ABORIGINES IN THE ST GEORGE- GOONDIWINDI AREAS OF SOUTHERN QUEENSLAND (A talk given by John Clements, Aboriginal and Island Affairs, to St George Apex Club on 12 February 1976)
According to the 1967 Preservation of Relics Act, a definition of an Aboriginal relic is, 'Any aboriginal remains and any trace of handiwork within the state of aboriginal culture: The term does not include such handiwork made for the purpose of sale for money'. The Act is quite specific and provides severe penalties for the removal, damage or destruction of relics.
Many years ago there were 19 tribes in an area bounded by Toowoomba in the east, Thargomindah in the west, and the Carnarvon Ranges in the north. As do all aboriginal tribes, they had a close affinity to nature. To survive and live in their given area, they had to obtain a very close knowledge of waterholes, rocks, trees, hills and wild fruits. In many cases, waterholes were regarded as sacred sites and those not permitted to visit these sites were killed if they strayed there. Combined with their knowledge of their physical surroundings was their use of the available natural materials for hunting, fishing, ceremonials, etc.
Relics most often found in this area are:
(a) Native Wells
Prolific in number. Most often on a rocky ridge but sometimes in a creek bed. Some of the wells are natural but others are gouged out with great patience by the aborigines themselves. Often the wells and their surroundings are used as sharpening devices for stone hand tools, such as spear points. Good examples are those at Weengallon and Wycanna. A well still remains near Condamine with a stone cover or lid to prevent evaporation.
(b) Camp Sites
In areas along river valleys, creeks, streams and by waterholes, you can usually find chipping grounds which contain implements, grinding tools, axes, knives, burnt wood and perhaps bone remains. These are important because they indicate where the aborigines actually lived. Most camp sites have been 'picked over' but small chippings are still very much in evidence. Examples can be seen everywhere but two of the best sites are on both sides of the Beardmore Dam.
(c) Marked or container trees
These relics are numerous throughout Queensland. The trees are usually of considerable age or may be dead or dying. They can be identified by examination of the bark of the tree. Where aborigines removed the bark to make containers, shields and canoes, etc., the scars still remain. For the most part the bark has tended to grow back over the scar and can be identified by a raised ridge around the scar area. There are good examples of canoe trees in the Goondiwindi and Surat areas. Areas closer to St George which contain shield or coolamon trees are the Bindle and Dirranbandi areas. Canoe trees are especially interesting and may be from 2 metres high to 600 mm across. Many are larger than this.
(d) Carved trees
These are very rare in Queensland. Three trees were discovered some years ago near Toobeah and others have been found near Westmar in the last few months. These trees are of tremendous interest and two of those near Toobeah are being removed to the Goondiwindi Museum in the near future. The trees are usually associated with ceremonial grounds.
(e) Bora grounds
These are believed to be in the St George locality but I have not seen one. They are prolific in the Kogan-Tara area where there are at least six in a good state of preservation. The grounds were important ceremonial grounds and consist of two raised earth circles, one being 30 yards In diameter, the other 12 to15 yards wide. There is usually a connecting path between the 2 circles. Distance between the rings may be anything from 300 yards to 2 miles.
(f) Burial grounds
Most burials in this area were in tree trunks. This has been the case at Mt. Driven property, where a skeleton was found and taken away some years ago and other burials have been discovered on properties near Surat. It is expected that any aboriginal remains which are found should be left exactly as they are and reported immediately to the relevant authorities.
(g) Fish Traps
One of the few remaining fish traps in Queensland was unfortunately destroyed by workmen who were completing the Beardmore Dam near St George. The trap,made up of stones, was a series of ponds which gradually forced the fish into a shallow pond upstream. The fish were then easily caught by hand.
You may ask the obvious question as to how to find likely areas containing aboriginal relics. Some likely areas are:
- Permanent waterholes or major streams
- Study of maps indicating lagoons, etc.
- Discussion with local aborigines – unfortunately here are very few local aborigines in the St George area – most have come from other places.
- Discussion with local landholders
- Reading historical books and articles in newspapers, for example:
- The St. George Standard in 1903 mentions the ‘Wagoo’ run being a favourite rendezvous for the Maranoa and western blacks. Boras were held in this area. The paper also mentions the blacks using bark shields in their defence against the white invaders.
- The Balonne Beacon of 19 February 1948 reports of a terrible drought in 1876 to 1880 when all creeks and river holes dried up. There was no water between Nindigully and Boombah on the Balonne River. Natives forgot their tribal disputes and trekked to Manadilla Springs where they remained until all game had been killed. The natives then died of starvation.
- The Waggamba Shire History (p.120) reports that a white grazier and 5 stockment were killed by natives in 1845. Sir Thomas Mitchell is said to have kept a close eye on the blacks visiting his camp in the St George area in 1846 because of the rumour that the bodies of 6 white men were still uninterred on the Balonne River banks.
- The Balonne Beacon of 12 July 1945 reported that the blacks gave comparatively little trouble in the immediate vicinity of St George. Nevertheless there is a story told of a night raid on the township, after which the bodies of over 70 blacks were buried by the defenders. The same newspaper, on the same day, mentions a feature standing on a high river bank. The feature had the stature of a giant man. It was a large forked tree with two forks inserted in the ground and the butt of the fork so shaped that it resembled a man’s head. It presented a unique appearance and was supposed to have been erected by aborigines, probably as a corroboree area.
- The Balonne Beacon of 9th February 1971 reported that a missionary made a journey covering the Condamine, Barwon and Namoi rivers in 1855. He also travelled along the Balonne River. The missionary reported that large assemblies of natives were frequently seen on the Balonne.
- The Balonne Beacon of 11th June 1969 says that a Mr Ken Murchison advises that nearly every part of the shire is strewn with chips indicating stone age industry.
- The Balonne Beacon of 20th October 1909 reported that hairless blacks were camped at Muraby, opposite Gnee station.
- The Balonee Beacon of 25th June 1969 contained an article on Rossmere Station: “The Lagoon, known in the fenceless days before as “Where the dark stockman was killed on a cattle camp”, was a favourite watering place for the local aborigines. However, they were peacefully inclined towards the settlers. The only incident remembered being amongst themselves at an annual corroboree held at Flinton previously by the Condamine, Moonie and Talwood tribes”.
- The Balonne Beacon of 27th February 1947 reports that copper coloured hairless aborigines were at Gunarber waterhole and at Murrabee Station, 20 miles south of St George.
- The Changing Years by G. O. Armstrong, reports a savage battle (some years prior to 1860) at Burgorah Station between natives and white settlers. Forty natives were shot, including one of their chiefs, before they fled into the bush. Some of the white defenders were wounded but none of them fatally. The next camp was at Waroo Station where the hostile McIntyre tribe were involved twice in battles with white men. Needing meat, the aborigines attacked a lonely outstation and the white men fled for their lives. Two days latger, 25 white men attacked the aborigines, killing 200. Their bodies were later interred in one pit near the hut they had previously besieged.
- The Balonne Beacon of 18th October 1956 reports that old-timers say that there were 3 big camps of blacks on the Balonne-Maranoa known as Wagaby, Ingaby (near St George) and Thungaby (A lagoon on old Cashmere). These are still spots where the waterholes never dry up.
Finally, I appeal to you all to advise me of any relics you have heard about or seen. It is most important, too, to have accurate locations given. A large number of these relics are irreplaceable and it is most important that every effort is made to preserve and record them.