THE LAST ABORIGINAL BATTLE SOUTH OF WIDE BAY. Nambucca and Bellinger News 1929
Updated: Jan 3
A 3 part article by James Grayson in the Nambucca and Bellinger News in October-November 1929
THE LAST ABORIGINAL BATTLE SOUTH OF WIDE BAY.
Part 1 - 25th October 1929 - page 7
(Original at Trove)
"To fight for their rights, as they see them, is the privilege which God has given to all men, who, right down from the cradle days of the world, fully recognise the fact that in all things a leader is essential. Sandy, King of the Moretons' led his black army of approximately 300, including the female pack train, into battle against the Wide Bay abos', in 1873, at the Glasshouse Mountains— the most outstanding and picturesque land mark on the whole of our rockbound coast— two rock pinnacles, that, no doubt, upended themselves in the distant dark ageswhen the world was young, wearing a coating as smooth as glass and rearing the heads Heavenwards for many hundreds of feet above the level grassy plain, from which they rose like huge giant ant mounds, defying all attempts by alpine climbers to scale their ancient walls. This battle proved to be the last dinkum abo. scrap to take place on our eastern coast south of Wide Bay, which is 150 miles north of Moreton's Bay, which is rich in our early aboriginal history by the fact that more than one white man had lived for a period of from 16 to 30 years with them, forgetting his own civilisation and mother tongue. In May, 1836, the ship Stirling Castle, was wrecked on a reef in the vicinity of Wide Bay, and, as in the case of the pitiful massacre of the crew of the Douglas Mawson four or five years ago, all the crew of the Stirling Castle were murdered by the blacks. The only white woman on board, the wife of the captain, was taken prisoner and held in captivity, even as I believe the two white women of the ill-fated Douglas Mawson to still be alive as captives up in the western part of the Gulf country. Mrs. Fraser, of the Stirling Castle wreck, from whom Fraser's Island took its name, lived with the blacks for two years, but was eventually rescued by one named Barcefield, who had been living (Bracefield) with a neighboring tribe for a number of years. In later years Mrs. Fraser travelled with a side show throughout England, billed as the only survivor of the Stirling Castle, having been taken prisoner from the wreck when all the others had been murdered and eaten by the savages, admission six-pence. But the rescue, which stirs to life memories of other days, more vividly than all others, in the slumbering minds of Brisbane old timers, was that of James Davis, named by the blacks Durramboi. Davis was convicted on some minor charge in England, when 14 years old and was transported to the new convict settlement at Morton Bay, but he escaped to the bush and lived with the Wide Bay blacks for 16 years. He owes his survival among them to the fact that an old gin claimed him as her dead son, who had just now "jumped up white pheller." Davis was rescued in 1842 by Andrew Petrie, one of Australia's very first settlers. Old Durramboi, as Davis was generally known, was, for many years after his rescue, aboriginal interpreter for the Brisbane police. He died a very wealthy man, owning much property in the centre of Brisbane, all of which he willed to a little girl in George Street. I knew him well, and was in his George St. crockery shop hundreds of times. However, Sandy was crowned King, in 1862, at Humpy Bong, the old time black mans hunting and fishing ground, known to them by the name of Toora-kerry-kerry, meaning "big fish." Toora-kerry-kerry has, for many years been a white mans favorite holiday resort, and is known by the name of Humpy-bong. After the little convict settlement there had been abandoned, the humpies built by the convicts tumbled down after a few years, as the blacks of the locality put it "white man's humpy go bong," meaning that the humpies had perished. So by these circumstances the place got its present name, and so the old name, Toora-kerry-kerry, has been wiped off our map, like most of the ancient race, that, according to research, had danced around the totem pole for 26,000 years before the white man's hobnails ever crushed Australian grass. Toora-kerry-kerry was the scene of many coronations, and who can tell, it may be so, that for millions of years these same strange rites had been practiced, before the deep oaths of allegiance had been sworn to Sandy the newly crowned King of the Moreton Bay