I would normally never put a post up in this condition. But I promised Joanne that I would put something up by the end of the week. I am on my way to Armidale and won’t be able to revisit until Sunday night.
Setting the scene
Some fifty years before the arrival of the Europeans at Botany Bay, a war party set out from what is now Gunnedah. Their target was a strong Aboriginal group on the nearby Tablelands near modern Bundarra. The Bundarra mob was probably Anaiwan, for it had different weapons and seems to have spoken a different language from the Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay) speaking war party.
The Bundarra group had been raiding for women in an arc stretching from Goonoo Goonoo to Manilla. The Gunnedah mob had been left alone because of their strength, The raids led the groups from Goonoo Goonoo and Manilla to seek support from Kamilaroi war leader, the Red Kangaroo. Having taken control from the previous elders, he had built the Gunnedah mob up into a strong force by absorbing other groups. The Red Kangaroo argued that support should be provided because the power of the Bundarra mob posed a threat. A joint war party was formed that defeated the Bundarra group, although the result was initially in doubt. The case shows how political alliances were formed and used in Aboriginal Australia. (Michael O’Rourke, “Sung for Generations”, published by the author, Canberra 2005, pp 306-311).
Track forward 200 years. An Aboriginal woman recalled that her grandmother told her all her life not to mix with coastal people, they were never to be trusted. Axes from the last great Aboriginal battle in Armidale fought near the present day teachers college have been sourced to the Armidale area (Anaiwan speakers) and Walcha (Dainggatti speakers whose main territory was the Macleay Valley). When Anaiwan people went to Inverell for ceremonies, they always camped as close to their own boundaries as possible – they were not liked by Kamilaroi people, but kinship ties brought them together for important occasions. (Sue Hudson). This pattern in group gatherings of camping on the side nearest to home territory was common.
Aboriginal life was not all warfare, although there was more fighting than is commonly believed today. However, the examples give a hint of some of the complexities of Aboriginal society.
What’s in a name?
This is the Nganyaywana or Anaiwan welcome to country as presented by Steve Widders:
Yugga danya Ngawanya -I am a Man of the Anaiwan people.
Roonyahra tanya tampida Ngawanya - This is the ancestral land of the Ngawanya.
Ootila tanya yoonyarah -I welcome you to this land.
Note the importance placed on land. Note, too, that you already have three different names for the same language. In fact, there are far more than three. This confuses people. Certainly it confused me when I first became interested in Aboriginal history.
Confusion drops away if you remember a few things.
In 1788 there were perhaps 250 Aboriginal language groups in Australia incorporating perhaps 700 dialects[i]. Language patterned the continent in a complicated mosaic reflecting geography as well as Aboriginal history and social structures.
These various Aboriginal languages were not written. European observers trying to capture names of groups in English wrote the same word in different ways. Then, too, people describe themselves and their neighbours in different ways depending on the question. Those descriptions are simply labels. Some say I come from this place, others say that is what we call them or that is what we call ourselves.
With so many languages labelled in so many ways, you can see how confusion might arise. There is another problem. The way we think today with our fixed boundaries and hard edged labels is quite alien to the Aboriginal view of the world. Their world was structured in a very different way, leading to further confusion in question and answer.
Within this language diversity, the dominant language grouping is called Pama-Nyungan. Coined by the linguist Kenneth Hale from the words pama (person in Cape York) and nyunga (one in south western Australia), Pama-Nyungun languages have commonalities in the structure of words and the way words to relate to each other
Our records of the Anaiwan language are skimpy. For a long time, it was seen as a very distinct language, different from the languages surrounding it and those elsewhere on the continent. It took the pioneering work of linguist Terry Crowley to show that Anaiwan was in fact related to adjoining languages.[ii]
The Anaiwan, the name I shall use for the sake of simplicity, were not confused. They knew their world and their place in it.
The importance of geography
Geography, land and climate, is central to the story of the Anaiwan. The broader New England that I write about consists of the Tablelands and the rivers that flow to the north, south, east and west. East to west, the humid coastal zone ends in the escarpment from which the Tablelands slope gradually to the west becoming the slopes and then the plains. North-south, both the humid coastal zone and the western slopes and plains are broken up by a series of river valleys. Climate varies east to west and, to a lesser extent, north to south.
When did the Anaiwan come to New England?
The first European settlers arrived at Botany Bay in 1788. By then, New England’s Aboriginal people may have occupied the territory for as much as 30,000 years.
