Peopling of Australia

~Peopling of Australia~

Tumut & Local Areas

The peopling of Australia

Aboriginal history & culture (pre & post-contact), Migration & Ethnic influences

 The development of local and regional economies

European exploration, exploitation and settlement, communication, agriculture, pastoralism & mining

 Building settlements and towns

Land tenure, settlements and towns, utilities & accommodation




Government & administration

 Developing Australia’s cultural life

Domestic life, leisure & creative endeavour

This history has been formulated from a review of contemporary and modern historical documentary resources, and from the results of historical research conducted specifically for this project. It should be noted however, that the sections relating to pastoral and land occupation history have been derived mainly from material recently compiled by John Merrittt in Currango Summers,

A Snow Belt Pastoral Property 1851-1946 (Turalla Press 2003)

Australian (National) research themes have been identified by the Australian Heritage Commission. New South Wales (State) research themes have been complied by the NSW Heritage Office.

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2.1 Introducing The High Plains

Currango is located within the High Plains, which is a sub-alpine area that has presented specific survival challenges to those who have sought to live there or utilise its resources. It is a vast area of treeless plains caused by cold air drainage from the higher peaks. Snow falls and blizzards are common in the High Plains all year round but occur mainly between May and October. Frosts can occur all year round and annual rainfall in the area is in the order of 1400mm.2

Since the place was first traversed by Aboriginal groups and then settled by white settlers in the early 19th century, the area has been subject to varying degrees of development and opportunistic exploitation.

Resource exploitation and development over the last two centuries has created the current ‘face’ of the land, and has included: 

the introduction and harvesting of exotic flora and fauna, 

land clearing and modification by mechanical means and by fire, 

farming and grazing 

building construction 

the establishment of major infrastructure (dams & roads)

2.2 Aboriginal Groups3

Prior to European settlement, the broader study area appears to have been utilised by a number of Aboriginal groups, namely the Bidewal, Ngarigo, Wolgol, Ngunawal and Wiradjari.

4 It is believed that each of these groups consisted of clan or extended family units, with each group occupying, or having use of, specific territories.

While we know little about social organisation, structure and relationships between the different groups prior to white settlement, it would appear that Aborigines moved in and about the region according to established tribal laws. They made use of the areas abundant natural resources, and joined with neighbouring and distant groups for ceremony, feasting, trade and combat.


2 Scott, 1988: 5

3 There is considerable debate about the names, nature, territory and range of the pre-contact Aboriginal language groups in New South Wales. This is largely because by the time colonial diarists, missionaries and proto-anthropologists began making detailed records of Aboriginal people in the 19th Century, Aboriginal populations had been reduced in number and dispersed by European settlement activity. Consequently, traditional groups had been broken up and reconfigured.

This section provides general information relating to the Aborigines of the region. For further discussion and debate about Aboriginal language groups, range and social organization, the reader is directed to a range of books and articles that discuss this subject, as well as Michael Young’s publication The Aborigines of the Monaro (2000) and Kohen & Lampert, 1987; Kohen, 1993; Ross, 1976; 1988; Troy, 1994

4 Fitzherbert etal, 1998: 19. For further, detailed discussion on the Aborigines of the Area see Michael Young’s Aboriginal People of the Monaro (2000). 5 Young 2000: 21 (after Tindale, 1974)

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Approximate line of the

Currangorambla Creek before the Murrumbidgee was dammed as part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme









To Kiandra

Figure 2.1 The plains surrounding the Currango Plain that together make up the area referred to as the northern plains.

0 10 20Km

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2.2.1 Population and Movement

The size of the Aboriginal population in the mountains and surrounds at the time of first European settlement is very difficult to determine. The Aborigines deliberately avoided many early white travellers like Hume and Hovell. Then by the time white settlement was under way in the late 1830s, the local Aboriginal population, like populations elsewhere, had been devastated by post-contact disease epidemics such as the smallpox epidemics of 1789 and 1830 and other socially communicable diseases spread by settlers, such as venereal disease (VD).


There has been some general agreement amongst researchers that Aboriginal groups in the mountains occupied the Highlands in the warmer months, preferring (like the later white settlers) to winter in the warmer Montane valleys.

7 This assumption appears to have derived from the few historic accounts of tribal movement which exist such as the recollections of Felix Mitchell which mention:

The Monaro blacks, it is said, departed from the highlands during the winter. In the warmer weather they returned, and a great number travelled out to the Boogong [sic] Mountains, there to feast upon the Boogong [sic]moth, of which they were extremely fond.

