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Aboriginals on the Monaro

Monaro Native


I found this photo of "Biggenhook" amongst my grandmother's things. I'm not sure of the connection to my family, but I note that there is already a reference to and information on Biggenhook under the "Aboriginals on the Monaro" section of the website. I'm not sure if the picture is of good enough quality for you to add to this section - I'll leave that up to you. 
Notation on the reverse of the photo looks like "Biggenhook, Nimitybelle, 1902. Taken by Sen(r?) Cous Barnes, Nimitybelle."
 Megan Monaro frankmog@bigpond.net.au

The early settlers speak of the aboriginals as existing in great numbers on Manaro, though they consistently agree that at no time were they dangerous. The country, in those days, was practically owned by them, as they were the only ones who penetrated its gorges and passes. It was not unusual to see five hundred of them at the one time, and this is spoken of as being the case about Middlingbank, in the Boogong Mountains, and at Cooma.

Like all other Australian Natives, the Manaro Blacks had their special tribal customs. Amongst these was the ceremony known as the Bora. It was a rite which, by progressive steps, or degrees, initiated the young men, or youths, into the full privileges of manhood. Those who had passed through all the ceremonies were held to be entitled to exercise the full privileges of manhood, :and were bound to absolute secrecy as to their experiences. The punishment for any breach of the obligations imposed, or undertaken, was death. These rites were invariably conducted in some secluded spot, after due preparation of the candidate. Women were rigidly excluded, not only from participation in the ceremony, but from witnessing any portion of it.

The Manaro tribes seems to have been generally in friendly association with the Canberra, Queanbeyan, or Pialago men, as also with Murray and Gippsland natives who, however, were of a more quarrelsome disposition than those of the highlands. The people from all these places, however, often held corroborees, for which the men prepared themselves by painting and tattooing their bodies with alternate lines of white and red pigments. These gave the individual so treated a truly terrifying appearance, which was one of the objects aimed at. Women assisted at these corroborees. Whilst the men shouted and sang as they danced, the women had bundles of opossum skins rolled as tightly as possible. These they hit as hard as they could, whilst sometimes joining in the singing.

When one of the men, as was not infrequently the case, "cramered" a gin," i.e., abducted her, much social disturbance followed. The breaking, of a tribal law was generally involved, and the offender usually had to fight for his life. The tribe of each of the parties immediately concerned espoused the cause of its respective member, and a set battle followed. In this way fights are recorded between the tribes of the South, about the Murray and Gippsland, and those of the North, near Queanbeyan and Canberra.

The Manaro 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 Mountains, there to feast upon the big Boogong Moth, of which they were extremely fond. This insect was found in large swarms in the crevices of rocks. Having ascertained their whereabouts, the blacks started fires, and got together a quantity of hot ashes. Then, with a cloak or blanket, they closed the crevice, started the moths, which they captured in the cloak, and then singed in the ashes before disposing of them. It is said that the gins would carry the roasted moths about as a sweatmeat, in the same way as the modern girl carries her chocolates.

Amongst the weapons carried by the Manaro natives were tomahawks, fashioned of stone, which they obtained near the Snowy River, at Buckley's Crossing, where basalt, or diorite chips, and complete weapons are still found.

In 1842 John Lambie was "Commissioner of Crown Lands for the District of Maneroo to the Eastward of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales," and writing on the 14th of January of that year he says, "The aborogines of this district, with the exception of the coast tribes, may be said to be almost in their primitive state. At the stations bordering on the coast, a good many, however, of the natives, are employed in sheepwashing, hoeing maize, and reaping; and last year three boat crews, in number 18, were employed by the Messrs. Imlay, in the whale factory at TwoFold Bay, on the same lay, or terms, as the whites. The blacks were stationed on the opposite side of the Bay to the other fishermen, and they adopted the same habits as the whites; they lived in huts, slept in beds, used utensils in cooking, and made flour into bread, but as soon as the fishing season was over they all returned to their tribes in the bush. The natives belonging to the tribes to the westward of the coast range are very little employed by the stock owners, except a few occasionally, in washing sheep; they preserve their original habits of hunting, and are constantly moving from place to place."

A well-known character amongst the blacks with whom the early settlers came into contact was Bony Jack, a man who was apparently of superior intelligence, and had a considerable amount of influence over his associates. One of the Gippsland blacks known as Charlie, who came over to Manaro from time to time, was the proud possessor of a brass plate which announced him as "King of Manaro."

Throughout Australia, contact with the white man, has involved the extinction of the arboriginal, and unfortunately the tribes of Manaro seem to have been no exception to this rule.

Years ago hundreds of them would come in and about the towns to share in the annual distribution of blankets. To-day, and for a number of years past one might search Manaro, and fail to find a full-blooded native. The last of these in Cooma was one known throughout the district as "Biggenhook." He was a son of Bony Jack, and though deaf and dumb from birth, was extraordinarily intelligent. A good bushman and stockman, he attached himself to the family of Wallace, who at one time held Coolringdon, and though he would stay with them for months, the longing to get away would come upon him, and he would, without any explanation, go away to another part of the district where he knew he was welcome. He made himself understood almost entirely by signs erked out by sketches in the dirt. His sign language was extraordinarily descriptive, and he picked out, with uncanny accuracy, any physical peculiarity of an individual, wherewith to describe him. He indicated cattle, sheep and horses, by drawing their brands, and in this way could give information of stock owners and stock movements. After the Wallace family left the District, he attached himself to the writer, who was able to understand him, and thus had many opportunities of gauging in him, what it is asserted the Australian Aboriginal does not possess high degree of intellectuality. Biggenhook who except during the last three or four years of his life, preserved his extraordinary activity, died at about the age of 62 some ten years ago.

But little information is obtainable as to the meaning of the native words which are to-day used to designate stations or localities. Some which have been gathered are appended:

Adamindumee (now Adaminaby) - Camping or Resting Place.
Boonyan (now Bunyan) -Pigeons' Resting Place.
Chakola (formerly Umeralla) - Place for Lvre Birds.
Cooma or Coombah - Big Lake or Open Country.
Coobon (now Cobbin) - Much: plenty.
Cootapatamba - Place where the Eagles Drink.
Coolmatongah - Running Water.
Maneroo - Plains.
Jillamatong - One Hill.
Nijong - Water.
Nimmitabel-The starting place of many waters.
Ironmungie - Plenty Ants.
Jimen Buen - Big Fat Kangaroo Rat.
Gejizrick - Look Out.
Wullwah Woolway -Camp.
Marrinumbla - Plenty Flour.
In some of these names the recurrence of the syllable "ma" is of interest in connection with the spelling of the name "Manaro."

Transcribed from "BACK TO COOMA" Felix Mitchell 1926 pp34-35 by Pattrick Mould 2002

For further information try Bart Treuren's  http://www.kunama.com/custlaw/


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