Tuesday, 23 April 2013


by Dave Wheeler
   It was sometime in the 1960’s my grandmother, the late Vera Guard, told me about a fight to the death between two Aboriginal warriors during the 19th century in an area of land which eventually became the Queanbeyan showground. 
   I had forgotten about it, but was inspired to get as much information as possible on the subject after visiting Dave Reid’s excellent blog, http://www.davesact.com, in which he has collected a large amount of literature and references to literature regarding Canberra’s early indigenous post invasion history, including a reference to the duel I have referred to.  

   Pictured above is my dear old long departed grandmother, the late Vera Guard, in 1975. She was born in 1895 and lived in Queanbeyan from the early 1920’s to 1939, prior to moving to Ainslie. She was a great talker with a keen interest in history who would readily chat to anyone. When she was a young and newly married Queanbeyan resident she got to know many of the old time Queanbeyan residents, including John Gale, and in doing so acquired much historical knowledge regarding the district’s early days. I wish I had taken in more information from her than I did when I was younger.
   As Dave’s blog has collected many documents and links associated with Canberra’s indigenous past it makes it easier to overview much of the recorded history. It also highlights what is in real need of clarification; not only in relation to the duel in Queanbeyan, but other possible duels between indigenous Canberrans of the time.
    How some of those people died and where they are buried also needs further confirmation and/or clarification, and it is not my intention to provide my opinion on all of the matters, because for many of them I don’t really have one. What I hope to do in this essay however, is refer to particular records and newer literature on the subjects which provide particular viewpoints, and while doing so I will point out exactly where clarification or further information is required.
   In doing the latter I will concentrate on the task relating to one-on-one battles and a leadership issue. 
   I will not attempt to provide an historical timeline in regard to what happened to indigenous Canberrans from European invasion onwards. I can however, assist readers who do not have a good broad knowledge of recorded and contested post invasion history of ACT Aboriginals by giving appropriate links in the next paragraph.
  Other than reading the relevant material on Dave Reid’s site, http://www.davesact.com, in order for the reader to get a good broad overview of post-invasion ACT Aboriginal history, both contested and not contested, I recommend you view the site http://www.kunama.com/custlaw/CH2.HTM#RTFToC1 , in which you can read Steven Avery’s thesis entitled “Aboriginal and European Encounter in the Canberra Region- A question of change and the archaeological record.” Further reading is “Moth Hunters” by Josephine Flood and the Ngambri website http://www.ngambri.org as well as the Ngarigu website http://www.ngarigu.com.au/ and the Ngunawal website http://www.ngunawal.com.au .
   A very comprehensive source is a book entitled, “THE KAMBERRI- A history of Aboriginal families in the ACT and Surrounds.” ISBN 0958563748 Ann Jackson-Nakano. There will be differences of opinion between the various sources I have quoted. 
    Wiki under the heading of Ngunnawal on the following link also seems to give a good overall picture of things at the time I write, and it also explains that original ownership of the region is disputed by three groups, as are other matters relating to local history. As I'm a bystander I have no opinion on those matters. My apologies if I quote any group more than others. 
  According to the Ngambri website http://www.ngambri.org/who.php, Canberra Aboriginals had two groups, one being the Ngambri, which was led by Onyong, and the other being their neighbouring kin group, the Ngurmal, which was led by Noolup. The site says they combined into one group in the 1830’s.  These groups prior to their amalgamation have also been named by various sources as the Hagan-Hope and Nammitch groups, with Onyong leading the Hagan-Hope group and Noolup leading the Nammitch group. Shumack refers to the combined group as the County Murray or Canberra tribe.
  Common sense and most anthropologists will tell you that Australian Aboriginals, or just about any hunter gatherer society for that matter, did not have chiefs or kings in the European sense of the word. For a start, they could not be waited on by others as occurs with European and Asian royalty, as in hunter gatherer societies everyone had to pull their weight just to survive.
  Although initiated males who had proven leadership qualities would have been listened to and obeyed on many matters, an outsider could erroneously believe that this meant that such a person was a chief with 
absolute power.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me it would have been a case of the tribe. listening to and following whoever had superior knowledge and skill in given activities. If a tribal member had a proven ability as a hunter or tracker which was superior to that of other tribal members, but also had poor leadership skills, he would still be listened to and obeyed if he suggested a certain strategy related to the matter of hunting or tracking, as the tribe’s survival would be dependent on it. For further reading visit: http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/aboriginal_breastplates/creation_aboriginal_kings
   Before discussing Onyong and his relationship with Noolup I will address the matter of the duel on the site of the Queanbeyan Showground. Other than my grandmother’s story about it occurring, based on 1920’s Queanbeyan folklore, it is addressed in an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 11/6/27, written by Samuel Shumack, entitled “Canberra Blacks."See this part of Dave Reid’s blog: http://www.davesact.com/2011/02/canberra-blacks.html.
    Shumack tells of how he arrived in Canberra in 1856 and became acquainted with the local blacks as well as the whites who had arrived in the 1820’s.  He describes how in 1862 his father resided at Emu Bank, Ginninderra, and that the remnant of the County Murray or Canberra tribe, who were reduced to 64 members, were camped about a quarter of a mile away.  He said Jimmy the Rover (Noolup) was the chief of the tribe at the time as a result of the former chief Hong Kong (Onyong) having died.
    He does however, also say that Noolup had fought another black whose name he had forgotten for the leadership of the tribe, and that Noolup had killed the man on the site of the Queanbeyan showground. He said that when he left Canberra in 1915 there were two living witnesses of the fight, although he did not name them. 
   He was obviously not referring to Onyong being killed by Noolup at that stage as he had mentioned Onyong as being a former leader and having died. And when referring to Onyong's death elsewhere he has stated that he died at the hands of Noolup, which also arose as a result of a leadership quarrel, hence the confusion. 
    Shumack stated that it would take too much space to describe the combat in Queanbeyan, which is a pity. I would like to have known if they fought with traditional or more modern weapons. And if they did use traditional weapons was it at close quarters or was it from a distance using a woomera and spear?
     He went on to say that a few years  later "Babby,” an Aboriginal who became famous for his cricketing ability, defeated Jimmy (Noolup) at Ginninderra, but he does not give the cause of the fight or say whether or not it resulted in Noolup’s death. 
    The above photo was taken around 1890 in the Byron Bay area. Most tribal people grappled regularly, as it is an excellent exercise for developing strength, power, balance, mind-body awareness and reflexes. All of the latter are required for real battle and sometimes just for day-to-day survival. According to local Ngambri man, Paul House, the Ngambri also grappled regularly.