8 - Aborigines appear to have moved around in the uplands in relatively small groups, gathering occasionally for ceremony and feasting.9 This pattern of movement is likely to have been facilitated by the numerous interconnecting valleys that are a feature of the highlands. Early white settler John O’Rourke recorded in an interview in 1910, referred to Aboriginal movement through the land stating: …they had no idea of a straight line, and generally followed the contour of the country, the watercourses and such…


While the area around Currango is only now being looked at in terms of its position within an overall Aboriginal mountain pathway network, other researchers have suggested that numerous Aboriginal communication, ceremonial and trade routes existed in the Alps. Archaeologist Johan Kamminga is one such researcher, and a map depicting Aboriginal routes into the Mt Kosciusko high country (resulting from studies in the Thredbo area) is shown at Figure 2.2.

6 Gardner, 1992: 89

7 Kamminga, 1992: 113; Johnson, 1992: 36

8 Mitchell, 1926: 18-19

9 Flood, 1988: 48

10 Bairnsdale Advertiser & Tambo & Omeo Chronicle, May 14, 1920

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Route from Long Plain and Currango Plain via Goodradigbee River – to the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee at Peppercorn above long Plain or across the Gurrangorambla Range at Pocket Saddle.

Lake Burrunjuck Route to Tumut via Goobarragandra River – across Kennedy Ridge to the Upper reaches of the Murrumbidgeee

Peppercorn Hill

Kennedy Ridge

Pocket Saddle

Long Plain

Tantangara Reservoir Providence Arm Route across the Bimberi Range between the Cotter River and the

Goodradigbee River through Murray’s Gap and onto the Currango Plain.

Goodradigbee River

Cotter River

CURRANGO & Currango Plain

Mount Murray

Lone Pine Fire Trail

Yaouk Valley Route between the Yaouk Valley on the Murrumbidgee and on to Currango via a saddle on the Gurrangorambla Range, now traversed by the Murray Fire Trail.

Adaminaby KEY


Forested and higher ground

Figure 2.2 A map showing the travelling stock routes that may have been above 1200M

Aboriginal routes through the high country around Currango as described by Ted Taylor [pers comm to Dan Tuck, 2002]. Drawn by Sheppard.

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Possible routes onto the Currango Plain and the northern end of the KNP [see also Section 2.5.2] have been suggested by Ted Taylor11. He based his information on the early stock routes, which were said to largely follow Aboriginal routes.

The routes suggested by Ted Taylor include mountain passes and terrain providing easiest travelling and water resources, some of which have been incorporated into the network of fire trails in the region. These routes relate to movement through the Tumut, Goodradigbee and Murrumbidgee River systems from the lower areas around Tumut, Canberra and Cooma. The routes show crossings of the north-south trending Scabby Range, Brindabella Range and Bimberi Range. Some of the possible post-contact Aboriginal routes in the northern KNP include: 

Tumut - Long Plain via Goobarragandra River – across Kennedy Ridge to the Upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee; 

Yass – Long Plain and Currango Plain via Goodradigbee River – to the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee at Peppercorn above the Long Plain or across the Gurrangorambla Range at Pocket Saddle  across the Bimberi Range between the Cotter River and the Goodradigbee River through Murrays Gap and on to the Currango Plain  between the Yaouk Valley on the Murrumbidgee and Currango via a saddle on the Gurrangorambla range now traversed by the Murrumbidgee Fire trail. [See figure 2.2] 2.2.2 Material Culture

Knowledge of the material culture of the Aborigines of the region has come from a variety of sources including the recollections (and collections) of early settlers, the oral history of local Aborigines and the results of archaeological excavations. The ‘toolkits’ of the Aborigines of the high country are known to have included boomerangs, spears and stone axes.12 [See Figure 2.3] The stone axes in particular were highly prized and valuable trade items.

