Billy Moore

Billy Moore - Tweed Regional Museum Collection
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.

The photograph above 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. Nevertheless 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.

Billy Moore's breastplate

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.

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.

Research and text contributed by Ian Fox.

Further reading

  • Tweed Daily News, 21 August 1946, “Pioneer Recalls Famous Tweed Aboriginal”
  • Tweed Daily News, 16 October 1924, “Death of an Aboriginal”
  • C.J. Knight, C.1950, Unpublished manuscript “Early history of the Tweed”
  • Ian Fox, 2016, “Aboriginal Breastplates of the Northern Rivers”. Tweed Shire Council, Murwillumbah

To explore cultural stories of the local landscape, visit the Museum's Land | Life | Culture exhibition at the Murwillumbah branch.