The traditional homelands of ngurrampaa (camp-world) of Ngiyampaa/Ngemba family groups extend north from around the Lachlan (Kaliyarr) to the Darling (Paawan) Rivers, east to the Bogan River and west to the Darling. The Mayi (Aboriginal people) of this language area speak the Wangaaypuwan (Wongaibon) way, ‘wangay’ meaning ‘no’ and ‘puwan’ meaning ‘having/plentiful/committed to’.
The People (Mayi)
The main clan groups are Nelia Tree, Belah Tree, Stone Country, Muttagah (Marthaguy Creek), Duck Creek and the Bogan gull (Nyngan area on the Bogan river) and their areas of responsibility overlap each other.
In the northern part of this cultural area, the people identify themselves and Ngemba or Karul-kiyalu, meaning ‘stone-belonging to’. Loosely translated to English we say Stone Country people. Billy Coleman and Steve Shaw are well-known Elders from here, and the Gordons from Brewarrina also identify themselves as part of this clan.
The southern part of the ngurrampaa is home to the two main groups of Pilaar and Nhiilyi-kiyalu (‘Belah and Nelia Tree-belonging to’). Pilaar-kiyalu have strong ties to the eastern part of country. Jimmy Keewong and Fred Biggs are well-known forefathers.
The Nhiilyi-kiyalu (‘Nelia Tree’) people are strongly associated with the western portion of the ngurrampaa. A notable Elder and clever man from this group was Geordie Murray.
The south-east part of the ngurrampaa contains three main groups, which are the Bogangull, the Muttagah, and the Duck-Creek people (Mayi). These people were associated with the creeks of the Nyngan area and had close links with the Wailwan to the east of the Bogan River, into the Macquarie Marshes.
Mayi knew their southern neighbours as Kaliyarr-kiylau, or belonging to the Kaliyarr (now known as the Lachlan River). These people spoke Wiradjuri. ‘Werai’ meaning ‘no’ and ‘djurray’ meaning ‘having/plentiful/committed to’. These two groups interacted through trade, marriage, and ceremonies. One such ceremony has been documented by RH Mathews, who travelled with the Wiradjuri people to the Conobole initiation in 1896. A well-known Elder was from this area was Moolbong Johnson, who composed songs with Fred Biggs (Beckett et al).
There have been long-standing relationships with the Paakantji peoples of the Darling River to the west, Gurnu to the north-west, and Bongangull, Muttagah, Wailwan of the Bogan River to the east. Mayi traded with and married into these groups, known as Paawan Kay (belonging to the Paawan, or Darling River) and who know themselves as Paaka-n-tji, or belonging to the Paaka (their own word for the Darling River). The relationship with Bogangull, Muttagah Wailwan people, who also call their language Ngiyampaa, was very culturally close, especially in regard to ceremony and other interactions including trade and marriage.
All groups had an interconnectedness through sharing songs and stories, blood (in family ties), thingkaa (social structure), ceremony, and even country in some special places. All of the groups, though, were specifically culturally independent from their neighbours.
Wangaaybuwam (Wongaibon) language groups ate a wide array of foods depending on where they lived in the area.
For water, the people to the south (Muttaga or Marthaguy Creek, Duck Creek, and the Bogangull or Nyngan/Bogan River area) had the rivers and the creeks to sustain their water supply, although the people in the North were not well watered. These groups (Nelia Tree, Balah Tree, Stone Country) used springs and Gilgai holes as their main source of water.
The main diet of the people consisted of:
Food from the rivers
Fish (cod, perch and bopy cod), freshwater mussels, crayfish and shrimp.
Food from the swamps
Duck and other water fowl (including eggs), black snake, roots, tubers of lilies and flowers from various plants.
Food from the land
Kangaroo, emu, goanna, lizard, bird, possum, snake and insect meat, along with grass seed.
The seeds were ground on grinding stones to make flour, and then cooked.
Many of the grasses are no longer around due to farming practices of the Nyngan area.
The main plants and trees in the area now are:
Budda Bush (Sandal wood)
Used for healing wounds.
Can be smoked, to clean one’s spirit, offer protection.
Was a secret plant.
Makes a tea by putting a few leaves from this tree in hot water.
Can be used as a wash for sores.
Provides red fruit (white or blue fruit on rare occasions) that has edible flesh.
