Culture and heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage

Living by the Macleay River

On this web page, Aboriginal people from the Dunghutti community describe their ancestors' and relatives' different experiences of living by the Macleay River, travelling round the area, farming on the islands and living at Burnt Bridge Station and Green Hills camp.

Forming relationships between settlements

Throughout the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries, Aboriginal people have moved extensively throughout the landscape of north-eastern New South Wales (NSW), travelling between Aboriginal reserves, fishing camps, seasonal working camps and places of traditional significance. The ongoing relationship people have with these places fosters a strong sense of community identity and belonging to Country:

Macleay River Aboriginal settlement map
Places where Aboriginal people camped along Macleay River, near Kempsey throughout the 19th and 20th centuries

'See black fellas move, they moved about by the rivers you know ... They showed me all the places too where they used to camp on the road. [There were] two places from when they was down South West Rocks, there was a place ... they used to pull up there when they was coming up because there was a ferry there that used to close at six o'clock. Well, they'd camp there the night ... they showed me where them places were and then there were other places in Smithtown where they used to camp. Yeah, [they] done all their travelling by walking.'

Aunty Lavender Smith, interview 2 December 2004, Kempsey

For more information about connecting to Country, see 'Living on Cabbage Tree Island' and 'Living at Grassy Head camp', also on this site.

For much of the 19th century, following European settlement in the Macleay Valley region, Aboriginal people continued moving throughout the landscape with small groups settling at camp sites on the outskirts of European settlements for brief periods, then moving on again. Areas such as Pelican Island and the two Fattorini Islands in the Macleay River near Kempsey were reserved specifically for Aboriginal communities and were regarded as refuges where large numbers of Aboriginal people could live relatively undisturbed (Neil 1972).

Farming on Fattorini Islands

During the late 1800s, several Aboriginal families occupied Shark, Pelican and Fattorini islands. They cleared the land and cultivated corn. The islands formed part of an unsupervised Aboriginal reserve that had been gazetted in 1885. By 1919 the islands were being farmed so efficiently that the Aborigines Protection Board Inspector advised against the islands' revocation.

For more information on self-sufficient communities, see 'Living on Cabbage Tree Island'.

However, in 1924 the Board decided that the residents on Fattorini Island would be relocated to nearby Pelican Island, and Fattorini Island's status as an Aboriginal reserve would be revoked. Later, Pelican Island's status was also revoked. Many Aboriginal families from all three islands were forced to move to Kinchela Creek Station (Goodall 1996).

The Aborigines Protection Board's revocation of the island reserves and the flooding of the river both before and after the Fattorini Island's revocation forced more Aboriginal families to move off the islands. The family farm of John Mosely was washed away during the 1893 flood, so the family had to move to Burnt Bridge Reserve, and the Linwood family was driven off the island by the Board (Morris 1989). The Moran family left Fattorini Island due to river flooding in 1928:

Fattorini island
Fattorini Island 2004

'That's how they come to leave there in 1928 when the 1928 flood came. Grandfather Dave and his son, older son Arthur, they stayed there right to the last because they had to get the corn off and they got that off before the flood hit ... There were other families there, I think Moselys used to live there ... and Linwoods, they used to be there too, old Jim Linwood and his family.'

Aunty Lavender Smith, interview 2 December 2004, Kempsey

For more information on self-sufficient communities being moved to Reserves, see 'Struggling for independence at Green Hills camp' below and 'Living on Cabbage Tree Island', also on this site.

Segregated education at Burnt Bridge Reserve

Former Burnt Bridge Station School House
Former Burnt Bridge Station Schoolhouse relocated to West Kempsey, 2004
The Aborigines Protection Board's policies of confining many Aboriginal families on reserves, and the continued resistance by Aboriginal people to such policies, led to escalating social and economic pressures. As reserves became more populated, conflicts occurred when Aboriginal families tried to gain equal access to services such as schools (Goodall 1996).

Continual complaints by white parents led the Education Department to set up exclusive Aboriginal schools on Aboriginal reserves and stations, making it almost impossible for Aboriginal children to attend any other school. Denied access to public schools, many Aboriginal families had to move to reserves so their children could get an education (Goodall 1996).

Students at Burnt Bridge Station School (National Archives of Australia)
Please note: this photograph may contain images of people who are now deceased.
Students at Burnt Bridge Station School (Source: National Archives of Australia)
In 1902, Aboriginal parents at Burnt Bridge Reserve tried to enrol their children in Euroka Creek Public School only to find that their attempts failed due to white objection. This culminated in a separate Aboriginal school being established in 1905 at Burnt Bridge Reserve.

