The Yumbas at Charleville

There were 13 families who lived on the first Charleville Yumba, which is now the Graham Andrews Parkland. Elders today still remember the exact locations of each family on the Yumba.

In the days of the first Yumba (from the 1920s to the 1950s) and the second Yumba further along Cobb Road (1950s to 1960s), many families travelled vast distances by foot to keep ahead of the Chief Protector of Aborigines, and to find work. Mrs Olive Murphy, senior member of the community, remembers from the late 1920s being moved by her parents from Bourke in NSW to Bollon, then to St George, to Mitchell, to Murgon, back to NSW and then to Charleville, not once but twice. With no form of transport, she and her family walked between towns until her father purchased a sulky and two horses. Even then, they needed to get out of the sulky sometimes and walk up the hills, because the sulky was weighed down with camping gear and the horses needed a “spell”.

Wherever the family moved, Olive’s father would build a shelter. In Charleville, he built it from kerosene tins and lined it with woolpack bags on the walls and floor so their home was always “warm in winter and cool in summer.” She remembers putting up pictures, glued to the walls with flour and water. In every new place, they would also paint pictures and hang them on the walls. One strong memory of the Charleville Yumba is the cypress pines: “they looked like Christmas trees and smelt so beautiful after rain.”

The Yumba ground in Charleville was flat when Olive lived there, and the families used to play rounders – there was no hill and lagoon as there is today. She remembers that each family dwelling was at some distance from the next, separated by hedging and the cypress trees. Trees were important and rarely cut down. There were no roads, and the occasional taxi would find its way slowly between the humpies to pick up a fare. There was only one tap, and each family carried water to their home in buckets – this also limited the capacity of families to grow their own vegetables. Like many other Aboriginal children, Olive started work at 12 years of age, first as a child-minder and cook in town, and then out on the stations, improving her reading and writing by listening and learning from her employers and reading everything she could find. Now in her nineties, she thinks she had a good life: “it’s been a long, busy, travelling life, but I enjoyed it.”

Aboriginal people were relocated to the second (and larger) Yumba, further out on Cobb Road, in the early 1950s. The new Yumba was known as the Sandhill. It is now fenced off and used to run retired race horses. Like the first Yumba, it was covered in cypress pines, and the same hedging was planted to separate the dwellings of individual families. The second Yumba was built around a central swamp full of yabbies (bugoolies).

Today, Aboriginal people in Charleville strive to have their life on the Yumbas formally recognised, either through signage on the Yumba sites or on a tourist map showing the places where the families lived on the Yumbas. This would commemorate an important part of Charleville’s history held only in the memories of a few older people.

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