Wiradjuri Nation: Triamble Valley Aboriginals P.36

Jim Birtles
Jim Birtles

Aboriginal tribes and customs—Triamble Valley

There were two aboriginal tribes in the Triamble, Macquarie River region. The Aboriginal name for the Macquarie River was Wambool, meaning ‘meandering’.

The tribe Thomas Charles Codogan Sutter first encountered in early 1830 was the Waradgerie tribe, and no instances were ever recorded of them attacking the early white settlers. They were said to have been an off-shoot of the main tribe who lived further down the river and Triamble Creek, who were known as the Wompanjee tribe.

It is not known for certain where the tribal boundary was placed on the river, but it is known that the Wompanjee held the area west of Suttor’s Long Point, on to the basalt plain overlooking the Macquarie, where a large cairn of stones, plus several smaller cairns, marked the boundaries between them and the Waradgerie.

The diet of the two tribes consisted of fish from the river and wallabies, kangaroos, opossums, ducks etc. The little rock wallabies were said to have been very plentiful around the boulder strewn drop from the tablelands to the river on one side, and the Triamble Creek on the other. I, as a boy, played in the small natural caves formed amongst these boulders, and remember how smooth the wallabies had worn them.

Aboriginal cooking:

These aboriginals had a very simple and unique method of cooking the fish and ducks. They would simply cake the fish and ducks with clay, then lay them on a bed of hot coals. When cooked, the clay would be broken away, taking the scales and skin of the fish and the feathers of the ducks. The insides would shrivel into a hard ball.

Aboriginal clothing and craft

Apart from their diet, opossums were highly sought by these indigenous people for their skins, these they used to make articles of clothing and rugs etc. By sewing them together with bark fibre. This they obtained from the inner bark of kurrajong and stringybark trees. I believe they preferred the kurrajong. The women were very proficient at weaving baskets out of these bark fibres. These were used for carrying food etc.

One method they used in catching these opossums was to cut them out of hollow trees. It is said they could smell opossums in a tree. This I do not disbelieve as they possessed much greater senses than ours; for instance, their eyesight was phenomenal, they could see items quite plainly that we would require magnifying glasses to see, and in distance we would requite field-glasses to equal them. Once they had found a possum in a tree, they would chop a hole in the tree trunk, using their primitive stone axes. When I was a boy, many of these trees were evident, my father and uncles pointed them out to me; where they had cut their holes would be overgrown, a tree’s method of healing, but in many instances the back marks of their stone axes were very evident. With ring-barking killing the trees for clearing purposes, very few of these trees can be found today.

Unfortunately, very little is known of these aboriginals, except that they were excellent stockmen and proved very valuable assistants to the Suttors on their Triamble holdings.

Child minding

These aboriginals had an unique and safe way of keeping their piccaninnies secure when their mothers were otherwise occupied. They would dig a round hole in the ground, just deep enough for the child’s head to be above ground, then throw in an opossum or kangaroo shin rug, then place the piccaninny in, and he or she was perfectly safe until the mother returned. These holes were dug with what they called pogen sticks and these were made from specially selected hardwood, to which they had ground sharp points. These tools were practically essentially for the women, and they used them for all digging purposes.

Trading

My father told me many years ago, as the aboriginals on the Macquarie and Triamble valley had ample fish, but no flint stones to make their stone axes, spearheads and skinning knives etc from. They would meet with the tribes from the higher country in the Hargraves area, names of which remain unknown. Where the meeting place was has long been lost in the mists of time, but here a barter system was adopted. The tribes from the higher country, where flint stones were plentiful, would barter flint for fish from the river. This was said to have begun countless years before the white man, and continued until the black tribe died out.

Tool making

Their method of making tools from flint stones was quite simple, especially their spear heads and skinning knives. They would simply place larger flint stones in a fire, which would cause them to explode and shatter, and from these fragments they would select long pieces for the spear heads. For skinning knives they would select flat pieces, that would have a smooth side for their thumb, tapering off to a sharp edge. I have found and still find skinning knives and the odd spear head in the paddocks of ‘Kelloshiel’.

Exactly the same method was used in making their scrapers. Scrapers were very important implements to the indigenous people, widely used by both male and female. The women used them for scraping fat and meat off the skins of kangaroos and possums etc when preparing them for rugs and articles of clothing. Broken bones were used also as scrapers as well as flints.

The males used them for smoothing all their wooden weapons, such as boomerangs, spears, nulla nullas etc. I believe they also used sand, and for a final very smooth finish, charcoal and ashes.

When one considers the workmanship in making boomerangs crafted to such a fine balance as to make them to return, with only their primitive stone axes to cut them out and roughly form them, then flint and scrapers and sand for a final finish, one must admire their skill and perseverance.

Making their stone axes was a different matter. These necessitated many laborious hours, grinding edges and grinding them into shape. For this purpose they used sandstone. The old hands knew of several spots where this sandstone was available, and where they had their grinding sites. They also used sandstone for sharpening their pogen sticks.

Flint stones

I will now divert from the aboriginals to relate a humorous incident that occurred years ago. Writing of these flint stones reminded me of the incident. My father, brothers and myself, plus a young city cousin, George Sherwin, were digging out wild tobacco bush in ‘Burrawilla’ on the side of the steep hill, opposite the slab hut. As the morning progressed, Dad sent George off to boil the billy for lunch. As time went by, with no call from George to announce that the billy was boiled, we thought we had better go and investigate. As we approached the fire, guided by the smoke, George called out, ‘Don’t go there! Someone is trying to shoot us!

