisoner being ordered to stand remanded, Mr. Nichols rose to state a circumstance regarding the unfortu- nate man which had come under his personal observation. He was a passenger in the steamer by which the prisoner had been forwarded from Newcastle, and the latter was then not only in a complete state of nudity, but the irons with which he was fettered had, from neglect, cut his ankles to the bone, and rendered his situation both painful and distressing. ... The Chief Justice recommended the prisoner to the Sheriff’s humane attention.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842) Tue 12 Aug 1834 Page 2 SUPREME CRIMINAL COURT.


... The blacks had lately been very troublesome and bold. On 7th August [1830], Mr. Field, the constable, returned and informed me that he had succeeded in coming up with the tribe of blacks who had speared Delaney and killed the sheep. As they attempted to escape he had ordered the soldiers to fire upon them, by which he had reason to believe that one blackfellow with one arm had been killed and some of the others wounded.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 12 Nov 1926 Page 3 VENGEANCE ON THE BLACKS.


A vivid chapter in the earliest history of Glen William deals with the wiping out of a tribe of blacks, and Black Camp of to-day doubtless takes its name from it. One of the first settlers was a man named Nolan, who set out to graze sheep. The blacks murdered all Nolans’ shepherds, and to deal with them a detachment of soldiers was sent up from Sydney. The soldiers came by boat via Newcastle and landing at Clarence Town marched in search of the tribe of blacks. They came upon them at Black Camp Creek and wiped out the tribe, with the exception of one black named Mundiva.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 6 Sep 1940 Page 5 MASSACRE OF BLACKS.

See Google Map


Sir — I do my self the honor to inform you that the blacks have again commenced committing serious depredations in this neighbourhood. On the 30th last I discov- ered in the bush opposite iny residence, three head of Mr Myles’ cattle speared. One of them had the spear sticking in him until extracted in my stockyard. They have also attacked Mr Nowland’s station, a few miles lower down, and the enclosed from Mr Cook, which I have just received, will disclose to you the tenor of their conduct towards his men. I. am informed they are camped between my place and Mr Boydell’s. The bearer, John McIntosh, ranger for our Association, will conduct any party that you will be pleased to send in the direction they are reported to be in. Last week we received seven blacks from the Paterson without a warrant or charge, consequently the Bench could not investigate the matter. They will remain in custody awaiting your orders respecting them.


Sir — By the directions of T. Cook, Esq., our Supt of Police, and in explanation of that part of your letter to him dated the 30th July, relative to the aboriginal black named in the margin [Jemmy], I do myself the honor to inform you that the said black native was tried at this court on 29th January last, and found guilty of an assault and robbery, and committed to take his trial before the Supreme Court. The depositions taken were duly transmitted by me to His Majesty’s Attorney- General the following day, and the prisoner was forwarded from Dungog in charge of two of the mounted police, who were expressly sent for, being apprehensive of a rescue by the turbulent blacks of the district. I further observe that the party who apprehended him and some others were subpoenaed on his trial, and the reward for his ’apprehension as notified in the Government Gazette of the 15th July 1835 (£10) ordered by the Colonial Secretary to be paid to them.

P.S. Since the receipt of Mr Cook’s instructions to me respecting the black in question I have had no opportunity of making further enquiries about him, but I take it for granted if he did not reach Sydney he must have effected his escape or is in Newcastle gaol.


Sir — The aboriginal black named in the margin [McCarthy,] for whose appre- hension a reward of £10 was offered some time since in the Govt Gazette, has lately made his appearance in this neighbourhood, and could be easily captured, but as



he and his tribe seem perfectly quiet I think it may be as well to take no notice of him, unless he or his friends show a I disposition to disturb the settlers on the Williams. The removal of Cabeen Paddy [recently mentioned] and Cocky from this quarter has had the desired effect.


