The Darkinjung


Climatological changes between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago resulted in a drier inland while temperatures dropped some 5°C.  With a rise in sea level the Aboriginal people had to move from what was previously a seashore to higher areas inland.  The early Australians had to adapt to these changes in order to survive.  It is believed to be around this time also that the inland areas including the Watagans and Wollemi became occupied.

A further remarkable change took place between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago.  Within a very short period, new stone tool technologies spread all over the country. This may have been related to a change in religious and social life, but so far it is a mystery why and how this happened.

The people between Botany Bay and the Hunter

Archaeological evidence shows that the area around Sydney was one of the most densely populated areas in Australia. When the white man arrived ignorance, greed and a total lack of regard for the social structure of the original Australian people soon wiped out its 13,000-year-old local culture.

The Eora (the original inhabitants of the Sydney area) first treated the whites as guests.  Their hospitality changed to hostility when the whites tried to occupy their territory.  Consequently the Eora tried to fight a small-scale guerrilla-type war against the British. But the Eora – an unwarlike people with inferior war technology – were finally defeated when the Eora warrior Pemelwuy was killed in 1804.

Two important battles were fought – at Parramatta and at the Hawkesbury River near Richmond. In total, a few hundred British soldiers were killed in the battles and raids.  None of the Eora people survived.

Apart from warfare, the original Aboriginal population in the Sydney region was also greatly diminished by smallpox and other European diseases.

Also living in the area at the time of European settlement were:

  • Dharug – they occupied the land that is now suburban North and North West Sydney, Windsor and Richmond;
    • Darkinjung – now Gosford, Wyong, Wollemi National Park;
    • Awabakal – now Newcastle, the Entrance.

Together with the Eora, these groups for the most part lived on friendly terms with each other and engaged in frequent trade, corroborees and other communication.

Darkinjung – 5,000 people

The Darkinjung people occupied an area with a small strip of coastal land between Gosford and Wyong.  The Watagans was their border with the coastal Awabakal people. The northern border with the Wonnarua (Hunter Valley) people was more or less the watershed between the Hunter and the Hawkesbury Rivers formed by the Northern Watagans under Kurri Kurri and Cessnock, the Hunter Range north of Wollombi, and the Howes Valley.  All the way down to the end of the Wollemi National Park, the peaks of Mount Monundilla, Mount Coricudge and Tyan Peak (north of Lithgow) formed a natural border with the Wiradjuri People.

The southern border more or less followed the Hawkesbury River.  However, the Dharug occupied the Brisbane Waters area north of the Hawkesbury.

It is estimated that the Darkinjung population was some 5,000 at the time of settlement.  All the people mentioned spoke the Yuin-Kuric language and the Kamilaroi, a powerful group occupying mid-west NSW, dominated their social structure.  The Darkinjung went into Kamilaroi land for what were termed wife raids, and there are recorded wars between the Kamilaroi and the Darkinjung. But, on the other hand, the Kamilaroi were allowed to cross the border for their annual religious ceremonies near Mount Yengo.

The Aboriginal kinship structure built on the Dreaming

As already mentioned before, the original Australian Aboriginal kinship structure dates back tens of thousands of years, and was passed on from generation to generation.  Initiation played a very important part in this process.

The Darkinjung system was matrilineal;  kinship was passed on from the mother.  Matrilineal kinships generally had more totems than patrilineal kinships – it is believed that the matrilineal kinship structure preceded the patrilineal.  By birth the Darkinjung belonged to one of the two kinships;  these two were divided in four classes.  Apart from this there were six totems.

Exhibit 1 – Darkinjung kinship structure

Kinship Classes Totems
Bya Kangaroo
Dilbi Possum
Kubi Goanna
Kumbo Emu
Kupathin Bandicoot
Ipai Black Snake

Source: Kinships Organisations & Group Marriages in Australia N.W.T. Thomas 1906

According to anthropologist NWTThomas, Bya, Kubi, Kumbo and Ipai were the sons of Daramulun, the hero spirit of the peoples in the Sydney area.  Daramulun formed a dichotomy with Baiami, the God of most Australian Aboriginal population.  At  Flat Rock, close to the Boree track, there are rock engravings that, according to the same source, show us ‘god’ (Baiami?) explaining the mysteries of life to the four sons of Daramulun.

There were some 600 different Aboriginal groups in Australia and over 400 different kinships and blood names.  The Darkinjung were heavily influenced by the Kamilaroi, but other people were also part of the overall system of shared kinships and classes.  Totems were sacred and could only be used by certain members/age groups under certain circumstances at specific ceremonies etc.

