Nicholson River (Waanyi-Garawa) Land Claim
Historical Material Relevant to
Nicholson River Claim Area

Compiled by John Dymock

Northern Land Council 1982
(An outline of the work.)

Title Page

 Nicholson River (Waanyi-Garawa) Land Claim

Historical Material Relevant to

Nicholson River Claim Area

 Northern Land Council 1982

John Dymock P.O. Box 1020 Darwin N.T. Ph 853536

The many Aborigines who have contributed to the production of this History, include in Queensland people from Mornington Island, Doomadgee, Burketown, Gregory Downs, Floraville, Riversleigh, Camooweal and Mt. Isa, and in the Northern Territory people from ......

The Northern Land Council and the author wish to acknowledge their indebtedness to Dr Ken Maddock of the School of Behavioural Sciences, Macquarie University, for his collaboration and ......

Many thanks to Mr Ross Steward and personnel of Kratos Uranium N.L., and Esso Australia Ltd personnel, in particular Pat Spinner and Dave Tucker who ......

Use has also been made of many library and archival records, for which I am indebted to the staff of:
The Oxley Library Brisbane
References (Government Sources)

Queensland State Archives (cont.)
Queensland Votes and Proceedings
MESTON, Archibald 1895 Q.V.P. "Proposed System for the Improvement of Aboriginals"
MESTON, A. 1896 Q.V.P. "Report on the Aborigines of Queensland"
Australian Federal Government
Australian Archives
ditto Letter 1/7/1896 (in letter 10164)
ditto Letter 6/11/1896 (in letter 15910)
ditto Letter 14/4/1897 (in letter 5539)
ditto Letter 12/11/1897
SWAN, John Tim Letter 21/12/1891 COL/A 713 (in letter 12790)
References (Newspaper, Periodicals)
References (Books, Articles)
References (Books, Articles Cont.)
Nicholson River - Southern Gulf of Carpentaria
Geological and Fossil Record
DEANS, (Constable) 1935 "Anthony Lagoons Police Journal" 17/8/1935 Australian Archives (Darwin) F.242 (2)
WALTERS, W. 1920 Report Admin, of N.T. 30/6/1920
1,800 million 
years ago
Formation of Nicholson Granite Range.
1,600 million 
years ago
Range begins to subside into sea forming Westmoreland type conglomerate.
NT 1,500 million 
years ago
Earliest known life forms appears. Remarkable Bed of Fossil "Conophyton Stromatolites" adjacent to WANYI burial sites in claim area.
NT-QLD 1856 A.C. Gregory. North Australia Expedition crosses over the China Wall and travels down the Nicholson. Aborigines observed.
QLD 1860-1 Burke and Wills Expedition reaches Bynoe inlet.
QLD 1??1-2 Burke and Wills relief expeditions in the Southern Gulf of Carpentaria region, i.e. Captain Norman; W. Landsborough; F. Walker; McKinlay.
QLD 1878 Native Mounted Police from Bynoe Police Camp i/c Sub Inspector Poingdestre disperses Aborigines on Nicholson River.
QLD 1878-1889 N.M.P. Camp established at Carl Creek on the Upper Gregory River. Aborigines massacred.
NT 1878-9 E. Favenc, i/c of the Queenslander Trans-continental Expedition crosses Barkly Tablelands, Aborigines observed.
chronology continues
Map of Australia, showing claim area
Map 2 shows the Southern Gulf, with the claim area bordered by Wollogorang, Benmara, Mount Drummond etc.

Page 1


The WANYI and GARAWA are two of the many tribes who inhabited Australia at the time of its colonisation by Europeans, and they and their land are depicted here against the background of this colonising process.

The Nicholson River (Northern Territory) Claim area is an arbitrarily defined block which dews not correspond to any traditional ....

Page 2

A recent important archaeological discovery has shown the great antiquity of Aboriginal association with the Nicholson River region.

In 1979 and 1980 Dr Phil Hughes, a prehistorian from the Australian National University, and Ken Aplin, a student, while excavating a dolomite shelter on Coless Creek, a western tributary of Lawn Hill Creek, found the highest density of stone artefacts known from any archaeological site in Australia. (HISCOCK AND HUGHES 1980: 86-95)
Page 3
Map showing the location of tribal groups in relationship to the claim area.

Page 4


WANYI and GARAWA speak of a creative period long ago when Totemic Beings roaming the sky, earth and subterrain, were responsible for creating features of the landscape. Often in human form and sometimes in animal form they made springs, rivers, claypans, hills ......

Page 5
The Red Kangaroo was shocked by what he saw and taught the WANYI new laws at that place. The Flying Fox people agreed that they would follow his new law as it was much better.

From BARUNGOO the Red Kangaroo travelled southwards to Cloud Mountain near Lawn Hill Station. Here the Red Kangaroo (BALAGALINYA) changed his skin to the Grey Kangaroo because .....