Nuts on the tree can also be eaten.
A paste can be made from the nut to treat dry skin.
Colan Tree or Gruie
Bares a mouldy apple that can be eaten.
Bares a fruit similar to a passion fruit.
Has a spiky bush.
Bares fruit similar to blackcurrants.
Has a wasabi-like hot taste.
Wild orange fruit.
Flowering leaves when eaten are like hot mustard.
Thupagah (Bush Banana)
Fruits like a small banana.
The inside flesh and seeds are heated and eaten, or also eaten raw
Mulga Apple (very small) seed for flour.
Hard wood for making tools and implements.
Roots used to make spears.
Used to make tools and implements (now rare in Nyngan area).
Used by itself or in combination with other materials to make medicines.
Used for tooth ache medicine.
Gum eaten like toffee.
The seed can be used to make flour.
Inside of bark can be stripped to make rope.
As you can see, the local peoples of the areas used all that was in their environment to sustain life. They had spiritual connections to all aspects of their country.
The Wangaaypuwan (Wongaibon) groups were connected by totem systems. Every person had one totem and some had as many as four.
This totem was one’s own responsibility, and if it was disrespected in any way, punishment would ensue. The connection to all parts of country was the people’s benefit, as Mother Earth (Gunni Thukkun) was looked after and would provide all that was needed in return.
The people believe in a creator, Biami, who lives in the sky. He is said to have given the people the spirituality, along with the rules and law to live by. He teaches not to be greedy, to share, to be respectful at all times, and never to steal power or possession as this must be earned.
Ancient spirits like the rainbow serpent Wailway, who created all the rivers and water holes, are also taught to the people. The Bogan is said to have been created by Wailway on his journeys through the country, up to the Barwon to the Narran and Narran Lakes to Namoi, and if one knows the Wailway’s story, they will also know where all the waters are.
A Dreaming Creation Story: The Brothers
As told by Uncle Paul Gordon and Uncle John Shipp. This story is the adult version and land markers.
Way back in the Nurumpa (dreaming), Biami was living with the people at a mountain near Corinda, where he shared the lore and laws that the people had to live by.
Eventually, Biama had to step back into the sky, but before he left, he gave special powers and magic to two brothers so they could share, help and lead the people into the future.
The brothers represented the Wailwan and the Wongaibon, and the powers they were given were equal.
Not long after Biami left, each brother became greedy, wanting to take over the other brother’s land and power, so that only that they could be the most powerful person in the lands.
The brothers began to fight. They fought and fought from Corinda to Girilambone. They had fought so hard and for so long that they became very tired, soon realising that neither of them could defeat the other because their powers were equal
The brothers decided to rest. They lay down at Giralmbone and fell asleep. While they were sleeping, Biami returned to see that his law of no greed and no abuse of power had been broken. He punished the two brothers by turning them into the hills at Girilambone as a reminder to all people not to be greedy, and to share. These brothers are now the boundary marker between the Wongaibon and Wailwan. The hill is a marker and the free zone between the two runs to the other side of the Bogan River.
Girilambone – Where the Stars Fell
This is the children’s version of the story.
Back in the Nurumpa, as the people moved around the land, they saw many stars falling from the sky onto where Girilambone is today.
When the people found where the stars had fallen, they discovered that there were beautiful and precious stones lying everywhere, so they all started to gather them.
The surrounding tribes had also seen the stars falling, and they too had come to investigate. Being mesmerised by the beauty of the stones, they started collecting them as well.
Fights started breaking out amongst all the people as they became greedier and greedier for the beautiful stones.
Biami watched on as the people fighting over these precious stones were breaking the law that all people should not be greedy. He covered the stones over and created the hills that we see today at Girilambone as a reminder to everyone to share and not become greedy.
The following pictures are stones found at Girilambone.
Early accounts of Major Thomas Mitchell with the Bogan River Mob
We moved (on 345 degrees) for Nyngan, which we reached at half-past twelve. We passed on our left Borribilu, and there I was introduced by the king to a new tribe. On first espying these people seated under a tree at a great distance near the river-bank, he directed my attention that way by using the same gestures which he was accustomed to make in giving me notice of a kangaroo or emu.
