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Hunter Valley Indigenous Notes and Links
Boardman of the Lake Macquarie Tribe. National Gallery of Victoria
Indigenous Names and Events - A collection of indigenous information including names, events and customs of tribes in the Hunter Valley, Port Stephens, Lake Macquarie and Central Coast districts of New South Wales.

Hunter Valley Place Names - Notes on the origins and locations of Hunter Valley place names including many aboriginal place names.

1795 - Charles Grimes - Account of the Natives of Port Stephens from An Account of the English Colony of New South Wales.

1796 - David Collins records in his narrative An Account of the English Colony of New South Wales that in June 1796 a group in a fishing boat returned from a bay near Port Stephens and brought with them several large pieces of coal which they found some little distance from the beach, lying in considerable quantity on the surface of the ground. Collins remarked that the fishermen had conducted themselves improperly while on shore, two of them were severely wounded by the natives, one of whom died soon after he reached the hospital. (p.328)

1800 - Discovery of Lake Macquarie - The Master of the Martha was conducted by some natives to a spot at a small distance from the mouth, where he found an abundance of coal

1808 - Murder at Newcastle - 1808

1816 - 1818 - Corrobborree, or Dance of the Natives of New South Wales., engraver Walter Preston. Artist Joseph Lycett. Depicted second from left in this image is Burigon, a leader of the Awakabal people of the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie district - National Portrait Gallery

1818 - A Description of Newcastle Aboriginal people by traveller W.B. Cramp written in 1818

1819 - John Howe's Expedition

1821 - John Bingle's excursion to Lake Macquarie

1823 - Trial of Hatherly and Jackie

1825 - An account of Missionary Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld's first few months in Newcastle in 1825 in which he provides descriptions of the native tribe and their customs

1825 - Ellen Bundock's Memoirs - Ellen Bundock's description of King Jerry of the Merton tribe

1826 - Robert Dawson's Arrival in Australia and Travels North from Port Stephens 1826

1830 - Announcement from the Sydney Gazette of Rev. Threlkeld's Translation of the Awabakal Language

1831 - Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell's description of the remnants of the aboriginal tribe of Brisbane Water in 1831.

1836 - Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell and John Waugh Drysdale encounters with the Goulburn River tribe

1836 - NSW Government Records relating to Aboriginal People – mid north coast, NSW including Port Stephens, Gloucester and Barrington - Hunter Living Histories

Boardman 1836 plate in A series of twelve profile portraits of Aborigines of New South Wales, published by J. G. Austin, Sydney, 1836 William Fernyhough

1839 - United States Exploring Expedition to Lake Macquarie in 1839 with mention of indigenous guides.

Biraban and John Mander Gill

Memoirs of Rev. Richard George Boodle describing the remnants of the Muswellbrook tribe - 1848

Reminiscences of Aboriginal Customs - Hunter and Paterson Rivers

Barbarisms - From The Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal people of Lake Macquarie - Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld......... Certain Barbarisms have crept into use introduced by sailors, stockmen and others who have paid no attention to the aboriginal tongue, in the use of which both blacks and whites labour under the mistaken idea that each one is conversing in the other's language. The following list contains the most common:

Barbarism Meaning Aboriginal
Boojery good murrorong
Bail no keawai
Bogy to bathe nurongkilliko
Bimble Earth Purrai
Boomiring a weapon turrama
Budgel sickness munni
Cudgel tobacco kuttul (smoke)
Gammon falsehood nakoiyaye
Gibber a stone tunung
Gummy a spear warre
Goonyer hut kokere
Hillimung a shield koreil
Jin a wif porikunbai
Jerrund fear kinta
Kangaroo an animal karai
Carbon large Kanwul
Mije little mitti; warea
Mogo axe baibai
Murry many muraiai
Pickaninney child wounai
Piyaller to speak wiyelliko
Tuggererrer cold takara
Wikky bread kunto
Waddy a cudgel Kotirra
Wommerrer a weapon yakirri


In the far-off days of the first decade of the nineteenth century, the locality that we know as Dungog was called by its primitive inhabitants 'Tunkok' or 'Tungog,' both of which words mean, in the Awabakal dialect, the place of thinly wooded hills. The blacks living in the district that extends from just about where Brookfield now is to the 'headwaters of the Chichester and the Williams belonged to a tribe known as the Gringai. They were distributed over the district in local groups known as 'Nurra' and were located at distances about eight miles apart in what the historians of those days termed villages. The mia-mias were of the most primitive description, being merely a few sheets of bark placed against; a convenient log, or bushes roughly planted alongside some huge forest giant.

