ABORIGINAL WOLGAN VALLEY

  What is on this page:
Introduction Groupings & relationships The local Wolgan band Europeans Comment from 1841
Burial sites Blackfellows Hand area Go to the bottom of this page for links to other pages on this web site.

Yamandu marang?
This is a present-day greeting (literally: "Are you well?") in the Wiradjuri language, one of several aboriginal languages that may have been spoken in the Newnes area many years ago. Most of these languages have not been spoken for many years and have virtually died out. Currently, there are several major attempts to revive Wiradjuri and other languages of this area.

Introduction:
At the outset, it should be noted that the author of this page does not have any Aboriginality. The following is, therefore, a personal statement, mainly based on research of historical documents produced since 1813.
This research started out with the intention of answering the question: Who were the aboriginal inhabitants of the upper parts of the Wolgan Valley prior to European settlement in the 19th Century? There is ready evidence, such as the artwork at Maiyingu Marragu (Blackfellows Hand), of an aboriginal presence, but I wanted to find out about the people themselves.
I found that very little had been written about the traditional people of the district and what had been written was sometimes contradictory. This page may not answer everything, nor will it solve arguements, but it sets out some aspects of my understanding of who these people were, where they lived and their place in traditional aboriginal society.

"Tribes", "Bands" and other Aboriginal Groupings and Relationships:
Before attempting to identify the local Aboriginal group, it would be useful to briefly look at some of the often complex forms of groupings and relationships within traditional Aboriginal society.
Firstly, there were the groupings by language. These language groupings were often the basis of cultural ties as well, although in the district about the Wolgan Valley, where several language groups were adjacent, such cultural differences could become blurred. The main language groups of this district were called Wiradjuri (to the west) and Gundungurra (to the south-east), with possible influences from Durug (to the east) and Darkinjung (to the north-east). These language groups are now generally termed "tribes" and, as such, form the basis of present-day aboriginal society. (The American "nation" is also sometimes used for this grouping, although use of such a term seems to be misleading. On the other hand "speakers" has also been used and, to this writer, would be the most accurate description for this grouping.)
In pre-contact times however, the day-to-day lives of Aboriginal people probably revolved around smaller groupings, now generally referred to as "bands". (The term "clan" is also used, but, unlike the Scottish clan, would not necessarily be based on kinship.) These bands appear to have been quite autonomous, to an extent that they are frequently referred to as "tribes" in many early documents. Some local bands have been identified, and the band most likely to have been in the upper Wolgan Valley is discussed below.
There were also other patterns of relationships, kinship being one of the most important. Kinship could often extend beyond the bounds of band or language group. Examples are now coming to light of kinship links between some people from bands in the Burragorang Valley, (over 100 km south of Newnes) with people from Mudgee, Hill End and Bathurst, well to the north and west of Newnes.
It has been suggested that another form of relationship (as well as a cause of conflict between bands) was the possible practice of raiding other bands for their women. One source records an example from the 1820s, of a raid by the "Pipers Flat tribe" on a Darug band at Richmond, near Sydney. If this suggestion is correct, such women would bring aspects of their own language and culture into their new band.
Gatherings for ceremonial purposes could involve many bands and language groups. For example, one early source mentions such a gathering in the Capertee Valley in the late 1830s that involved groups from many areas, extending from the Hunter River in the north to the Monaro district in the south.
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The local Wolgan band and adjacent groups:
In view of the above discussion, it may come as no surprise that identification of the local group that frequented the Wolgan Valley has proved to be a little difficult.
Most likely, the band concerned was the band centred about Wallerawang. They may have been called "Wywandy" (this is a name on a surviving gorget, or breast plate), but they were generally referred to as the "Wallerawang" or "Pipers Flat" band in most early documents. They could probably speak both the Wiradjuri and Gundungurra languages and it would appear that they regularly associated with other bands from both of these language areas.
Other bands adjacent to the Wywandy band included the Capiti (in the Capertee Valley, north of Newnes), the Therabulat (of the Hartley area and Lower Cox's River), possibly the Bunally (south of Mt. Lambie), the "Patrick Plains" band (probably a band from south-east of Bathurst, since "Patri" [or "Badri", a cold or frosty place] was the Wiradjuri name for the Bathurst area) and the quite separate "Bathurst" band (north-east from Bathurst, about Peel and northwards towards the Turon River).
At this stage, little is known about contact with people in areas east of Newnes and the Wolgan Valley. Evidence exists that Darkinjung people were active in the lower Colo River and tributaries and northwards into eastern parts of what is now Wollemi National Park. It is also understood that Darug people may have been active in the Grose Valley and areas east of present day Bell. However, even though no Darug bands were known to have been in the Newnes area, women abducted from Darug areas (as mentioned above) would bring with them Darug influence.
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Aboriginal people and European Settlement in the Wolgan Valley:
In 1823, James Walker, who, in that year, settled at Wallerawang, set up an out-station in the Wolgan Valley. This valley and the access route into it was probably shown to Walker by the local Wallerawang Aboriginal band. The valley would certainly have made more comfortable winter quarters for the band than the sometimes windswept high plains about Wallerawang.
Thomas Archer, a nephew of James Walker, spent most of 1838-39 at Wallerawang. In his "Recollections of a Rambling Life" he mentions Miles [also spelt as "Myles" in other sources], who was the leader of the Wallerawang band at that time, and his part in the capture of a bushranger. Archer also mentions "Old Ned" Murray, a convict who lived at the outstation in the Wolgan Valley. It is understood that one of Ned's sons married Sophie Miles, said to have been a daughter of this same Miles. Descendants of that family still live in the Wallerawang district.

