The last big fight at the pullen pullen (Roma Street Parkland)

Sometime around 1850 Tom Petrie witnessed a large fight. The following is an abstract from his daughter’s story on the event (source Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland , Constance Campbell Petrie, 1904). It most likely was the last big gathering of this kind in this part of Meanjin (central Brisbane). In the early 1850s the area was cleared of Aboriginals by the Native Police.

Here is Tom’s report. A large corroboree had been organised by the Ipswich tribe (Jagura people). There had been an initiation ceremony for the young boys (kippas) at the Stamford Bora Ground (Kippa Rings).  From here they were taken to the pullen pullen (fighting) grounds (around Roma Street Parkland) near the most important local Aboriginal site Barrambin (Victoria Park) where the women (gins) were dancing. The boys arrived in procession, fully decorated. The women – who were not allowed to be at the initiation ceremony – were delighted to see their boys back. The initiation story includes them as boys being swallowed by the medicine man (Kundri) and regurgitated as men. Which of course was a frightful event.

The various groups had their camps as follow:

  • The Brisbane, Stradbroke and all those from the area between Brisbane and Logan had their camp onwhat is now Albert Pak and Roma Street Parkland.
  • The Northern tribes camped on the site of the present Normanby Hotel.
  • The others on Green Hills (Petrie Terrace), the current site of the Victoria Barracks

As was usual the case after such event, the time arrived to settle disputes. A fight erupted between the tribes from the north of Brisbane (Bribie, Mooloolah, Maroochy,Noosa, Durundur, Kilcoy, Barambah) against those from Brisbane, Ipswich, Rosewood, Wivenhoe, Logan and Stradbroke Island. In all some 700 people (men and to a lesser extend women) took part in the fight.

Tom reported on several occasions the arbitrarily nature of disputes For example, when a person unexpectedly died or died of an unknown case the blame was laid at a neighbouring tribe. At corroborees, fights or any other occasions a person could be singled out as being the cause. This was basically a death sentence for that person. That person had nothing to do with the death and was totally oblivion of the fact that he was accused. It didn’t have to be an official  fight where he was attacked that could be at a raid, a hunting activity or anything else. Of course when he survived such an attack he knew that he would forever remain a target.

Back to the fights at the pullen pullen. This one started with the Brisbane tribes chasing the others as far as Red Hill. Two men of the Northern Tribe were wounded (one was speared through his calf and the other one through his thigh), and the fight was stopped when their friends shouted ‘tor’ meaning ‘wounded’’. The Brisbane group retreated and were consequently chased back to the riverbank, where the road to Milton started. Here three of their side were wounded (one by a boomerang in the chest, one speared through the foot and one badly hit by a waddie (club) on the head). Both sides now decide to rest for a while roughly 100 meters apart.

But a short while later two men started to taunt the other group, and they in turn retaliated and the fights continued in all earnest. Tom observed how skillful most spears, waddies and boomerangs were dodged. There were also individual fights. One of the Ipswich man challenged a Bribie man who he accused of being the cause of the death of his friend, calling him all sorts of names and uttering dreadful threats. After one of the shields was split, they continued a hand-to-hand battle with knives (stone). After some serious injuries, the two were pulled apart by friends. It was found that the Ipswich man had fewer wounds, so his enemy could give him an extra cut to make the outcome more equal and thus justice was done.

The fights continued for several days and in between they went out for food.

  • The Ipswich, Mount Brisbane and Wivenhoe tribes went hunting in the shrub of Toowong (this referred to the bent in the river).
  • The Logan, Stradbroke and some of the Moreton men went to Kurilpa/Kureelpa (West End). To get there some went in canoes, others swam across.
  • Some Northern tribes hunted at Buyuba (Enogerra Crossing), others went to the Hamilton scrub.
  • The Brisbane tribe themselves stayed in their area (Bowen Hills, Spring Hill, New Farm, etc.)

The next day they all enjoyed a big feast of all sorts of animals. After this however, they all painted themselves again and the fights continued. Tom also observed the fight of two gins of the same tribe, one around 18 years old and the other one over 30. They fought over a young man they both claimed him to be theirs. The younger got the upper hand and killed her rival when her yam stick pierced the body of the other woman. The dead girl’s brother witnessed the fight and felled the young girl with his waddie by a blow to her head. Amazingly she survived this be it with a cut to her skull on her head.

Here we also witness another Aboriginal ceremony, which is hard to stomach for western people. However, it needs to be stated that in many traditional societies across the world this was practised. Out of piety, in a mourning ceremony, the body of the dead girl had been skinned, roasted, and eaten by the relatives of her own tribe. This practice is known as endocannibalism. Across Australia cannibalism was also practised in relation to the bodies of enemies and in circumstances of starvation. (Source E.G Heap B.A.) Tom has witnessed several of those ceremonies.


At the end of the fights there were many wounded, the Brisbane side being the more successful one.  Afterwards each tribe went home to their own land carrying the wounded over the shoulders, a leg on either side of the neck.

The Turrbal People

Convict and Early History of Brisbane TOC