I accordingly left my horse, going cautiously forward with my rifle. The chief however kept by me, anxiously calling out with a pathetic voice “Myen, myen,” which words, as I afterwards learnt, meant Men! Men! But it was not until a thought had passed in my mind of firing among the group, that I had the good fortune to discover my mistake. The figures seated and covered with grey clay had very much the resemblance of a grey species of kangaroo which we had often seen on the Bogan. I then went forward with him, and was received with the most demure inattention; that is to say, by the natives sitting cross-legged, with their eyes fixed on the ground, which it appeared, was their formal mode of expressing respect of consideration for strangers when first received.
A massacre occurred in the area in 1841. During a prolonged drought, nine stockmen employed by William Lee set off from a station sixteen kilometres north of Peak Hill in search of water with twelve hundred cattle in tow. They came across a large waterhole to the north of present-day Nyngan, where a large number of Aborigines camped. The whites informed the Aborigines that only those who wished to work could stay and the rest must leave. Not surprisingly, this caused considerable ill-feeling. When one Aborigine shook his fist at the stockmen, he was strung up by the wrists and whipped. One of the white men was concerned at the signs of growing resentment and tried to convince the other to leave, but failing in his endeavours, he departed on his own. He looked back later in the day and noted birds of prey hovering over the distant site. he returned and found three badly mutilated bodies and two survivors with severe wounds.
When the deaths were reported, a police troupe was sent to inflict punishment. It is said three were killed and three arrested, but it is believed that hundreds more Aborigines were subsequently killed. Certainly when Thomas Mitchell revisited the area in 1845, he was surprised by the absence of Aborigines when he had estimated a thousand to live along the river during his 1835 expedition. When word of the massacres reached Governor Gipps, he cancelled Willian Lee’s squatting license.
(Information originally sourced from the Sydney Morning Herald website.)
Some more information on European contact
The first European to visit the Nyngan area was prolific explorer and surveyor Major Thomas Mitchell, in May 1835. His party camped beside the Bogan River on the site that is now Nyngan.
The district was originally inhabited by the Ngiyampaa Aborigines. Mitchell recorded the local Aboriginal word ‘Nyngan’, said to mean ‘long pond of water’, though other meaning have been put forward. Squatters had settled in Mitchell’s wake before he had even begun the return journey.
The acting botanist with the expedition was Richard Cunningham, the younger brother of noted explorer Allan Cunningham. He was killed by Aborigines eighty-four kilometres south-east of Nyngan when he got lost after straying from the main party (a cairn marks the spot, near the locality of Tabratong). Apparently Cunningham approached the Aborigines gesticulating that he was hungry. They fed him and he made camp with them, but he arounsed suspicious in the course of the night when we arose several times, so they clubbed him to death while he slept. The police investigated and arrested three men who readily confessed. Two later escaped and a third was taken to Sydney, his fate unknown.
It was estimated that around 1000 Wangaaypuwan (Wongaibon) language speaking people lived on the Bogan at the time of Mitchell’s visit, but in the memory of a local man by the name of J.W. Lynch:
I can remember as a boy great gathering of blacks here to attend their periodical Coroboree. On one occasion, seven hundred men gathered at a place near the town called Nyngan Waterhole and held a Coroboree that seemed to go on for weeks.
This would indicate a mens initiation ceremony as there were only men in attendance.
J.W. Lynch also tells about the time his family wanted to move to the Bogan:
They had heard that attractive accounts of the rich and unoccupied territory which lay along the Bogan and they decided to make a selection there, if possible. But when they arrived in 1954, they were scared off by the blacks. The Bogan river blacks at the time were a very numerous tribe, and they were extremely truculent and warlike. They seemed determined that the white settlers should not be permanently among them. Their attitude was so threatening that many people decided that it would not be safe to remain, and they moved to Wellington.
The Wangaaypuwan (Wongaibon) language groups along the Bogan were many in number, and didn’t take lightly to the settlers taking over their land. Their land meant all to them and their ancestors are buried there. Their connection to country and love of Mother Earth kept them in the respective area and only moved among neighbours when marriages, ceremonies and Coroboree took place.
There is evidence everywhere in the district of the local Bogangull people and their neighbours. The stone tools, cutting blades, hammer stones, grinding dishes, stone flakes and axe heads, scared and carved trees, burials and ceremonial grounds are found all over.Story Contributed by Raylene Weldon from Nyngan High School. Published in 2016.