Manataka® American Indian Council
Collarenebri Aboriginal Cemetery
by Lyzz Wang
A view of native Australia culture and its people
To be Aboriginal is to have many innate gifts of heritage. One of those gifts is the inheritance of a well worn path back to ones hereditary homeland, especially from tracks made elsewhere. For this soul, it is a minute area of north-west New South Wales that lovingly visits in dreams calling “Don’t forget me”. Collarenebri Aboriginal Cemetery is a special place where our Gamilaraay material bodies lie and our spiritual souls roam, keeping alive the ancient memories imbedded in earth that is spoken in the wind. Those from Collarenebri hear the wind and have a strong longing for home. A one horse town with little to offer those who long for more then the basics of life, she has one place that is dear to Indigenous and non Indigenous, her Galariinbaraay Mari Dhawunma or Collarenebri Aboriginal Cemetery. The cemetery is a sacred place with many stories of beginning but with one common end, no end. For it is a section of earth representing people, time, culture, stories, memories, the spirit world and especially love. For it was love, that sparked her existence and changed a way of life.
Collarenebri is also known affectionately as Collie. Collie is approximately 550 kilometres north-west of Sydney and about 70 kilometres from the Queensland boarder. It is flat country with a rugged dry beauty equal to the wet tropical areas of this country. Abundant in flora and fauna, a once fantastic river of life and fertile soil pull different people for different reasons to plains. Once beating its own natural rhythm, today Collie and her surrounding areas have been abused by corporate farming connected to the land by the dollar sign and not by personal admiration. Small companies’ band together to form one giant company is now common and they are driving out the small farming families on the land since colonisation. It was one of these families that built a modern Collarenebri.
Figure 1. Map of NSW and location of Collarenebri
Source: Sydney Gregory's Road Map
Collarenebri derives her name from the Gamilaraay name of Galariinbaraay. Gamilaraay is better known as Kamilaroi. Kamilaroi has different spellings but all are colonial translations of Gamilaraay that began with Anthropologist Norman B Tindale and his many alternative phonetic spellings. Galariinbaraay and Collarenebri directly translates as place of many Coolabah tree blossoms. Galariin means Coolabah blossoms. This meaning has become more precise with the re-emergence of local Gamilaraay language. When I was growing up, it was only known as “Collarenebri, place of many flowers”.
Extended from an Australian tradition and need of alcohol, 1867 saw a government proclamation of a township that rippled from one small hotel. It was strategically placed to support traffic on the Barwon River as land was divided and pastoralists became permanently established.
The hotel was called “Squatters Arms”. It was opened by William Earl. Earl descendents still reside in the surrounding areas of Collie and are deeply connected to the land out there. By 1867, the hotel gave life to a small town with fifty residents, several homes in town, two stores and a post office. Collie experienced a growth after 1885 with a permanent bridge over the Barwon River. Previously, “The Rocks” crossing was the only location possible for crossing the river. The picture below was the closest point between the two sides. Figure 3 is the old wooden bridge. It was in use from 1885 until the mid 1980’s when it was replaced by a modern concrete and steel bridge. These two pictures are from the NSW State Library
|Figure 2. The Rocks Crossing||Figure 3. The Collarenebri Bridge|
Traditional Owners of the Gamilaraay Territory
Collarenebri is part of the territory belonging to the second biggest New South Wales language group following the Wiradjuri. They were numbered to once be over six thousand during the late 1800’s. However with colonialisation and a major territorial war with neighbouring Yuwaaliyaay drastically reduced numbers. These estimates are from “The Traditional Ownership of Eurool” by Associate Professor Paul Memmott, Rachael Stacy and Cathy Chambers, from the University of Queensland, 1999.
Collarenebri Gamilaraay Mob has always been a resilient group of people. It is not known anymore how her people were spared from outside atrocities. Aunty Clara Flick, a keeper of the old ways, is one of many who believe that the land carried experiences of neighbouring friends and it planted an idea intrinsically understood to keep the people moving. She may have hid her people from ghost coloured skin and feet unwilling to make personal contact through foreign substances, leaving alien markings behind. It could have been the simple protective shield of enduring cultural practises of following river tides and seasons that saved the nomadic people. They were not unwilling participants of the “Stolen Generations” and no one was taken away. The everlasting heartfelt cruelty of Indigenous massacres never took place there either even though a short distance away many Indigenous people lost their lives needlessly. However, at the beginning of the 1900’s the many outer remote groups of Gamilaraay around Collie were brought together to enable the Aboriginal Protection Board to do its law biding duties.