Within the Kosciuszko National Park area, raw materials used for making stone tools include:

Lustrous black & Mottled/ banded chert (particularly about the north of the Park) 


Silcrete (centred around Jindabyne and the Lower Snowy River)13

In addition to stone tools, it is likely that the Aborigines of the area made use of a range of implements made from wood, bone, fibres, shell and other products available in the mountains and plains. Unlike

11 Ted Taylor pers. comm. To Mary Dallas, 2003

12 Jardine in Young, 2000: 313

13 Johnson, 1992: 6

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One example of non-lithic accoutrements is the flax net. A Dr George Bennet, who wrote a book on his ‘Wanderings in New South Wales’ (1834), visited “Been Station” (Blowering) on December 13, 1832, and made mention of the fact that the local Aborigines were procuring a ‘luxurious native flax’ from the river with which they made nets.14 Other perishable items are likely to have included wooden spears, coolemons [carriers] for food, fire and water, and skin rugs and clothing. 2.2.3 Food & Feasting

The Snowy Mountains natural environment supplied the Aborigines moving through it with a large range of indigenous food sources. The resource base available to the Aboriginal people is likely to have included mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, eggs and edible plant parts and exudates.

15 These resources would have been available to the Aborigines with restrictions based largely on seasonality and environmental zone. It is likely that fire was utilised to both harvest fauna (such as kangaroos and wallabies) and to promote the growth of edible and useful plants. It has been suggested that burning in the montane and sub-alpine zones concentrated on the access corridors and adjacent tracts of land, and served to keep pathways open and food reserves plentiful and accessible.16

14 In Snowden, 1967: 26

15 Kamminga 1992: 111-113

16 Kamminga, 1992: 109 Figure 2.3 A burial site near Cooma that contained two people, was discovered in 1991. It also contained 326 pierced kangaroo teeth and other items that have been described as a ‘tool kit’.[pp58- 59 M Young et al, The Aboriginal People of the Monaro,2000.]

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In terms of food collection and production, it is generally believed that men hunted game and rested around the camp, while women did everything else. Aboriginal women have been implicated in everything from the collection and preparation of food, to the trapping of small mammals.17 There are numerous indigenous food plants in the Snowy Mountains, which could have been exploited by Aborigines. Principal among these is the 200 or so varieties of edible tubers that some researchers have argued made up a very significant part of the Aboriginal diet.18 Archaeologist Sandra Bowdler has suggested that the Daisy Yam (Microseris lanceolata) was a staple food source of the mountain areas.19 This tuber grows in a range of environmental conditions and was traditionally collected and prepared by women. Feasting on Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) has long been viewed as a lifestyle characteristic of the Aboriginal people of the mountains, even though knowledge of moth hunting is fragmentary at best. As well the importance of the moth in the Aboriginal diet is not well understood and has often been overstated.20

Moth hunting took place throughout the Australian Alps from the Tinderry Range near Canberra to Mount Bulla in the far west of the Victorian Alps.

Bogong moths can be found on Mount Morgan east of Currango and the Bogong Peaks north of Currango. Access to the various moth aestivation grounds appears to have been dependant on ancestral rights. The Monaro tribes, for example had ancestral rights to the moths in the Jackeys Lookout/Big Bogong Area. Though tribal rights limited access, it did not rule out organised feasting, and large communal feasts accompanied by ceremonial activities, and involving Aborigines from outside the region, appear in the historical record.

Our understanding of moth hunting and feasting has come largely from isolated historic accounts (usually second or third hand) of seasonal group feasts. One of the better known accounts of Aboriginal use of the Bogong moth is attributable to Dr George Bennett, who on his journey to Been Station (Blowering) in 1832 recorded:

Accompanied by a stockman and Aboriginal guides, I went to the top of the Bogong Mountains, a couple of hours ride, to examine the presence of the multitudes of moths, called by the natives ‘Bogongs’. During the months of November, December and January, the natives congregate in large numbers and visit the masses of granite rocks found at the top of the mountains. In certain positions in these outcrops the moths are found in enormous masses. Their bodies contain a yellowish oil and by the natives are considered luscious and fattening. They first stupefy them with smoke and then brush them off into their containers. A patch of ground is swept clean, then a fire lighted on it until the ground is hot.. The ashes are swept away and the masses of moths spread on the hot earth to singe off the wings and down. The bodies of the moths are then crushed into a doughy substance and eaten. The first time they are eaten by the natives violent 17 Young 2000: 313; Flood, 1992: 83; Gott, 1983; Bowdler, 1983 18 Gott, 1982 cited in Kamminga, 1992: 112 19 Bowdler:1981 20 Flood, 1992: 83 21 Flood, 1992: 84. Locally, Bogong moths are seasonally active on Mount Morgan to the east of Currango and in the Bogong Peaks to the north. 22 R. Forrester Payton in Kamminga, 1992: 106-108

