Travelling with the Abbey Museum’s senior curator is always an adventure, as a group of Museum Friends found out as we participated in a heritage tour in mid August. Appropriately called “Stone Circles and Emu Tracks” we set out from the Abbey Museum by coach under clear blue skies and headed north to Woodford and the site of Durundur, the first sheep ‘run’ in Queensland, north of the Darling Downs. Michael has a wealth of knowledge of this area and kept us all engrossed as he wove historical stories both inspiring and also heartbreaking.
From Woodford we wound our way along the Stanley River valley. As we looked out the window over a brown-grassed landscape struggling for survival at the end of drought ridden Winter, Michael painted a picture of times long past, of a densely forested valley with giant trees with trunks three to four metres in diameter, a valley rich with resources – fruits, yams, pademelons and emus. These were the traditional lands of the Dungidau, one of the five clans of the Jinibara nation. The Jinibara take their name from the ‘jini’, the lawyer vine growing on Mt Kilcoy.
Our journey continued along traditional pathways first made by Aboriginal people, then used by bullock teams and drays of the timber cutters, later by Cobb and Co coaches and finally by us in our modern-day air-conditioned coach along bitumen roads that snake their way through this ancient land.
We stopped briefly at Lake Clarendon, a large shallow lake that was home to the Tarampa clan, sparkling blue in the winter sun before heading towards Gatton. Our tour stopped for a delicious lunch at Tent Hill Hotel. Traditionally Tent Hill Creek had an important ceremonial centre and in 1841 dozens of humpies in a large camp was demolished by an arrogant settler and 400 sheets of bark confiscated for use on his shepherds huts, possibly spelling disaster for that group of the Jagera clan of the Lockyer valley.
Travelling on we headed down the Mt Sylvia Road through the valley heartland of the Jagera nation. The afternoon highlight was the amazing Challawong rockshelter with its carved petroglyphs. The site was first recorded by Henry Tryon in 1884. Excavated by archaeologist, Mike Morwood, the site dates back about 4000 years.
Our first day concluded at Picnic Point, Toowoomba, looking back over the lands through which we had travelled, the valley of the Jagera, hearing tales of the battle of Table Top Mountain led by the Jagera freedom fighter, Multuggerah, and his band of spearmen. In the distance we could see the smoke of bush fires dotted across the landscape, reminding us of mountain top smoke signals used by the traditional peoples of this land.
Our second day dawned with a clear blue sky, despite the forecast of impending showers. Our trekkers were keen to be on their way to see what other treasures of history this part of the country had to offer. Our first stop was the famous site of Gummingurru which is in the country of the Jarowair people. The Jarowair are one of the Aboriginal groups associated with the Bunya Mountains and the feasts and ceremonies that were held there once every three years. Gummingurru consists of a number of stone circles and arrangements forming ceremonial places where young men (and possibly women) were initiated into adulthood. Some of the most easily interpreted designs include an emu, a turtle, a bunya nut, several waterhole features, a circle (probably the Bora ring itself), and a carpet snake.
From Gummingurru, we headed across country to our next stop at the Maidenwell Rock Shelter. As we travelled through the ever-changing landscape, regaled with stories of the past, large black clouds started to roll in. The road into the site was closed from flood damage last year, but undeterred; our intrepid travellers donned raincoats, raised umbrellas and headed off down the road under grey skies and just the gentlest of precipitation. The 15 minute walk along a dirt road and then up the side of a hill through large granite boulders standing like sentinels seemed appropriate when approaching this ancient site.
As we stood silently listening to Michael share his knowledge of this painted site it was not hard to look back on the pathway that we had just taken, as if looking through a crack in time to see an Aboriginal elder of the Bujiebara people walking up the path, singing the country, and carrying with him precious red ochre to paint pictures on the wall of the rock overhang, ensuring the land will continue to prosper and succour its people.
Travelling back to the Museum was a time to reflect on our journey and the special places we had visited. For all of us the experience was “eye opening”; we had been given the opportunity to see this part of our country in a very different way. It was as though layers of the landscape was drawn back for us one by one, revealing a little bit of history and offering a deeper understanding of the past. We may have visited Stone Circles and followed ancient Emu Tracks but we have all been touched and inspired by the history of a people who walked this land since the Dreamtime.