Barrington Tops National Park

Culture and history

Aboriginal associations with the park area

Barrington Tops National Park and State Conservation Area overlie the territories of several Aboriginal groups:

  • the eastern side is the traditional country of the Worimi and Biripi people
  • the southern valleys were occupied by the Gringai clan of the Worimi people
  • the western side is Wonnarua country.

The Biripi took in the area between Tuncurry, Taree and Gloucester. Worimi territory extended from Barrington Tops and Forster in the north to Maitland and the Hunter River in the south.

The Worimi, Biripi and Wonnarua were divided into a number of nurras or clans. Nurras were local groups within tribes, each occupying a definite part of the tribal territory. Both the Worimi and Biripi spoke the Kattang language.

Aboriginal people were hunters and gatherers who moved throughout their territory in response to the seasonal availability of food. This meant that the land's resources were naturally replenished.

Clans occupied the valleys year round, visiting the plateaus in spring and summer to gather food. The coastal clans would move to the tops during winter to hunt kangaroos, possums and wombats.

A wide range of plant foods was collected from the lowland forests. The edible fruits found in the Barrington Tops area include:

  • orange thorn
  • giant stinging tree
  • figs
  • native cherry
  • geebung
  • native raspberry
  • lillypilly.

Other traditional plant foods include the bulbs of many orchids and the starch from the crown of tree ferns. There is also a report of starch from stinging tree roots being roasted to make a bread.

When Europeans settled in the Gloucester-Manning area in the 1820s and 1830s, the Aboriginal people lost their homelands to logging, clearing and livestock. Traditional hunting grounds were depleted, and sacred sites were destroyed. Wildlife dwindled. Oral history tells us that by 1840 the natural food supplies were almost exhausted.

Starving Aboriginal people began killing stock. The settlers and government troopers retaliated with random shootings and massacres. Around the Manning River basin, there were reports of waterholes and 'gifts' of food being laced with arsenic, known as 'the Harmony'.

The rugged lands of the Barrington Tops sometimes became a refuge for Aboriginal people, most famously for black outlaw Jimmy Governor.

Today, Barrington Tops National Park and State Conservation Area are important to today's Worimi, Biripi and Wonnarua communities, as an intact part of Aboriginal country.

Aboriginal sites in the park

The Aboriginal occupation of Barrington Tops is recorded in oral history, and in the presence of Aboriginal sites. Sites in the park include:

  • open campsites with stone artefacts
  • scarred trees
  • ceremonial places
  • mythological sites recorded in dreaming stories.

The Barrington Tops after colonisation

After government surveyors had explored the Barrington Tops area, 19th-century interest was limited to timbergetting, a little gold exploration, and summer grazing on the tops. At the turn of the 20th century, several large state forests were proclaimed. In 1905, grazier W.H. Edwards built a hut on Edwards Plain which later became a haven for adventurers, naturalists and holidaymakers.

Through the early 20th century, groups of gentlemen made their way to the tops for riding, hunting and fishing holidays. They approached on a bridle trail up The Corker or from the north. Scientific parties soon followed, attracted to the rich variety of landscapes, plants and animals. In 1915, a large expedition of geologists, botanists and entomologists camped at Edwards Hut and collected specimens.

Word of the Barrington Tops' delights spread quickly. In the early 1920s, there was talk of agriculture and a racecourse, golf course, and hydroelectric development. After heavy snow on the plateau in 1923, it was suggested that the area could be a wonderful playground for skiing and skating. In 1934, Newcastle City Council drew up a detailed plan for a tourist resort on the plateau. But road access up the steep southern slope of the plateau proved too difficult, and all the grand plans came to nothing.

The history of the park

Conservationist Myles Dunphy took a long walk over the tops with the Mountain Trails Club in the summer of 1924-5. He suggested a national park 'or better still, a primitive reserve' as an alternative to development. There were protests over logging and roadbuilding, even during World War II.

Through the 1950s, pressure for a national park grew - though others were pushing for more development. In 1959, the government decided to set aside two small areas, one on Gloucester Tops and the other in the Williams River area. The state forest system was also expanded. Finally, in 1969 Barrington Tops National Park was created from around 14,000 hectares of Crown land. Barrington Tops State Conservation Area was created in 2000.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, an intense community debate developed over whether the remaining native forests of NSW should be used for timber production or protected for conservation. Forest areas were progressively withdrawn from logging and added to the national park system. The rainforests were protected first, then the eucalypt forests.

The park was enlarged by major additions in 1984, 1997 and 1999. It was listed as World Heritage in 1986, and the Barrington Wilderness was declared in 1999.

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