Hunter Valley Aboriginal History and Culture

The  traditional lands  of the Wonnaruah people are located in the Hunter Valley area of New South Wales.

No one knows exactly how many Aboriginal people lived in the Hunter Valley before Europeans arrived, but the population is thought to have declined rapidly after European settlement. Throughout the 1820s and 30s European settler numbers in the Hunter Valley increased. The influx of settlers caused disruption to the movement of Aboriginal groups. As well as losing their traditional lands to agriculture, the introduction of tobacco and alcohol badly affected the health of Aboriginal people.

The Wonnaruah people have maintained a strong sense of their own cultural identity and links with the land despite the impact of European contact on their traditional lands and culture. Through this sustained identity, they are today continuing to reinvigorate their traditional culture.

Currently there are over 1500 people living in the Cessnock Local Governmnet Area who are of Aboriginal descent. However, not all are of Wonnaruah tribal families.

Aboriginal Heritage

Around the local Hunter Valley area there are many Indigenous sites to be found such as middens, grinding grooves, caves, stones and initiation areas though unfortunately many of them are off limits to the general public and even local Indigenous people. Accessible areas are as follows:

Biaime Cave – The Biaime myth tells how Biaime came down from the sky to the land, and created rivers, mountains, and forests. He then gave the people their laws of life, traditions, songs, and culture. In the small hamlet of Milbrodale, near Bulga, Biaime is depicted in red ochre in a cave painting at  as a large figure with long outspread arms protectively embracing the tribal territory and people of the Valley. He has no mouth as Biaime talks from the heart.

Tiddilick Rock – Tiddilick was a giant frog who swallowed all the water from Wollombi Brook who would only give the water back if he was made to laugh. Located on the side of a narrow valley near the township of Wollombi, Tiddalik  looks up Slacks Creek which flows to join the Wollombi Brook.

Finchley Trig – Located in the Yengo National Park, around 800 metres past the trig point is an aboriginal engraving site. This large rock art site contains a good example of Aboriginal rock art from this region. It is also readily accessible and well sign posted  once you have entered Yengo National Park off Yango Creek Road, Wollombi.

Devil’s Rock – This site has many rock engravings of considerable Aboriginal cultural importance. According to Aboriginal legend, the god Baiame stepped from here to Mt Yengo, and then up into the sky after finishing his creative tasks.Turn onto Yango Creek Rd near Laguna and bear left after 3km onto Boree Road (becomes Boree Track). Continue 7.5km to the clearing at Devils Rock. 4WD recommended.

Information courtesy of Australian Museum & Tracey White of Mayaroo