We do not have hard evidence for this date. The earliest confirmed date in New England itself comes from a dig by Graham Connor at Stuarts Point in the Macleay Valley. This places human occupation at 9,320 +/- 160BP[iii]. Further north in South-East Queensland, the Wallen Wallen Creek site shows continuous occupation from about 20,000 years ago.[iv]
We know from dating at Warren Cave in Tasmania that the Aborigines had reached Tasmania around 35,000 years ago, while dates from Willandra Lakes in South West New South Wales suggest occupation as early as 41-40,000 years ago[v]. Given these dates, it seems reasonable to assume a working date of around 40,000 years ago for first Aboriginal occupation of New England.
The Cuddie Springs site near Brewarrina is especially interesting because it suggests occupation as long ago as 35,000 years BP.[vi] However, dates here have been subject to considerable dispute and there presently appears to be no agreement on the issue.[vii]
Despite the absence of earlier dates, it is hard to believe that the Aborigines had not reached New England if they were at Willandra Lakes around 40,000 years ago, had reached the southwest of what is now Tasmania by at least 35,000 years ago.
What type of world did they find?
Sea levels fluctuated greatly during the long Pleistocene period. Forty thousand years ago, sea levels were perhaps 50 metres below current levels, creating a broader coastal plain. Rainfall was high, temperatures moderate. Rivers running east and west from the Tablelands would have carried substantial volumes of water.
In the east, the river estuaries and wetlands as we know them today did not exist, nor did bays and harbours such as Trial Bay or Port Stephens[viii]. The present sea bed drops reasonably sharply in spots, so there would probably have been a significant gradient towards the sea with current headlands standing out as hills or ridges.
The significant volumes of water carried in the eastern flowing streams would have led to some progradation pushing the land out into the sea. With time, this would have led to river estuaries, coastal dunes and marshes. It seems likely that the larger coastal strip was thickly wooded and reasonably rich in marine and land resources.
In the west, the rivers and associated wet lands would also have provided a rich environment., although probably not as rich as it was to become.
The position on the Tablelands is unclear because so much of the analysis that I have seen deals with later periods. I suspect that the Tablelands were wooded and at least visited by surrounding groups.
The size and distribution of the early Aboriginal population is obviously unknown since at this stage we have yet to prove that they even existed. My own feeling is that it was probably much smaller but mirrored the pattern at the time the Europeans arrived; higher concentrations on the coast and on the western slopes and immediate plains, sparse on the Tablelands.
From around 36,000 years ago, the climate became cooler and drier. The cooler temperatures offset the lower rainfall by reduced evaporation; the streams, lakes and wetlands of inland New England therefore retained their water, providing a continued base for Aboriginal occupation.
From perhaps 25,000 years ago, the local environment deteriorated significantly. Sahul, the name given to the continent that then included Australia and New Guinea, became very dry, both intensely hot and intensely cold. This climatic regime peaked during what is called the Last Glacial Maximum, 21,000 to 15,000 years ago.
The sea retreated to perhaps 120 metres below current levels. The sea became colder, 2-4 degrees C below current levels. On land, mean monthly temperatures probably fell by 6-10 degrees C. Extensive inland dune building suggests that the climate become much windier.
According to Mulvaney and Kamminga, severe cold, drought, and strong winds over central and southern Sahul, would have discouraged tree growth , although some species common today must have survived in sheltered or better-watered refuges.[ix]
The retreating sea would have progressively increased the size of New England’s coastal strip. The impact here would have varied along the coast, depending upon water depth. In broad terms, the immediately adjacent shallow water to the east of the present coast is quite narrow, with the continental shelf then falling away sharply.
In South East Queensland to the north, the falling waters probably extended the coastal strip to between twelve and twenty kilometres east from what is now Stradbroke Island.[x] Further south the lower water zone narrows, before widening a little after what is now Nambucca. In the case of what is now the Macleay Valley, the coast line probably extended ten to sixteen kilometres to the east.[xi]
The sclerophyll woodland and deciduous forests would have progressively colonised the new land, with the coastal dunes and associated wetlands following the shifting coast east.
The Tablelands would have been a very different story. Here average temperatures fell by perhaps 8 degrees C. The New England Tablelands marked the start of a region of cold steppe and scattered sub-alpine woodland sweeping down through the southern Snowy Mountains[xii] into Tasmania.
In the southern Snowy Mountains, the fall in temperature was sufficient to allow glaciers to form despite the lower precipitation. In New England, the higher portions of the Tablelands in the centre and south where average heights are around 1,300 metres must have been very cold, dry and windswept. Along New England’s Snowy Mountains where the highest peak (Round Mountain) is almost 1,600 metres, there were probably blizzards and semi-permanent snow despite the much lower precipitation.
To the west, Mulvaney and Kamminga suggest that much of the south-eastern interior of Sahul experienced cold arid conditions similar to modern Patagonia[xiii].
