Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New England's Aboriginal Languages

Because I am about to begin posting a number of stories connected with New England's Aboriginal peoples, I though that I should post a map (original here) of New England's Aboriginal languages. The map extends down towards Sydney and misses a bit out on the left, but it gets the guts of it.

The map shows clearly the influence of geography on New England's history, including that of its indigenous people. I have added a few reference posts on this at the end of this post.

Before going on, to those who are confused about the different spellings attached to tribal or language groups, this reflects in part the differing ways in which languages can be translated into English.

If you look at the right of the map, you can see the number of language groups along the New England coast line. This reflects the richness of the coastal strip in foodstuffs and other resources. The varying language boundaries are directly linked to major river valleys, with tribal areas extending up into the mountainous headwaters.

If you look at the left of the map, you will see the large expanse occupied by the Kamilaroi along the western edge of the Tablelands and Western Slopes (modern Tamworth and Inverell are in Kamilaroi territory) out onto the Western Plains. This country was more open; the lower ranges separating the western flowing rivers allowed easy access.

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the Kamilaroi were expanding south and had entered the Hunter Valley at the time of European arrival. If true, we do not know whether or not this was the result of pressures elsewhere or simply the natural expansion of a more powerful group.

Aborginal boundaries were not static. They did shift over time.

Those who have seen Ten Canoes will have know that Aboriginal weaponry could kill. One of the elements in the film dealt with the customs involved in settling disputes between different groups. The film also draws out very clearly the differences and suspicions between groups.

In spite of rituals and customs for dispute resolution, circumstances could arise (prolonged drought is an example) where one group could decide to access another area's resources or even occupy it permanently. So boundaries shifted.

In the middle of the Kamilaroi and the coast tribes you will find just two language groups occupying a relatively narrow strip of the New England Tablelands. This was a poorer area in resource terms. It was also, or so I argued in my long past honours thesis, a marchland area in some ways squeezed between the Kamilaroi and the coastal tribes.

I will leave further analysis here to another post.

Previous Geographical Posts

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