The most important function of the kinships was the regulation of sexual relations. A Bya man could only marry (= have sexual intercourse with) a Bitha woman (female name for Kumbo).  If her totem was an emu then all her children would be of the emu totem too.

Men and women were free to have more partners within the system outlined above;  however in most situations a man only had one wife.

There are several ceremonial places where the young were taken during their initiating process and taught about the kinship and totem laws. A cave in the lower Wollombi Brook area, called the Maiden Defloration Cave, was also used for instruction.

The main initiations related to the young males.  They most probably took place in the Boree area. After their initiation the young men went on a trip with their elders and were taught the rights and responsibilities of their totem. Yengo Creek was part of this initiation ‘track’.

The rights and responsibilities of the totem

Within the kinship structure all matching Aboriginal women were seen as wives to all matching men, and the same applied to the children born out of such relationships.  There are no words in the Aboriginal language that distinguish a woman as a specific wife or a child as a specific daughter or son.

Because marital relationships were so firmly laid down under the kinship structure, it was sometimes necessary for women to be acquired from different groups.  This could either be done at corroborees with friendly neighbours or through so-called ‘wife raids’ into enemy territory.

The matrilineal kinship of the Darkinjung also required that the woman live with the relatives of the man.

A matrilineal kinship, however, had a weakening effect on the power within the group. In the matrilineal kinship the influx of women from different groups brought new classes and totems into the people. This meant a lot of different totems within one extended family group. In a patrilineal kinship (for example, in the Western Desert) the man provided the kinship and the totem. This resulted in a larger number of individuals within one totem. In warfare, hunting, etc this proved to be an advantage. At the time of the European settlement the trend in Aboriginal Australia was towards a patrilineal system.

Apart from sexual relations, the kinship also regulated other levels of the Darkinjung society.  All men of the same totem were obliged to help each other.  If one was attacked, the other totem brothers had to help, rightly or wrongly.  They hunted and fought together, performed their ceremonies, undertook obligations, etc.

The law of kinship also regulated hunting. The Darkinjung, like all Aboriginal people, were not allowed to kill or eat their own totem and there were a range of other rules that, as a side effect, also prevented the over-killing of animals.  The women had similar rules regarding the consumption of the meat of their female totem animal.

Based on the estimate of 5,000 Darkinjung, there must have been some 100-200 local groups or family bands. Each one of them the responsibility for looking after their own territory and sacred sites. They had to clear water banks, burn off land to regulate the growth of bush food and game population, look after the fishing works (where applicable), etc. In certain situations, such groups also ‘possessed’ certain fruit trees and other valuables on the land.

Daramulun and other spirits

Land management traditions were passed on from generation to generation.  Throughout the Darkinjung land, the observer will spot maps on rocky outcrops and on ridges, in paintings and carvings that indicate sacred sites, waterholes and hunting tracks.

The Dreaming had an overwhelming influence on the daily lives of the Darkinjung.  Apart from more or less traditional Aboriginal Dreaming spirits and heroes such as Daramulun, they also believed in a range of more or less ‘social’ spirits such as:

  • Bugger – a very evil old fellow that eats all the meat in the camp;
  • Yaree Yarwoo – a four-eyed spirit causing sickness;
  • Milegum –  bold spirit with immense nails;
  • Wabbaoee – who commanded the seasons;
  • Wallatu – spirit of the poetry;
  • Muree – the fire spirit.

Spirits could make the cave shelter collapse if you didn’t whistle before you went to sleep.  Archaelogists have concluded that this might account for the fact that the Darkinjung people preferred open camp sites rather than using the numerous caves that can be found everywhere in Darkinjung land.

The spiritual centre of the Darkinjung land was Mount Yengo. It was here that Daramulun left the earth after creating the Darkinjung land. According to their Dreaming, the land was already there when Daramulun arrived but it was featureless. He created the land as we see it now, with the mountains, rivers, plants and animals.  Other flat mountains such as Mt Warong and Mt Warrawalong – as well as Burra Gurra (Devil’s Rock) – are closely associated with Daramulun’s visit.  He used these mountains as stepping-stones, which is why they are so flat;  and he left his footprints on the rocks of Burra Gurra (Yengo in the Aboriginal language means ‘stepping stone’ or ‘step up’).

