May 3, 2014

WIRADJURI COUNTRY - Article in Bathurst Newsletter No 98 April – June 2014


 Bill Allen, Snr, making his speech.

Prior to Europeans arriving the Wiradjuri tribe inhabited a large area around the Bathurst Plains, having lived in the region for thousands of years. Wiradjuri land extended from the foothills of the Blue Mountains, west to the Hay district, north beyond Dubbo and south to the Murray River and Albury. It was the largest tribal region in Australia.

The coming of European settlement was to change all that. When Captain Henry Antill arrived with Governor Macquarie at Bathurst he felt that the local aboriginals were more advanced than the Sydney tribes. During their stay Governor Macquarie’s camp was visited by a “delegation of Wiradjuri tribesmen” and gifts were exchanged with them. Both Surveyor Evans and Governor Macquarie felt no threat from the Wiradjuri people at the time.

The most notable of the Wiradjuri people was Windradyne or ‘Saturday’ as he was known. He became famous when he led an uprising of some of the Wiradjuri people.

By 1822 fighting had broken out between the settlers and some local aboriginals. Windradyne was later captured, beaten and held in chains for four weeks in Bathurst. He was then released and told to ‘keep the peace’ though hostilities did not cease until Windradyne agreed to make peace. He died several years later on 21st March, 1829. Windradyne had been associated with George Suttor and his son William Henry Suttor at ‘Brucedale’ at Peel where he was later buried.

The Wiradjuri people lived in bark gunyahs, caves and natural shelters and always travelled light. They lived off the land, taking only what food they needed. Cleverly they understood the land and the breeding cycles of their food chain. They moved with their food source. The women made possum skin cloaks which were worn in colder months and which were noted at the Proclamation Day ceremony on 7th May, 1815, on the banks of the river Macquarie. The men made their own stone and wooden implements.

The Wiradjuri had their own language. The tribes were governed by strict codes of moral and social behaviour and the breaking of these codes was enforced by the elders with a harsh punishment awaiting any guilty party.

A smoking ceremony at Abercrombie House by Bill Allen, Snr, and his son Bill Allen, Jnr.

On 10th December last year I attended two events at Abercrombie House to mark the 200 year anniversary of first contact between the Wiradjuri People and the arriving European explorers which took place near this site on 21st December, 1813. The events also acknowledged the naming of the Bathurst Plains and Mount Pleasant by Surveyor George Evans on 10th December, 1813, two hundred years previously. The morning event included local Aboriginal children who each invited a non- aboriginal friend. The Wiradjuri Waganha Dance Group from Cowra did an exceptional job and had the young school pupils up participating and dancing.

In the evening on the same day a Corroboree took place under the trees at Abercrombie House. The Wiradjuri Elders of the Bathurst Plains together with the Bathurst District Historical Society and the Morgan Family hosted the evening and joined members of the Society, Bathurst Regional Councillors and community members watch the Wiradjuri Dance Group perform at the special Corroboree Gathering. This evening event acknowledged the last Wiradjuri Corroboree in the vicinity of Mount Pleasant which took place 164 years ago in 1849.

The Mayor, Gary Rush, spoke at both events. 

Speeches at both events described the impact of the first meeting between the explorers and the Wiradjuri people and celebrated the endurance and renewal of Wiradjuri culture and customs on the Bathurst Plains since those days.

At the conclusion of the evening event the owners of Abercrombie House, Christopher and Xanthe Morgan, served tea and coffee on the verandah of this magnificent and historic building.

Our thanks go to the Wiradjuri Waganha Dance Group for their performance and the Morgan family for their hospitality.
Alan McRae, President, Bathurst & District Historical Society

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