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vomiting and other debilitating effects are produced, but after a few days they become accustomed to their use and then thrive and fatten on them exceedingly.23 Bowdler suggests that the Bogong moth was only eaten by men with women forbidden from partaking24 although her view is not conclusive. One suggestion is that women couldn’t go to the peaks and that moth ‘biscuits’ were made for them.25 The relative importance of the moth in the overall diet of the Mountain Aborigines is still open to debate. In the 1820s, Explorer Hamilton Hume told Dr Bennett that the moth formed ‘the principle food during the summer’. It is now however, generally believed that the moth was a ceremonial or ‘treat’ food rather than a staple like the Daisy Yam.26

23 George Bennett quoted in Snowden, 1967: 26

24 Bowdler, 1981

25 Dean Freeman, not on this Draft , July 2003.

26 For additional accounts of the Bogon moth feasts and discussion of the importance of the feasts, see Young, 2000 & Flood, 1980; 1992 Figure 2.4 A series of Bogong moth photographs assembled by Josephine Flood in The Moth Hunters of the Australian Capital Territory, 1996 p19. Photo 1 – Bogong moth (photograph by I Common) Photo 2 – Moth pestles from the ACT. Scale is in centimetres (Photograph by D Markovic) Photo 3- Bogong Cave ACT (Photograph by J Flood) Photo 4 – Moths aestivating on Mt Gingera, ACT (Photograph by I Common)

Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 18 2.2.4 Ceremony

The ceremonial and spiritual life of the mountain Aborigines at the time of first European settlement is not well known. Ceremonial knowledge was (and is) probably the most guarded of traditional knowledge and therefore the least likely to be passed on to the whites. However, colonial diarists recorded some ceremonial activity in the general area mostly in the middle part of the 19th century, and mostly in association with the gatherings that occurred for the annual moth feasts. There are at least three known ceremonial grounds in the vicinity of Currango at Mount Morgan [it’s Aboriginal name is Garrangorambla], Bimberi and the Bogong Peaks. These appear to have been associated with ceremonies accompanying annual pilgrimages to the mountains by local and visiting groups. Other sites are at Kalkite (a series of low stone circles at the confluence of the Snowy River and Wollondibby Creek, now submerged)27 and at Mt Crakenback (site of tribal fights between NSW and Victorian Tribes).28

2.2.5 Death

Rituals and beliefs associated with death are limited in the historic record, however the following is believed to be an accurate description of practice. With a few exceptions29, the local Aboriginal people’s preference is thought to have been to bury the dead in a drawn up position in a hollow tree. Oral tradition has it that the dead were interred in a sitting position facing east, with graves marked by stone covered earth mounds, which rose to about a metre in height.30 . Other regional methods of interring the dead included burying the deceased in caves. Cave burials have been recorded at the nearby Blue Waterholes.31 2.3 Evidence of Occupation The Aboriginal history of the area is remembered by the people, recorded in historical documents, and imprinted on the land. Physical evidence of the Aboriginal occupation and use of the area is similar to that found throughout Kosciuszko National Park. Site Types recorded in the Aboriginal Heritage Sites Register of New South Wales for the Currango region include:  Artefact scatters & isolated artefacts (eg., at Currango, Yarrangobilly, Blue Waterholes, Mosquito Creek, along Pocket Saddle road and around the Tantangara Reservoir. 27 Chapman, 1977: 50; Flood, 1980: 190 -191 28 Kamminga, 1992: 106 -108 29 The exceptions to the typical approach to burials are the tribal members of importance who received in ground burials and the burial in caves that are known of at Blue Waterholes. 30 Kamminga, 1992: 104; Fitzherbert, 1998: 19 31 Helen Cook, unpublished thesis ANU

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Stone quarries (eg: Peppercorn Hill in the Fiery Range, chert quarry at Blue Water Holes); possible stone sources occur along the Murrumbidgee below the Tantangara dam wall, and a yellow ochre source near Pedens Hut)  Grinding grooves (only a few – eg: Yarrangobilly)32  Rockshelters (mainly in Limestone areas – eg: Cooleman & Yarrangobilly, also at Sentry Box)  Scarred &carved trees (along Pocket Saddle Road, Mount Morgan)  Bora grounds (Jindabyne; Rings Creek in the Bogong Wilderness area; suggested in the Cooleman area)  Stone arrangements (predominantly in Namadgi to the north of the KNP)  Rock art (Blue Water Holes, Goobarragandra, Namadgi)  Burials (eg: Blue Water Holes, Thredbo Valley)

The richest and most numerous Aboriginal sites occur in the in the lower altitude (200m ASL) sheltered valleys such as Tumut, Jindabyne and the Lower Snowy.33 However, within the High Plains and surrounding areas, there is abundant evidence of Aboriginal occupation, much of which appears to correlate with mountain passes. Examples of higher altitude sites include Tantangara Mountain and possible campsites on Mt Kosciuszko. The highest alpine campsite recorded is at an altitude of 1830 metres ASL at Perisher Gap.34 Most of the sites have been located as a result of a small number of archaeological surveys of relatively small areas. There is no doubt further comprehensive surveys will yield many more sites and refine our understanding of the Aboriginal occupation of the local area and the wider region of the KNP.