Mt Yengo is as important to the Darkinjung and their neighbours as Uluru is to the Aboriginal people in the centre of Australia.  There are a very large number of significant ceremonial sites.  Apart from Burra Gurra at Boree and Daramulan’s Flat Rock there is a cave that was perhaps used by the Kuradji (Shaman/ medicine man) in this area.  The Kuradji is often depicted as anthropomorphic (half man/half animal).  See video clip. The spiritual significance of the Bucketty surroundings is still felt by many of the people who live here today. The role of kuradji (shaman) and their role in traditional societies around the world is also discussed in the general history section.

The significance of Mount Yengo was also recognised by the neighbours of the Darkinjung.  There were several Bora grounds (where the initiations took place) and other ceremonial places, such as Burra Gurra.  There was also at least one Darkinjung Bora place situated in the Watagans.  Other ceremonial sites were found at Tuggerah where the Wyong Creek flows into the Lake, at Quorrobolong, Laguna, Dairy Arm and Paynes Crossing.

On ceremonial occasions, neighbours were invited – not only from within the Darkinjung group but also from other befriended peoples such as the Dharug and Awabakal.  For the initiation ceremonies at the Bora site, one of the people to be initiated lay down on the ground and the outlines of the body were marked with sand heaps.  The figure that was thus created in sand represented Daramulun.

This particular ceremony was the climax of the initiation process, the whole of which could take as long as a year. The exact process of the Darkinjung Bora is unknown but possible elements are:

  • Introduction to sacred sites throughout the whole Aboriginal area. Such a trip could take up to one year.
  • No sexual contact and sometimes no physical contact at all.
  • No touching of water (drinking through a straw).
  • Being painted with ochre, scarring the body with burning sticks, ceremonies with a stone knife and other activities that were secret.

The final event was the evulsion of the front tooth which took place with the initiate sitting on the back of one of the leaders.

Introduction to the sacred sites, kinship laws etc took place at times other than during initiation.  Laws and Dreamings were passed on according to the age level, gender and totem.

Aboriginal roads

There were many Aboriginal tracks through the area.  The most well-known are the Boree and Bulga tracks;  these and others later became parts of the roads surveyed, with the assistance of Darkinjung trackers, by white settlers in the 1820s.  Of course it wasn’t realised at the time that they were basically signing their own death warrants by providing this service to open up their country. The major trading and communication routes through Darkinjung land are:

  • From south-east to north-west – the Boree track, one of the only original Darkinjung tracks still in use.  This track also follows the Hunter Range.
  • From north to south – the Macdonald River and Mangrove Creek. The mountain range between Kulnura and Laguna and the Wollombi Brook.  The route to the sea was off this track following Murrays Run and the Yarramalong Valley.
  • The numerous other creeks and mountain ranges were also used by the Darkinjung groups either for transport or settlement purposes.

Val Attenbrow’s archaeological work in the Upper Mangrove Creek showed Darkinjung evidence at virtually any creek and in any occupiable cave in this area.

The three invasions into the land of the Darkinjung

A dramatic change in the Darkinjung society took place between 1790 and 1830.  The first Aboriginal groups that were affected by the British were the groups occupying the lower and upper Mangrove Creek and Macdonald Rivers.  Before they were deprived of land, the first smallpox epidemic from 1789 and 1790 had already diminished the population of these groups.  This was followed by the settlers’ killings in these areas in ‘defending’ their newly-granted land against the ‘savages’! There has always been a suspicion that small pox was deliberately released among the Aboriginal population. Evidence pointing in that direction include the fact that the British Government had used such tactics among the rebellious Indians in North America. There is evidence that in Australia under  British Government rule waterholes and flour was poisoned and that rebellious Aborigines were hunted down by the military and the native police. As Dr Mark Wenitong mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald (7/6/2021), using biological warfare would fit into these tactics.

Between 1818 and 1825, three different settlement movements had its effect on the Darkinjung:

  • from the north over the Hunter and the Wollombi Brook;
  • from the south through the abovementioned valleys;
  • from the east via the Yarramalong Valley.

An infamous settler in the Yarramalong Valley was reported to have frequently fired at the local Darkinjung people.

Another smallpox epidemic among the Awabakal at what the British called the Coal River (Newcastle) affected both the Awabakal and the Darkinjung people.  Family groups had to regroup in order to survive and from the original 100-200 groups only a handful survived: the Wollombi people, the Wyong people and the Brisbane Water people (Dharug and Darkinjung).  It is likely that survivors of other groups mixed with neighbouring peoples or retreated in the rugged western mountainside.