tribes, his dominion extending as far south as the Logan River, and to the top of Blackall Range to the north. And now sad is the story that I have to tell that out of all the thousands of happy aborigines who lived and loved, robbed the sugar bags, fished and hunted the vast area over which ruled the good King Sandy, not one remains. Old Sandy was the last abo. chief in the Moreton district to wear the insignia, a gift of honor bestowed upon aboriginal kings by the late Queen Victoria, a crescent moon-shaped brass plate badge, which really is the proclamation of his high regal position, worn on a chain round the neck and spread broad eagle across the black velvet background of his much scarred brisket, with his name, rank, year when crowned, and name of district engraved thereon. Some of these kings insignias were still further engraved with emus, kangaroos, grass trees, etc. What interesting relecs of our early days would these old kings regal plates of brass now be. King Sandy died in 1882, and was buried in the old blackfellows burying ground, which has been known to us for close on a century as Petrie paddock, where his old bones rest among the skeletons of his ancient race. Werriean was King of the Brisbane River tribes, ruling from Sandy's western boundary right up to the head of the river, and extending well away out, 50 miles south to nearly 100 miles north. As the Brisbane was the river which flowed through the Dominion of Sandy, Werriean was chosen as second in charge of the Moreton forces, and was for some weeks prior to the battle of the Glasshouse Mountains engaged with a small detachment of his followers in brushing scrub for my dad, the articles of agreement being that dad had to keep the bunch in flour, tea, sugar and tobacco, but there was no clause written in as to the quantity to be supplied, and although no cash changed hands, this was the highest rate ever paid to any black troop in the world. The camp was pitched at the top end of the homestead, from where, in only a few days time, the gins had a track worn to the kitchen door like a Coolgardie camel pad. The only wasp in the dilly bag being dad's cow Nelly, who could smell blacks a mile away. A lame gin named Lizzie, who was inflicted with a kind of stringhalt, was the King's consort, and was the greatest cadger of them all. On one occasion the air was split with some awful shrieks, and screams of despair, we rushed out and there, was Queen Lizzie cutting some great holes in the wind in a life and death nose dive for the three rail fence—she won just by a whisker, and for three succeding days there was no stringhalt in the black spindle shanks of Lizzie, the abo. Queen. Nelly, the cow, reigned supreme. And although the flour, tea and sugar cargoes that were transported from our old back door were heavy and many during these few weeks while Werriean and his troops lay on the old home farm, the brushing that was done was practically nil, I have heard dad say that, by the hordes of scrub vermin exterminated and the numerous marsupials of all breeds, and the snakes, porcupines and blue-tongued lizards, that went to extend the ebony binghies of Werriean's troop, he was well paid in the end. Of course I am speaking of our black brother of other days, not of their educated, honest and hard working descendants of today. And just in passing, it may be of interest to some of our colored readers to know that the first attempt to educate aboriginal children was made by Lachlan Macquarie at Parramatta in 1814, but it was a failure, though the Governor would not admit it. The school was broken up, it was stated, because of the bad habits of the black scholars. Well, I dunno, but I should think that the school was to teach them good habits. There was another abo. school just outside Sydney, of which a Mrs. Shelly had charge. It seemed that the primary object of this academy was to prepare the black boys and girls for a kind of married life. When they reached the marriage age, two lines would be formed, boys on one side and the girls on the other. The boys had no say in the giving or taking in marriage, but each girl in turn was given her choice of the young bucks opposite. "Which pheller you takem, Mary?" would be asked, and after a lot of hesitation and giggling Mary would say "Thissy pheller one," or "Thatty pheller sit down longa me." The couple were then homesteaded on a small block of land, but the scheme was a blob. The couple, generally taking to the life of their forefathers.