The most recent surveys which will hopefully increase our understanding of the occupation pattern are by:-  Phil Boot as part of the Kosciuszko Plan of Management, and  Tom Knight’s investigations of the Scabby and Yaouk Nature Reserves. The antiquity of many of the Aboriginal cultural heritage sites remains largely undetermined. Most dated archaeological sites in the Snowy Mountains date to the last 5000 years or so, however it is generally believed that occupation and use of the mountains has occurred for much longer – at least to the period of warming following the last glacial maximum.35 32 The use of portable grinding stones has been suggested due to lack of soft stone in the region (probably collected by settlers) 33 Johnson, 1992: 42 34 Flood, 1980: 193 35 Mulvaney & Kamminga, 1999

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Much of the archaeological interest, debate and study in the mountains has focused on:-  The antiquity of Aboriginal settlement in the Alps  Aboriginal site demography  Seasonality (or otherwise) of Aboriginal subsistence activities.36 Other sites have degraded over time or been vandalised and lost. For example Police Officer Martin Brennen, active in the area in the late 1800s, noted: In May 1874 while on duty at Coolemon, sixty miles from Queanbyan, on the Cuppacumalong Run, I visited the famous limestone cave of that place, where I discovered on the smooth surface of one side wall, traces of many paintings, representing kangaroos, dingoes, spears, boomerangs and woomerahs; these were partly covered with fantastic-shaped stalactites hanging in lustrous profusion from the high roof. Since then, however, vandalism has set in, and many of those beautiful carbonate of lime cylinders have been carted in drays to adorn the walks and gardens of many settlers….37 2.3.1 Occupation of Currango Region There has been little detailed Aboriginal archaeological investigation in the immediate environs of Currango. A general survey of the Currango area was undertaken in c1990 by Johnson et al, as part of a wider study of KNP. Johnson’s report [see also Section 4.3] makes note of the following: The Gurrangora and Currango areas are highly disturbed, possibly from foraging animals such as brumbies, pigs etc. The general vegetation of the area results from the gentle slopes, with the typical open woodland on the ridges and grasslands in the cold-air effect valleys. There was a moderate background scatter of artefacts in this area.38 Aside from the physical evidence, Aboriginal occupation and use of the area is reflected in the names of places and features in the High Plains. Aboriginal names were applied to many areas and features and in the post-contact period, including the aforementioned Currango and Monaro. Other places in the district with Aboriginal names Include: 

Kiandra – meaning ‘sharp stones for knives’ 

Jindabyne – meaning ‘a valley’ 

Yarrangobilly – meaning ‘a flowing stream’ and 

Cootapatamba – meaning ‘where the eagle drinks’39

36 Kamminga, 1992: 105 37 Brennen, 1907: 208 38 Johnson, 1992: 130 39 Good, 1992: 134

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European place names also reflect past Aboriginal presence and events. ‘Blackfellows Hill’ south of the Tantangara Reservoir, ‘Blackfellows Gap’ and ‘Blackfellows Creek’ in the upper reaches of the Goodradigbee River and ‘Blackfellows Cave’ in the Coolamine Plain Karst Area to the northeast of Currango, and Blackfellows Camp (now Wares yard), south of Tantangara dam are examples of such a names.40

However, the possibility that the long term use of aboriginal names reflects an unusual or special relationship between whites and Aborigines in the area cannot be ascertained. Aboriginal place names were favoured (and their use encouraged) by many 19th century Governors and surveyors. Thus they tend to occur all over the place regardless of the nature of the relationships between whites and Aborigines in any given Aboriginal named area. 40 NPWS (NSW), 1987: Figure 2.5 This photograph is captioned ‘Aboriginal camp’. The group is seen on a tree-fringed plain. Their European clothing and tents indicates a high level of European influence. [Photograph from the Tyrrell Collection, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney reproduced from p 18 The Aboriginal People of the Monaro].