Upon investigation we discovered George had lit the fire in a gully on top of a bed of flint stones, which were exploding and flying out in all directions, sounding very like rifle shots—what a sight—the billy tipped over and the water all split and George flat on his belly behind a large tree. This gives you some idea of how flint stones react to fire.

When one studies the formation of the basalt tablelands in the Triamble Macquarie River area, one cannot help being intrigued with the formation. The tablelands drop off into steep gorges, fringed by basalt boulders resembling mediaeval fortresses. These gorges sweep down through series of small creeks and gullies into the river, then rise up again on the other side, miles away per ground, but only a short distance as the crow flies. Scattered through these gorges and hillocks of basalt are slabs of what was at one time molten lava, with smooth water worn stones embedded in them, also several outcrops of small basalt hills, topped with white or off-white waterworn stones. The Triamble aboriginals had their version of what caused this unusual land formation.

‘There was a huge fire spitting out of the top of Mt Canoblas, also spitting out masses of molten lava which flowed down through a depression from Mt Canoblas to below Triamble. The devils causing this eruption became very violent, causing the earth to shake and tremble, which burst the lake at Bathurst. The huge mass of water from this lake, flowed down through the molten lava, cutting out the gorges as we see them today.’

JACK DRISCOLL

The last of the Triamble aboriginals that I can remember was a half-cast named Jack Driscoll. Jack’s father, also named Jack, was an Irishman and his mother a full-blood aboriginal. To which tribe she belonged, I have no idea, but the location of their home would have been in the Wompanjee tribe area. Jack senior has been described as a squat, nuggetty powerful man. He was very proficient at working pit-saws in saw-pits.

SAW PITS

Saw-pits were very primitive, but effective method of cutting building material; one must remember this was back in the mid 1800s, years before the innovation of suitable engines to drive the circular saws as we see them today. All the original floor-boards on the verandah of the Triamble Homestead were but in this manner by Jack Driscoll senior, in a saw-pit at ‘Echo’ at the head of ‘Dirt Hole Gully’ - the depression of this saw-pit can just be found today.

There were many of these saw-pits in existence many years ago—one was on ‘Kelloshiel’ in the small paddock I named the Saw-Pit, due to its existence. When I purchased Kelloshiel, this was all portion of a large paddock and this area was covered with dead timber, and the saw-pit plus its timber framework were all destroyed in the timber clearing process, but the depression of the pit can still be found. I was told much of the timber on the ‘Weroona;’ homestead, built by Herbert Mattick in 1860 was cut in this pit. The Weroona homestead, I think, was pulled down in 1910 by WBN Suttor, and moved to ‘Beechworth’.

To construct a saw-pit, firstly a long hole, eight or ten feet in length would be dug, deep enough for a man to stand up in, the sides of this pit would be timbered for added strength, with a timber frame around the top. Logs would then be rolled onto this framework for sawing. This was done by two men, the man on top would put the greatest effort into pushing the saw down, biting into the timber, the man underneath, his main job was to push the saw up for the next downward thrust, and so on. This man had a very unpleasant job as he had to work in a shower of sawdust all day. Working saw-pits was an extremely hard and laborious work for both men. The saws used in these pits were large saws, similar to cross-cut saws. I have two in my possession, given to me by the late WBM Suttor, and he said they were used in the saw-pit on ‘Kelloshiel’.

More on Jack Driscoll

I have no recollection of Jack Driscoll senior or his wife, but have very vivid memories of Jack junior. He lived on the bank of the Macquarie River, near the junction of a creek called ‘Racketts Gulph”. Both Jack’s parents died there, and are buried on a small spur down the river from their home. These graves would now be under many feet of water from the Burrendong Dam. Jack lived there until some time in the late 1830s and worked for my father on ‘Echo’ and his brother Hubert Suttor of ‘Leitaleinna’, and later another brother, Charles after he acquired ‘Leitaleinna’. Jack, although a half-caste, retained many of the black instincts and superstitions. For instance, he would never step under the roof of a white man’s dwelling, nor would he accept food from a white woman’s hand. Jack was very fond of goat meat. When he lived on the river, wild goats could be found on the opposite side. When Jack wished to shot one, or a rabbit for meat, he would only take one bullet—when queried in this respect he would always reply “I only want one”. Here the hunting instincts of his mother’s forebears came to the fore—he would stalk his game for hours, with goats, maybe days, until he was certain to kill with one shot.

Poor old Jack would now and again break out and go on a drinking spree. Usually he would walk the nineteen or twenty miles from his home to Hill End. We, as youngsters, would see him trudging along the road in front of ‘Echo’ and were fully aware what he was about. Sometimes on a very heavy spree, he would stay away a fortnight.

When his mother died, his father having predeceased her, Jack decided to report her death to the Stuart Town police. Possibly after trudging sixteen miles through the river hills in the summer heat, he had developed a capital thirst and thought he would have a ‘quick one’ on the way to the Police Station. Unfortunately, this ‘quick one’ developed into many. As a result, some time elapsed before he sobered up sufficiently to remember the purpose of his trip. (Such was life in those days, living in such isolation) Some time later, a well meaning acquaintance, obviously not knowing of his mother’s death, asked Jack how she was. Jack possibly not fully understanding the query replied “Oh, she was very plurry high! Thank you kindly”. Jack always added the words ‘kindly’ to ‘thank you’.

 

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Information

This chapter on Wiradjuri history was written by CE Suttor in 1993 and given to Aboriginal Elder Jim Birtles of Mudgee., who contributed it to this site


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