When Aboriginal people use the word ‘Country’ it holds a deeper meaning than most of us know. Aboriginal culture, traditions and laws flow through nature like rivers, and shape the spiritual landscape like ancient gorges. Aboriginal communities hold a cultural and spiritual connection to land that goes deeper than the scientific classification of rock formations and forest ecosystems. Rather, it is their traditional stories and ancient knowledge, and even their ancestors, that shape the landforms, waters, air, and rocks of Australia, and run through the trees, plants and animals. It is for this reason that people have custodial responsibilities to care for their Country to ensure its health and longevity.
Last week, three of our group members were fortunate enough to accompany 20 other USC staff members on a Walk on Country guided by Neville Blackman from USC’s Indigenous Services department. The day consisted of travelling from USC Sippy Downs campus to various locations on the Sunshine Coast to learn about the importance of several particular places. The day involved visits to sites of shell middens, grinding rocks, scarred trees and a bora ring between Bli Bli, Nambour, Landsborough, Maleny and Glasshouse Mountains.
Their first stop was in Bli Bli along the shores of the Maroochy river at a shell midden. Aboriginal shell middens are distinct concentrations of shell that contain evidence of past Aboriginal hunting, gathering and food processing activities within a given area. These middens consist primarily of concentrations of discarded shell and bone, botanical remains, ash and charcoal. The study of middens can provide important information of past Aboriginal lifeways within a region. The midden that was visited, estimated to be 10,000 years old, tells us this was a popular meeting and camping place for Kabi Kabi people where years of food preparation and consumption still lies within the layers of earth (Wilson & Pearce, 2017).
Above: Shell midden within mangroves in Bli Bli
The second visit, also in Bli Bli, was at the location of several large grinding rocks and a tree engraving. The rocks are thought to have been previously used as a water filtration or storage system. The engraving depicts the creator spirit, the Sky Father Biral. Stories tell how Biral came down from the sky to the land to create its rivers, mountains, and forests. He then gave the Aboriginal people their laws of life, traditions, songs, and culture, and their first bora ring.
Above (top): Grinding rocks and tree engraving (photo: Rachele Wilson)
Above (bottom): Neville Blackman holding a rock axe (photo: Brendan Doran)
Ten minutes up the road the group stopped at the site of at least two scarred trees and an ancient view to the Blackhall Ranges. Scarred trees sites are evidence of bark and wood being removed for shields, shelters, coolamons (carrying basket for food goods or to cradle babies) and canoes. Trees were not cut down during this process and scarring is therefore evident. Scarred trees are significant evidence of Aboriginal occupation and can provide information on Aboriginal activities in the area that they are located.
Above: Neville Blackman with a scarred tree in Nambour
A further twenty minutes south in Landsborough the group visited the site of grinding grooves which are still in use by local Indigenous peoples. Grinding grooves result from the production or sharpening and maintenance of an edge ground tool such as a rock axe. These sites are generally located near creeks or rock pools. Kabi Kabi men are still using this site and continue to establish new and fresh grooves from their own tool-sharpening processes.
Above: Grinding grooves in Landsborough
The fifth stop was not at the location of a particular site, but rather, the location of a panoramic view of the Glasshouse Mountains. Here, the group was introduced to the story of the creation of the Glasshouse Mountains. According to Jinibara elder, Ken Murphey, the Jinibara use this story (see image below) to impress on the young men the importance of family and tribal responsibilities. The story can be read at the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve.
Above (top): View of the Glasshouse Mountains from Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve Above (bottom): The Glasshouse Mountains story as told by Ken Murphy located at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve
The last stop of the day saw us visit a bora ring in the Glasshouse Mountains. Bora grounds are Aboriginal ceremonial places. These are where initiation ceremonies are performed and are also often meeting places. A bora ground most commonly consists of two circles marked by raised earth banks, and connected by a pathway. One of the rings would have been for everyone — uninitiated men, women and children. The second ring would have been for initiated men and the young men about to be initiated. Bora grounds are a reminder of the spiritual beliefs and ceremonial life of the Aboriginal people. Visiting one can be a highly spiritual and even emotional event for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. This particular bora ring is located between a pine forest plantation and a pineapple farm. The second ring, only for the young initiated men, is assumed to have been located to the south, which is now the pine forest plantation.
Above: Bora ring at Landsborough
It was fascinating to be exposed to these special places which are so close to our homes and workplace. It is a shame to see the disrespect and disregard people, governments and developers have for these sites and the history they hold. It was inspiring to see the passion and hard work that key people have to protect and raise awareness of cultural heritage on the Sunshine Coast.
All in all, it was a great day. We highly recommend the people of the Sunshine Coast and throughout Australia to make use of similar Walk on Country events if they can, to give them a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, Aboriginal cultural heritage in the future.