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ANCIENT AUSTRALIA

The history and culture of the 'Great South Land' and it's Sovereign Tribal Nations.

STONE CONSTRUCTIONS

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STONE CONSTRUCTIONS OF AUSTRALIA'S ORIGINAL PEOPLES.

First Nation Peoples of the Great Southern Land now known as Australia were not homeless nomads, they began to construct stone houses, stone walls and other permanent stone structures at a time long before the Great Pyramids of Egypt existed. This information has been documented by the first white settlers, anthropologists, archaeologists and historians. Following are some examples which prove that Australian Aboriginal peoples built permanent structures, and that they frequently built with stone:

In 1881 James Dawson wrote:

'In some parts of the country where it is easier to get stones than wood and bark for dwellings, The walls are built of flat stones, and roofed with limbs and thatch. A stony point of land on the south side of a lake near Camperdown is called 'Karm Karm,' which means 'building of stones,' but no marks or remains are now to be seen indicating the former existence of a building there.' 1

In 1892, in The Aborigines of New South Wales, Dr. John Fraser noted:

'The Australians did not learn the art of building from the white settlers, for Captain Sturt, when he first penetrated into the interior, sixty years ago, found such huts there.'

'Elsewhere, as in some parts of South Australia, the natives make use of any stone that may be handy, and raise stone walls for their huts. In the north-west, Sir George Grey found erections of stone, which may have been used for shelter.' 2

 

AUSTRALIAN ALPS, STONE HOUSES:

     

The Port Phillip 'Assistant Protector of Aborigines' William Thomas, collected the above drawing of Aboriginal stone houses recorded by an Aboriginal Artist in the early 1800's. This is documented in the book Gunya, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia, by Paul Memmott, published by the University of Queensland Press. 3

 

ARRERNTE SACRED SITE:

A pit like depression with a horseshoe-shaped stone wall approximately a metre high, was used to store sacred objects by the Arrernte people, at Lyabe sacred site, in the Macdonnell Ranges. 4

 

BREWARRINA STONE CONSTRUCTIONS:

The Ngemba peoples are the custodians of The Ngunnhu, which comprise fisheries shared with Morowari, Paarkinji, Weilwan, Barabinja, Ualarai and Kamilaroi peoples who also share responsibility for maintaining the cultural site at Brewarrina. 5  Extensive stone fish traps and walls of eroded sandstone boulders still exist, and are still in use at Brewarrina, on the Barwon River in western NSW. 6

      

Baiame's Ngunnhu stone constructions on the Barwon River. 7

 

CENTRAL AUSTRALIA AND WESTERN DESERT STONE WALLS:

Rock walled 'hides' were used for aid in hunting birds and animals near waterholes in the Central Australia and Western desert regions, and were up to 1.2 metres high. Warlpiri stone 'hides' are found near Yuendumu, and the Alyawarr people also built stone walls at Ampilatwaj on the Sandover River. 8

 

GUNDJITMARA STONE HOUSES AT LAKE CONDAH, LOUTH SWAMP AND MOUNT ECCLES, VICTORIA:

Pictured above. from research conducted by Deakin University, School of Architecture & Building in 2011, are stone structures at least 7,000 to 10,000 years old, which still exist on a landscape managed by Gunditjmara peoples for up to 50,000 years. 9 

In 1898 the Surveyor Alex Ingram found the remains of circular stone houses at Mount Eccles, south of Lake Condah. He was told they previously had roofs of boughs and bark. Ingram was also told of more stone houses with bark and sapling roofs at Louth swamp. The research of Heather Builith has confirmed ancient stone constructions in the vicinity of Lake Condah, include stone channels, dams, fish traps, and 103 stone dwellings and other structures. 10

The above image which can be viewed from the State Library of Victoria  website, depicts an Aboriginal stone village at Scrubby Creek Victoria c. 1820. The village was documented by William Thomas, who noted it was a 'regular village' with between twenty and thirty beehive shaped dwellings, about six feet tall and ten feet in diameter. He noted that each dwelling had an opening in the roof to allow smoke to escape, and that some of the dwellings were large enough to hold a dozen people. 11

 

JINDABYNE STONE WALLS:

Prior to 1981, the stone walls at Jindabyne were discovered by Park Ranger Angel John Ballard, pictured with them above. The walls have been anecdotally identified, as constructions of local First Nation People. They were identified by a Boer War Veteran as one of a number of stone walls located in the district which were 'built by Aboriginal people'. A more than 100 metre long wall constructed of large granite stones, is aligned exactly east to west, and runs steeply downhill into Lake Jindabyne. A circular stone arrangement is located near the beginning of the wall, on the crest of a ridge. Three larger stone walls have been discovered in remote bush, two are offset, with a 50 metre gap between them, the second wall ending on a cliff above a gorge with a stream at the bottom, and the third wall has been constructed up the opposite side of the gorge. The walls would not effectively function as a fence, it is believed they have a spiritual purpose, this is supported by the fact that nearby east to west stone lines at the apex of the ridge, mimic the layout of the larger walls. 12

A Short Video of these walls was made by Anthony Johnson, and is available from the Age website here: http://media.theage.com.au/system/ipad/stone-walls-of-jindabyne-2671399.html 13

 

KIMBERLEY COAST:

Sue O'Connor, Len Zell and Anthony Barham note that the Western Australian Register of Aboriginal Sites, records a large number of stone constructions of varying forms, most of which are located on high ground. These include long stone walls, and parallel stone walls or lines. 14

 

MURUJUGA STONE WALLS:

At Murujuga in Western Australia, there are many Aboriginal engravings and stone constructions including standing stones, lines and terraced walls, which are estimated to be 20,000 to 30,000 years old. The terraces have circular ends, show no signs of agricultural use, and are thought to have a cultural function. 15

Stone terrace walls near Climbing Men Valley. 16

 

NILLAN GUNDIDJ VILLAGE WITH STONE HOUSES, BESSIBELLE VICTORIA:

In 1842, the Aboriginal Protector George Robinson recorded in his notes that he encountered the Nillan Gundidj village which contained a mixture of stone and 'dirt' houses. The stone houses had timber-framed domed roofs, which were noted to be typically clad with sod in that region. 17

 

NORTHERN TERRITORY STONE WALLS:

Stone walled 'hides' for hunting birds, are located in the Basin of the Upper Victoria River. They were noted to be covered in timber rails and grass cladding. 18

 

NYUNGAH STONE CONSTRUCTIONS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA:

An ancient Nyungah site in the Helena Valley, near Mundaring Weir in Western Australia, contains stone walls and other stone structures and engraved stones. The Nyungah site is very similar in size and layout, to a Kabi Kabi sacred site in Queensland where the stone structures are built in a very similar manner, with similar engraved stone artefacts. 19

Nyungah stone artefacts which have been discovered in the region of the walls in the Helena Valley, and they are dated at 40,000 years old. 20

      

Nyungah Stone walls in the Helena Valley. 21

 

PILBARA STONE WALLS:

Stone walls have been discovered in a number of rock shelters on the Hamersley Plateau in Western Australia. The walls are one stone wide, with stones laid in a random pattern. 22

Stone wall inside a Panjima rock shelter in the Pilbara. 23

 

RANKIN ISLAND STONE WALLS:

Several different types of Aboriginal stone constructions are located on Rankin Island in Collier Bay W.A. These constructions include a long stone wall which does not display 'dry stone' method of overlapping construction, and a complex of minor stone walls, structures and hollows. The walls do not function as fish traps and are believed by archaeologists to have a spiritual function. Analysis of tidal data indicates that they may be around 4,000 to 5,000 years old, and Radiometric dating indicates they may be up to 4,500 years old. 24

A low walled circular structure, is located on a Rankin Island northern headland. It is constructed from naturally fractured tabular sandstone blocks. 25

 

STONE VILLIAGE MARION DOWNS QUEENSLAND:

The remains of a village of 17 curvilinear, rectangular and circular dry stone walled structures are located near the Marion Downs airstrip, at the Georgina River in Queensland. 26

 

YAWARAWARKA STONE HOUSES IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA:

The Northern Territory 'Aboriginal Protector' Herbert Basedow documented that the people of lower Cooper Creek and the Strzelecki Desert in South Australia built stone houses with flat stone slab roofs that were made waterproof with clay. 27

During his explorations of South Australia between 1829-1831, Charles Sturt noted an Aboriginal village of seventy permanent huts near the Salt River. The huts were all facing 'the same point of the compass', and were capable of housing twelve to fifteen men each. 28

 

YAWIJIBAYA STONE HOUSES ON HIGH CLIFFY ISLANDS:

A settlement of hundreds of stone walls and other structures are located on Ngalawuru (High Cliffy Island), which is part of the Montgomery Island group, of the Buccaneer Archipelago, W.A.. The settlement has been studied by Archaeologist Sue O'Connor who noted it has 'numerous circular walls of quartz sandstone' which were utilised 'in pre contact times'. 29

Yawijibaya stone house on High Cliffy Island pictured above. 30

 

REFERENCES:

1   James Dawson, Australian Aborigines:The Languages and Customs of Several Tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, Australia, (Melbourne: George Robertson, 1881), p. 11.