A census taken by Dr McKinlay in the early thirties showed that there were about 250 blacks in the valley of the Williams. Across the range, on the watershed of the Paterson, was another, and an important branch of this tribe with whom the natives of the Dungog district inter married, and Dr McKinlay and Mr J. W. Boydell record that these tribes married also with those of the tribes on the Gloucester watershed.

Below Dungog, and extending to Lake Macquarie, the Awabakal tribe was the most important and their language is recorded in interesting treatises written by the Rev. Threlkeld. Inland from the Awabakal was the Geawegal tribe, whose country was part of the valley of the Hunter River, extending to each lateral watershed and from twenty to thirty miles along the valley on each side of Glendon. These aborigines spoke the language of, and intermarried with those of Maitland, less frequently with those of the Paterson River and rarely with those of Mussel Brook. They were always in dread of war with the Kamilaroi, a fierce and warlike tribe, who followed down the head-waters of the Hunter from the Talbragar to the Nunmurra waters, and even occasionally made raids as far as Jerry's Plains. A section of the Kamilaroi occupied the upper waters flowing into the Hunter and Goulburn, and the easy gap from the west probably afforded them ready access for their raids. Continue reading


Old Tom died in 1923
.......... Perpetuating Hunter River Identity's Memory A link with the past was broken when Tom Dillon died at Newcastle hospital recently at the age of 90 years 'Old Tom' was a well-known figure in Newcastle, and had many friends, who not only respected the flne old man, but had learned to love him. He was born on the Hawkesbury River, but early in his life was taken 'up country' by one of the pastorallsts of the upper Hunter.
There he was taught station work, and became an expert in handling blood stock. As a trusty farm hand his career in the Hunter valley is well-known. In his declining years he entered the mission station at Karuah, where he received every care and attention, and always had a hut to himself. It was only when he reached eighty and was unable to do any further work, that he could be persuaded to leave farm life.

This flne old native had many friends, who attended to his wants during the twilight of his life, and to many he proved an entertaining companion especially on the days of Governor Gipps, of which time he had a vivid recollection, and being an intelligent man was able to tell many stories of the early life in Australia. When 'Old Tom' died an effort was made to have him buried in one of the cemeteries accessible to the Hawksbury. But there was no public fund available which could spare a few pounds to mark the last resting place of the final representative of that great tribe of people, with whom Governor Phillip and his successors were so closely in touch for over 70 years. However, official callousness has conferred an historic favor on Newcastle, for Tom's grave in Sandgate cemetery is being marked in such a substantial manner as will perpetuate his memory - The Newcastle Sun 4 August 1923


Harry Brown of the Lake Macquarie tribe accompanied Ludwig Leichhardt on his 1844 expedition

