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nellie 'dungli' edwards


One of the families Nellie worked for in the 1930s was that of the local Sunday School teacher. They had a little boy who today remembers Nellie as a great storyteller, and a purveyor of a herbal potion she claimed could cure any ailment. That child, Steven Burow, grew up to record his memories of Nellie and one of the traditional Dreaming stories she told him, which can be found in his book ‘About the Bush’. Steven remembers the occasional echidna being found in a new load of firewood, and Nellie’s excitement at this traditional bush food.


When Steven left for boarding school in the early 1940s, Nellie and her family were still living nearby, but by the time he returned in the mid-1940s, the camp had gone without a trace. We know that Nellie lived until 1951.

Nellie ‘Dungli’ Edwards was a Mandandanji woman, and one of the memorable characters of Surat. During the first half of the twentieth century, she worked as a midwife for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. She also worked as a domestic in the homes of non-Aboriginal families in town. Nellie had several surnames during her life, but was part of the McDonald family that lived in an Aboriginal camp at the western edge of Surat, where the golf club is today. There was a birthing tree there, and a washpool, but there is now no record of the exact sites. However another birthing tree on the eastern side of town is commemorated, along with Nellie herself, near the visitors’ campsite beside the river. Visitors to the camping ground can see a photograph of Nellie and a rock plaque that honours her memory.

Nellie Edwards
Nellie Edwards

Nellie Edwards, Birthing Tree signage, Surat

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