Part 2- 1st November 1929 page 7:
At the time when King Werriean, ruler of the Brisbane river tribes, with his small -detachment of some twenty or so. -black warriors, were encamped on my Dad's farm, supposed to be engaged in scrub brushing, there were fiv'e sugar mills operatingon the river, including a floating crushing plant much resembling -one of our northern river steam droghers. This old puffing-jinny was known as Old Berry's floating sugar mill, and in the season would steam up or down the river as required, crushing the smaller growers' cane on the share system, the farmer receiving -one half of the sugar (as black, as a binghie's hide), the mill owner, taking the other half, and all of the molasses, out of which he manufactured rum. Queensland rum, in those days, was -sold, over the bar at 2/6 per bottle, with the cork thrown in— there was no tax evil on .all things at that time. Now look what we have come to in this so-called civilisation of party politics, dope-peddlers, razor-men, basher gangs, hit-run motor fiends, rain-drop nobblers and the high price of beer — cripes, mates, what uncanny things they are. When Berry's old sugar tub nosed its way up along our bank, and hitched her claws to the stumps on the river's brink, there was great rejoicing in . King Werriean's stronghold, in anticipation of , the "plenty pheller chughar, plenty molayasses (molasses)— my plurry oath, bass, me Want-it rum!" And, as I have stated that in those early days rum was cheap, our bottle ancestors had the tipplers folly, drinking the rum almost before it had time to cool. Now, in these days of modern progress, rum manufactured in the Queensland sugar mills must by law be held in bond for three years before being released for sale. However, most good things do come to an end sooner or later— very of ten sooner than later. And so it was with the Werrieanites. I remember the fateful evening as if but one night had passed in that distant time and the 56 years that have since run between, when the courier came from the headquarters camp of the good King Sandy, situated in a black man's honey-bee line of flight, 30 miles distant towards the east, pitched on the -old (Toora-kerry-kerry) camping ground of their ancient 'ancestors, who, from the earliest days of the first centuries, danced the rites of the totem-pole— Where down in the shadows of the gullies low, " Their food ran wild in the long ago. And, although Werriean and his warriors were loth to depart from, their fattening ground on our old home farm they were soldiers of the King. No one saw the runner come, although they all knew quite well who and what he was, none took the slightest notice of him until he produced his token of authority, to wit, the' "pumorriay," or the King's seal, known" to us in pidgin English as the yabber-stick, without which a King's messenger will not be recognised as such. Much has been written from time to time round what some writers, who claim a, knowledge of aboriginal customs, are pleased to term the mysterious written messages that pass from king to king, or from his royal nibs to the Camps of his subjects. This is all bunk. This yahber-stick, as we may herein call it, has no power of speach. It is only . as the king's seal upon the runner's despatches. When a runner is despatched from His Majesty's gunyah, he carries his life in his dilly-bag until his return, for, should he lose this yabber-stick or royal seal, the penalty is death. When . the messenger has shown his token of authority on arrival at his destination, he then verbally delivers his message. How can mis yapper-sticK convey any meaning other, than that of the runner's identity? Some of these "pumorriay's" may be thousands of years old; they have been handed down from father to son so long as the direct line of royal blood exists, then, when the power or right to rule has been broken by lack of heirs, and a ruler from another branch of the royal family has been crowned king, a new "pumorriay" is cut, and then, at the mystic wailings . round the boria log for the late departed monarch, the newly appointed king cuts his signature upon the new seal— a notch in the centre of the. end — then, as succeeding rulers of the same family lineage come along, they add their notches along-side that of their forefathers. This goes on, as has always been done by these primitive people who have, according to research, roamed all over this part of the world for 26,000 years before ever a white man's hobnails had crushed its grass. All these "pumorriay's" are of different make, no two being the. same, and, although they differ in design and name over ranges wide, their meaning is the same. Many of these tokens are covered with notches— the royal register of the kings' that have reigned in the line which that "pumorriay" . tokened right back to the time of darkest Australia— so entirely different from to-day, of course. As my thoughts wander back to the old home, farm, I see again, the small cleared patches and the long scrubby stretches where