Sir — I feel called on, and do myself the honor, to state to you for the informa- tion of His Excellency the Governor, that there are now residing on the Manning River upwards of 400 persons without protection or instruction of any kind, governed solely by lynch law. And the aborigines there being contaminated and emboldened by such example have lately become most troublesome at the different stations in that locality, killing sheep and spearing cattle, without concealment, and ’when spo- ken to threaten the lives of the shepherds. Some time ago I despatched two of the Mounted Police to put in force a warrant issued by Mr G. Rowley, J.P, against three black fellows who assaulted and beat a man in charge of sheep who endeavoured to protect his master’s property ; but these sable thieves being apprised of the troopers’ approach collected to the number of thirty or forty, and having amongst them at least a dozen muskets and plenty of ammunition, which the settlers most improperly [supplied them], they resisted and the soldiers ...were fain to retreat, which they did with much difficulty, not until several shots were exchanged, the trooper’s cartridge box wrenched from his person, and his arm wounded with a tomahawk. This unfor- tunate circumstance has given the blacks more courage, and their depredations are becoming more formidable, so that several respectable persons who have stations on the Manning have lately called on me and [called] for protection, but I could only refer them to Captain King, the Commissioner for the Australian Agricultural Company. ...If an officer’s command were directed to proceed thither to scour the bush for a few days and, if possible, capture the offenders, for whose apprehension the Magistrate’s warrant was granted, it would have a good effect, by striking terror into the savage mind.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 29 Dec 1905 Page 1 Scraps of Early History


About 8 miles up the Kerripit River from Rawden Vale one comes out what were known to an older generation as McKenzie’s Cliffs, in places 200 feet above the river and some two or three hundred yards from the top of these cliffs a beautiful and magnificent view meets the eye, seemingly almost underneath this the clear country of Teragie, while in the far distance one gets a glimpse of Upper Cobark and all around the rugged jumble of mountains. To-day looking on this quiet and peaceful scene it is hard to believe that where one stand was enacted one of those terrible tragedies that unfortunately too often happened in the early days when the white pioneers were taking up the land and outsing the primitive aboriginals from their hunting grounds. The Rawden Bros merchants of Liverpool (England) and J

T Jombay, after whom Rawden Vale (now wrongly spelt Rawdon) is called, took up, somewhere about 1834 and held under occupation license all the country now known as Teragie, Moppy, Cobakh, Rawdon Vale and Catteneal, where they depastured many thousands of sheep which on account of the blacks... were all shepherded. These sheep were driven to Berrico at shearing time. Mr. McKenzie, a son-in-law of Mr. John Rawden was the first manager and no doubt he had many difficulties to contend with, one of his chief troubles being caused by his employees, almost all of whom were assigned servants (convicts), many being hardened criminals. These men were employed as shepherds and whenever they got a chance practised almost unbelievable cruelties on the blacks, but stealing the black women was the most serious in the eyes of the aborigines.

At last matters became so unbearable to the blacks that they decided upon revenge and one cold misty morning in August 1838 they rushed the hut, in which seven shepherds were living at’ ‘Wottenbak,’ just above the present Rawdon- Vale Cobark crossing, on the Cobark side of the Barrington, and after a desperate fight killed six of the sheep herds. One escaped death there only to meet it a few hundred yards across the river, where he was caught by the pursuing foe. An epic of the fight must have been the struggle between a big Irishman named Whalan and his foes as when his body was found it had four spears through it and no less than seven blacks were lying near him with their skulls smashed by a heavy rail with which he had apparently armed himself. On the bank of the Kerripit almost in front of the homestead at ‘Stobo’ lie the remains of these old-time shepherds. Of course, the whites could not for their own safety allow such an event to pass without in some way punishing the blacks, but the way they did retaliate must appear to us moderns as shockingly cruel but unfortunately for themselves the blacks were looked upon by the early settlers as vermin fit only to be destroyed. The settlers from the Williams River side came across to the head of the Gloucester driving the blacks before them while the settlers on this side drove all the blacks up the river and at last cornered them on the small flat above McKenzie’s cliff’s where they shot men women and children without mercy or consideration. Those who escaped the bullet were killed by falling over the cliffs and being smashed on the rocks below thus, was the whole tribe of blacks with one or two exceptions which inhabited this part of the district exterminated.

Mr. McKenzie was, some four months later, accidentally killed fell off his horse while crossing the Cobark River opposite the reserve above Cobark House and his remains rest on a grassy knoll close by. After Mr. McKenzie’s death Mr. Simon Lord, a well-known Sydney merchant (after whom Lord’s Creek is named) of the early Forties of last century, took over the management of the Rawdens properties for a few years and until they were sold. Some time after around 1841 the original Hooke’s and Laurie family moving in after that date.