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2.4 Early European Exploration & Incursion (1788 – 1830) 2.4.1 Explorers

The first European visitations to the Great Dividing Range took place in the 1820s. The first people to venture into the area were Government officers on reconnaissance, and squatters searching for grazing lands beyond the settled districts to the north. It was only from the 1840s that scientists and explorers came to the area to investigate the mountains themselves. 41

Captain Mark Currie and Major John Ovens are credited with ‘discovering’ the Monaro (Monaroo) in 1823. The pair did not actually scale the Snowy Mountains but rather viewed the mountains from a distance - somewhere north of Cooma, possibly from Billilingra Hill.43

Explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell trekked across the Australian Alps in the following year, but stayed predominantly about the foothills.44 Hume and Hovell’s party did not encounter any Aborigines during their journeying, however Hovell noted the presence of evidence of Aboriginal people throughout the mountains, recording:

Whatever place we have been in, whether on top of the highest mountain or in any of the deepest ravines, we always find evident marks that the natives occasionally resort to them, although there does not appear to be any inducement for them to visit these secluded places.45

Hume and Hovell were followed to the Snowy Mountains by other explorers including Charles Sturt (1830), John Bowman (1834), John Lhotsky (1834) and Angus McMillan (1839).

2.4.2 Aboriginal Guides

It could be said that the above mentioned early explorers and visitors to the mountains were not explorers at all, but rather followers. With few exceptions, the first Europeans to visit the area were guided to and through the mountains by Aboriginal guides. The importance of Aboriginal guides, in the history of the discovery of various parts of Australia has long been understated. However, some authors have addressed this issue, and in relation to the mountains, Gardner has noted:

The extent to which various Aboriginal individuals assisted the progress of European occupation is not commonly recognised. Every explorer and squatter of note in the alpine district was assisted by at least one Aboriginal guide. Without them Angus McMillan made little progress in his attempts to reach 41 Lennon, 1992: 144-146 43 Good, 1992: 139 44 Good, 1992: 139 45 Quoted in Flood, 1992: 83

Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 23 the plains of Gippsland. Without the Goulburn Aboriginal Charlie Tarra, Strzelecki and his party would probably have perished in the coastal ranges of Gippsland.46

Early settler Bernard O’Rourke, who came to the Monaro in 1834, acknowledged the role of the Aborigine in a Monaro Mercury newspaper article in c1892. In the article, O’Rourke stated: Why, it was the blacks, and nobody else who opened up the country…Who else would have opened it up…They lead him, and you, and everyone else here and there. The correspondent interviewing O’Rourke in the article continued: ‘The blacks and gins’, said our informant, whose mental facilities appear to have been but little affected by the weight of years, ‘would yabber about a big fellow station out there’ (pointing in a particular direction), and the settlers desirous of increasing their territorial possessions, would implicitly go after them. In the course of a few days or weeks the ‘promised land’ hove in sight, and there the land grabbers pitched their tents and regarded this the ownership of the many acres which appeared to serve as a panacea for their (adventures).47

George Augustus Robertson, later Protector of Aborigines, acknowledged the role of Aborigines in helping Terrence Murray obtain vast holdings in the Monaro. In his journal on September 12, 1844, he noted: …his companion came and they rendered Mr Murray the greatest assistance in going through the country and it was by their aid he got a good run…Mr Murray is a good friend to the blacks and there are always a number about his premises.48

In the early 1900s, another early white pioneer of the area, John O’Rourke, further acknowledged the role of Aborigines in paving the way for the white settlers: The blackfellows assisted the pioneers very considerably in getting into new country.49

2.5 Settlement on the High Plains from 1830 Prior to 1837, the Monaro remained outside the ‘limits of settlement’.50 Settlement, as defined by Governor Darling in 1829, restricted people to within the nineteen counties centred about Sydney to the north. No formal title existed for lands beyond this because in the 1830s, as people pushed out from Sydney, the Surveyor Generals Department were unable to keep up with the land survey necessary to facilitate and impose order on wider settlement. Unsurveyed land could not be therefore be alienated by law.51 Due to the pressure on the Surveyors Department to map regions elsewhere, and to an extent, the nature of the 46 Gardner, 1992: 96 47 Monaro Mercury article c1892: ‘The district of Monaro – Its rise and progress’ by ‘Veritas’ contained in Perkins Papers, Vol. 1: 80E 48 Robertson quoted in Young, 2000: 160 49 Bairnsdale Advertiser & Tambo & Omeo Chronicle, May 14, 1910. 50 Young, 2000: 61 51 Young, 2000: 64; Hancock, 1972: 40

Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 24 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 terrain and the distance from existing settlements, no real survey took place in the mountains of southeastern Australia until the late 1840s.52 Despite (and because of) the absence of title for lands beyond the settled districts, squatters took what they wanted in the greater Monaro and elsewhere, until 1836. The appointment of the first Commissioner for Crown Lands in 1836 imposed order through a Legislative Council Act that created ‘squatting districts’ beyond the established counties. On payments of £10, pastoralists could obtain a year long licence to graze stock beyond the 19 counties.53

2.5.1 Squatters, Graziers & Stockmen

First white settlement of the High Plains area occurred in the 1830s54 when graziers from Monaro and Canberra (then the ‘Limestone Plains’), sought out the rich tussock pastures of the High Plains for the grazing of stock.55 From the 1830s, Cooma was a pastoral run, though the town site was not surveyed until 1849.56 When Europeans first saw the area’s large plains, Nungar, Currangorambla, Cooleman and Long Plain they were covered in lush native grasses with areas of trees and scrub on the slopes and hills. At around 1600 metres the plains are actually huge frost hollows57. The bogs and fens of the Plains were a particular favourite of the graziers and their stock as they provided both nutritious feed and constant water.58 Major early grazing families in the wider Snowy Mountains included families such as the Brook(e)s, Woodhouse, Wallace, Litchfield, Spencer, Adams, Crisp and Barry.59 By the end of 1839 there were 129 stations on the Monaro, running between them 3000 horses, 75,000 cattle and 200,000 sheep.60 Stock grazed in the High Plains generally included both cattle and sheep (depending on fluctuating prices at the central markets). The stock was generally only grazed in the Plains during the summer months, returning to the primary lowland stations of the graziers in autumn.61 Those who overstayed in the highlands often experienced heavy stock losses caused by early blizzards and snowfalls. Foul weather stock losses were enough to prevent year round grazing and settlement in the High Plains for many years. 52 Dowd, 1940: 99 53 Merritt 2003: 16 54 Botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham visited the Southern mountain areas in 1824 and believed that settlers had been there for at least a few years prior to this. 55 Scott, 1988: 5 56 Merritt 2003: 14 57 p17 ibid 58 Good, 1992: 146 59 Good, 1992: 140 60 Merritt, 2003: 21 61 Scott, 1988: 6

Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 25 Figure 2. 6 Settlement in the Monaro during the 1830s [ Reproduced from Andrews, 1998:105]

Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 26 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 It became obvious to graziers relatively early on that cattle and sheep grazed in the High Plains developed prime condition more quickly, and were less susceptible to health complaints, than paddock grazed animals elsewhere.62 An early appreciation of the value of the High Plains in the conditioning and maintenance of quality stock by graziers, meant that the establishment of High Plain grazing from the 1830s was assured. Seasonal highland grazing, which was generally restricted to the treeless plains, which lie above 1300 feet, became accepted practice in both south eastern Australia and Tasmania after this point.63 2.5.2 Transhumance and the Establishment of Stock Routes The regular movement of stock to mountain pasture during summer is referred to as ‘transhumance’. Merritt64 points out that while pastoralists in New South Wales were doing something similar to the European and Asian practice of transhumance from the 1830s, their use of the mountains was a unique variation on the overseas practices. Characteristics of the Australian practice of transhumance included: The pastoralists mostly used the mountains only during dry years;  They either grazed illegally on Crown land, on private land or, on agistment rather than on common ground; 

The journeys of the flocks and herds to the mountains typically took weeks rather than days, and  No history of cultural festivals or ceremonies grew up in Australia around the seasonal movement. A number of major seasonal stock routes, connecting the Monaro and Canberra areas to the Riverina via the High Plains, were developed from the 1830s

.65 These stock routes generally followed topographic lines of least resistance and utilised low passes in the Ranges. Merrit describes two routes from Tumut. One up Talbingo Mountain which was very steep in places and the other an easier route that went through Lacmalac and along the Broken Cart Track.