Josphine Flood notes that the pollen record for Cuddie Springs on the Western Plains shows decreasing tree, shrub and grass cover with a rise in saltbush (Chenopodiaceae) suggesting growing aridity as the as the glacial maximum approached[xiv]. She suggests that the environmental record for Ulunga Springs, 180 kilometres southeast of Cuddie Springs, shows a similar pattern between 30,000 to 10,000 BP. The net effect was an expansion of the continent’s arid core by at least 150 kilometres.
That said, the lower western Tablelands and slopes were probably vegetated by grassland with spring herbs with patches of woodland and forests. Further west, the streams crossed the arid plains.
While these changes took millennia and would not have been noticeable to individual generations, the effect on the human population must have been quite severe.
Water and food supply were two of the critical determinants of prehistoric demography. Water became scarcer, droughts more frequent. Food supply was reduced. Over time, populations would have been forced to relocate and may well have become much smaller.
In the absence of archaeological evidence, it is impossible to say just what the precise effects were in New England. While colder and drier, there would have been sufficient water and food resources to maintain populations
We know that there was Aboriginal occupation of the coastal strip given that the Wallen Wallen site in South East Queensland shows continuous occupation from 20,000 years ago, a date in the earlier part the Late Glacial Maximum. It is reasonable to assume that any occupation on at least the majority of the Tablelands ceased. But what happened further west?
Under current climate, Northern NSW is generally wetter and warmer than Southern NSW because the area is affected by two different weather patterns. Rainfall also declines to the west because of the impact of the Eastern Ranges.
The climate during the Late Glacial Maximum was clearly very different. However, my feeling is that the current pattern was replicated to some extent because of air flows from what is now the Pacific.
In later times, ethno-historical evidence suggests that the presence of standing water was very important[xv]. During wet periods, people moved out into the broader landscape, concentrating round permanent water during dry periods.
With diminished rainfall but also lower temperatures, it seems likely that there were areas on the Western Slopes and Plains that would have continued to provide sufficient water and food to maintain life. Why, then, is there still no archaeological record? It seems likely that any previous human occupation of the Tablelands would have come to an end, although people may still have visited the lower areas.
Assuming that the area was populated, the pattern of sites would have reflected then on-ground conditions. Many of the sites would have been camping sites, not easily identifiable beyond lithic scatter. Other sites would have reflected the then location of permanent water.
My feeling is that we need to chart what the landscape was like then to identify possible sites. Mind you, this may already have been done and I have simply not discovered the analysis.
Holocene New England
After 6,000 years of cold, dry temperatures, the Late Glacial Maximum began to ease from around 15,000 years go. From around 12,000 BP, the period now described as the Holocene began with warming temperatures and higher rainfall-that reached something approaching today’s levels.[xvi] Tropics monsoons increased, then between 10,000 to 3,000 years ago summer rainfalls over much of Australia exceeded modern levels, leading to rising lake levels.
Around 8,700 years BP what has been called the Holocene Warm Maximum began. This lasted until 6,000 years ago, and possibly until around 4,500 BP. Mean annual average temperatures were 0.5C
Where did the Anaiwan live?
My original research on New England’s Aborigines suggested that the Tablelands had a smaller population than surrounding areas because of a smaller resource base, It was also a marchland area whose population was squeezed between the Kamilaroi on one side, the big coastal language groups on the other[xvii]. While one element of my thinking, the movement of people off the Tablelands during winter, has been disproved[xviii], I think that the marchland element remains true.
To extend this point, consider the language pattern shown on the map. Both the Ngarabal and Nganyaywana occupy territories that are longer north-south than east-west. This pattern increased the range of language groups that they were in contact with. This meant in turn that Tablelands’ Aborigines mixed with quite different groups depending on just where they lived. Given the nature of interactions in Aboriginal society, this affected both language and the patterns of life.
The first reference we have to the Anaiwan language is William Gardner’s (1854) Ennewan[xix]. Norman Tindale (1974) recorded the location of the Anaiwan language group as occupying the New England tableland from Guyra and Ben Lomond south to Uralla and Moombie Range; north to Tingha; at Bendemeer and Armidale. He listed a variety of different spellings of the name: Anaywan, Anewan, Nowan, Enni-won, Yenniwon, Ee-na-won, En-nee-win, Eneewin, Inuwan, Inuwon, Nee-inuwon, Enuin.
Defined in this way, the Anaiwan adjoined the Kamilaroi to the south west and west, the Ngarabal to the north and the Gumbaingirr, Dainggatti and Biripi to the East.
By contrast, The Encylopedia of Aboriginal Australia (1994) follows these boundaries, but classifies the language spoken as Nganjaywana. This name (ng+anaywana+a) was originally coined by linguist Terry Crowley.