McKenzie’s CLIFFS A TRAGEDY OF 1838. (By WIRRAPIT). The Gloucester Advocate 22 March 1935.


[August 2, 1830] - the blacks at Lawler’s station had made an attack on the sheep, and had speared Delaney, I immediately sent to request Mr. Donelan to



make arrangements for the district constable and some others, together with some soldiers, being sent up to apprehend the offenders. This was done and Mr. Donelan accompanied me himself to Stroud, while the constables and soldiers went by water to Booral.

We arrived at 4 p.m. and found Messrs. Jenkin and Swayne had returned from Lawler’s and had found the whole flock of sheep, missing and all the people much scared.

Tuesday, 3rd. — I set out, accompanied by Messrs. Donelan, Stacy and Jenkin to Lawler’s, and found Delaney very weak from loss of blood, having been speared in both arms — completely through one — the spear having touched his side. Mr Stacy did not think the wounds dangerous. ... it appears that from 14 to 20 blacks had come with a decided intention of killing some of the sheep if they could not get flour.

They had knocked down and carried away eight colonial sheep; all the rest were stolen yesterday. The shepherds were very scared as was very natural, and came to beg that I should double the flocks so that two of the men might always be together. To this, as the present means of quieting them, I was obliged to accede. I also gave them a musket. Messrs. Donelan and Jenkin set off to ride across to Williams River to see if any of the mounted police were there to assist in scouring the country. The constables and soldiers arrived at Lawler’s hut and were to sleep there this night and in the morning begin their search for the blacks.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 12 Nov 1926 Page 3 OUT- RAGE BY BLACKS.


Saturday, 8th June. — A beautiful clear, cold day. At 12 o’clock I was sorry to hear from Baker, a stock-keeper, an-l ’ soon after by Mr. Chas. Hall, that there was great reason to apprehend that the blacks had murdered Henderson at Worrawong, our distant cattle station. I immediately acquainted Captain Moffatt and proposed to him to send three soldiers, under the Sergeant, or Field, the Constable, to assist in pursuing the murderers. With this Captain Moffatt very promptly complied, and the men were mounted and off in an hour, and Mr. Chas. Hall and Mr. Darch followed them soon after, the whole party intending to go on to Gloucester to-night, as soon as the moon rises. Captain Moffatt and I agreed to set off at 2 to-morrow, that nothing may be left undone on this lamentable occasion.

Sunday, 9th June. — After performing Divine service in the forenoon, I left Mr. White to do so in the afternoon, and set off at 2, accompanied by Captain Moffatt for Tellighary, where we arrived at little past five, and slept , there there that night.

Monday, 10th June. — Having made the necessary arrangements, Captain Mof- fatt, Mr. Hall and my self set off at 10 for the Gloucester, ...We got to Gloucester House, at 3 o’clock, and received information from Macintyre’s station that a black there had seen the murderers and Henderson’s money, etc., in their possession, and that they were now ’settling down,’ in a bush only two miles from Henderson’s sta- tion. I immediately sent for Macintyre and the black and after obtaining the whole account, kept the latter in custody, and the next day were engaged in collecting a

party from some of the stations around the Gloucester, with arms and ammunition to go in pursuit of the murderers at daylight to-morrow morning. A stockman hav- ing come from Baker station, where Mr. Chas. Hall and the soldiers were, I sent him a note to desire him to meet us at Henderson’s to-night, unless he had correct information elsewhere.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 23 Aug 1927 Page 6 MURDER BY BLACKS.


About the early part of the year 1835, when the Rawden Bros, held all the country from Cobakh (Cobark) to Berrico, under the management of the late L. McKenzie, the whole run was then known as Kerripit (kangaroo rat), taking the name from the mountain at Rawdon Vale.

An assigned man was splitting timber near the head of Tin Creek, when four blacks came along and watched him at work for some time. After a while the former said to them, ’Put your hand into the split and help me burst the log.’ They did so. He then jumped his wedges and thus held them prisoners, and then knocked them all on the head with his maul and killed them. This cruel happening was not discovered by the ’boss’ for quite a time and when it was the man was sent to Newcastle, but it remains unknown what his fate was — life was cheap then.

