Bidjara People & Culture
The Bidjara people, traditional owners of much of the land around Charleville, have made huge contributions to the socio-economic development of Charleville. The Bidjara Aboriginal Land and Housing Company, chaired by ‘Sugar Ray’ Robinson, former ATSIC Commissioner and Deputy Chairman, and former Chairman of the National Aboriginal and Islanders Legal Service (NAILS), established the 4RR FM Aboriginal radio station and a local office of the Community Development Employment Scheme (now superceded).
The Carnarvon Gorge has great significance for the Bidjara people and other Aboriginal peoples such as the Garingbal, Gayiri, Gungabulla, Nguri, Wasjigu and Yiman peoples. This is the place where the Rainbow Serpent, Mundagudda, began its movement through the landscape and formed the waterways including the sandstone gorge itself. In 1932, a 26,300 hectare area around the gorge was declared as national park. The Carnarvon National Park is about 300km north-east of Charleville, and is where the Warrego River has its source (https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/pdf/cq-sandstone-belt-vg.pdf).
Bidjara dreamtime stories include that of the Goori Goori bird, a flesh-eating bird larger than a wedgetail eagle, which lived at the headwaters of the Warrego River. To drive it away, Bidjara Elders lit a fire under its nest while it was asleep. As its legs caught fire, the Goori Goori bird flew off, leaving a trail of sparks and burning feathers that formed the Milky Way (details of a book that tells this Goori Goori Bird legend, can be found at http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/45254210).
The contribution of Aboriginal people to the wider community through their knowledge and culture used to be acknowledged through the award of the title ‘king’ to a senior Aboriginal figure, who would then wear an engraved metal breastplate. The last of the ‘Kings of Upper Warrego’ in the Charleville area to receive a breastplate was Bidjara man George Mothers, who received the title after the death of his warrior father, Gayandar, at the end of the nineteenth century. The breastplate is now in the possession of his descendants.
George Mothers Breast Plate: King of the Upper Warrego
Courtesy R Robinson