Reading the sorces, I found the varying descriptions of Anaiwan confusing and contradictory. At this point, I want to delineate some things that can be said with a reasonable degree of cetainty. In some doing, I am especially guided by the 1978 analysis of Bill Hoddinnott.[xx], although my analysis is not quite the same.
To begin with, I think that we can reasonably think of Anaiwan as a single language, although it varied greatly from north to south. Here I follow Tindale and Wafer and Lissarrague (2008:199-200) rather than Crowley, in part because of geography, in part because Crowley himself concluded that the northern and southern languages had a 65 per cent common lexicon.
In the north, Crowley suggested that the language north of Armidale around Tingha, Wandsworth, Ollera, Black Mountain and Guyra described by McPherson as Enneewin was not the same as that further south because it included lexical items borrowed from Gumbaingirr, whereas the language further south did not.
It makes perfect sense that Enneewin or Northern Anaiwan should be a distinct dialect with Gumbaingirr inclusions. Enneewin territory is bounded on the east by the watershed. Around this point is to be found the junction between those speaking Northern Anaiwan and the Baanbay dialect of Gumbaynggir. There is, however, something of a conundrum here in terms of the relationships between languages and water sheds. Mathews (1903) speaks of the territory of the Baanbay in terms of Guyra, Ben Lomond, Wollomombi, and Kookarabooka (Kookabookra). Wollomombi and indeed Guyra itself are in the Macleay River catchment, the area occupied by the Daingatti language group. However, the Macleay River tributaries have cut great gorges into the Tablelands such as that at Wollomombi; access is in fact easier from the north.
To the south of suggested Enneewin territory is a mountainous divide – known today as the Devil’s Pinch - separating the higher Tablelands around Guyra from the Tablelands north of Armidale. While geographic barriers were less important to those travelling on foot, it seems reasonable to think that the Enneewin Aborigines looked to the west, perhaps east, rather than the south.
Moving south, we come to territory clearly bordered by the Dainggati. Now the links depend upon ease of access. Walcha itself appears to have been Dainggati language country[xxi], while there are clear links in historical times between Armidale and the Macleay Valley. Reflecting this, Southern Anaiwan displays Dianggati influences.
The Northern Tablelands continues in a long sweep south of Walcha. This territory joins with another language group, the Birpai or Gadhang, with the Gamilaraay on the western side. In the far south, interconnections with the Hunter Valley languages are possible.
How did the Anaiwan live?
[i] The introductory overview material is drawn especial from John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999 pp 69-75; and Peter K Austin, Article MS 1711 Countries and language – Australia, Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics ELL2, pp 2-9,. accessed on line 19 August 2009
[ii] W G Hoddinott, The languages and myths of the New England area, in Isabel McBryde (ed), Records of times past: Ethnohistorical essays on the culture and ecology of the New England tribes, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1978, pp 52-64, pp 56-57.
[iii] G Connah, Archaeology at the University of New England 1975-76, Australian Archaeology, No 5, 1976, PP1-5.
[v] Mulvaney & Kamminga, op cit, p197. There is debate about the Wilandra Lakes dates, with some arguing for older dates. Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, J.B. Publishing, Marleston, revised edition, 2004, p1.
[vi] Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, J.B. Publishing, Marleston, revised edition, 2004, p189.
[viii] The analysis here is based on an assessment of the present coastal boating maps accessed 15 April 2009. A full assessment would require analysis of broader maps indicating varying depths of the sea bottom, allowing a better assessment to be made of the outer coastal strip..
[ix] Mulvaney & Kamminga, op cit, p116
[x] Flood, op cit, p113
[xii] I have used the term southern Snowy Mountains because New England has its own smaller range also called the Snowy Mountains.
[xiii] Mulvaney & Kamminga, op cit, p117
[xiv] Flood, op cit, p192. .
[xv] J Belshaw Population distribution and the pattern of seasonal movement in northern New South Wales. In I. McBryde (ed.), Records of Times Past, pp.65-81. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1978
Notes on References
McBryde, I.1976. Seelands and Sai Yok Pebble Tools: A FurtherConsideration, Australian Archaeology, No 4, 59-73. Archived at Flinders University: dspace.flinders.edu.au
Hiscock, P. 1994 Technological responses to risk in Holocene Australia. Journal of World Prehistory 8(3):267-292.) On-line
[xvi] The base description on Holcene climate is drawn from John Mulvaney & Johan Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 1999, pp223-226.
[xix] O’Rouke p 47
[xx] Hoddinott, op cit, pp 55-57.
[xxi] Jillian Oppenhiemer, pers com.