During the 1930s, Aboriginal families living in the nearby Green Hills camp were unable to enrol their children in  Green Hill Public School. By this time, it was expected that most Aboriginal children in the Kempsey district would attend Burnt Bridge School. The lack of access to the Green Hill Public School meant Aboriginal families had to move from the independent camps to Burnt Bridge (which was now a station). (Green Hill Public School Centenary 1890-1990, Goodall 1996).

Aunty Lavender Smith tells the story of how two generations in her family were impacted on by the government's segregation policies:

Aunty Lavender Smith
Aunty Lavender Smith

'My grandmother's Aunty, she had a big family. Aunty Leena and her kids was school age, you know, but they wouldn't take black kids up in Green Hills so she moved out there [to Burnt Bridge reserve]. Well, her kids got sent to the home when I was ready for school ... Well, my granny took me up to Green Hill School, and that's when the schoolteacher told her that I was Aboriginal and I never even knew what Aboriginal meant. "She's Aboriginal see, there's a school across the river." Well, that's how we come to go out here, see, [to] Burnt Bridge.'

Aunty Lavender Smith, interview 1 December 2004, Kempsey

For more information on living on Aboriginal reserves and stations, see 'Living on Cabbage Tree Island', also on this site.

Struggling for independence at Green Hills camp

Hut at Green Hills (National Archives of Australia)
Please note: this image may contain images of people who are now deceased.
Aboriginal hut at Green Hills (Source: National Archives of Australia)
In the Macleay Valley region, many Aboriginal families resisted living on government-controlled reserves and moved to camps on the edges of towns. The Aboriginal fringe camp at Green Hills was the major unofficial camp in the Macleay Valley. (For more information on living in independent camps, see Living along Coffs Creek.)

The Green Hills Aboriginal community survived a number of attempts by the Aborigines Protection Board to have it removed. During 1925, the Board and Kempsey Council tried on a number of occasions to force the 120 Aboriginal people to move off the land by issuing eviction and removal orders delivered by the police.

At the same time, the community defied the Board's inspectors who were attempting to remove Aboriginal children to government institutions (Morris 1989).

Uncle Harold Smith remembers the influence that the Aborigines Protection Board had on his childhood growing up at Green Hills:

Uncle Harold Smith
Uncle Harold Smith

'I remember that me and me cousins was always sent out the bush, out the back there, out that lane, way out in the Griffin paddock when the Protection Board used to come around. We'd pack our little brown bag, used to have our lunch in it and wouldn't come back 'til after lunch, you know, when they was gone. They used to come into the, well, it wasn't houses, huts and look at people's beds ... see if you've got sheets on the beds and that, but I'll tell you something, they was clean them huts, they was very clean the old people.'

Uncle Harold Smith, interview 1 December 2004, Kempsey

Following several failed attempts from the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) and other groups to secure adequate land tenure for families at the camp, the Aborigines Protection Board moved the community from Green Hills, putting them under the control of the white manager at Burnt Bridge Reserve (Goodall 1996).

Uncle Harold Smith describes the Board's policy of forced removal:

Aboriginal housing at Green Hills
Aboriginal Housing at Green Hills (Source: National Archives of Australia)

'And a lot of people, old people like as I was talking [about] there, and my grandfather and different grandfather and that, they had their own property up there, and Jim Thaidy and all them and dad and down the river and that, but the Protection Board round them up, it was a big muster, you know when you're mustering cattle, it was just like that, mustering them up and putting them out here, they tried to put them at Burnt Bridge and they done the same up at Bellbrook.'

Uncle Harold Smith, interview 1 December 2004, Kempsey

The 1939 amendment of the Aborigines Protection Act changed the name of the Aborigines Protection Board to the Aborigines Welfare Board. Segregation policies were replaced with the policies of assimilation which aimed to merge Aboriginal people with the larger white population.

The impact of assimilation on the State education system in Kempsey eventually allowed the first Aboriginal pupils to attend Green Hill Public School in 1947. But, when white parents moved their children from Green Hill school and sent them to West Kempsey, the school became all-Aboriginal (Green Hill Public School Centenary; Macleay River Historical Society 1990).

Although policies of assimilation had eventually allowed Aboriginal children to attend public schools in the Kempsey area, Aboriginal children were still forcibly removed from their families.

For more information on the impact of the Aborigines Protection Board and the Aborigines Welfare Board on Aboriginal families, see Living in State housing and Living at Grassy Head camp.


Page last updated: 26 February 2011