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02 - Indigenous residents

Photo courtesy of John Bunn

'The Aborigines' - by John Bunn

When one considers the relatively short time that white man has populated our area - approximately 130 years - it comes as a shock to realise that so little evidence remains of the original inhabitants who lived here for thousands of years before.

Large middens of oyster shells are to be found along the banks of the Burrum River as evidence of the bounteous feasts of oysters that were enjoyed over the centuries. Scrub plum trees grow in the middens miles away from their natural environment, suggesting that the Aborigines of the area carried the plums from the Isis Scrub to help vary the shellfish diet. A red soil impregnated stone axe found on a Burrum River midden proves this fact.

The 'Dundaburras' populated the Burrum and Isis/Gregory River area, and like their neighbours the 'Batjalas' from near Pialba, formed part of the great Kabi-Kabi tribe which extended from the Elliot River to the north of Bribie Island, inland to the mountain range and included Fraser Island.

Probably as a result of the varied diet available, the men of the Dundaburra tribe were of splendid physique and had great athletic prowess.

Their sudden disappearance was accelerated by white man's inability and unwillingness to understand traditional aboriginal lifestyle. The stone implements of this lost tribe are the main artifacts left to tell their story. Sharp ground axes, hammer stones, core stones and sharp stone flakes and knives are still to be found, and tell the story of a simple people who, living in the stone age, were living in harmony with their environment. A site on the Gregory River known as 'The Falls', situated behind Buckland’s property, shows grooves in the sandstone where these stone axes were sharpened at low tide. The necessary grinding ingredients of water and abrasive sand-stone made this an ideal place.

During the past 130 years, most of the ceremonial grounds in our area have disappeared or have been ploughed under. No documentation exists to ascertain where ceremonial or 'Bora' rings might have been. The Kabi-Kabis were bounded on their western boundary by the Waka Waka tribe and records tell us that both these tribes came together to share in the great feasts of Bunya Nuts when they were in season on the Bunya Mountains. Tribal boundaries were temporarily forgotten, and after the feasts were over, the coastal tribes returned to their own areas. There being no caves of significance in the Burrum, Isis and Gregory River areas, it is presumed that brush and bark gunyahs were constructed for cover from the elements, and as the people were nomadic, no dwellings of any permanent nature were erected.

The remnants of our local tribes were sent to settlements, some going to Cherbourg. Maria who was one of the last women of the tribe to live in Childers, had two sons - Wappi, who lived at Theodolite Creek for many years, and Cobbo whose descendants still remain in the Cherbourg - Murgon region. Wappi was a well known and respected local identity. His mother Maria was the Aboriginal Queen of Childers and had been presented with a brass breastplate which she wore around her neck. On it was inscribed, "Maria, Queen of Childers", and it can be viewed at the Historical Complex in Taylor Street, Childers. Queen Maria lived on the Childers Courthouse site.

Wappi lived at the head of the estuary of Theodolite Creek. He and his wife Susie lived on crabs and fish that he caught. These he swapped for wine, tobacco and other necessities. Every Friday he would take his spring cart filled with pineapples and fish to Childers, and he always sold the lot.

Poor Susie had a bad chest. One story relates that a visitor called at Wappi’s place one day and found Wappi making great billows of smoke, with Susie sitting in the midst of it all, coughing desperately. She obviously had pneumonia. The visitor persuaded her to be taken to hospital where she recovered. She eventually died of pneumonia.

Traces of former Aboriginal occupation are still to be found within the shire. The sites have significant cultural and archaeological value and are important to the Aboriginal community and can also be appreciated by others who wish to visit and study these sites as a form of educational recreational activity. Under the Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act of 1967, the then department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs was responsible for the location, study and protection of archaeological sites in Queensland.

The Midden is the most common site. Aboriginal middens are usually found in coastal areas along rivers. They were formed by the continuous accumulation of shells dropped by the Aborigines following meals of shellfish, such as mussels, oysters and eugaries, which were collected from rivers and the sea. Middens vary in depth with those of considerable depth having the greatest archaeological value. Analysis of midden remains yield information such as diet, seasonal migration of tribes and size of population. Two middens are located near Buxton on the Burrum River, one of which is reported to be one metre high, four metres wide and about 500 metres long.

According to the late Mr Charlie Leeson, the main campsite in the Goodwood area was at some fig trees on high ground beside the Gregory River, about halfway between the Goodwood School and the bridge. A burial site was close by. Many axes and spearheads have been found there. Further upstream about one kilometre on the eastern side of the river, was a gum tree which had a large black knob with a spear sticking out of it. Perhaps an Aborigine had mistaken it for a possum! Another large gum tree behind Charlie Leeson’s house had toe holes cut in it by the Aborigines. Hunting weapons were sometimes stored in the branches of such a tree.

The local Aboriginal stone artifacts displayed at the Childers Historical Complex shows the craftsmanship of a civilization that had not yet discovered the use of metals, but could manufacture excellent stone implements to serve their daily needs.

The Aboriginal semi-nomadic lifestyle, so different from European culture, would have created misunderstanding and conflict which modern Australians now acknowledge and regret.

This article first published in "A History of Goodwood and Woodgate", 1985 and rewritten by the author John Bunn for "Visions and Dreams: The Centenary of Goodwood State School 1900 - 2000", p8, compiled by Robyn Housechildt and Sonia Furlonger.