The Bidjara people are also the traditional owners of much of the land between the Carnarvon National Park and Charleville. Mt Tabor Station, a 3 hour drive from Charleville via Augathella, was purchased by the Indigenous Land Corporation in 1997 because of its cultural significance to Bidjara people, with many cultural artefacts, burial sites, and rock art and stencilling sites across the property. It is also a place where the Bidjara symbolic images – people with six toes or six fingers, the V-sign, and the star sign – can be found.
Bidjara woman Keelan Mailman has managed the 70,000 hectare station since 1998. She has published a book about her life and about Mt Tabor station titled The Power of Bones (Allen and Unwin 2014 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21844042-the-power-of-bones). Today, Keelan also teaches high school and primary school students in Charleville about Bidjara culture, and in 2016 she was Barnardos Mother of the Year.
The Bidjara language name for Mt Tabor is Goorathuntha. The Goorathuntha Traditional Owners Limited was established in 2014, and has supervised the construction of millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure on the station. This includes campsites, a six-bedroom donga and an ablutions block, and the planting of many new trees to bring in the birds. It also includes a traditional meeting place or yarning circle surrounded by stones, and a shelter with a roof made of bark from the now rare Budgeroo tree (Lysicarpus angustifolious). This bark has special significance for Bidjara people as it is the bark in which the dead are wrapped for burial. Keelen has planted more of those trees so that visitors can see what some have described as beautiful trees with a ‘haunting’ quality (http://www.ttit.id.au/treepages/budgeroo.htm). The idea has been to create a sanctuary for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who come to the station.
At Mt Tabor, the Goorathuntha Traditional Owners are also working to protect significant cultural sites, record cultural knowledge and train Bidjara community members to deliver cultural courses to the Bidjara community, school camps and visitors. Some camps have already been run for kids, and, as one youth leader points out, it is a place where both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids can learn about important pre-colonial history and culture.
The beautiful sandstone formations, caves, artwork and places of great spiritual significance such as the Lost City at Mt Tabor make this a very special destination for tourists wishing to learn more about Aboriginal culture and history. Environmentalist and former MP and Federal leader of the Greens party Bob Brown described the scene at the launch of Keelen’s book:
This launch was held in one of the most spellbinding places in Australia, the so-called Lost City.
Here the blood-red sandstone has eroded and become a Bidjara spiritual mecca.
The Lost City, pictured, has painted overhangs, red-coiffed chambers, soaring pillars, arches,
grottos and fantastic outcrops. It is pervaded with an ancient human presence.
It is a Bidjara, national and international treasure
Aboriginal people believe that the site also has powerful healing properties, and this has been confirmed by people of many different nationalities who have visited Mt Tabor. Keelen believes this is a huge gift, and something that Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, can experience and be proud of. The Goorathuntha Traditional Owners have developed plans for a healing centre on Mt Tabor to support the social and emotional wellbeing of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Rock art stencils of an axe and hands at Mt Tabor Station (photo courtesy of Floyd Robinson)
There has been another extraordinary ceremony at Mt Tabor in recent times. The skeletal remains of Bidjara people, collected for research purposes by the Queensland Museum during the twentieth century, were repatriated to Mt Tabor for proper burial. The arrival of the remains at Mt Tabor was described in a prologue to Keelen Mailman’s book:
The plane dipped, turned, flying low over them all…
A lap of honour. See here, the pilot might be saying,
and it might be to those gathered or it might be to the spirits hovering in his cargo.
Your people, your country. I am bringing them home.
An hour later, a car turned off the Augathella road towards them.
It moved slowly…
The didgeridoo then. Moaning, spreading in waves through the gathering,
and a high-pitched, gentle voice.
Keelen Mailman singing her people home.
Keelen Mailman recalls “such joy and warmth when the remains returned … people said you could feel the power, the ancestors.”
For more information about the repatriation process and the ceremony itself, see https://soundcloud.com/abc-western-queensland/sets/keelen-mailman-on-repatriation-of-indigenous-bones-to-her-region-and-her-book. A list of remains, and artefacts returned by the Queensland Museum is reprinted from the ceremony program below.
List of remains and artefacts repatriated from Queensland Museum in 2012
(reproduced from the program for the repatriation ceremony at Mt Tabor)