By 1850 only a few of the Aboriginal Darkinjung survived. Records indicate that Mogo Creek and Bumble Hill were amongst the last places where Darkinjung people lived.  Bumble Hill is named after the Darkinjung man who lived there until he died around 1850.

“Local legend has it that Bumble (he limped) told the local people that if he died he would go away and nobody would be able to find his body, and this was precisely what happened.”

The large, badly damaged cave in Mogo still shows plenty of evidence of Aboriginal occupational.  Mogo is an Aboriginal word for a stone axe – the basalt deposits in the river bed here were excellent material for the manufacturing of stone axes.  These tools and quartz (which had religious qualities and was used by kuradji -shaman-  in their trance sessions) were traded with other people.

The last people from the Darkinjung who survived white occupation (approximately 50) were brought together at a reserve on Wheelbarrow Ridge in Lower Portland near the Colo River and was known as the Darkinjung Reserve.  The reserve was created as a response to the displacement of Indigenous people from their traditional lands by European settlement. It was intended to provide a place for the Darkinjung people to live and continue their traditional way of life, including hunting, fishing, and gathering. However, life on the reserve was often difficult, and many Indigenous people experienced poverty, poor health, and social isolation. It was at this spot that the last recorded corroboree took place around 1880. R.H. Mathews  an Australian surveyor and self-taught anthropologist published several articles and books on Aboriginal culture, including “The Burbung of the Darkinung Tribes,” which describes the last recorded corroboree at Wheelbarrow Ridge in 1880.  “Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales” (vol. 15, pp. 75-86).

Despite these challenges, the Darkinjung people maintained their cultural traditions and identity on the reserve. They continued to practice their language, ceremonies, and cultural activities, and developed a strong sense of community and connection to their land.

Today, the Darkinjung people continue to work to maintain their cultural heritage and connection to their land. The Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council was established in 1983 to represent the interests of the Darkinjung people and manage their land and cultural resources. The Darkinjung Land and Environment Team is also involved in land management and conservation, cultural education, and community development.


Bucketty: Mountains springs

The name ‘Bucketty’ is possibly the English pronunciation of the word that the Aboriginal people used for this area, meaning ‘Mountain Springs’.  There are indeed a large number of natural springs in the Bucketty area.  Tradition has it that the name Bucketty specifically referred to an area which is now called the Bucketty Paddocks, close to what is now the corner of George Downes Drive and the Great North Road (St Albans Road).

  • On Good Friday 1998 the community unveiled a monument on Walkers Ridge Road a few hundred metres from the Letter A, to commemorate the Darkinjung people.  The site has wonderful views towards Mt Yengo.  Representatives from the Darkinjung and Wonnarua Land Councils, Cessnock Council and the local communities took part in a small ceremony, with performances of Aboriginal dancers and the Bush Acappella Group.

Text on the Darkinjung commemorative plaque

The Darkinjung

The land around you is that of the Darkinjung people who lived here for at least the last 20,000 years until approximately 1850 when the last people died or were taken away from their traditional land. Their land was bounded by the Hawkesbury and Hunter Rivers, the Pacific Ocean at Wyong and the Wollomi peaks in the west. The Darkinjung people were the custodians of Mt Yengo, the flat mountain to the right of you. This mountain is of great spiritual importance. Not only to the Darkinjung, but also to neighbouring Aboriginal people. It was from here that the Great Spirits, Baiami and Daramulan, created the lands as we can see them today. From Mt Yengo they went back into the heavens. There are numerous sacred sites in the area around you, most of them within view of Mt Yengo. Annual ceremonies and festivals took place, including the important initiation of the boys in the Burra Gurra area and of the girls in Murrays Run.

The people from Bucketty and surrounding districts, together with the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council, with the financial assistance of ICI Australia erected this monument to commemorate the Darkinjung. This monument is a reminder for all of us to continue the Darkinjung tradition of custodianship for the land in which we live, work and enjoy ourselves. We hope that you will take some time to sit down in peace and quietness to enjoy the view and to take in the spiritual powers radiating from this land. Bucketty Tidy Bush Community.

Next see: The Convict Era

We moved from Bucketty to Brisbane in 2019 and in the early history I researched of this this city I also wrote about the Turrbal People. In 1989 I spend to weeks with the Pitjantjatara People in the Central Dessert and I a wrote down my experiences on this fascinating journey.