The First Inhabitants of the Arcadia Area
Recollections of Squatting in Victoria - then called the Port Phillip District
By Edward M Curr
Edward Micklethwaite Curr was a well educated young English man who was given the responsibility in 1841 of managing his father’s pastoral interests in Northern Victoria. For the next 10 years he oversaw the pastoral operations on several pastoral runs one of which was the Tongala Run. In his book he has given vivid descriptions of the pastoral industry of that time and also a detailed account of his friendship and dealings with the Aboriginal tribes who lived on the Goulburn and the surrounding area.
It is from this book "Recollections of Squatting in Victoria" first published in 1883, and re-published by The Shire of Campaspe Centenary of Federation Committee in 2001 that I have taken the following information.
Curr wrote extensively about the Bangerang tribe who were the northern neighbours of Ngooraialum tribe. The latter occupied the land along the Goulburn River immediately above Toolamba. A significant feature of Curr’s writing is his sympathetic and perceptive account of the aborigines of the Bangerang tribes and their neighbours.
During the ten years that Curr spent managing his father’s estates, much of which was spent at the Tongala Run, his leisure time was devoted to the collection of information regarding the aboriginal tribes; he had obtained voculabularies of over two hundred of the aboriginal languages and detailed accounts of about one hundred tribes. Following this research and discussions with many people he came to the conclusion that the Aboriginal race of Australia is of African descent. Curr states on p293 "that the progenitors of the Australian tribes landed on the north coast of the continent, and that their descendents, as they increased in numbers, spread along the sea-shore to the east and the west, occupying the land as they went, and peopling them as they met them, the rivers which they encounted flowing from the sea coast ranges in to the ocean or into the interior; disseminating themselves, in fact, in every direction until they had gradually occupied the whole of the continent from sea to sea"
The Bangerang and the Ngooraialum Tribes
Running his father’s pastoral run called "Tongala" gave Curr the ideal opportunity to observe the Aboriginal tribes in this area. Curr states "I knew well every member of the tribe (Bangerang), besides something of their language, wars, alliances and ways of thinking on most subjects."
The Bangerang was a tribe composed of two main sections named Wangatpan and Towroonban (p.226). Wongatpan occupied the country at the junction of the Murray River and Broken Creek. Towroonban occupied the country between Modowla Lagoon and the Murray.
The above map showing the lands occupied by the principal aboriginal tribes along The Goulburn River. (From the book The Australian Race Vol.111 p.556)
"Adjoining the Bangerang there were two tribes which numbered about fifty individuals each, and spoke the Bangerang language, with some slight difference in, I believe, half-a-dozen words only. They called themselves respectively Wollithiga (or occasionally Wollithipan) and Kailtheban, and had no doubt seceded from the Bangerang at a comparatively recent epoch; indeed the Bangerang occasionally spoke of their neighbours in a hesitating sort of way as Bangerang Blacks. The country occupied by the Wollithiga was at and about the junctions of the Goulburn and Campaspe Rivers with the Murray. The country of the Kailtheban was prinicipally on the south side of the Goulburn, extending from Tongala to Toolamba, at which point they came in contact with the Ngooraialum tribe, which they called Ooraialum. Concerning the boundaries of the countries of the Ngooraialum and Bangerang tribes, which were not marked, or even determined with any precision, it was noticed that these people, being indifferent friends at best, kept each well within its limits, so that there was a strip of country on the outskirts of about four miles wide, which formed a sort of neutral ground, over which both parties hunted occasionally, but on which the Ngooraialum never camped at night." (p 227)
"The Kailtheban derived their name from the River Goulburn, which is Kaiela in the Bangerang language, so that the appellation of this tribe signifies People of the Kaiela. Occasionally, too, a Kailtheban would speak of himself as a Waaringulum, a name given him by the Ngooraialum".
"The Ngooraialum and Bangerang were so far foreign, that neither pronounced correctly the name of the other, Ngooraialum becoming Ooaialum, and Bangerang becoming Baingeraing; their languages, in fact, being different".
"Between the Ngooraialum, on one hand, and the Bangerang, Wollithiga and Kailtheban on the other, though intermarriages took place, feeling was far from being of friendly character; in fact, it was not difficult to see that the Ngooraialum looked with contempt and dislike on the whole of the Bangerang speaking tribes, with which, prior to the coming of the whites, they had been almost constantly at deadly feud. For this reason, when a Ngooraialum was irritated with a Wollithiga or Kailtheban Black, he would speak of him disdainfully as a Baingeraing".