In July, 1844, Leichhardt was back in Sydney, and on August 13, 1844, left for Brisbane in the Sovereign steamer. He took James Calvert, John Roper, John Murphy (a boy of 16), a ticket of-leave man named Bill Phillips, and Harry Browne, a Newcastle aboriginal. On the Downs he added Pemberton Hodgson,- Charles Gilbert (a collector for Gould), Caleb (an American negro), and Charley (a Bathurst aboriginal), but Caleb and Hodgson returned to the Downs after the first month, leaving Leichhardt with five white men and two aboriginals, a small party to face that long journey through wild, unknown country to Port Essington. His provisions included 12001b. of flour, 2001b. of sugar,801b. of tea, and 201b. of gelatine. They had 301b. of powder, eight bags of shot, chiefly 4 and 6, seven muzzle loading guns, four pistols, and two cutlasses. His instruments included sextant, chronometer, Katers compass, artificial horizon, and small thermometer. Thus that small party journeyed on across creeks and rivers, through thick Brigalow scrubs, over rough ranges, through country where game and fish were abundant, the aboriginals either friendly or keeping out of sight, eating goannas, opossums, flying foxes, eels, fish, carpet snakes, mussels, and any bird or animal that could be cooked and eaten. Flying foxes were a favourite dish, and are excellent if roasted on red coals. The long-continued safety from the blacks led to a suicidal want of common precautions, especially at night, and on the night of June 28, 1845, the party camped beside a small lagoon on a box-tree flat on the present Nassau River, in latitude 15.55. Though surrounded by hostile and dangerous blacks, they camped in tents far apart, PhiUip3 actually on the opposite side of the lagoon, and there was nobody on watch. The blacks made a night attack, with a shower of woomera spears and a chorus of fearful yells. The party were all asleep, and even the fires burning brightly to reveal their position. The stupidity of it all seems incredible. Even the guns were not capped. Calvert and Roper received several spears, and were severely bruised by blows from the woomeras. A spear was driven into Gilbert s left lung, and he walked over to where Charley and Leichhardt were standing by the fire, gave his gun to Charley, saying, The blacks have killed me, drew the spear, and died at once. Drawing the spear was the very act he should not have done. How all the others escaped death on that unfortunate night passes all comprehension. Just 38 years afterwards I stood by that lagoon and heard the story from blacks who were among those who speared Gilbert. They told me that Leichhardts two blacks had improperly interfered with two aboriginal women a couple of days before, and the men were seeking revenge. Roper told me the same story in one of several letters I received from him when he was stock inspector at Merriwa, in New South Wales. The blacks told me that two of their people were killed and three wounded, and that when Leichhardts party went away, they dug up the body of Gilbert and cooked and ate it. So Gilberts grave, like that of Leichhardt, is lost for ever to the knowledge of mankind - The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate 12 August 1922

TREE CARVING - Jerry's Plains

Groups of trees carved by the aborigines are to be found in many parts of the colony. The carvings are sometimes irregular and fantastic, yet those upon each tree present a distinct pattern of ornamentation, every part of which seems to have some affinity to the rest. The markings upon an opossum cloak, such as used to be worn by the blacks, bear a strong resemblance in many instances to the lines carved upon the trees. But occasionally may be seen the ruder outlines of a human figure in a combative or in an exulting attitude, together with representations of waddies, boomerangs, and other weapons. The lines are almost invariably cut through the bark, and into the wood of the tree, so as to be next thing to indelible. A very fine specimen of elaborate carving of this description exists at present in a good state of preservation about three miles on the Singleton side of Jerrys Plains, and adjacent to the estate of Birnam Wood, formerly the property of John Smith, Esq. The box trees upon several acres of land are there carved in a great variety of styles. This carving is said to have been done in commemoration of a victory obtained upon that spot by the Hunter River tribe over a tribe which had come over the mountains. It is obviously a mere old tradition, however, derived from the natives themselves, for the carving has an appearance of antiquity which leads one to believe that several generations have passed away since it was executed - Australian Town and Country Journal 15 October 1870.


An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal, the people of Awaba, Lake Macquarie, being an account of their language, traditions and customs- Lancelot Threlkeld

Rev. Threlkeld's Report on the Aborigines in 1836 - Sydney Gazette 16 July 1836

Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales - R.H. Matthews

Hunter Valley Aboriginal Arts and Culture - Wollombi

Heritage listing for NSW Aboriginal cave- Australian Geographic

Weaving program connects students with Indigenous culture in Hunter Valley schools - ABC News 2017

Mixed-race unions and Indigenous demography in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, 1788-1850 - Greg Blyton and John Ramsland

Koori History - Traditional Aboriginal Clothing - The oldest known cloak is the Hunter Valley cloak, which forms part of the collections held at the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington D.C. The cloak was collected in 1839-1840, is made of both possum and kangaroo skin and measures 146 by 125cm.

Australian Dress Register - Aboriginal cloak

New England's History Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England Hunter Valley Aboriginal Groups

Aborigines of the Hunter Valley - A Study of Colonial Records- Helen Brayshaw - University of Newcastle

The Percy Haslem Collection- University of Necastle

Deep Time Project- University of Newcastle

Aboriginal History of the Paterson district

Scraps of Early History - The Blacks - Vocabularly of the Williams River Aborigines - Dungog Chronicle 12 January 1906

The Aborigines and Their Customs - Two articles in the Australian Town and Country Journal by an acquaintance of an early Hunter Valley Settler c. 1828. Descriptions of chief Wallambrah, and of hunting, cooking, a "Boorah" ceremony which took place 16 miles from Maitland and fire lighting - Australian Town and Country Journal 29 April 1871; Australian Town and Country Journal 6 May 1871