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Aboriginal Cultural Heritage

Description of Moruya’s Aboriginal associations and the cultural landscape

Aboriginal cultural heritage in the Moruya area reflects pre-contact and post contact values, which combine to create a significant cultural landscape for Aboriginal people today. The Moruya River has provided economic and spiritual sustenance to Aboriginal people for thousands of years; archaeological sites provide tangible evidence of Aboriginal occupation prior to British settlement and preserve valuable information about traditional Aboriginal life. Travelling routes, scar trees, camping places, mythological story sites and shell middens have retained their ancient values and can be understood in the context of more recent heritage values such as those associated with the seasonal picking industry, logging, fishing, recreation, former Aboriginal reserves and the collection of natural resources. Cultural places become interlinked with each other over time and form part of the broader cultural landscape along the coast and inland to the mountain ranges.

An Aboriginal land tenure system has existed across Australia for many thousands of years. Aboriginal social organization to the Moruya area, in the past as well as in the present, can be described by different types of groupings including tribal, sub-tribal, clan and linguistic. The coastal area is tribally affiliated with the Yuin people recorded by Howitt in 1904 as extending from the Shoalhaven River in the north, to Cape Howe in the south and west to the Great Dividing Range. In 1844 Robinson and later Howitt and Mathews, recorded a number of intermarrying groups within this larger tribal area. They found that the Kudingal [Katungal] ‘live by the sea coast by catching fish’ and the Paiendra [paien = tomahawk] live in the forest and source food by climbing trees.

Within the Katungal group smaller named groups have also been identified, for instance, the term Moruya was recorded during the early contact period as Moorooya [Flanagan 1833], Moriuaa [Flanagan 1837] and Moyoru [Oldrey 1843] being the name of an Aboriginal group occupying the present day Moruya area. Many Aboriginal people today understand the term Moruya as describing that part of the Moruya River which was traditionally crossable by foot, as recorded in a 1904 science journal article:

‘…….. An Aboriginal native of the Moruya district, who is now 75 years old, states the reason they called where Moruya now stands, Cobowra, was owing to the Moruya River being crossable on foot where the bridge now crosses the river on the main southern road in Moruya. None of the old residents recollect the native name of Moruya…..’ 1904: 104

A further coastal exogamous division was recorded between Cape Howe and the Shoalhaven; the Guyangal [guya = south] occupying the southern area between Mallacoota and the Moruya River, and the Kurrial [[kurru = north] who occupied the northern area between the Shoalhaven and the Moruya Rivers, including the Braidwood district. It is here that we see how the Moruya River becomes a natural boundary between two tribal divisions. Today, some people identify the area as being associated with Dhurga [Thoorga / Durga] language, whilst others identify the area as being Walbanja, a tribal area recorded by Tindale in 1974.

Also recorded during the early contact period was the Aboriginal group named Kiyora [Flanagan 1833] or Kiora [Oldrey 1842] who occupied territory to the west of Moruya [today = Kiora]; the Aboriginal group named Gundaree [Oldrey 1842] who occupied territory on the south side of the Moruya River [today =Gundary]; the Aboriginal group named Mullinderry [Morris 1832] or Mullandaree [Flanagan 1833] or Mulendary [Oldrey 1843] who occupied the area known today as the Mullenderre Creek; and the Aboriginal group named Dooga [Oldrey 1842] who occupied what is known today as Dooga Creek. The term Mokondoora was also recorded [Oldrey 1842] as a place name, rather than the name of a group of people and refers to the present day Mogendoura Creek area.

Figure 1: Gorget presented to Timothy Chief of Merricumbene. Source: Edmond O Milne Collection# 1985.59.378

A man by the name of Bindelramma / Pindallrama or King Timothy was recorded by Morris as being present at Batemans Bay in 1832 at a blanket distribution. He was awarded a breastplate [see figure 1], which reads ‘Timothy Chief of Merricumbene’. The term ‘King’, or ‘Queen’ was often bestowed along with a metal plaque known as a ‘gorget’, ‘king’, ‘breast’ or ‘brass’ plate in honor of Aboriginal people who were considered to be leaders by the non-Aboriginal population in Australia during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Today ‘gorgets’ represent both the effect of the European culture on the Australian Aboriginal population, and a link to the land and history of specific Aboriginal groups across Australia. Merricumbene is a location within the Moruya district; we can assume that Merricumbene was a place of some cultural importance.

Figure 2: KING OF THE MORUYA TRIBE 1863. Source: original negatives taken by Charles Kerry, held by the State Library of Victoria.
Figure 3: NERELLE, PRINCESS MORUYA TRIBE 1880. Source: original negatives taken by Charles Kerry held by the State Library of Victoria.

During the 1800s reserves were being gazetted across NSW for ‘use by Aborigines’ including one at Moruya. On the 13th July 1875 an area of 24 acres near the Moruya Heads in the Parish of Moruya, County of Dampier was reserved for “… W. Campbell and road metal”. The reserve was given the number 246 [see figure 4 below].

Figure 4: Location of former historical reserve set aside on the 13th July 1875 for “… W. Campbell and road metal”, at Moruya Heads, dissected by South Head Rd and Spinnaker Place.

The Aboriginal cultural heritage values of the former reserve set aside in Moruya for Mr W Campbell relates to the reserves place in local and regional history and family connections made between Campbell and his descendants. The site is also an example of a reserve that, according to the records, was not heavily occupied during the gazettal period demonstrating that Mr Campbell and other Aboriginal people favoured more traditional camping areas during the early settlement period, regardless of British settlement and associated laws.

Although a diversity of traditional, historical and cultural attachments to the Moruya area have developed in response to variations between coastal and inland ecologies and a result of differing historical experiences, the land, waters and people are connected through country, kinship and cultural practises along the coastal region. A traditional cultural theme that continues to form a strong part of local cultural identity is people’s association with totem species. The term ‘totem’ is used to describe the complex inter-relationship between people and the natural world, the two providing mutual benefits to each other through a spiritual, yet tangible inter-dependency. The traditional Aboriginal totem for the Moruya area is the Gunyung [Cygnus atratus] Black Swan. The Gunyung will never cease to protect and bond the Aboriginal custodians of Moruya.

Figure 4: The traditional Aboriginal totem for the Moruya area is the Gunyung [Cygnus atratus] Black Swan.


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About Moruya

From its original inhabitants, the Bugelli-Manji tribe, to bushrangers, the Gold Rush and beyond, Moruya has a rich history filled with the colour and romance typical of Australia's early days.

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