Then there was the awfully cruel poisoning of the blacks at Baker’s Creek out- station of the A.A. Co. These blacks were in the habit of going to the huts for tucker, and probably the hutkeeper thought that they were too much of a nuisance so he poisoned the flour and gave it to them, causing’ them to die in terrible agony. Can you wonder, when such happenings as these became known among the blacks that they did not retaliate? As in fact they did at Wattenbakh, on the Barrington River, where they killed seven of the shepherds. Of course, the poor devils paid very dearly for this as the whites practically massacred the whole lot of them at MacKenzie Cliffs (Kerripit River), in ’38. . .

The Gloucester Advocate (NSW : 1905 - 1954) Tuesday 7 March 1939 p 4 Old Days and Blacks.


... I have some old records of the A.A. Company at Carrington, and of the late Captain Thomas Cook, of Auchentorlie, Dungog ...One statement. . . describes how a band of blacks stole a child, the daughter of a Mrs. Easterbrook, whose husband was a clerk of the A.A. Company at Stroud. They disappeared in a northerly direction but were pursued by a party of armed soldiers and assigned servants and overtaken some twenty miles away. Eleven blacks were killed and the child recovered. ... Cook [wrote]: ’The native blacks are very savage in this locality and it is necessary that we should all carry arms when travelling. In company with the clerk of the peace, ... I was molested only last week by wild blacks between Dungog and Stroud and discharged my musket at several who threw spears at us.



It is an arduous task that Mr. Mackay and myself are called upon to perform each month, to wit, to walk to Stroud from Dungog for the purpose of administering justice, and as the way is beset with wild blacks, who frequently molest and threaten us...

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 6 Jul 1943 Page 4 WILD BLACKS


Fitzpatric also mentions: ‘Armed conflict with police at a place called (in de- rision) Waterloo, near Brown’s Creek.’ He comments: ‘Police got the worst of it’. This account is strangely brief. Fitzpatric seems to play down the extent of these engagements. This will be seen when the reader has a full account of the Mt. Mack- ensie Massacre and the massacre on the Bowman River Flat. These two massacres are said to have taken about two hundred lives and the natives were still being pursued towards the Upper Arundel from where they could escape into The Falls Country.

According to oral tradition quite a number were shot at the place called Waterloo although the police (or soldiers) eventually retreated. No European casualties are mentioned but it said that the Aboriginals had acquired some guns which was the reason for the retreat. It is possible that this was the party of twenty six soldiers under Captain Reynolds mentioned by Gordon Bennett and probably one of the ‘grim expeditions of extermination’ mentioned but not described by him.

Geoffrey Blomfield Baal Belbora


About the middle 30’s there occurred a grim tragedy on the A. A. Co’s. lower coastal property. The A. A. Co. had established an out cattle station at Upper Ganghut – a heifer run, in charge of [which were a few of] their assigned servants. These men were not allowed possession of fire arms. . . . Ganghat . . . was open to attack from the Wallamba and Cape Hawke blacks [who] ...raided the run and speared the stock, driving many of the cattle [to the]...unknown brushy headwaters of the Myall and Crowford to Bundbach, on the northern shores of Port Stephens. Turning their attention from the cattle raid, the blacks attacked the hut where the A. A. Co’s men had sought shelter.

Driven to extremes, the white men,... took the arsenic (which served in lieu of strychnine for dingo poisoning), mixed it in dampers, and laid a death trail for their enemies. Fatal was the effect. In every creek, in every gully, lay dead blacks, and Ganghat became anathema; a place accursed, Then another name arose tor the locality ’Belbora’ (now mostly called Belbowrie.’) ’Baal Bora’ to signify that the circular ceremonial of the Boombit should never more be enacted there...

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 9 Nov 1923 Page 3 The Pioneers


The branch of the tribe inhabiting the Cape Hawke district and those located along the Barrington River valley early evinced decided hostility towards the incom- ing settlers, with whom the Cape Hawke [Forster] natives came into open conflict at Waterloo [just north of Bunyah] on the Upper Wallamba — resulting in a bloodless victory for the natives. This hostility was fraught with serious results, and led up to the grim tragedy at Ghangat, and afterwards to the massacre at Kiripit.

Early in the thirties the A.A. Coy. established a heifer station at Baker’s Creek, twelve miles north-east of Gloucester, now known as Upper Ghangat. This station was In the care of 4 or 5 unarmed men (convicts). It was isolated and open to attack. The natives soon embraced the opportunity to raid the station. Some cattle were speared and the rest driven through the wild brushes at the head of the Myall, almost to the foreshores of Port Stephens.

