Aboriginal Art and Culture

Carowra Tank became a central depositing Station for the remnants of central and western New South Wales traditional societies, as the Ngiyampaa speakers were joined by people with other languages, including Wiradjuri from the south as far afield as Victoria, and their fellow Ngiyampaa speakers from around Marfield Station (see map 6).


The Marfield mob, or Geordie Murray’s mob as they were also known, were a “mob like a little wild family”, who built miamias outside the tin-roofed huts supplied by the government, in preference to living in them (Donaldson, 1977:16)


Corrugated iron for these buildings came in 1924, provided by the Aborigines Protection Board. In November 1925, the Board appointed a teacher-manager to control the settlement (Horner, 1974:20). In 1926 Carowra Tank was established as a white-run Aboriginal Station (See Map 6). Here a new type of relationship with Europeans began. There were two female missionaries, described by those who remember them as “kill-joy people” who stopped them dancing, and the station manager, who removed the “lighter caste” children for education at “specially created institutions” (Donaldson, 1977:16). The Aborigines Protection Board reported that the establishment of this Station was necessary because of:


The influx of a number of new settlers which deprived the aborigines of a great deal of their former freedom to roam and hunt over the big holdings and brought them in such closer contact with the white population that it seemed advisable to form a settlement where they could be concentrated and cared for (A.P.B.Report, 1926).


In that year the wool price dropped substantially and money was tighter in the sheep stations; unemployment as well as the drought forced more and more families to the Tank. The language, Ngiyampaa, was used by the large community at Carowra Tank as a lingua franca and this explains its survival.


The depression changed the living standards of almost everyone in New South Wales, but the Aborigines were particularly affected. Not only were they ineligible for unemployment benefits, but they also were discriminated against in sustenance allowances (Bell, 1959:350). The government benefits for unemployed workers in 1930 was 5s. 9d a week for a single man, and rose to 7s a week in 1936. The food ration for Aborigines cost 3s. 5d. a week and did not rise. The 1930 rate for the ordinary man, wife and child was 14s. 4d. a week, but for the Aboriginal husband, wife and child it was still 8s. 9d. in 1936. People who lived on Stations did not receive old age or invalid pensions (Horner, 1974:29-30). The high unemployment reduced a number of families who had previously lived independently to seek these government rations at the Carowra Tank settlement – among them a number from Hillston and the Darling River (Beckett, 1966:13). This class of Aboriginal pastoral workers and casual labourers was most vulnerable to the vicissitudes created by the working of the wider economy. They were a people who paid a heavy price for their political and military defeat. They were stigmatised and disinherited. Australia is the only one of the England’s ex-colonial countries to have not legally “. . . upheld the basic principle of recognition of the title pf their indigenous people” (Hocking in Olbrei, 1982:207-220).


Menindee, 1934 – 1948


By 1934 the water supply at the Tank was becoming inadequate to support the community and the Aboriginies Protection Board removed the entire community to Menindee. This was a devastating experience for the people: many of their relatives could not be notified, possessions were left behind in the hurried exit, and they were forced to share squalid conditions with their traditional enemies, the Darling River people (the Paakantji). Also they were forced to camp at an old burial site; and the bone-dust was feared as a source of traditional poison and sorcery (see Map 3). Many people died at Menindee, some moved on to adhere to stations or towns in the west. The deplorable conditions at Menindee were revealed to the press by the Rev. T.E. Jones of the Bush Church Aid Society. He wrote of 250 people in the forty iron huts, twelve by twenty feet, with neither furniture nor facilities, most with earthen floors. A third of the reserve land was a long sand ridge, quite useless for anything. After the long colonial process they were totally in the control of the dominant white administration.


As a crowning stupidity, two tribes which detest each other are together. As a result, many natives believe, rightly or wrongly, that some of the thirty-six deaths have been due to poisoning (Jones, in Horner, 1974:74)


Questions were asked in the House about the frequent deaths, which were attributed to either tuberculosis, or the peoples’ fear of the lethal qualities of ‘bone-dust’ (Horner, 1974:74). The government reported in September, 1938, that: “The 180 Aborigines of the Menindee station and the buildings, etc. cost £60,000 including a picture theatre” (Barrier Daily Truth, 27-8-1938; in Horner, 1974).


In June 1974, work finally began on the new Murrin Bridge Station near Lake Cargelligo. William Ferguson, the Aboriginal activist, expressed his disgust at the lack of any bathrooms in the cottages, for the project was expected to be a model village (Horner, 1974:141). There were to be thirty-eight houses, two staff residences, a medical block, a recreation hall, a church and an administrative hut.


The Move to Murrin Bridge, 1949


When the village was finished early 1949, the people at Menindee were sent by train 240 miles east to Euabalong and then by truck to Murrin Bridge, sixteen years after the first panic-stricken journey west from Carowra Tank. This second journey, while being less traumatic than the first, was related to me with great feeling and some amusement, for they were in charge of a young inexperienced cadet welfare officer, and dogs fought and barked, people argued, and confusion reigned in regard to the organisation of the journey, carriage of possessions, and the nature of the new settlement. Most of the Carowra Tank people were content to go to Murrin Bridge while the majority of the Paakantji preferred to live independently at Menindee or Wilcannia. At least ten marriages had taken place between the two groups and when the Menindee Community split most of the husbands followed their wives’ people (Beckett, 1964:13)