The name "Wolgan" supposedly comes from "wolga", the local aboriginal word for the plant, Clematis aristata, a vine that is fairly common in the valley. There are several growing in the immediate Newnes area.
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Walker's 1841 description of local Aboriginal people:
In 1841, James Walker, in response to a government questionaire about "Aboriginal Natives of this Colony", made the following comments. For their time (and compared with responses given by others to this same questionaire), these comments are sympathetic, revealing as much about Walker's own character as it does about the native inhabitants.
Question: What do you consider to be their prevailing character and disposition as Laborers ..?
“They like uncontrolled liberty and freedom; amongst themselves they appear to have few restraints; they are acute, intelligent, and shrewd, and well disposed; in short it is impossible that Europeans, taking possession of a country and living amongst the Aboriginal Inhabitants of it, could maintain a better understanding with them than for many years past has subsisted in this part, and also on the Castlereagh River, since stock was first taken out there; we have abridged all their natural sources of existence, and they appear satisfied to receive our food in exchange for services occassionally rendered us.”
Question: .. and what are their numbers, so far as you can form an estimate, in your immediate neighbourhood; describing the limits to which your calculation extends?
“In this immediate neighbourhood, that is the country from the northern borders of Argyle, by the Abercrombie River to Bathurst Plains, (not including the Bathurst tribe,) and from thence to Capiti, I suppose there are not above 40 or 50 of both sexes and all ages; their numbers I think have diminished since I first came to this part in 1823; though they are occasionally seen intoxicated and resort too frequently to the neighbourhoods of public houses, they have not abandoned their natural mode of procuring food, but still continue to place their chief dependence for a supply in hunting.”
Unfortunately, Walker's description makes no mention of any areas east of Wallerawang. Annual government blanket list returns from about this time, usually group people from the Wallerawang band with the Gundungurra-speaking band from Hartley and the middle Cox district as "The Cox's River tribe".
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Maiyingu Marragu (Blackfellows Hand) Area:
The most readily accessible reminder of Aboriginal activity in the Newnes area is the rock art at "Maiyingu Marragu" (Blackfellows Hand), just off the Wolgan Road near Wolgan Gap.
Aboriginal Art at Blackfellows Hand - JPEG 15kb Close up of Aboriginal Art at Blackfellows Hand - JPEG 21kb
A section of the wall showing stenciled hands, arms and boomerangs. A close-up of another section of this wall, showing details of hand stencils.
To get to this cave from the Wolgan Road, follow the Maiyingu Marragu (Blackfellows Hand) Fire trail for about 800m, where a track to the right leads into a clearing. A well worn foot track leads up a hill to the cliff line, which is then followed to the left over fallen rocks. The cave is a broad overhang and some logs have been placed against the back wall. The artwork is generally in the area above these logs.
This area is very important and the artwork is very fragile. Please treat this area with all due respect.
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Aboriginal Burial Areas:
The old Walker/Barton homestead site now lies under Lake Wallace, the water supply for the Wallerawang Power Station. Nearby, on a shore of this lake lies the old "Barton Cemetery" containing the graves of many of the Walker/Barton family and other early residents of the Wallerawang district. It also contains the grave of Bobby Cullen, who died in 1856 and was the son of an Aboriginal mother and European father. This grave also acts as a memorial to the "Wallerawang Tribe".
Aboriginal Grave at Wallerawang - JPEG 12kb The traditional form of burial of an important Aboriginal person would have been like that pictured on the left. There appears to have been one such burial north of Duncan Street in Lidsdale close to a recent diversion of the Castlereagh Highway. One source suggests that this sketch was of another burial site not far from the Barton Cemetery.

<-- (Left)
This sketch originally appeared in the "Illustrated Sydney News" for 30th October, 1880 and captioned "Burial Place of the Last of the Native Kings at Wallerawang". At that time, two marked trees (taphoglyphs) still stood near the burial mound.

Links to some other relevant web-sites:
Gundungurra Tribal Council Blue Mountains and areas south and south-east of Newnes.
Restoration House Wiradjuri language books.
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  Links to the "historical" pages on this web site:
Aboriginal Newnes History of Newnes Oil-shale Processing Bibliography Movies at Newnes Allan Watson at Newnes
Names - A to C Names - D to G Names - H to L Names - M to R Names - S to Z Employee list, 1932
Return to HOME PAGE for links to other pages on this web-site.

This page last updated 29Jun2013