The men beleaguered in the hut were driven to dire straits, and as a last resource mixed arsenic in dampers and placed them where the natives had easy access to them. The result was deadly to the natives. The black warriors lay down and died all around. Ganghat became anathema to the tribe — a valley of death.

The adjoining parish, Belbora (correctly Baal Bora) owes its name to the tragedy. It means a place to be shunned.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tuesday 2 May 1922 p 3 CONFLICTS WITH THE NATIVES.


The massacre at Kiripit occurred in ’35, and resulted in the death of five of Mackenzie’s convict shepherds. Kiripit (now Rawdon Vale) 26 miles west of Glouces- ter, was then a sheep station, managed by Robert Mackenzie, afterwards Sir Robert. His shepherds were all assigned convicts. The men seem to have been attacked singly and in open daylight. The body of one was never recovered. The perpetrators were the Barrington River natives. In the old yard at Wattonbakh big Whalen fought his last great fight armed only with a paling; the blacks outnumbered him, and his blood stained the yard for long afterwards. One man, ’Green,’ escaped to Underbank after a flight of over 25 miles; the last spear was thrown almost in sight of Underbank House.

The attack on the home station failed through the attackers mistaking the crack of a bullock whip for a gunshot. After this outrage the natives divided—one body seeking shelter south-west towards the Upper Arundel. Swiftly punitive bands were organised to hunt them down.

The settlers of Port Stephens, reinforced by the small body of time expired soldiers, retained by the A.A. Coy, proceeded direct to the scene.. . . When within six miles of the station — Pumpkin Creek — the soldiers refused to proceed further, fearing an ambush. Meanwhile a strong body of settlers from the Williams and Allen Rivers struck out to the north-west, ascending the Williams and Chichester Rivers. They ascended the lofty Mackenzie Table land and located the first body of fugitive natives camped on the northern face of the mountain on a narrow shelf above a gigantic cliff which overhung a tangled mass of brush and vines.

Silently and surely they laid their plans and long ere the dawn of day the sleeping camp was encircled from cliff edge to cliff edge. Day broke and the sleeping blacks arose. Then maddened with fear under the gunfire they broke hither and thither in vain attempts to escape. Then panic stricken they turned to the cliff edge and sprang into space and so perished. At a small plain a mile west of the present Cobakh Station the Port Stephens men came into conflict with the remaining body of natives, but the fugitives broke and fled north wards to a little flat on the Bowman River. Here the final tragedy occurred; a stand was made by the blacks, but in vain.

Years afterwards their unburied skeletons could be seen. The law claimed yet another victim. A native was captured and executed at Dungog, near where the present Court House stands.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 9 May 1922 Page 3 CONFLICTS WITH THE NATIVES.


The A. A. Company has done much in New South Wales towards making repro- ductive a huge slice of country that less than 100 years ago was the haunt of the blackfellow and the home of the kangaroo.

Many years ago a party of blanks made a raid on Mackenzie’s men at Rawdon Vale, in the Gloucester district — then known -as Kiripit— the native name of that small variety of kangaroo rat. Eighty years have elapsed since that tragic story was enacted, and only a fragmentary history remains of .it to-day. The attack on the solitary shepherds was tragically successful and five fell victims to the vengeance of the natives,. Two fled south, one of whom (an elderly man) was overtaken early in the pursuit; the other— a man named Green— traversed the wild mountain[s] .. of the Upper Gloucester, Monkerai, Wangat and Chichester Rivers, resting only to fly again from the sounds of his relentless dusky pursuers. He escaped the last spear at Cold Water Brush in sight of Underbank and safety.

The blacks’ attack on Kiripit homestead was averted by the merest accident. The station teamster, returning with supplies signalled his approach in the time- honored custom of cracking his bullock whip — and bullock whips those far-away days were no doubt just as effective ’instruments as they are to-day in the back country centres of Australia. The blacks mistook the whip cracks for gun shots, and made tracks for safety. A relic of those wild old days was ’Broken-backed Tommy.’ Tommy had survived the morning of the flight when Bagdell’s party drove him and his panicstricken comrades over the cliff on Mount Mackenzie, and he narrowly escaped death again when years afterwards, the erstwhile fugitive Green recognised and attacked him in the old Kitchen at Underbank.