   For all we know he may have been referring to them taking off their possum skins and going outside for a sporting knuckle, although they were probably already outside when the dispute arose.
 Steven Avery’s thesis states in part: 
   During the 1840s it appears Hongyong's band maintained a close relationship with the Wright family at Lanyon, and after 1847, Cuppacumbalong. Meredith (1844: 100-101) recorded that there had always been rivalry between Hongyong and Jemmy the Rover over tribal leadership issues. Hongyong was later killed by Jemmy the Rover, as while the latter was away Hongyong had usurped his position as chief (Shumack 1977: 148-149), suggesting that the Nammitch and Hagen-Hope 'tribes' had united. This is also supported by the 1841 blanket issue at Queanbeyan, where Jemmy the Rover and Hongyong are listed as belonging to the same group (AONSW Blankets to Aborigines 4/1133.3). Hongyong died sometime between 1847 and 1852 and was buried at Cuppacumbalong on a rocky hill near the Tharwa bridge (Wright 1927: 56).”
  The Ngambri website http://www.ngambri.org/about.html states in part:
   "Onyong lived at Cotter's property, "The Forest"in the Naas Hills, just before he passed away, c 1852. On returning to Cuppacumbalong for a visit he got involved in a fight for leadership with his old friend and countryman, Noolup, (also known as Jimmy the Rover), and was killed."
   The Cotter they refer to was Garrett Cotter, an Irish convict, which the Cotter River was named after. Did the fight between Onyong and Noolup occur at Cuppacumbalong? According to the ACT Heritage Council document regarding Onyong's gravesite, on the link below, Shumack stated that the fight between Noolup and Onyong occurred at Lanyon. Either way, it would seem it occurred in the Tharwa district.
  The Ngambri website also mentions Onyong being buried on a hill that bears his name in the Tharwa region, and Noolup eventually dying in a cave at Booroomba Rocks in 1860. They are therefore in general agreement with Avery in relation to where Onyong was buried, and there is no doubt in my mind he is buried on the said hill in Tharwa.
   In John Gale’s 1927 book” Canberra History and Legends,” he quotes a long passage mainly from the diary of Samuel Shumack in which Shumack tells of how Jimmy the Rover (Noolup), after travelling north, procured a white wife and had to fight for his claim on her, which resulted in him killing his rival. (Pages 81 and 82). Shumack says he was very kind to her and that they were very fond of each other. This obviously has nothing to do with any duel/s he may have fought in Canberra.
   In regard to the fight between Onyong and Noolup,  in the book "Moth Hunters" by Josephine Flood, she says nothing about Noolup having killed Onyong, and when describing how Onyong's skull was stolen after he was buried she states that Newlop (Noolup) swore revenge. She also maintains Jimmy The Rover (Noolup) died at Booroomba and was buried in traditional manner with all his possessions. Flood gives references in the back of her book but does not directly refer to particular references when she makes particular statements within her book.
   In summary, it seems that Onyong fought Noolup at Cuppacumbalong or Lanyon and that Noolup fought and killed another Aboriginal, several years later, whose name was not recorded, at the site which now encompasses the Queanbeyan Showground.
  To get a good overview of Onyong's life and a description of his burial, by James Wright, the then owner of Lanyon, visit the following link to part of Dave Reid's blog as well as the previously mentioned Ngambri site:

  The above photo was taken not far from Onyong's grave, on Onyong Hill. The grave is unmarked and impossible to find without knowing exactly where to look, and if any persons know exactly where to look they are keeping it to themselves, which is as it should be. 
Aboriginal burial grounds in the ACT
  I thought I should include the question of Aboriginal burial grounds in this essay, as some believe that Noolup’s remains are in Evatt, and probably lying beneath a house in Sharwood Cresent. Others, and I am one of them, believe he was buried at Booroomba as described by Flood and today’s Ngambri.  
   If you visit the National Trust of Australia (ACT) site by clicking HERE and read:
 “Historic Cemeteries and Rural Graves in the    ACT” by Anne Claoué-Long, she, when discussing burial sites around Canberra, states in part:
    “In 1864, Jimmy the Rover, (Noolup) a local Aboriginal chief, was buried by white settlers in accordance to ancient Aboriginal rites in the absence of others of his tribe to undertake the burial. Later in time, the records tell of the burials of Aboriginal people just outside the boundaries of general cemeteries and then, towards the end of the period of study, within them.”
   Unfortunately Claoué-Long gives no references for her sources of information nor does she say where Noolup was buried. The references may be elsewhere on the site but I could not find them.
  Were there Aboriginal burials at the cemetery in Evatt?
    Without giving further discussion on where Noolup was buried, I will discuss the said cemetery in relation to whether or not there are any Aboriginals buried there at all. 
  Unfortunately the cemetery has suffered by way of development and no longer has any visible grave-sites or tombstones. I am surprised the desecration of the cemetery was allowed, because although some of the graves are in open space I am led to believe many of them are beneath houses and roads.
   I will quote below additional parts of Claoué-Long’s previously discussed article on the National Trust (ACT) link.
1/ "The historic record also mentions traditional Aboriginal burials, such as that of Onyong at Tharwa and an Aboriginal burial ground in the vicinity of Ginninderra and Charnwood, which was still used after white settlement. In 1864, Jimmy the Rover, a local Aboriginal chief, was buried by white settlers in accordance to ancient Aboriginal rites in the absence of others of his tribe to undertake the burial. Later in time, the records tell of the burials of Aboriginal people just outside the boundaries of general cemeteries and then, towards the end of the period of study, within them." 
2/ "As the population grew, with the development of Ginninderra village to the north of the Limestone Plains, another Anglican church, St Pauls, was established with a graveyard, in 1861. Today, nothing can be seen of either church or cemetery, with at least eighteen burials, located now in an urban open space surrounded by the suburb of Evatt."
3/ "Resulting lack of knowledge and appreciation of these historic heritage sites has resulted in at least three old cemeteries being compromised by modern road developments in Evatt, Ginninderra and Tuggeranong, and one being submerged under the waters of Lake Burley Griffin."
   In regard to the cemetery at Evatt and the questions relating to where the graves are and whether or not the cemetery contained any Aboriginal graves, I have a connection to the extent I personally knew the late Tom Gribble, a former neighbour of my sister, who was born in 1911 and raised at The Glebe, which contained the remains of the said church and cemetery.
  The Glebe was originally run by Tom's grandparents and at a later stage, Tom's parents. Tom's grandfather, also Thomas Gribble, arrived in Canberra in the 1860's and would have seen Aboriginal burials, and I have no doubt much of what he saw as well as the information he received directly from the first whites who arrived in Canberra would have been passed onto his grandson, the Tom I knew. 
   Why this is relevant is because the younger Tom told my sister and me that the cemetery definitely contained Aboriginal graves, and it would seem another ex neighbour of Tom's, Tony O'Shea, must have been told the same thing by Tom, because I have a copy of the eulogy he composed for Tom's funeral, which I will quote in part:
   "Tom knehis land would one day be resumed but he was bitter about the subsequent destruction of his heritage. The Ginninderra woolshed in Giralang, rebuilt in 1905, was demolished in the 70’s. All that remains of the Glebe pise homestead are the Elms in Goosens Place behind Copeland College. Even the graveyard of St Paul’s Anglican Church at The Glebe was desecrated for housing.
   Out of all this Tom had one little victory. Driving down Sharwood Cresent, Evatt he saw a man watering his garden wearing, in Tom’s words, “a dog collar.” Tom stopped for a chat and when he confirmed he was a vicar, pounced, “ How long have you been here? Have you seen the ghosts yet? Your house is built over the graves of pioneers and Aborigines.” 
   When the lady next door joined the discussion Tom told her “You wouldn’t be able to sleep at night because of all the creaking floorboards.” When he next went past Tom related, with great glee that the house had a For Sale sign up."
  In summary, there are many questions that remain unanswered regarding early post-invasion indigenous Canberra history. I would like to finish this essay by reiterating that I do not claim to be an expert on the Aboriginal history of the Canberra region and as such I do not give myself the right to have an opinion on disputed history. I hope however, I have given an overview, disputed and not disputed, as to what occurred and that I have also been able to raise a few questions that one day may be answered.

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