the wongas cooed. And, as I look out upon the broad bosom of the river in fancyreal, I picture there the old floating mill of the long ago that is not even a memory to" most who are there, for of that old pioneer school who blazed the trail, all have gone where the Jordan flows. But, the tide still ebbs round that river bend, now a ' suburb of a greater .Brisbane. However, after the arrival of the King's messenger the camp of Werriean was the scene of activity, as on the morrow, so the .orders ran, Werriean was to march forward and connect with the main army (at the Pine River, south of Brisbane) led by King Sandy himsielf, who, for close upon half a century now, has slept in peace in that forest glade, the burying ground of thousands of kings. We all turned, out next morning to see the warriors start. All were in marching order: — a flowing' shirt-tail and red painted legs — fancy meeting that on a Brisbane street today. As is the custom, the gins were converted into the baggage train; Lizzy, in accordance with her high rank, was given the honor of the major burden. She packed the dunnage of the Royal gunyah, and was the amunition waggon, Royal perambulator, and sick dog ambulance— Lizzie Was the dinkum queen of the pack train. There is a general belief amongst whites that why the aboriginals' have so many dogs is purely their love for them; this is not the reason at all. If it were not for the dogs, the abo. who lives by the chase would often be "-big pheller hungry me." Those there are who argue that the black man, being lazy, makes the women, when on the -march, carry the camp outfit— this is a libel on our black brother." When on the march all the males are working their hardest, hunting the evening and next morning's meal. We hear a good deal of the job of providing rations, when on 'the march, for, say, 10,000 white soldiers; well, then, just consider the big problem which confronts the aboriginal leader of a party of his tribe 'perhaps 300 strong, - on the march, who have to be provided for. I have met (what is mostly called "a mob of blacks" by old-timers) parties of abo. walk-abouts' in greater numbers than mentioned above; I have seen, and not so long, ago, up in a north-west wild buck stronghold about 500 all told, and more than 95 per cent, of them spoke no word of English. There live the finest specimens of the aboriginal race; all men average 6 feet, and the secret of this is that certain surgical operations are performed, which takes place at appointed seasons of the year. At this hostile meeting on the battle-field of the Glass-house Mountains, the' last dihkum scrap south of Wide Bay and which, gave rise to that black man's legend, the "Weellabala Mollayan" (the spirit eagle), there were camped in the vicinity for two weeks or more upwards of 700. aborigines. To provision this vast army, entirely upon the chase, was no picnic- — there would, of necessity have been many black , legs in more ways than one, had the 44 hours a week been suggested, as an award. We speak of the easy, lives which these primitive people of our bush lands lived in their ancient, camps where rivers flowed, but in their lives of reality it is not so; lean seasons come the way of the black man as they come to the whites. " In a camp such as this all live stock — aye, and long time dead stock, too— finds its way into the hunter's dillydbag, be sides the usual marsupial provender. All things crawling, jumping and flying, things uncanny, were carried to the camp — "wing'adee" (fire), toads, lizards, snakes, beetles, bugs, grasshoppers, and frogs— all : helped to stoke up Jacky, to whom nothing comes amiss. In the early years, the blacks of the Darling Downs, country and from further north fattened up to incredible proportions in the bunyah dropping season in the scrubs of the Bunya-bunya Mountains. Most States where the black man wandered did have seasons when the community felt more at peace with the world, whether a world of a larger or a smaller outlook. The dairy farmer has his good seasons when the milk stream flows. The north east West Australian blacks have their yearly banquet in March, when the huge flys of that name are like swarming bees. This may seem but poor feasting for human beings of God's creation, but we must remember that, in that waterless region, game of any kind is generally conspicuous by its absence. This legend, of the "Weellaballa Molayan," of which I will tell in our next, survived oh the coast while a black remained, and, in fact, spread to many parts of Australia. I have heard it spoken of by an old aboriginal on the Macleay, and in Western Australia has the tale been told of "Peroo Weelaballa Mollayan meet Wingadee yabba unliman weelalla-b'ah juro yaranya" (the spirit eagle round' the camp fire when the wind is sighing in the tree tops); And the piccaninni comes at his mother's knee as "gillarbowindi" (the rising moon) peeps through the "yerrenya" (tree tops) as it slowly rises up from the east, the land where"Peroo Weellaballa Mollayan" wails.