Galariinbaraay Mob was spread out in smaller clans throughout their dominion. There were six main groups as described by Anthropologists Tindale, Greenaway and Ridley and Uncle Teddy Fields originally from Angeldool. He was a resident of Walgett, a drover since childhood and has been instrumental in documenting the history of the area. Tindale studied the area in 1940.
The clans were situated at the below stated sites before being moved together closer to the township:
On the Mungindi Road, approximately 10kms northwest of Collie.
Around lands now known as Collymongle, 19kms east.
A property called Mogil Mogil, 20kms north
Bundabarrina area is 5kms west
Eurool, which is now back in Indigenous ownership is a property down stream from Collie approximately 13km south-west.
Dunumbral 32kms north-west
Figure 4. Map of above listed properties
Extracted from “Readers Digest Atlas of Australia”
It is unknown whether the groups came together in common areas for burying their departed. Only one grave site other then the present day cemetery is known. They are only approximately 30 metres apart.
The “Old Aboriginal Cemetery” is now over run with sandalwood, Eurool bush, Mulga and Wilga trees and all that remains of it are some coloured glass and wire under a select number of trees. No one knows for sure who is buried there. No official records exist for this site.
During the days of traditional culture, those whom passed away were not spoken of. Memories and names were held steadfast and no amount of provocation could induce the information outward. The “Old Folk” were strict in many ways and this was strongly upheld.
Aunty Eileen Peters is one of our elders and even she knows very little of the old cemetery. “King Billy Cobbler’s father is buried there I know that, but where, I do not know”. King Cobbler is the second last tribal leader of Galariinbaraay Mob. His son, Uncle Billy Bungar Cobbler was the last. He passed away in the 1980’s and is buried at the present cemetery. No one has taken his place even though he has children.
Figure 5. King Billy Cobbler
State Library of NSW picture
Official records are non existent when researching the beginnings of the current Collarenebri Aboriginal Cemetery.
Speaking to elders, two versions are illuminated. Aunty Rose Lamb, currently living in Narrabri did her own research over ten years ago. Remembering her own elders and their recollections of the beginnings, she said, Aunty Ada Fernando, a blind old woman, told of a simple story. It was of a mother’s love for a lost child and her need to be close to him. This humble and culturally different origin began with Great Grandmother Frances Combo. She lost her four year old son John. He was the first physical body placed under three Mulga trees and a stump, closer to the current camp site away from the used burial site. This happened in 1914. Originally his name was thought to be Hirum. But my own research in Births, Deaths and Marriages found it to be John. I have since informed Aunty Rose of this information. No one knows why this site was chosen to continue burying the Aboriginal people. This sacred site is five kilometres east of the township.
Traditionally death was viewed without too much emotion once the body was buried. Great Nanny Frances went against this death lore by clinging to her son. It changed something but not completely among the Indigenous community. Aunty Rose recalls her younger years during the 1940’s were everything associated with the dead was burned or buried with the bodies. No mentioning of the dead or outward emotional mourning took place. But cultural change has occurred gradually because of a strong woman overcome with grief, Great Grandmother Frances Combo.
Today the Aboriginal Cemetery is unfortunately an extending sacred area. The “Old Folk” are passing as are the younger generations. This was a rare occurrence once. Both Great Grandmother Frances Combo and Aunty Ada Fernando lived to be over one hundred years of age. There has not been an elder of that age since, a fact that runs a cold shiver through Collie people. Nowadays it is a central meeting place of all ages, the young mourning the young and the old mourning all those who reside there with their long memories connecting everyone.
Figure 6. Map of Collie
Extracted from Google Earth
Figure 7. Collie Aboriginal Cemetery
Image from Google Earth
Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are buried with Christian burial rites at Collie. People can choose where they want to be buried. There are two cemeteries now, the Town Cemetery and of course the Aboriginal Cemetery. Aboriginal people are buried in town. However, the atmospheres of the two are as different as traditional and modern and it would be unbelievable today that an Indigenous person would choose to be buried anywhere else but Collie Aboriginal Cemetery. Our Town Cemetery is typical of ones found anywhere else in the world. Big slabs of cement, tiles and the occasional ornament dominate attempts to coldly contain a life in constructed graves with beautiful words and no aura.
