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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ngarabal Entry Page

The South Australian Museum records:

Ngarabal (NSW)

Location West of a line from near Tenterfield to Glen Innes; on Beardy River. Closely related to the Jukambal of which they may be a western series of hordes. Both MacPherson and Radcliffe-Brown accept the Ngarabal as a separate tribe.

Co-ordinates 151°35'E x 29°30'S. Area 1,000 sq. m. (2,600 sq. km)

References: Gardner, 1854 MS; MacPherson, 1902, 1904, 1939; Radcliffe-Brown, 1930; Tindale, 1940; R. B. Walker, 1964 MS. Alternative Names Ngarabul, Ngarrabul, Narbul, Marbul (presumed to be mishearing or typographical error).

The Museum notes: this information is reproduced from NB Tindale's Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974). Please be aware that much of the data relating to Aboriginal language group distribution and definition has undergone revision since 1974. Please note also that this catalogue represents Tindale's attempt to depict Aboriginal tribal distribution at the time of European contact.


For a map see New England's Aboriginal Languages. Other spellings of the name include Ngoorabul, Ngarabul, and Ngoorabal.

The Jukambal appear to be a sub-group of the Bundjalung. Based on literary references, AusAnthrop records them as around Beardy River; Bolivia; Drake; Glen Innes; Severn River; Stonehenge; Tenterfield; Wallangara.

Posts on the Ngarabal

To be added

Return to New England's Aborigines - Reference Page.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New England's Aborigines - The work of Professor Peter Austin on linguistics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         In looking at the history of New England's indigenous peoples, I wish I knew more about linguistics. I also wish that I was sitting in a university with access to all its on-line resources rather than a very crowded home back-office.

I was searching around trying to find information on the the Ngarabal (also: Ngoorabul, Ngarabul, Ngoorabal) people who occupied the area around Glen Innes. They appear on my tribal language map but I know very little about them. In doing so, I stumbled across the work of Professor Peter Austin (photo) from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. You will find his bio here.

Professor Austin played a major role in documenting Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay) and in the development of the on-line dictionary on the language. He has also written extensively on Aboriginal languages in general.

Professor Austin's bio provides details as to his research. You will also find copies of some of his papers here. This includes a paper providing a brief history of research into the Kamilaroi language.

I will comment later on some of the things that his work tells us about the history of New England's Aborigines. For the moment, I simply wanted to make the information available to a broader audience.


In one of those wonderful pleasures of blogging, Peter Austin picked up the link and left the following comment on this post:


Thanks for your kind remarks highlighting my research on Gamilaraay and other Australian Aboriginal languages. This work could not have been completed without the contribution of many Aboriginal people in the north-west of NSW, and several linguist colleagues, including David Nathan, with whom I developed the on-line dictionary. John Giacon continues important research on New England languages -- see here.

Nice, isn't it? If you follow the second link through, you can actually hear Gamilaraay spoken

Saturday, December 13, 2008

New England's Aborigines and the importance of calories - a note

Much of human history comes back to just two things, water and calories, both linked to geography.

Water is critical for drinking and for food supply. Availability of calories determines the population that can be supported and at what standard of living.

The western slopes and plains are marked by long dry periods. During these periods, the Aboriginal populations concentrated around permanent water supplies as free-standing water elsewhere disappeared. Then with rain, they foraged more broadly.

As you would expect, there is a clear correlation between population densities and calorie (food) availability. High coastal populations were supported by a variety of aquatic and land food resources.

When I first looked at Aboriginal population densities in New England, I focused especially on settler records recording numbers of Aboriginal people. While this indicated that numbers were higher than had been realised and provided, I think, a reasonably accurate picture of relative population densities over the whole area, the approach was subject to a whole range of weaknesses.

A better way might be to look at calories.

Start with the quantity of calories required to retain life. This needs to be adjusted for the fact that the Aborigines were active in physical terms. Then what was the calorie availability like in particular areas taking seasonal factors into account?

At least two further things need to be factored in.

The first is the human need for variety not just in food, but in personal interaction. We already know that the availability of food surpluses led to gatherings of peoples for trade and other joint activities. However, we (certainly I) tend to know only major events because these were the only ones recorded in the historical record. There were certainly many others.

Intuitively, the pattern of interaction changed with increased calorie richness. This did not necessarily mean more interaction in an aggregate sense - sedentary people living in a rich environment may interact less. However, interaction is likely to be different simply because the pattern of food surpluses is likely to be different.

The second is the fact that people eat to live, not live to eat. By this I mean that in a day to day sense people would spend that amount of time gathering or hunting food that was required to meet their needs.

Anthropological research in the Northern Territory, I cannot remember the reference at this distance in time, suggested that the people being studied spent a bit over six hours a day collecting food. The rest of the time was available for other things.

I make this point because I have the strong impression that actual population densities in many places were below the theoretical maximums that would have been allowed by available food supply.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Traditional tribal structures in New England

I have become a little confused about the traditional Aboriginal social and language structures in New England. This post simply records my original understanding because this is still the base that I am using. I have yet to update it properly.

We start with the family group, often a group of related families that moved and lived together. The size varied depending upon the ecological richness of the area in question. Richer areas allowed greater population concentrations.

Moving up, the next level was the clan or horde, essentially family groups linked together who recognised a connection. This was important in marriage rules. Kinship rules could be complex. My impression is that the clan or horde was central here.

Again, and this is only an impression, ecological richness was important. In poorer areas, clan territory might be quite extensive. In ecologically richer areas, smaller and more self contained.

Moving further up, we have language groups.

When I first started research, I thought of the map of Aboriginal languages as a sheet of graph paper. Each square represented a clan or horde. Each square could understand the language around them.

Language shifted across the graph paper because of the impact of distance, leading to growing variations related to distance.

At no stage did I see Aboriginal structures as constant. My hypothesis was that migration to the Australian continent had come in waves, each wave speaking somewhat different languages. As settlement spread, so languages diffused.

Let me try to illustrate by example.

Assume that group A arrived. They all spoke the same language. New country allowed them to increase population and occupy greater territory. As they did, variations began to occur in the language.

Group B arrived with a somewhat different language. They may have come to the same or a different area.

If the same, then they placed pressure on the existing inhabitants, encouraging them to move to new areas. If different, then the same process happened with group a.

This process was repeated over tens of thousands of years. At some point, the intake of new people stopped. From then, we are only dealing with the dynamics of demographic change and people movement. This led to further geographic shifts.

While generally constant in the short term, boundaries (language, horde, family) constantly shifted over longer periods. Occupation patterns in 1788 represented a point in a very long history.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

New England Australia - Tweed River catchment map

This is one of a series of posts providing maps of the various river catchments within New England. For some reason I have not been able to upload been to upload the Tweed River catchment map. Click here to access map.

Friday, December 05, 2008

New England Australia - Richmond River catchment map

This map is one of a series providing maps of the various river catchments within New England. Click on the map to get a full size map. Source

Thursday, December 04, 2008

New England Australia - Namoi River catchment map

This map is one of a series providing maps of the various river catchments within New England. Click on the map to get a full size map. Source

New England Australia - Nambucca River catchment map

This map is one of a series providing maps of the various river catchments within New England. Click on the map to get a full size map. Source

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

New England Australia - Manning River catchment map

This map is one of a series providing maps of the various river catchments within New England. Click on the map to get a full size map. Source

Full list of maps

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

New England Australia - Macleay River catchment map

This map is one of a series providing maps of the various river catchments within New England. Click on the map to get a full size map. Source

Full list of maps