Part 3 - 8th November 1929 page 7:
So far as I am aware, movies have hitherto not attempted the screening of an aboriginal battle, and, although these scraps are mostly bloodless of affairs — never becoming too alarming — such pictures would, I feel sure, be of great interest, and in only a few more years will be a past page in Australian history. However, this battle of which I write — the last dinkum shindy south of Wide Bay —was in reality of a different nature to any that had gone before in the memory of the oldest white settlers in that part, which was then a very widely scattered community consisting of a few pioneering bullockies and cedar-cutters. I am sorry that I cannot describe to you the abo. battle formation, never having been an eye-witness to a set-to of this kind; but I have seen one fight at least, which was some what serious — this scrap was between two civilised bucks of the Northwest, knives were the weapons used, and it was to the death. Even black maidens, at times, are the cause of much bloodshed. Most aboriginal battles which take place between tribes of different districts, and at A fixed time and place — taking -months of preparation, mobilisation and war declaration — are, as a rule, of a sham fight nature, generally ending in a big corroboree in which, "after the treaty,' all take part. It is the duty of the gins to run and pick up all the spent amunition— spears, boomerangs, throwing sticks, etc.— after they have been hurled, and to act as a field ambulance. That was how poor old Queen Lizzie met her end. There was a good deal of mystery surrounding the sad circumstances which gave rise to the black man's legend of the "Weelaballa Mollayan" (the spirit eagle)— a legend, I may tell you, that is whispered in awe round the camp fires where black men dwell. " In this battle there were about 30 killed and wounded, but, upon the death of Queen Lizzie, hostilities ceased, never again to be resumed south of Rockhampton. Lizzie, it would appear, ever a worker, was cruising round under a full head of steam, through the oceans of blood, salvaging the spent war tools and other mighty engines of destruction, when, alas, she herself was hulled amidships by a wide flying spear when snatching a spear from the gorey hide of a fallen foeman. Lizzie foundered, so it was believed, because King Werriean had decreed that she should fall to the throw of his bribed spearman. Had Werriean heard of that in-human monster, King Henry VIII ? There was no divorce in King Werriean's religion — either it was death or stick to the same old Meerikerry,(lame one). Werriean, the black, like Harry, the white, had his eye on a young flapper. Anyhow, Werriean took his young bride to the Royal gunyah the same evening. Many were the dark looks cast upon his Royal Nibs. Some of the grey beards told of a doom that would follow to the Werriean tribes. Evidence of this was to the superstitious minds of these primitive children of the forests, forthcoming on the following morning, when a great lone eagle, as black as a crow, appeared wailing and screaming upon the highest mountain peak. Here then the legend was born of the spirit eagle of the Glass-house Mountains — it was the Spirit of Lizzie, the murdered Queen. This belief was still more firmly planted in the black man's breast when suddenly the eagle dived, banked, and circled round the Werrieanites camp, splitting the morning glory with blood-curdling shrieks; and not even when the night shades told daylight goodbye, did the wailing cease, and so the old story goes that picanninnies cowered by their mothers side, as all through the night gloom the spirit of Lizzie wailed and shrieked for vengeance upon the guilty one, and would know no rest until Werriean, her earthly lord and master, had joined her again. On the second morning after the spirit of Lizzie (in black eagle form) had threatened the camp, the blacks got going when the going was good, and not for all the 'possoms on the Queensland Coast would they ever again hunt or camp within 20 miles of the old battle field. It is only a coincidence of course, but old timers "have told that" the lone black eagle, which did inhabit the Glass-house Mountains, always screaming day and night for 10 years, first made its appearance about the time when this last abo. battle took place. It was a huge giant of the air. All travellers to and from Gympie by Cobb and Co., kept a look out when in the vicinity of the mountain, and they were seldom disappointed. There would be stretching necks among the inside passengers when driver Dwyer or Teddy Wicks would pull up their team and, pointing with their whips, would call: "Look! There she goes!" Now, in the days of the butter factory, the f armer's daughter drives the milkers home where banana plantations flourish, where at evening time the air becomes heavy with sweet perfume from the snow-white blossoms of the green orange groves, and where the gramaphone and wireless send forth rich melody o'er the old battle ground of the Glasshouse Mountains, where the black man fought in the long ago. By the circumstances of this lone black eagle, one of the mountain peaks got the name of Eagle Top. Out of all of Werriean's troop who fattened up on Dad's river farm, only his Royal Highness returned to recount to us the fortunes of war, and he was accompanied by his young Queen. They say a man in love is a fool, and the older the man the greater the fool. I believe it, for old Werriean was the only blackfellow that I have ever seen to carry the dunnage! His Majesty was a great swell, puffed out. like a toad with his own wind, dressed to the nines in a policeman's cast-off -uniform, and wearing a much battered and very high shiny billy hat that had once adorned the pate of knowledge of the late