Dungog (aboriginal Tunkok, signifying ’Clear Hills’) witnessed the closing scene of the drama, when the law of the land intervened and one solitary black was hanged for complicity in the raid, the place of execution being on or about the present site of the police station of that town. The district blacks were collected in a cluster of saplings on the opposite ridge... in full view of the execution.

The Gloucester Advocate (NSW : 1905 - 1954) Tuesday 6 November 1923 p 1


A party of whites rode up the Cobark River and fought a pitched battle with the tribe that had come over Mount Moonee, and killed over 50 of them, losing 7 or 8 of their own men. After this a larger party rode over to the Bowman River through McKenzIe’s Gap (Neilson’s selection) and meeting with a large number of blacks fought another pitched battle, where Mr. J. T. Grant’s homestead now stands, many blacks — over 100 it is said — were killed and also some 12 whites were killed and badly wounded. News travelled slowly in those far-off days of 1838/39 from this then remote settlement, but as time went on most exaggerated reports began to filter in and reach the authorities in Newcastle and Sydney.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Tue 14 May 1935 Page 6 BATTLE WITH THE BOWMAN BLACKS.


About Mr Gordon Bennett’s interesting articles on our ’Earliest Inhabitants’ just concluded. In referring to the Manning River blacks he mentions two . punitive expeditions, and fixes the date at, ’48. I think 1838 would be nearer the mark.

The only record of punitive expeditions I can vouch for are as follows: In 1835, on the occasion of the great raid on Mackenzie’s shepherds, at Kiripit, now Rawdon Vale, the A. A. Company despatched their small body of veterans — ’time-expired soldiers’ from Carrington — to supplement the civilians, but the soldiers never reached the scene of operations, having halted and retired when within 6 miles of the station, fearing an ambush, leaving the decision to the two civilian bodies, who enacted a terrible vengeance. The second, which Mr Bennett seemingly refers to under Captain Reynolds, is apparently that expedition which led up to the encounter on Brown’s Creek, Wallamba, in which the whites were so decidedly worsted, that the locality of the encounter in question yet bears the name of Waterloo.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954)


[There was] a fight between the Wallamba tribe and a portion of the ’Kabook’ (Gloucester, Barrington, Rawdon Vale tribes). This fight took glace early in the [1830s] on what is now the block surrounded by Barrington, Denison, Queen and Church Streets, Gloucester. The upper part of this block, along the line of Barring- ton Street, was very heavily scrubbed, while the portion nearer to Church Street was more open. Here the two tribes met and fought. all one afternoon, until stopped by the manager of the station and his men, but while the manager was persuading the. Kabooks. to retire to the river he did not notice that a badly wounded man was left on the field, until he saw a Wallamba man rush out of the scrub and kill him with a ’nullah.’ When asked by the manager why he did such a thing the Wallamba man said, ’I finis him,’ and ran off again — and thus ended the battle of ’Gloucester,’ which after all appears to have been a battle of words and much abuse, and not much else.

Wauk Ivory — as its name signifies, was the scene of a very big tribal fight in which the Kabooks utterly routed the Wallambas, as the latter never afterwards encroached upon the former’s territory, but the casualties are of course unknown to us.

- The Gloucester Advocate (NSW : 1905 - 1954) Tue 7 Mar 1939 Page 4 Old Days and Blacks.

Sexual assault of women and children

Not only did many of these children die, those who survived were almost invariably rendered infertile, a hugely significant factor in Aboriginal depopulation. Polding spoke of the sexual abuse of ‘mere children who are thus made incapable of becom- ing mothers’. Hurst wrote that ‘fatal disease, introduced by licentious Europeans’ interfered with ‘the natural source of supply and increase’. Magistrates of the Dun- gog District, responding to an 1845 survey, recorded that ‘the diminution in births was most remarkable’, attributing the decline to ‘sexual intercourse with the whites at a very tender age’.

Hiding the bodies: the myth of the humane colonisation of Aboriginal Australia - John Harris p96


Wednesday, 23rd 1832]. — ...Capt. Moffatt sent me a letter from Major Sullivan complaining of one of the Company’s servant[s] (as is supposed) having come to his farm — fired at some blacks in a camp close to his house, and taken away one of their [women].

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 18 Mar 1927 Page 5 Early Days Of Port Stephens


We must remember that the majority of these men were convicts and assigned as servants to the settlers— or squatters, as they were more generally termed, Some of these assigned men were undoubtedly of a very depraved nature, . . . It is on record of authentic nature that incredible crudities were practised upon the poor blacks by some of these hardened wretches. . .

The Gloucester Advocate (NSW : 1905 - 1954) Tue 7 Mar 1939 Page 4 Old Days and Blacks.


1. The number of aborigines in the District of Dungog...from Clarence Town to Underbank is sixty-three ; viz., forty-six men and boys, fourteen women, and three children.

2.- About ten years ago on epidemic of a variolous nature carried off about a half of their number – principally women and children – and during the last five years, they have been reduced from thirty-five to forty per cent.

3.- The greatest decrease has been among children and women.

4.- To sexual intercourse with the whites at a very tender age, excessive venery, syphilis, and intemperance ; the diminution in births is most remarkable...

11.- There are three half-caste children and one grown up girl in this district ; the children life with, and after the manner of the aborigines ; the girl referred to resides with a family in the neighbourhood, and is very tractable. having no desire to return to her tribe.

17.- ... half-caste lads are generally murdered – always I believe.

From E. M. McKinlay, Esq., J.P., and C. L. Brown, Esq., Magistrates in the District of Dungog 1845:- :p27


Sir, — I do myself the honor to state to you for the information of His Excel- lency the Governor that a formal complaint was made to me a few days ago, by a respectable person in this neighbourhood in favor of five aborigines whose names are in the margin [Derby, Purser, and three others]. The two blacks named are most intelligent fellows and have great weight with their tribe. Derby is a King and speaks English well. . .

[They] have for some time past been deprived of their gins, by a named F — t (supt to Mr John Lord, of this district) and that on hearing the story. I sent for the blacks to ascertain from themselves how the matter stood, and learning from themselves that F — t keeps quiet a seraglio [harem] — and that in opposition to the remonstrances of the husbands and tribe the women belong to — I wrote a warning note to him, pointing out the necessity (if report were true) of his giving up the gins to the blackfellow. Derby [carried] the letter.

As my instructions from the Governor were very strict with regard to prosecuting those — whether bond or free — who detained any of the black women contrary to their ... wish or that of’ their friends. This communication when handed to Mr F — t, he, as the blackfellow describes, read it, tore it to pieces, and when throwing the fragments into the fireplace, said in a contemptuous manner, ’ There, go and bring another,’ threatening at same time to shoot him if he did not instantly leave the place. Now such doings as have been reported of Mr F –t (and I can prove that on one occasion lately he said in presence of some white people, when a poor blackfellow came and insisted on taking home his wife, that he would not give her up although the Governor himself came in person and ordered it).

[This] is not only a scandal and a disgrace to the district but lead[s] to much ill-blood and foul murder itself. I would respectfully call on His Excellency for instructions how to proceed that such evil and improper conduct may be speedily checked and further evil prevented.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 22 Dec 1905 Page 5 Scraps of Early History

The Harmony

Many of those who remained in contact with European settlement died of disease. At Dungog a figure of sixty per cent is given.

...The poisoning of Aboriginal people was known as the Harmony because in this way peace was supposed to be achieved.

It was not peace but submission which was achieved and hate and distrust were buried in the Aboriginal subconscious. The Aboriginal to-day pretends to know nothing but if full trust can be established it will be found that he does know. Poisoning is the most cowardly form of massacre and the Aboriginal race cannot, do not, forget despite their kindly nature. Mr. F. A. Fitzpatric, a man remembered with respect as the editor of the Wingham Chronicle wrote a book which he called ‘Pioneer Days on the Manning’ . In this he reports two cases of the Harmony, one, a substantial one, in the early Thirties and the other, a minor one in 1847. The same location is given for both these poisonings, Upper Gangat. Fitzpatric does not comment on this and the poisonings are so far apart in time that it is impossible to say if they are one and the same or two separate massacres.

