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Indigenous_map_websize - Copyright Tweed Shire CouncilMap, First People of the Tweed Valley. Courtesy of Ian Fox.

Our history

Aboriginal sites and places are recognised by traditional custodian descendants as tangible evidence of our ancestor’s cultural practice and traditions; as such, they retain a very real and meaningful value through to the present day.

Scientific assessment of cultural evidence from some selected sites supports the fact that Aboriginal people were living in the Tweed from at least 10,000 years ago, and a Carbon-14 dated midden and occupation site on Stradbroke Island (in South East Queensland) is recorded as more than 20,000 years old. Our Aboriginal oral tradition tells a story of ‘Three Brothers’ who came to this land and its people in the ‘Dreaming’, gave the lore, and formed the nucleus of tribes with whom today’s traditional custodian descendants identify.

A common feature of our Aboriginal identity is language, which is known in the Tweed and further south as Bundjalung; in south east Queensland people prefer Yugambeh; and further west, in Kyogle Shire, people use Githabul as both a language and name for group identification. The language dialect for the Tweed is known as Ngandowal, a name referring to the people who say ‘Ngando’ for the word ‘who’ or ‘somebody’. However, part of the Tweed Coast and south to the Byron area is Minyungbal, where the word ‘Minyung’ means ‘what’ or ‘something’ and can be used as identification for people of this area.

There is general acceptance among our Tweed Aboriginal community for the presence of three main groups in the Tweed River Valley. These were the Goodjinburra people for the Tweed Coastal area, the Tul-gi-gin people for the North Arm, and the Moorang-Moobar people for the Southern and Central Arms around Wollumbin (Mt Warning). However, European settlers used other names and described them as Chubboburri, Gandowal, Duthurinbar, Wirangiroh, Wollumbin, Murwillumbah, Ngarrumbul, Kitabul, and Ngarartbul. These names largely reflected a lack of understanding of our culture, our language and our connection to each other.

Population numbers of these three groups are known to have fallen dramatically, before and after permanent European settlement, mainly through the unchecked spread of European sourced illness and disease. Research suggests that prior to any European contact each of the three groups may have contained from 500 to 700 members, distributed in smaller family groups across what was then their area of ‘country’. With a loss of access to food resources, death from illness and disease, and intolerance shown by some European settlers, population numbers plummeted and were only about 10% of original numbers within 60 years of settlement.

The Tweed Valley around Wollumbin (Mt Warning) was rich in natural resources and supported many plants and animals which were collected and hunted for food by Aboriginal people. Traditional people managed the landscape and avoided overexploiting these resources in a way that is poorly understood and little recognised in today’s wider community. Although camp locations were moved regularly to allow resource recovery some natural resources, such as rock outcrops suitable for the manufacture of stone tools, were used extensively for vast periods of time.

High altitude topographical features were often the focus of social and spiritual custom and the location of many of our Aboriginal sites directly reflects the connection and significance value of these places. Wollumbin retains a high cultural and spiritual status beyond the Tweed Valley and this is reinforced by our knowledge of different stories with regional group gatherings for ceremony and cultural expression at certain sites across the Valley. Descendants of traditional custodians maintain that connection and support initiatives to protect and preserve our heritage sites and places.

Cultural sites and places in today’s landscape

We retain levels of cultural confidentiality within our Aboriginal community and we may prefer that certain site details and exact locations are not disclosed. Landowners who have recorded sites on their property are encouraged to respect our cultural traditions. Traditional custodian descendants make no claim to own land, but simply ask to be informed about unrecorded sites. Cultural tradition includes a protocol for information access concerning certain recorded sites and the contact procedure given below should be followed. The Tweed/Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council (TBLALC) is also willing to provide property owners with advice concerning the possible occurrence of Aboriginal sites and measures to protect and preserve the several hundred known and identified sites within Tweed Shire.

Additionally, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) have a legislated responsibility to record Aboriginal sites and places and this is undertaken through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) database known as the Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System (AHIMS). Should any Aboriginal sites or artifacts be located, then in accordance with legislation the NPWS Northern Rivers Region Aboriginal Heritage Conservation Officer, Ashley Moran (Phone: 02 6627 0205), should be advised. The TBLALC may also assist with advice on site registration.

