Lake Macquarie History

Belmont Station - Aboriginal Heritage

Professor John Maynard has compiled this research on behalf of the Lake Macquarie City Council for use on the proposed Fernleigh Track interpretative panels. Professor Maynard has generously granted permission to share his research with the community on Lake Macquarie History Online.

Belmont Station

Belmont and Lake Macquarie will forever remain attached to two very interconnected and historically important figures, namely the missionary Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, and an Aboriginal man of high degree Biraban.
Threlkeld arrived in Newcastle in 1825 to establish a mission for the Aboriginal groups in the locality.
Threlkeld was an English clergyman working for the London Missionary Society. He had served in the South Sea Islands before coming to Australia and established a mission on the shores of Lake Macquarie. Threlkeld had linguistic experience and that combined with his experiences in the Pacific had him adequately equipped to undertake language study and translation of the local Aboriginal groups.
Threlkeld established his mission at Bahtabah - the hill overlooking the water on the lake (Belmont). The mission was situated on land now occupied by Belmont Infants School and the Gunyah Hotel.

Threlkeld's work with the Awabakal language would not have succeeded without the guidance and assistance of an Aboriginal leader Biraban. Today Biraban is recognized as the greatest 19th century Aboriginal scholar. He spoke in several dialects and as such was used regularly by the British as an interpreter in the court system. His name translates as the "eaglehawk" a much-revered totem of the people. The Europeans knew him as John M'Gill and he was a gifted guide, tracker, teacher, singer, dancer and interpreter.

Biraban had been taken by the British to Sydney whilst a young boy and assigned as a servant to Captain John M Gill at the Sydney military barracks. He learned to speak English fluently and had a good working understanding of the colony.
What a remarkable and gifted individual this Aboriginal leader must have been. It was he who had the foresight to relate the language to the missionary Threlkeld in such a meticulous manner:

He was about the middle size, of a dark chocolate colour, with fine glossy black hair and whiskers, a good forehead, eyes not deeply set, a nose that might be described as aquiline, although depressed and broad at the base. It was very evident that M'Gill was accustomed to teach his native language, for when he was asked the name of anything; he pronounced the word very distinctly, syllable by syllable, so that it was impossible to mistake it. Though acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity and all the comforts and advantages of civilisation, it was impossible for him to overcome his attachment to the customs of his people, and he is always a prominent leader in corrobories and other assemblies. – (James Agate, 1839)

As a result of the combined efforts of Biraban and Threlkeld we are left with probably the richest reservoir of Aboriginal language on the East Coast of Australia.

On setting out on the Fernleigh Track, consider some of the Aboriginal words and names for these places that enrich Aboriginal cultural understanding. It is important to recognise that there is no right or wrong way to spell an Aboriginal word as long as it is spelt as it sounds. Aboriginal society was an oral culture. There were no written words before the Europeans arrived.

Ahwartah-bulboongba (Hamilton) - it is very flat; the wallaby place.
Kotara - Waddy. This was a short stick-like club that tapered from the handle to a thicker end. It was used in hunting animals, like the bandicoot, by throwing it with deadly accuracy.
Mulubinba (Newcastle) - the place of sea ferns.
Tirrikiba - place of fire (the site of what would become the Newcastle BHP).
Pillapay- kullaitaran - the place of palms (Glenrock Lagoon).
Kai-a-ra- bah - the place of the weeds (Flaggy Creek).
Awaba - Lake Macquarie
Kintirrabin - the earth fire was here – the area around Redhead Bluff.
Ngor-rion-bah- where the emu breeds – the area around Jewells Swamp.
Bahtabah - the hill overlooking the water on the lake - Belmont.
Nikkin-bah - place of coal - the Lake Macquarie district.

It is important on the Fernleigh Track to respect the environment including the flora and fauna of the area. Please consider that Aboriginal people have always sought to protect and ensure that the environment was left for future generations to enjoy and live in.

An Aboriginal Elder when informed that scientists had estimated that Aboriginal occupation of the Australian continent was upwards of 60,000 years had this to say:
They say we have been here for 60,000 years, but it is much longer. We have been here since the time before time began. We have come directly out of the Dreamtime of Creative Ancestors. We have lived and kept the earth as it was on the First Day.
Robert Lawlor (1991) Voices of the First Day – Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime, Inner Tradition, Rochester USA.