However, our Aboriginal Cemetery is ironically alive. It has an aura of peace, love and lots of colour. We adorn our lost ones graves with shattered coloured glass that forms the bases of all graves. Created in a special way, family work groups carefully lay out designs of matching colours. Flowers and figurines crowd the whole surface. They often reflect a role in life, a hobby or personality. They are pictograms of people gone on ahead. For example, each of my grandparents have angel figurines among many others. For me, these four souls are my guiding angels and this is best represented by the physical angels.
Neville has a wombat dressed in Parramatta Rugby colours that tells his nickname and his favourite team. Uncle Jimmy has a German Shepherd from his shearer days. The graves are dug by family members still giving a contact between them and the earth. The men take turns digging in which the mood is lighten by laughter and memories. It is the only cemetery that we know of celebrating love and death this way. Any time of the day is perfect to visit. The area is peaceful and though once no one would dare to go out there at night, nowadays people do camp nearby willingly.
For all of us from Collie, it is a powerful place were our families share memories and opinions so strong it communicates beyond physical boundaries. It is our meeting place when our thoughts and dreams yearn for something more physical. Collarenebri Aboriginal Cemetery is full of love that when a spirit calls for you to visit, you can feel sure it is a genuine call and not a playful request.
I have left Collie more then twenty five years ago and the home sickness is stronger now then it has ever been. I as all others, go first to greet our ancestors then greet our living family upon returning. It will always be this way. We will all go home and take our place among the Eurool bush, Wilgas, lie contented as our bodies disappear, listen as the kookaburra sings, the crows complain and the memories of us live on.
Figure 8. Part of Collarenebri Aboriginal Cemetery
They are ever present in the mind and heart of local Gamilaraay people and will be for the rest of time.
Aunty Rose Lamb. From Collarenebri current resident of Narrabri.
Aunty Eileen Peters. From Collarenebri still living there.
Aunty Clara Flick. From Collarenebri still living there.
The Traditional Ownership of Eurool. Associate Professor Paul Memmott, Rachael Stacy and Cathy Chambers. University of Queensland, 1999.
The Bora, or
Initiation Ceremonies of the Kamilaroi Tribe;
R. H. Mathews
The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 24, 1895 (1895), pp. 411-427
http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/picman/ for figures 2,3 and 5. NSW State Library. Pictures and Manuscripts
Europa Technologies, 2007 DigitalGlobe, Google Earth Software. Figures 6 and 7.
Readers Digest Map. For figure 4
Greenaway, C. Kamilari Tribe. Science of Man, Vol 11-13, 1910-1911.
Ridley, W.M. Gurre Kamilaroi. 1856 ebook www.gutenberg.org/etext/16811 downloaded May 25th, 2007.
Tindal, N.B. Aboriginal Tribes of Australia. 1974. University of California Press, Los Angeles
Information about the “Squatters Arms”. Collarenebri Hotel. Information sited May 25th 2007. Information gathered by Rusheen Craig.
http://www.collareneb-c.schools.nsw.edu.au/ccshistory.htm History of Collarenebri Region. Website of Collarenebri Central School. Information sited May 24th 2007.
Meet the Author:
The Author - Lyzz Wang
Lyzz Wang is a Gamilaraay woman from the flat plains of North West NSW Australia, a descendent of the ancient Collarenebri Gamilaraay Mob (Tribe). She is a graduate of Sydney University currently a high school teacher of history and geography in Sydney. She also teaches Aboriginal Spiritualism and often visits her home town, Collarenebri and with beloved family lying among those at the cemetery, it cradles a very important connection. Her aboriginal connections can be the key to many inspirations be they material and definitely spiritual.
"The beauty is understanding them. There is a long way to go. However, with heart of many close by that long way is a happy way. May our links be always strong," says Lyzz.
Lyzz has corresponded with Manataka's Lee Standing Bear Moore for many years and a great love and respect grew between them. In September, 2009 they finally met at Camp Bornhoffen in the Numinbah Valley, located in southeast Queensland, Australia. Grandfather Bear believes Lyzz will grow to become a great leader among many people and he watches over her in prayer daily. "Lyzz is blessed with many insights far beyond this plain and she will use those gifts for the good of all humanity and the Earth Mother," says Bear.
Lyzzie's mate is Steve Majoros. Lyzz is the proud mother of four children. The eldest, Hellena is a 2010 graduate of Sydney University. The eldest son, Jamieson will graduate with a teaching and art degree from Sydney University in 2011. Lizz's third child is Nathaniel Wang who frequently visits his father in China. Shonelle is the youngest graduated high school in 2010.
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