Dr. O'Doherty, exiled from Ireland for the part he had played in his home land rebellion of '48. "The Moreton Bay blacks were the most friendly of all Australian tribes and were, generally speaking, always on excellent terms with the white settlers — there were a few individual outcasts, as we also have in our own race. Johnny Campbell was a black murderer, with a price of £500 upon his head; he was at large for 5 months, and was then captured by the Maroochie River blacks, and delivered up to justice. They received the equivalent of £500 by instalments — the first payment included two large new fishing boats, fishing nets, lines, blankets, tobacco etc. Johnny was hanged in old gaol Petrie Terrace, North Brisbane. The Buyah Buyah outlaw was captured after six months of freedom, by sub-Inspector White and his two trackers. There were also two or three others. The Dawson blacks of the hinterland were the most blood-thirsty of all. And although there have been many tragedies in Australia to the credit of the abo. race, none stir the imagination of the old bushman as does the mention of the Hornet Bank massacre when the Fraser family of seven— father, mother and five children — were wiped out. One small boy and his brother, the eldest of the family, escaped. When the blacks jumped in through the window they chopped this little, chap (10 year's old) across the forehead; he fell down between his bed and the wall, and whether the blacks thought they had killed him, or whether they forgot all, about him in the excitement of killing, was never known, but from where the little lad lay he saw his people dragged from their beds and slaughtered, one after the other, upon the old earthern floor. One girl broke away, but was soon overtaken, dragged back and butchered where her loved ones; lay. Then, the black fiends broke into the station store some distance from the house. Boy Fraser now crawled to the little horse paddock close by. A miracle here accurred — the night horse kept there was very hard to catch, but on this occasion,, when he saw the boy, he came up to him. a thing hie had never before done. The little fellow always maintained that the horse seemed, endeavoring to assist him to mount up on his back. The lad then, galloped twelve miles to the nearest neighbor, where, after , telling of the appalling events, he collapsed. A fresh horse was soon run up, and a rider despatched to meet young man Fraser, who was returning with the bullock teams after delivering their wool in Ipswich. This was the fastest ride ever done in Australia— the rider met the teams 200 miles along, and Fraser, in the mad race back, gathered a few determined men; they surrounded the blacks, still making merry on the plunder from the store, the gins wearing his murdered sisters clothes — and not one escaped. For six subsequent months Fraser, not quite .sane, travelled the country shooting down old and young alike — they were all black, to him. The name of Fraser became the terror of all blacks within hundreds of miles, he was stopped by the order of a Queensland -Governor. In 1892, I met old Fraser for the last time, the boy who had been, still carrying. that awful scar upon his brow. For years now he sleeps where the blue-grass waves, among the graves of the loved ones gone before— but a few old corner posts and other signs still mark the place where his old home had stood, where the stockmen pause as they ride that way to picture in fancy the despair and the suffering that once was there. On our coast today we have full blooded aboriginals that are an honor to any race— there are wasters among them, but we have them too. We hear a good deal of the scantily clad little black children in our adjacent country districts, but that is nothing. I can point out in many of our towns "old young men" who are now tailor's walking models, so to speak, and who, when boys on the old home farm, never wore pants until they were 8 or 9 years old; and when their mothers did of necessity encase their, sun-browned shanks for a trip to the township in the old spring cart, these lads would howl like dingoes (on a frosty night) for home again and their accustomed freedom of the bob tailed shirt. Now, don't you blush, my dears, it was the custom then — aye, and it's practised yet, where the magpie sings"
The author of these articles was James Henry O'Brien, (1865-1940),
who wrote under the nom-de-plume of "James Grayson" and " The O'Brehoun".
Nambucca and Bellinger News (NSW : 1911 - 1945) Thu 21 Mar 1940 - Page 2
"JAMES HENRY O'BRIEN.
On Wednesday of last week the death occurred, at the age of 74 years, of Mr. James Henry O'Brien, of Sea-street, West Kempsey, and papers of that town pay tribute to the esteem in which he was held. He was a well-known figure at various sporting and social fixtures held in the town and surrounding districts, and more especially at the annual show, where his smiling countenance and ever-ready "Cheerio" to all and sundry made for him many friends, while among the older generation he was a constant source of interesting conversation with his reminiscences of the years agone and stories of his experiences on the goldfields, and of his service with the military police while in Queensland. A son of the late Mr. and Mrs. James O'Brien, of Brisbane, he was married at the age of 30 years to Miss Mary Cunningham, daughter of the late Lawrence and Mary Cunningham. He was a member of the Queensland military police and participated in exciting and dangerous episodes connected with the maritime strike of 1891 and capture of some famous outlaws. Resigning his position in the force, he sought fame and fortune on the goldfields at Coolgardie, where he remained for a period of 17 years, and 24 years ago, came with his wife to reside in Kempsey."