2   John Fraser, The Aborigines of New South Wales, (Sydney: Charles Potter Government Printer, 1892), p. 49.

3   Paul Memmott, Gunya, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia, (Indooripilly: University of Queensland Press, 2007), p. 185.

4   Paul Memmott, Gunya, Goondie and Wurley, pp. 203-204.

5   'National Heritage places - Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps (Baiame's Ngunnhu)', Australian Government Department of Environment, website accessed July 2014: http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national/brewarrina

6   Frederick D. McCarthy, 'Aboriginal Stone Arrangements in Australia', The Australian Museum MagazineSeptember 2nd 1940, (Sydney: Australian Museum, 1940), pp.184-185.

7   Baiame's Ngunnhu image from 'Australian rivers with regulated flows - the Murray-Darling, Snowy, Hunter and Ord Rivers', Australian Government website, accessed June 2014: http://australia.gov.au/aboutaustralia/australian-story/austn-rivers-with-regulated-flows

8   Paul Memmott, Gunya, Goondie and Wurley, p. 201.

9   David Jones, 'The water harvesting landscape of Budj Bim and Lake Condah : whither world heritage recognition', in Proceedings of the 2011 International Conference of the Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia, (Geelong, Vic.: Deakin University, School of Architecture & Building, 2011), p. 131.

10  Paul Memmott, Gunya, Goondie and Wurley, pp. 189-193.

11  William Thomas, 'Beehive stone village' image MS8781, from Brough Smythe Papers c.1840, Manuscript Collection, State Library of Victoria website accessed July 2014: http:ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/image/aboriginal-village-stone-houses   

12  Deborah Smith, 'Walls May Hold Heavenly Secrets', Sydney Morning Herald, October 6, 2011. Sydney Morning Herald Website, available from: http://newsstore.smh.com.au/apps/viewDocument.ac?page=1&sy=smh&kw=Walls+may+hold+heavenly+secrets&pb=all_ffx&dt=selectRange&dr=5years&so=relevance&sf=headline&rc=10&rm=200&sp=nrm&clsPage=1&docID=SMH1110061B18SBB27KO  

13  Anthony Johnson, 'Stone Walls of Jindabyne', video published 5/10/2011, available from The Age website: http://media.theage.com.au/system/ipad/stone-walls-of-jindabyne-2671399.html 

14  Sue O'Connor, Len Zell and Anthony Barham, 'Stone Constructions on Rankin Island, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australian Archaeology 64, (June 2007): p. 15.

15  Alex Leach, 'A preliminary Study of the Connection Between Climing Men Valley and Deep Gorge (Pattersons Valley) With Associated Terraces', 2011, Murujuga Friends of Australian Rock Art Website, accessed March 2014: http://www.rockart.net.au/reports.html

16  Ibid.

17  Paul Memmott, Gunya, Goondie and Wurley, p. 189.

18  Ibid, p. 202.

19  Noongar, Nyunga Community and Lynda Nutter, Unpublished information submitted to the authors, August 2014.

20  A Project With the Swan River Trust, Indigenous History of the Swan and Canning Rivers, Student Work Placement: Curtin University: Various Works Compiled and Presented by Debra Hughes-Hallett 2010, ed Debra Hughes-Hallett, (Perth: Swan River Trust, 2010), p. 58.

21  Noongar, Nyunga Community and Lynda Nutter, Unpublished photographs submitted to the authors, August 2014.

22  P. Bindon and M. Lofgren, 'Walled Rock Shelters and a Cached Spear In the Pilbara Region, Western Australia,' Records of the Western Australian Museum 10 (2), (Pilbara: Goldsworthy, 1982), p. 113-115.

23  Ibid., p.115.

24  Sue O'Connor, Len Zell and Anthony Barham, 'Stone Constructions on Rankin Island, Kimberley, Western Australia', pp. 17-19.

25  Ibid. p. 21.

26  Paul Memmott, Gunya, Goondie and Wurley, p. 200.

27  Ibid., p. 185.

28  Charles Sturt, 'Two Expeditions into the Interior of South Australia, During the Years 1828, 1829, 1830 and 1831: With Observations on the Soil, Climate, and General Resources of the Colony of New South Wales, Volume 1 (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1833), pp. 89-90, 105.

29 Paul Memmott, Gunya, Goondie and Wurley, p. 199.

30  Yawijibaya stone house on High Cliffy Island, screenshot image from 'The Curious Case of the Vanished Tribe' Youtube video, accessed July 2014, available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFJVDvyYSDI