The ‘Song of the Vine’….The Battle of Wollumbin.
As you drive out of the regional town of Murwillumbah – 30 km from Byron Bay on the most eastern point of Australia on route to Mt Warning/Wollumbin- you cross a bridge at the junction of two rivers…. To the uninitiated of the local Aboriginal Bootheram [Dreaming], this bridge is just a blip on the map with lovely scenic vistas….but to the ancestral peoples, the Ngarakbal Githabal, this is a site of great spiritual and historical significance.
Byangum is the meeting place of the incoming [Salt] & outgoing [Fresh] waters systems, and it is here at Byangum that the river splits into the South & Main arms of the Tweed Valley Caldera and encircles and protects the central sacred complex of Wollumbin…Water is sacred to the people and has significant meaning within their ‘Skin Lore’ kinship systems. Its sacredness permeates all….It comes from the ancient Lore of the Rainbow Serpent…The Ngarakbal Githabal are descendants of the ancestral Carpet-snake clans of the Feathered Serpent Traditions of Australia…
Byangum was the natural Tidal Limit before the construction of the Bray Park weir a few kilometers down river in the 1960’s….Crown surveyor, Alan Cunningham had sailed his surveying vessel up to Byangum, in 1828 to “chart the interior in order to find a suitable fresh water site for the crown to establish a settlement”…A settlement was established and mapped for future development, but later abandoned, and the town now known as Murwillumbah was relocated and established several miles downriver.
The Ngarakbal Githabal traditional name for the place Byangum is ‘Ngungumth’, but Byangum was the nearest the white man could get to pronouncing it…and for them, in accordance with tradition, lore and custom, this place is also the name of the tribal custodian of the djurebil [sacred site] that is located there ….and a custodian of a djurebil has important responsibilities to their site…they MUST protect it…Custodian Rights and Responsibilities are never self-professed. They are inherited thru the kinship ‘Skin’ totemic descent of the Lore, Language and Land that the djurebil is located in…This occurs throughout the continent…
As you drive across the bridge at Ngungumth [Byangum] above it is a Sphinx-like Mountain…This mountains traditional name was ‘Moolumbah’….and to the Ngarakbal and Githabal it is, traditionally, the face of a significant Buloogan or Warrior/Sage who faces to the East’, towards the rising sun…
Buloogan is a descriptive title. It is not the name of the Warrior Sage ….This Buloogan has several names – Burrigan or Durrigan or Durramulan are just some of ‘his’ names…. and there are other mountains named after him as he ‘walks’ through the landscape…and He has many Bootheram [Dreaming Lores] about his journeys… He teaches Lore and values to the people, and as he walks he sings, and he also carries a long vine[plant]…He is a powerful ‘Weeun’ [clever fella/spirit ancestor] his songs create and his vine makes the land….His story is an important facet of the Bootheram [Dreaming] which links to all the other ancestral Creation Spirits journeys…and in each respective country a custodian is responsible for ‘His’ djurebil in accordance with the Lore, Language and Land its located….each custodian holds the respective songs and ceremonies of the Buloogan’s journey…and together [each portion in each ‘country’ combine] to make the ‘songline’…
Buloogan travels all over the land…His name changes with every new ‘country’ he enters, with every language that fills the ancient continent of Australia…..In this portion of his many journeys He is traveling from the coast [Byron Bay-Brunswick] to Byangum, where he faces east towards the rising sky….This place is in Ngarakbal ‘country’, in the Wollumbin volcano, and then, He travels inland to the Githabal volcano…and then on- on his many journeys through the respective countries….all the while singing and teaching as he travels…He is a Culture Hero….a Sky Ancestor Hero, from the Dreamtime – Bootheram….from the Feathered Serpent Traditions
He has many mountains and planes…The land tells us his story..The land IS his story, and so too does the night sky….In the Ngarakbal portion of his journey one of his mountains was gazetted as Hatton’s Bluff by the crown – named for the Wollumbin Post Office Master, Mr. Hatton of Byangum Village in the Wollumbin Parish – the site the crown had originally selected as a suitable location to build the town of Murwillumbah, which was the nearest the white man could get to pronouncing the ancestral dialect name of Moolumbah….It’s a beautiful place in the foothills of Mount Warning/Wollumbin…. A significant location to the ancestral peoples Lore, as given to them by the Sky Ancestors….Junction of two rivers encircling the central djurebil… ‘Meeting place of the waters’…Salt and Fresh…It is also the site of a battle between Ngarakbal warriors and invading settlers…The ‘last stand’ of resistance against the guns to uphold the traditions of the ancestor, Buloogan’s ‘djurebil’ from decimation and theft by the colonial invaders.
Some Background History….
By the early 1860’s English Squatters occupied some 3,000 squares miles of the ancestral aboriginal estates from the Macpherson Ranges in the north to the Clarence River in the south…the title ‘Squatter’ is exactly as it implies – an illegal occupant [of owned property]…..They, the Squatters, took the lands by force…Guns verses Spears….Guns won, of course
Around 1862 the first selectors [prospective farmers] who were, according to the crown legally entitled to occupy and later buy freehold land whether it was being occupied by either squatters, ancestral peoples, or not, began to move into the district….so by 1862 the Ngarakbal Githabal lands were under a second wave of siege…the first had been from Moreton Bay Penal Colony days [commencing 1824] but that’s another chapter so I won’t digress…I’ll just say that was the most brutal time of the invasion…
Anyway…..Joshua Bray was a Squatter who arrived in the Ngarakbal ancestral estate in 1863. He had relocated from the Brungle Run, in Tumut, which are the ancestral lands of the Ngarigu people that had been taken by force as part of the invasion process of the crown. Tumut is approx. 1500km south of the Tweed …..
Joshua brought with him Native Police from the south….The standard formula of the invasion process was simple – set a black man against a black man – give him a uniform, a horse, arm him, pay him with tobacco and alcohol [the currency in those times] and give him right of access to women of the defeated…pillage and rape… an effective ‘tool’ of war against the ancestral people that has been used by the crown throughout its global career….
During the 1860’s large areas had been declared and gazetted as Forest Reserves and had been the domain of Timber getters harvesting the rare rainforest timbers for export back to England…I’m leaving out a whole chunk of information here about the penal colonies and the battles of the ancestral people to hold their lands…but, by 1887 much of the Tweed Richmond had been resumed and gazetted as the Tweed Richmond Gold Fields…now, a lot of people don’t realise that the Native Police force were also responsible for policing the gold fields throughout the east coast colonies – It goes back to the Eureka Stockade days in the Victorian Gold Fields….and as the crown wasn’t [isn’t] in the habit of keeping records, today the government still refuse to recognise any form of battle ever took place at all [which is a fallacy] ….According to the crowns accredited history books they were welcomed into the country and the ancestral people happily gave them all their lands and peaceful relocated to Reserves…mmmmm.
Anyway, Joshua Bray was the first Police Magistrate in Ngarakbal ‘country’ [arriving 1863] and commander of the Native Police force – He established the Kynnumboon Post Office [whilst a ‘squatter’] – He was a Justice of the Peace, the Coroner, the Gold Mining Warden, and, after his brother James left the district for another appointment, Joshua also became the Crown Land Agent….He had guns and crown instructions…basically it was, take the Ngarakbal lands and prepare a settlement for first settler selector arrivals and then sell the land to them for the crown…and presumably, destroy all records of battles, then sit back and take his place as a founding father of the Tweed confident that His-story would look after him….
Before invasion the lush landscape of the Ngarakbal Githabal supported several thousand people in the ancestral tribes….each tribe was a family clan…and it had been their home for thousands and thousands of years…
In 1882 the newly formed Aborigines Protection Board – facilitated by the police- conducted a census of Aboriginal people in NSW…….”On the Tweed River a population of one hundred and nine Aboriginal people is stated in the Aborigines Protection Board Report – these people are divided into two classifications with 97 Aboriginal, [in subsequent census identified as ‘full-bloods’], and 12 half-castes”. [Reibe 2001:52]
The 1885-86 records of Joshua Bray’s census team show 90 adults and 52 children for Tweed & Brunswick & Grafton areas….
By 1886 The NSW Aborigines Protection Board Report shows NONE in Tweed, with only two adults at Ballina and two adults in Lismore, and a state decrease of 146 males, 63 females and 260 children…total of 469 full blood deaths in one year…..
Many epic battles had been fought between the crown invaders and the Ngarakbal between first contact and 1890 – and these are in the oral traditions still …That the crown stealthily didn’t keep the records of the slaughters is classic tactical His-story sanitisation, and by 1887 most of the surviving Ngarakbal people had been placed into the Brunswick Reserve at Byron bay – Administrated by the police under the dubious title of the Aborigines Protection Board… From this reserve the survivors were systematically relocated out of their ancestral area into Barambah settlement in SE Qld…A few remnant survivors had found survival amongst the first White settlers, and some had gainful employment as postal workers, which afforded a small level of liberty to remain in their ancestral land, and the ability to move between settlements established by the invaders…and one of those postal workers was a Ngarakbal man named Johnny Brown…
In 1866 James Bray left Tumut … He and his family travel to the Tweed. For his ‘special services’, as a ‘Special Constable’, James received the appointment of Crown Land Agent at the Tweed and soon afterwards was also appointed Clerk of Petty Sessions. Whilst he was building a house at Dunbible Creek [near Stokers Siding- onroute to Byangum] his family stayed at Coolamon with the Gray’s [now Murwillumbah – the relocated settlement] …Whilst still at Dunbible he selected 300 acres of land across the creek and facing the Tweed River in the name of his daughter Lucy….. As Government Land Agent he could not select in his own name…..This land was what is now Byangum, or Ngungumth, a djurebil, and traditionally the place of a significant Buloogan or Warrior/Sage who faces to the East’, towards the rising sun…who sings the landscape and carries a vine….and it was also the crowns first choice of a settlement, beneath ‘Moolumbah’…
Well…imagine how outraged any ancestral person would be about such a significant site being stolen…imagine if your property was stolen…would you fight?…well the Ngarakbal fought…as depleted as they were, with all their kin incarcerated in Reserves…the remaining small remnant in the ancestral lands rallied a resistance to hold their Lore djurebil site of the Baloogun…and as fate would have it, despite crown orders to destroy all records of battles, James Bray did have at least one recorded instance of this altercation with the ancestral Aboriginal people…
It was Sunday September 16th 1866, just a few months after Joshua Bray’s arrival in Ngarakbal lands .
“Blacks away all day until late in the evening when they returned I got Bony & Jimmy to accompany me to Coolamon – to put my horses over by high tide on Monday morning. When I got over H.Clarke said my place was not safe as the Tyalgum Blacks had left their Gins up there and that meant mischief. So I had a cup of tea at half past seven p.m. and got ready to return at once accompanied by Clarke. When we got to the camp the Blacks immediately ran away & swam the river….We then made all haste to Skinners and made our way through the brush on the middle arm. We succeeded ‘Thank God’ in reaching the boat before the Blacks – made our way home to Dunbible and surprised the camp – making Wollumbin Johnny prisoner -& to our surprise discovered next morning that they had planted in the scrub in close proximity to the main camp – the following grim warriors – Jacky Bundash- Big Jimmy – Jimmy Kelly or Scrammy Kelly – Wigam – Monday – Big Billy – Dickin – Charley- [and two or three names unknown] – the names of my own Blacks who were implicated in the plot were Jacky Merrylegs – Bony- Pointer- Jimmy Crow- Jimmy or Talgemma- Bob & Wallumbin Johnny.
I kept Wallumbin chained up until Monday morning and then threatened to shoot him – he then revealed a portion of the plot, that they intended murder but it was a black to be the victim – so I let him go- tho’ I was convinced that he was telling a lie – but I had no proof against him” ….James Bray
By 1879 there were six appointed Magistrates to operate the Police Districts of Cudgen; Murwillumbah; Tweed and Brunswick…….They were Joshua Bray, Thomas Robinson, W.Hindmarsh, George Nixon, Frank Nixon and James Pringle…….At this time the Tweed District included Byron shire
James Rowland, pictured, left, with ‘his’ Aborigines was a half-brother of Joshua & James Bray. Rowland also selected his lands at Byangum on the pathway from Brunswick . He was enumerator of the Aboriginal Census for Brunswick in 1871 – The number James Rowland registered was 70 [Ngarakbal Githabal descendants] …James Bray in a letter to the Register General wrote
..”He has to take a guide [black] and go across the mountains, a great part of the distance being dense scrub through which they must cut their road…”… he used a guide to get to Byangum, and hence the name Rowlands Creek, at UKI today, near Mt Warning on route to Byangum – The guide following an ancient pathway of the Sky Ancestor Baloogan – Burrigan, Durramulan or Durrigan, the Warrior Sage who carried a vine and taught the people Lore…
Because of his resistance Johnny Brown was relocated to the Brunswick Reserve. His descendants had already been incarcerated there. Because of his crimes against the crown, they sent him north to Purga Reserve, and then on to Barambah Labour Camp in south east qld…from there he was sent east to the policed labour camps on the Sunshine Coast – 500kms from his family and his ancestral homelands…Johnny Brown – along with his enslaved kinsmen, had rallied to uphold Baloogan’s durebil against all odds…he gave this song to his surviving family….It was related by his Granddaughter, Charlotte, in the 1950,s as her part in the Civil Rights campaigns to recognize Aboriginal people as legally being human, and not Flora and Fauna as the crown had so cruelly classified aboriginal people in those times….He is singing for the loss of his djurebil…His Culture, His Land, His life
The Song of the Vine….related by Charlotte Williams [nee Brown] Gullival tribe – Ngarakbal Githabal Moiety…
“There was a vine whose spirit was a man.
These forest vines’, they were the Spirit peoples vines.
They were not made by men.
And someone cut this vine, and there this man is struggling to be alive.
This is my own grandfathers song.
“I am here”, the songs say’s…”I am this vine”…
“My life is going away from me, from this ground”
“This place, this dust. My ears are ringing”
“Gaungun the spirit woman is making my ears no good”
“My ears are ringing. I’ll never see this world no more”
And one man came along and saw this vine struggling to be alive. He covered it with dust. When I think of my old people, how they would sit down and sing their songs to me, I could cry…”.
Rest assured…despite the best efforts of authoritarian systems Johnny’s descendants survived and so did their Bootheram Lore, just as it has done throughout time….
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