Highlands history: Indigenous peoples once thrived in the district

A SECRET SHARED: With assistance of local Aborigines, surveyor Robert Hoddle found a way in 1831 from Bong Bong through Yarrawa to the coast and later painted this watercolour; original in Mitchell Library.  
	Photo: BDH&FHS

A SECRET SHARED: With assistance of local Aborigines, surveyor Robert Hoddle found a way in 1831 from Bong Bong through Yarrawa to the coast and later painted this watercolour; original in Mitchell Library. Photo: BDH&FHS

Part One of a 3-part series

THE north-eastern part of the Wingecarribee Shire, now consisting of Kangaloon, East Kangaloon, Box Vale and Mount Murray, has a fascinating past.

A resident, Bernadette Mahony, compiled 'Kangaloon Footprints' that was published in 2013 as part of centenary celebrations for Kangaloon Hall. The book portrays various aspects of the area's history and selected extracts are provided here.

The shire's whole eastern district was known as the 'Yarrawa Brush' by early settlers. For at least 40,000 years it was inhabited by Aboriginal people. These were either the Gundungarra or Wodi Wodi, or both, as it is impossible to ascertain exact boundaries. The Dharawal people, who also had an association with the district, may have travelled through the area.

Gundungarra lands extended from the Wingecarribee/Wollondilly Rivers to Camden in the north, Goulburn in the south, and west to the Blue Mountains. The Wodi Wodi people occupied the Illawarra region and it is believed they lived on the coastal plain when fish and other seafood were in abundance and climbed the escarpment to the highlands at other times to trade and socialise.

The relationship was not always friendly as an account by an eye witness, Martin Lynch, of the 'Battle of Fairy Meadow' in 1830, reports that up to a thousand warriors of the 'Bong Bong tribe' (Gundungurra) and Wodi Wodi people took part in fierce fighting which resulted in the deaths of between 70 and 100 men.

In the Kangaloon area the Indigenous way of life is evidenced by examples of rock shelters, middens, paintings, stencils, axe grinding marks and tools, as well as trees that have been scarred or carved with particular totems. Many of the creeks and swamplands in the Eucalypt covered sandstone terrain show evidence of stone axe grinding marks. A short distance away at Carrington Falls there is much evidence of markings, while at Belmore Falls there is a large red ochre painting of a spirit like figure, as well as a painting of eels, in a rock shelter.

The Southern Mail in January 1947 reported that a Mr Wild of Bowral had brought in an axe head found at Kangaloon to be placed on exhibition, and The Berrima District Post of June 1969 told that an Aborigine's polished grinding stone and a stone digging stone were dug up on a Kangaloon farm. Both implements were used mainly by women as part of their domestic routine and point to the existence of a settled tribe in the Kangaloon district.

Local Aborigines accompanied the early explorers of this district but were rarely given credit for their efforts. Dr Charles Throsby, who always took some local guides with him, did record their names for places, mountains, hills and rivers, as did Major Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General. Fortunately, as a consequence, we still have some indigenous words preserved in local place-names such as Wingecarribee, Burradoo, Mittagong, Bong Bong, Bowral, Bundanoon and Nattai. Aboriginal linquist, Frances Bodkin, believes that the Gundungarra word for Wingecarribee was "Winge Karrabee Karrabee," Winge for fire and Karrabee for wild, therefore meaning a place of 'many wild fires'.

It is impossible to know the number of Indigenous peoples living in the district at the time of first settlement as European illnesses caused a large decimation of their population. The Government Muster of 1826 recorded 67 Aboriginal people living in the Bong Bong area and 10 in the Mittagong area.

The Wingecarribee Swamp, which borders the southern edge of Kangaloon, has been classified as a Gundungarra site by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. An archeological study of the swamp found many artifacts, the oldest in the centre and the more recent around the outer edges. This indicates that originally people camped by the stream running through the middle of the swamp area and then, due to the water's expansion over time, they moved further outwards.

The swamp and numerous creeks in the Kangaloon area would have provided permanent water and food such as fish, snakes, eels, platypus, waterfowl and yabbies, with edible plants growing abundantly. The thick rainforests growing in the rich volcanic soil, while probably too cool and dark to live in, would have provided areas to hunt kangaroo, possums, wallabies and birds. On the rockier land closer to the escarpment, smaller trees, plants and bushes would have provided yet another source of food as well as caves and over-hangs for shelter and art work.

When European selectors moved into the Yarrawa Brush in the 1860s, this Indigenous way of life, already affected by early colonial settlement, was further impacted.

To be continued

This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.

Email bdhsarchives@gmail.com.

Web: berrimadistricthistoricalsociety.org.au

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