Contact details for Aboriginal cultural information in Tweed Shire are as follows:

Tweed Shire Council Community Development Officer - Aboriginal
P.O. Box 816
Murwillumbah NSW 2484
Phone: 02 6670 2492

Tweed Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council
P.O. Box 6967
Tweed Heads South NSW 2486
Phone: 07 55361 763

Contributed by the Tweed Shire Council Aboriginal Advisory Committee

Billy Moore

Billy Moore
Billy Moore. Tweed Regional Museum Collection. pp458

Billy Moore was a full-blood Aboriginal man of the Tul-gi-gin clan, a Tweed sub-group of the greater regional Bundjalung/Yugambeh people. He is believed to have been born in the vicinity of Currumbin, circa 1860’s, and died at Ukerebah Island on 13 October 1924.

Billy was a very tall well built man and history records that he was an excellent axe man, credited with clearing trees from much of the Nobby’s Creek area for the Osborne family, who were among the first European settlers to that area. He was one of the best trackers on the Tweed and his skill in throwing a boomerang was uncanny. He was also recognised as the last man on the Tweed who could climb any type of tree using just a small Aboriginal axe and piece of vine.
Billy had two sons, Dunnie and Coolum, and his best friend was another Aboriginal man, Long Jimmy. An obituary for Billy in the Tweed Daily records that his death was due to kidney disease, and that he was well known, having worked for many of the farmers on the Lower Tweed. Although he had a funeral service at the Tweed Heads cemetery it is believed he was subsequently buried by his people somewhere on the hills around Nobby’s Creek.
This photograph of Billy was taken in later years and suggests a man saddened by the many changes to his way of life and impacts on his culture and beliefs. Never-the-less he is one of the few Tweed Aboriginal men of that time who was widely recognised and managed in some way to accommodate European values.

Further reading:

Tweed Daily News – 21 August 1946, “Pioneer Recalls Famous Tweed Aboriginal”

Tweed Daily News – 16 October 1924, “Death of an Aboriginal”

Recollections of C.J. Knight – c.1950, typed manuscript TRM

Billy Moore's breastplate

Billy Moore's breastplate. S0776-98

Billy Moore’s brass breastplate inscribed “Billy Moore – the famous Tweed aboriginal” was found under a log with his boomerang in Bray’s Scrub at Kynumboon in 1920.

Aboriginal breastplates, also known as kingplates, brassplates, or gorgets, were given to selected individuals all around Australia by Europeans for a period spanning 114 years, from 1816 until 1930.

Breastplates were of varied shapes and sizes but all are marked or inscribed with the identity and place of the individual on whom they were bestowed. Their purpose was an attempt to recognise leadership and good character among Aboriginal people who were judged “worthy” by non-Aboriginal settlers; they were not necessarily recognised or endorsed by Aboriginal community groups themselves.

Breastplates can be considered a cross-cultural artefact that focussed attention and gave some recognition to Aboriginal people over a long period of upheaval and cultural transformation. They are of contested value because their inscription of recognition can be categorised to included Chiefs, Kings, Queens, Royalty, or Service and Specified Recognition of some kind, all concepts of European or Western origin.

Billy Moore’s breastplate was an attempt to recognise his status in a growing Tweed European community and a vastly depleted Traditional Aboriginal community. It is not known if he valued this recognition, or in fact if he chose to wear it, but it can be assumed he was encouraged to do so.

Further reading:

Tweed Daily News – 21 August 1946, “Pioneer Recalls Famous Tweed Aboriginal”

Tania Cleary, 1993, “Poignant Regalia 19th Century Aboriginal Images & Breastplates”, publisher – Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Sydney

Billy Moore's boomerang

Billy Moore's boomerang
Billy Moore's boomerang. NK208-98

This is the boomerang believed to have been found with Billy Moore’s brass breastplate under a log in Bray’s scrub at Kynumboon in 1920.

Boomerangs were traditionally made with stone hand tools and this example shows markings consistent with bladed cutting tools used to form and carve the correct shape. Although it is made from a hardwood (possibly an acacia species) it has been heat treated for further strength, hence the dark colour and staining. Damage is evident at one end.

Billy was known to be a skilled thrower of the boomerang and it is likely that he kept this boomerang for many years as a treasured possession. Apart from its use for throwing demonstrations of returning ability, Billy’s boomerang may have also been used for more practical reasons to hunt small animals and birds.

At the time of first contact with Europeans, Aboriginal men were seen to always carry an axe, boomerang, and several spears. Despite working as an axeman and clearing the forest for European settlers, it appears Billy maintained his cultural traditions, especially the skills of boomerang throwing.

Further reading:

Tweed Daily News – 21 August 1946, “Pioneer Recalls Famous Tweed Aboriginal”

Research and text contributed by Ian Fox.

To explore cultural stories of the local landscape, visit Tweed Regional Museum Murwillumbah's Land | LIfe | Culture exhibition.
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