Of the earlier and major case he writes: ‘Belbora alludes to the Gangat tragedy in the early Thirties, and is more applicable to Upper Gangat, where hostile Wallamba natives died thick from the effects of arsenical poisoning. Gruesome and dark is that partly forgotten tale, justifiable only in the fact that the unfortunate whites concerned were beleaguered and wounded and the poisoned dampers were their last defensive resort. . . In every creek and in every gully lay dead blacks. To the blacks the name became an anathema; knew them no more (sic). Hence the name Baal Belbora. But men were callous, and life was cheap in those far off days, and tradition tells a yet weirder tale of a blood bounty at half a crown per head.’

Geoffrey Blomfield Baal Belbora


There were a few aboriginals about in those times. Doughboy Billy, to whom Mr. Boydell presented a brass plate with the inscription, ’King of the Tribe’, died in the gully behind what is now Mr. R. G. Berry’s. He was buried in the blacks’, cemetery in the vicinity of Violet Hill. Other blacks buried there were Nancy Green, Flash Jack, and Albert Brandy, the last of the tribe, died over Singleton way. His photo is still hanging in the School of Arts.

Two young Blacks who made a nuisance of themselves by continually begging for food at a certain accommodation house on Fosterton Road, were easily disposed of — a little ’poison was put in their food. They, too, were buried at Violet Hill. No one worried about a Coronial inquiry in those days.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 2 Nov 1945 Page 1 THE BLACKS.


”Dungog” is a corruption of ”Toongang,” the blacks name for the locality [that] means ”bare hill.”

The Dungog blacks spoke practically the same language as all the coastal tribes from the Manning River as far south as Botany Bay. The language spoken around Newcastle and Lake Macquarie — called by the aborigines ”Awaaba” — was much the same, and the whole language was named ”Kurring-gai” by some, and ”Awaabakal” by others.

Their pronunciation was confusing to the early white settlers, hence many words were corrupted. They pronounced ’g’ nasally like the ng in ”sing.” The T and D sounds were very difficult to differentiate. Thus ”tinko” a native bitch is generally printed ”dingo.”

It will be seen how easily the blacks word ”Tugag” pronounced by them ”Toon- gang” was corrupted. Just as the ”t” in ”tinko” was turned into ”d” in ”dingo” so the ”t” in Tugag became d, and the nasality of the final g being dropped the word became Dungag and Dungog.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 - 1954) Fri 13 Apr 1923 Page 2 The Origin of Dungog.


William Manton, of Karuah, informed us that Kattang with a different twang was spoken at Dungog. Howitt and Fraser refer to the people of that district as the “Gringai.” There appears to be clear evidence that the Worimi occupied the country bounded by the seashore from the Manning as far south as Norah Head and possibly to the Hawkesbury. On the north, the Manning for some distance bounded this territory and they occupied the country as far west as the Barrington Tops, which, according to the old residents of the Upper Allyn River, they visited in summer time. I was in company with my old friend the late John Hopson on the tableland when he found a stone axe-heart there. They extended up the Hunter Valley as far as Singleton. Possibly their country south of the Hunter joined that of the Darkning.

Further Notes on the Worimi By W. J. ENRICH


The vocabulary comes from:

  1. Trove newspaper reports on Gringai language (NEW)
  2. An document named “Vocabulary of the Upper Allyn Blacks” author unknown circa 1845 State Library of New South Wales (VAR).
  3. The Wonnarua Strategic Plan 2009-2012 (WSP).
  4. A letter published in the Dungog Chronicle, by an RJ Hector in 1906 and based on a list of local aboriginal words originally compiled in the 1840s. (HEC).
  5. Robert Syron, The Kabook and Watoo People of the Gringai Barrington River Gloucester, NSW (SYR).
  6. Vocabularies of the Manning RIver and Hunter river in Edward M Curr’s The
  7. Australian Race 1887, pp350-359. (VMR, VHR).
  8. Michael Smith’s The Kutthung dialect on a deleted website accessible through
  9. the Wayback Machine, (KTT)
  10. Various articles by Gordon Bennett, chiefly in the Dungog Chronicle (GB).
  11. The Port Stephens blacks : recollections of William Scott (National Library of Australia) (SCO)
  12. The journal of Charles Boydel (State Library of NSW) (CBJ)

The spelling is as was recorded by the various sources. To the European ear, the Gringai made no real differentiation between d and t, or g and k. Thus the word for a revered spirit being is variously described as Coen, Koin and Goign: all are representations of the same word. Some of the English has been edited to modern equivalents, for example, Jew-Lizard becomes Eastern Water Dragon.