jim birtles

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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Wiradjuri Nation: Triamble Valley Aboriginals, cont. P.38

Wiradjuri Land — Holy land
wiradjuri land grass trees

Provided them with several edible berries, but not blackberries or briars. Blackberries are not a native plant of Australia, they were imported into Hill End, possibly in the late 1860s by an unsuccessful goldminer, who thought up the idea of brewing blackberry wine to sell to the miners, but unfortunately for him (‘Blackberry Tommy’ as he was nicknamed) before his blackberries had matured and produced, the gold at Hill End cut out—but not the blackberries. They have spread and become a very severe menace in Australia. The briars were introduced int Australia in the mid 1800s by Mrs Janet Rankin (one of your ancestors) wife of pioneer George Ranken, as a flower in her garden at ‘Kelloshiel’ Bathurst.
We must cast our minds back to those years long gone, to before European settlers came with their sheep and cattle—what would the native grasses have been like then, with nothing but kangaroos and wallabies to eat it? I imagine it would have been quite long and coarse, providing ample seeds for the women to gather. These seeds they would grind, using specially selected grinding stones to make their flour, from this flour they would make small cakes, quite hard as they hadn’t any baking powder or they would make a paste and eat it raw. This about takes care of the food requirements.
There being no predators in Australia, such as lions and tigers etc. against which they would require weapons of defence, their spears, boomerangs, nulla nullas were quite adequate, as these were sufficient to kill kangaroos, wallabies etc for food. Apart from food, the only other use they had for weapons would be fighting tribal wars, which it appears, occurred quite frequently. These tribal wars were nearly always brought about by the infringement of members of one tribe into another tribes territory, or by a warrior from one tribe stealing a woman from an adjoining tribe. These instances were always very violently opposed, as is explained by Jane Piper in her atticle.
The aboriginals had a very strong moral code—much stronger than ours with our European laws, if a man covets another’s wife, the matter is usually resolved in the divorce courts. In tribal laws, the woman’s husband is quite entitled to kill the other man—in fact, this is expected of him by the tribal elders. Any interference with an under age girl bears one penalty—death.
Here again, the laws of the two cultures come into conflict, as under white man’s laws those carrying out the sentences would be arrested and tried, and if proved guilty would be sentenced to death.
Aboriginals were permitted more than one wife, especially the tribal elders, the number appears to depend on the husband’s ability to support them, also it was the custom to promise a girl child, when a wee piccaninny, or often at the time of birth, to a tribal elder. I have not read of an instance of the appointed husband forcing his attentions upon such a girl before maturity, as is often quoted—quite the reverse. These girls when they began to mature and go through the changes of life as all girls do, were placed exclusively under their mother’s care and were guarded very closely. She, the mother, had full say when she considered the girl had reached a sufficient stage of maturity for marriage (age did not enter into it). Then the mother would take her daughter to the gunyah of her promised husband, and she was then considered his wife. This custom was the cause of a tremendous amount of discontent, especially when a teenage girl was forced to accept a husband, who in many instances was in excess of sixty years old, especially when she already had her favourite amongst the young tribal bucks. This often resulted in the girl and her young buck running away. This was the cause of more internal upsets in the tribes than anything else I have ever read about, as there was only one penalty for them when caught. The young buck would be speared to death, but there is a grey area here as regards the girl, as to whether she was spared and accepted into the tribe and by her husband, or also killed.
I am not sure if the practice of more than one wife was the custom in this area, as Jane Piper, in her article, only makes mention of one woman, but it was the accepted custom in the north of Australia and Arnham Land. The allocating of female picininnies at birth was practised extensively in all areas.
Ifs and buts
We now enter the ‘ifs and buts’. If Antonio had never planted his potato patch, or if he had a little moe understanding and realised these natives would not have understood his potatoes were not there for the taking, as were yams. Also, if those early European settlers had looked upon the natives as people; it appears in several instances many of them looked upon the natives as some sort of noxious animals which had to be exterminated. In addition, where have British soldiers ever fired upon unarmed, defenceless women and children, to the extent of utter extermination, as happened in the Capertee slaughter? If all these instances had not occurred, one cannot help wondering what would have been the eventual situation between the early settlers and the natives in the Bathurst area.  Would they have learned to live in harmony together, or would the natives, resenting the occupation of their lands, and thinking the white settlers were weak and soft, have raised up against them?  These facts we will never know. One thing my descendants can be sure of—your ancestors had no part in any atrocities or ill-treatment of these indigenous people. This fact is firmly confirmed by the rements of the Wiradjurie tribe, wishing the leader Windradyne to be buried on ‘Brucedale’, where they must have felt assured he was being laid to final rest on friendly soil.
As with the Bularidee, Waradgurie and Wampanjee tribes of the Turon Macaquarie and Triamble areas, the Wiradjurie tribe who roamed the Bathurst district also appears to have disappeared, almost without trace.


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