66 Two of the known stock routes are: 

Adaminaby to Tumut – via Bugtown, the Nungar Plain, Currango Plain, Rules Point, Yarrangobilly and Talbingo 

Limestone Plains (Canberra area) to Tumut – via Murray Gap, Pocket Saddle, Coolamine Plain, Long Plain and the Broken Cart Track


62 Holth, 1992: 157

63 NPWS (NSW), 1991: 1

64 Merritt, 2003: 13

65 Scott, 1988: 6

66 Merritt, 2003: 35

67 NPWS (NSW), 1993: 8

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Another track through Blue Waterholes saddle connected the areas that later featured the Coolamine homestead and Old Currango. A further route across Seventeen Flat and Pocket Saddle is now the main access road to Coolamine Caves and picnic area.


Not surprisingly, the establishment of the stock routes was accompanied by small scale settlement of stockmen which generally followed a fixed pattern. High Plains stockmen initially built huts with slab walls, bark roofs, a fireplace and bare floors. These huts were of simple plan and construction, and were made of locally felled timber such as Alpine Ash [Eucalypt dalrympleana]. The stockmen’s huts were often accompanied by rudimentary stockyards.69 One of the earliest known hut complexes of this type was Mowle’s Hut on the Coolamine Plain.70 Mowle, an Overseer for early settler Terrence Murray, built his slab and bark hut in 1839 with the help of local Aborigines.71 68 Hueneke, 1982: 194-195 69 Scott, 1988: 6 70 Hueneke, 1982 71 Hueneke, 1982: 206 Figure 2.7 A photograph of Aboriginal people wearing fur skin cloaks and posing next to a hut with a bark roof. [Photograph reproduced from p34 The Aboriginal People of the Monaro, Young et al 2000]

Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 28 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003

2.5.3 Permanent Settlement and an Available Workforce While the High Plains grazing land was rich and vast and lines of communication and transport were being established, one major problem for permanent Plains settlers in the 1830s was a shortage of labour. This problem was particularly apparent after the cessation of convict transportation in NSW in 1838.

72. Some squatters in the early1840s suggested solving the labour problem by bringing in Indian coolie labour – some even lobbied the Government to renew transportation. Some, like Ben Boyd who had large land holdings in the Eden-Monaro district, went so far as to recruit shepherds from the Pacific.

73 Others, like Mowle mentioned above, sought the labour of district Aborigines. Snowden, in his book A History of Tumut (1967) noted: …natives became experts stripping bark and great numbers of the early buildings in the district were covered with the bark stripped by natives.

74 2.6 Aborigines in the early 1800s

European settlement had a dramatic and devastating effect on Aboriginal populations and tribal structure. Disease, displacement & dislocation soon after European settlement ensured that remnant Aboriginal bands were forced to combine ‘to provide mutual protection and to maintain viable social and economic units’.75 Some researchers have argued that by as early as the 1820s, the pre-contact clans and bands no longer existed as identifiable groups.76

As a consequence, the groups referred to as ‘tribes’ by Europeans in historical documents (such as the Maneroo Tribe, the Snowy River Tribe and the Mowenbar Tribe), resulted from post-contact social reorganisation; the names of the tribes reflecting the place in which a given group commonly resided. The European tribe names served as labels of convenience for such things as census data collecting and the official distribution of blankets and slop clothing instigated by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Census data collected in 1827 for the 1828 population census did not include the Monaro area and we thus have no official population figures for the area until the blanket issues of the 1830s. Similarly, historic accounts of populations and gatherings in the region all date to well after the period of first contact. What we do know is that Aborigines had contact with Europeans in the area from at least the mid 1820s and were actively employed by the early settlers in the stripping bark and engaging in other tasks by the 1830s.

72 Young, 2000: 65

73 Clark, 1987

74 Snowden, 1967: 27

75 Kohen, 1985; Ross, 1988: 49

76 Attenbrow, in press: 56

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Elsewhere in the region, it appears that there was some ‘trade’ in Aboriginal children, possibly precipitated by the labour shortage in the early period of settlement.

An Aboriginal boy called Nimmitabel (also Biggenhooke) who was both deaf and dumb as a result of an accident, was purchased by a Harry Rapmund from the Aboriginal Boney Jack, for the princely sum of half a sovereign and a bottle of rum77 presumably as a general hand.

77 Alf Rapmund in Young, 2000: 184. A Bony Jack worked for the Brooks family of Gegedzerick in the 1850s. Figure 2.8 This is an historic photograph by Charles Kerry, was captioned ‘Distributing blankets to Aboriginals’.

[Reproduced from p 36 The Aboriginal People of the Monaro, Young et al 2000: Original held in the Tyrrell collection, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney] -- (Ref-

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