Camp fire dreaming sign at the Yumba, Mitchell
When it rains, the country around Mitchell is a soft green, the plant and animal life abundant. Flowering trees and shrubs, foraging emus, the prehistoric ungainliness of bush turkeys and varied flocks of birds contribute to a noisy, fragrant and lively landscape. The richness of this country is reflected in the Gunggari artwork and signage along the Yumba Interpretive Trail to the east of the town. Here you can follow a bush path alongside the river marked by a series of bough sheds, lean-tos made of branches that each represents one of the yurdis, or totems, of the Gunggari people - Didhayn (Koala), Ulldi (carpet snake), Marul (sand goanna), Mapiyal (platypus), Baruda (red kangaroo), Guya (yellow belly fish), Warramba (long neck turtle) - that link the people with their country.
This connection and deep knowledge is strong despite the enormous disruption created by the arrival of colonisers. Aboriginal people were forced from their country and many were moved from one reserve to another, with people at the Mitchell Reserve being moved from far afield, and some moved again, generally for little reason, to reserves at Cherbourg, Taroom, Woorabinda and even Palm Island over 1000 kilometres away.
For the Traditional Owners and other Aboriginal people who remained here, the main Yumba campsite became home. Most adults were sent to work on surrounding properties as domestic workers, or to labour out in the bush ring-barking trees to clear land, or mustering sheep and cattle. Clusters of traditional food and medicine trees on these properties stand testament to the presence of Aboriginal camps during these times. The same species of trees can also be seen along the Yumba Interpretive Trail, including the Kurrajong Tree with its special spiritual meaning and various other bushes used for smoking and healing.
Accompanied by a Gunggari guide on the Interpretive Trail, visitors to Mitchell will gain enriching knowledge about these traditions and about the importance of the Maranoa River to the Aboriginal people who live here or who return here. Visitors will also be interested to learn about the smaller ‘Top Yumba,’ an early Aboriginal camping ground not far from the main Yumba (also known as the ‘Bottom Yumba’), and the ‘Supermarket,’ an area of bushland planted with a rich array of bush foods and medicinal plants.
The Yumba Interpretive Trail ends at the Yumba itself, where signs mark the sites of the original buildings and the families who lived here (‘Life on the Yumba’). The old school building has become an important community museum through the work of Elders and volunteers over the past 40 years (‘Yumba Museum’). In the town of Mitchell, the Booringa Heritage Museum has an important display of Aboriginal stories and photographs. These displays symbolise the determined and successful efforts of Aboriginal people in the Mitchell community to maintain their culture, their awareness of history, and their language.
Sign marking the site of the former Inland Mission Church on the Yumba, Mitchell
Custodians of land, culture and language
‘Binang Goonj’ is a phrase from the Bidjara language in South West Queensland meaning “you hear but don’t listen.”
Mitchell Aboriginal people have a proud tradition of making sure they are listened to – for example in the Gunggari fight for Native Title, which after 17 years, is still being fought (http://binangoonj.com.au/shop). The battle began when a gas pipeline was proposed through the area, and the Gunggari people were told “that they didn’t exist, that they had never existed”. The Gunggari people set up a protest camp at the site of the proposed pipeline, which delayed the works for nearly a year. The whole town was very supportive of the protest, and the Mayor, who was also the town doctor, used to drop off a carton of beer to the protesters on his way home in the afternoons. Aboriginal people in Mitchell attribute the support from non-Indigenous people to the fact that everyone had grown up together in Mitchell. After 12 months, the pipeline developers were forced to negotiate with the protesters. However at government level there continued to be a denial of the Gunggari people’s existence when they applied for Native Title over their traditional lands. While they had to drastically reduce their initial claim to a very small area in order to gain recognition as a people, they have followed this over a 17 year period with several successful additional claims. The final claim is currently under consideration.
A Gunggari Elder, Aunty Irene Ryder, used to teach the children about bush foods, and was, until her passing in 2015, a rich and important source of cultural and spiritual knowledge for the Aboriginal community. Her sister-in-law, Lynette Nixon, is another Elder who continues to play an essential role in the Museum and the Yumba, in recording the stories and language of the Gunggari people and in writing about Aboriginal health and culture. A Place Called Home tells the story of the struggle for Gunggari land rights (http://binangoonj.com.au/product/a-place-called-home-the-gunggari-struggle-for-land-a-native-title-case-study-colour-version-2/?doing_wp_cron=1478317038.7040119171142578125000). Another, Bridging Cultures in Aboriginal Health (http://store.elsevier.com/Binan-Goonj/AnneKatrin-Eckermann/isbn-9780729579360/) has been developed as a text for high school students as an introduction to Aboriginal culture, and the history and politics of Aboriginal people after colonization. A series of beautiful booklets by Lynette and illustrated by Dell Mailman, tell stories and provide Gunggari vocabulary for primary school students. These booklets are currently out of print. (Follow this link https://open.abc.net.au/explore/47610 to listen to Irene and her sister-in-law Lynette Nixon tell stories about the Yumba). Gunggari man Brad Saunders is another source of stories about Mitchell (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/au/journals/NativeTitleNlr/2013/18.pdf).
Visitors can buy Gunggari language cards at the office of the Gunggari Native Title Aboriginal Corporation in town. Gunggari language is taught at the local Catholic school, to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, and linguists have worked with Elders to have the Lord’s Prayer translated into Gunggari, which was taught to all students at the school and celebrated at a special Mass. Visitors can also buy a copy of this translation at the Visitors Centre.
Gunggari Elder Ted Martin also has enormous historical and bush knowledge. He can point out the significance of the various trees, waterways and wildlife in the area and can show visitors how to make a hat or a cup out of box tree leaves, the same leaves traditionally used to rehydrate the body when there was insufficient water. He is a fascinating guide to the fishing camps and historic sites around Mitchell, and the impact of the weir construction on the river and the town.
Box leaf hat made with tuition from Gunggari Elder Ted Martin
Visitors may be interested in to learn also of Bill Dodd, an Aboriginal writer from Mitchell who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident in the Maranoa River, and who wrote a memoir, Broken Dreams, that won the 1991 David Unaipon Award (http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/book.aspx/190/Broken%20Dreams).