"The Kailtheban and Wollithiga on the other hand, if no Bangerang were present, objected in a quiet way to being called Bangerang, though most friendly with that people, and, as we have seen speaking the same language, saying, "The Bangerang are Murray Blacks, and our country is on the Goulburn." (p228-229)
Other tribes that dwelt in the vicinity of the Bangerang were the Boongatpan, Pikkolatpan, Angootheraban, Ngarrimowro, Moitheriban and Toolinyagan , of which the Ngooraialum always spoke as Bangerang, whose language was clearly of Bangerang origin.
Carr carefully estimated that in the year 1841 the whole of the Bangerang race numbered not less that 1200 people (p. 229).
" Another peculiar circumstance bearing on the history of these tribes, to the accuracy of which I can testify, is connected with the native names of the River Goulburn. The Bangerang name for the Goulburn is Kaiela, and that part of the Bangerang race which inhabited the lower portion of the stream called itself, and was called by the Bangerang tribes, Kailtheban, or people of the Kaiela. On the other hand, the Ngooraialum (a fraction of the Castelreagh-descended people which surrounded the Bangerang race) who dwelt on the Goulburn immediately above Toolamba, where the Bangerang territory terminated, called the Goulburn throughout its course Waaring, but always spoke of the Kailtheban, and not of themselves, as Waaringulum, or people of the Waaring. The only way in which I can account for these facts is by supposing-what I have no doubt occurred-that when the Ngooraialum first saw the Goulburn they found the Bangerang already located on it, and named the river Waaring, and its people Waaringulum, some time before they established themselves on a portion of it".
"That this conjecture may receive due weight it is necessary that the reader should know that illum (possibly from yellam, bark, their huts were made of bark) was the Ngooraialum equivalent for people or tribe; as instances of which it may be noticed that they frequently called the Wangatpan Wangatpaiillum, and a white man from Sydney they spoke of as Tidniilum, and so on; but they never in their own language spoke of themselves as Waaringulum, or people of the Waaring, though they obtained the name of Goulburn Blacks from the whites, and came to use that term when speaking of themselves in English. My conjecture is that their name Ngooraialum sprung from their huts, when they first located themselves on the Goulburn, being at a spot a few miles above Murchison, on the north bank of the river, which they called Ngoorai, and that subsequently that spot came also to be named Ngooraiillum or, as the whites now call it Noorillim" (p 296-297).
The Aboriginal Population 1841-1851
Curr states that what was properly called the Bangerang was a tribe comprised of two main sections named Wongatpan comprising not less than one hundred and fifty people, and Towroomban who numbered fifty persons big and little.
Surrounding the Bangerang were other tribes who spoke a similar language with some slight differences in a few words, these tribes numbered about one thousand persons.
The Ngooraialum tribe who occupied the area along the Goulburn from Tahbilk to Toolamba numbered about two hundred persons.
Curr indicates that during his stay at the Tongala Run there was a large and steady decrease in the population of the Bangerang tribe and after ten years he doubted whether there was eighty of the original two hundred left. He attributed this decline to disease which had originated with the whites then passed on from tribe to tribe.
In his observations he noticed that even in 1841 when he first settled at Tongala the aborigines in the neighbourhood were not as numerous as they had been. Noting the number of trees growing out of their cooking ovens; that the reduction in numbers had taken place some fifty years or so before. He believed that the reduction in the aboriginal population was due to the disease smallpox, in fact he saw the result of this disease that some individuals still carried, and in one case a Bangerang child suffering from the complaint.
Curr wrote extensively about the life of the Bangerang tribe with whom he was in close contact, we would assume that the way of life for the Ngooraialum was similar to that of the Bangerang in fact Curr says "I may premise that much of what I have to say concerning this particular people without great modification be applied to the whole of the tribes inhabiting the country between Port Phillip Heads and Brisbane" (p280)
As Curr has indicated in his writings and by noting the boundaries on some of the available maps, the Goulburn within the Arcadia area would have been frequented by both the Bangerang and the Ngooraialum tribes, the unmarked boundary between the two tribes being where Toolamba is now located, the area near the boundary being available to both tribes to hunt on but not remain on a permanent basis. The Goulburn meanders for approximately 15 km on the west side of the Arcadia parish so it is most likely that the Ngooraialum tribe inhabited most of the Arcadia area.