Page 6
Prior to European settlement Maccassans had visited the southern shores of the Gulf in the vicinity of the Wellesley Islands: (MACKNIGHT 1976 : 36. 152.) (DYMOCK 1977: 6-7)

Such contact may have led to introduction of Maccassan artefacts amongst the Aborigines ....

Page 7
They saw the Red Kangaroo and chased him over that high rocky country.

He tried to get away but those Dingos cornered him up Gorge Creek and mauled him, tearing at his guts.

His blood poured out onto the ground ....

Page 8

The first Europeans known to have visited the area of the Nicholson River were a boat party from H.M.S. Beagle in 1841.

The commander of the Beagle, Captain John Lort Stokes, and his officers were then engaged in a detailed hydrographic survey of the Gulf of Carpentaria.


Page 9
observe them, also, unawares, and see how they conduct themselves under the ordinary influences that beset them.

It was with great reluctance that I departed without making our presence known; but I could not refrain from leaving, at the place where we landed, the perplexing legacy of a few presents. With what curious anxiety ....

Page 10
"...came to a river with a broad sandy bed and steep banks, overgrown with large drooping tea-trees. Its stream was five or six yards broad and very shallow. Parallel lines of deep lagoons covered with Nymphaeas and Villarsias were on its west side. ....

Page 11
On 26 August :
"Some blacks were seen on the left bank of the river, but though within hearing of our horses' bells, did not appear to notice us" (GREGORY 1884 : 170)

Page 12
tidal reaches of the Nicholson in the west and the Leichardt in the east, came intermittently into contact with the newcomers to their land. (DYMOCK 1977: 4-5)

Page 13
(Map) Watercourses peripheral to the land claim area.

Page 14
Europeans and their allies coming from settled districts to the south and east had some advance knowledge and preconceptions of the Aborigines. Thus the popular and authoritative Pugh's Almanac of the young .....

Page 15
of runs had been established on the Flinders River and its tributaries.

In the meantime Graham McDonald had selected country on the Leichardt and Gregory Rivers where early in 1865 he formed Floraville and Gregory Downs Stations (Palmer 1903 : 102).

Page 16
Only a few days' grace they gave us when a cowardly attack was made in the dark, as usual with the sneaking savage, who never thinks of anything like fair play.  The attack was quick and sudden ....

Page 17
The open grasslands of the Barkly Tableland lay principally to the west of Rocklands and as a consequence the 8,000 sheep were principally depastured within the as yet undefined border of the Northern Territory of South Australia. About 6 months later Nash arrived with sheep ...


In 1865 the "Jackmel Packet" was sent from Sydney laden with grog, stores and equipment for Robert Towns and Co., a pastoral company.

News of the vessel unloading up the Albert River caused a rush from the newly formed stations on the lower and middle Flinders including the Tableland and intermediate stations, to obtain stores and drink which were in short supply.

From these rough beginnings Burketown became a focal point for settlement. The Albert, being navigable for some distance, provided the maritime link with the east coast for the far stretched lines of commerce, communication, and supply. Men with eyes for the prosperity of the region, however, were not merely looking back to the more populated eastern and southern Colonies of Australia, but forward to the possibility of direct trade links with the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, British India and even Britain herself.

Page 18
By 1866 Queensland Government officials arrived at Burketown to administer the huge District of Burke and a detachment of Native Mounted Police under Acting Sub-Inspector Darcy Wentworth Uhr, formed a camp near the Barkly's junction with Beames Brook.

"The Aboriginals of the district appear to be a fine race of men, and thus far have proved very friendly; as an instance - the cook of the Ellesmer, when returning to his vessel, a distance of about five miles from town, was lost in the bush and fell in with a party of natives, who took him to their camp, and for nine days fed him with roots etc., and treated him most hospitably. On the nith day he fortunately saw the mast of his vessel and retunred to her. this is not the only case that I could mention." (BRIS. C. 8/9/1866)

Page 42
What a contrast there is between this immemorial practice and what was now happening to these same people! The Aborigines were increasingly forced to retreat into dense scrub, mangoves, and rocky country for safety and survival. Some white people, however, were concerned about their plight. Thus an old prospector in the Gulf, John Tim Swan, who had been appointed leader of a Burketown prospecting party into the Nicholson River ranges, wrote to the Chief Justice, Charles Lilley, head of the Aboriginal Protection Society of Queensland (Swan's original spelling is kept):

"I was appointed leader of the Burketown prospecting party on the 21st of June last to prospect for gold and other minerals and in my travels through this vast district I took notes of everything in general and being a Colonist of forty years I am well able to form an opinion of right from wrong. I noted that from Normanton to Camoweel there is not 50 white men employed you will find one or two whitees on the stations wther remainder are black boys that in reality are gins in trousers. No Sir how were the boys and gins procured aned how is the supply kept up. I will inform you by organised parties going up the Nicholson River and along the coast Point Parker way also Gunpowder river suppleis some, these chidren are bought in and tied up and the slewth hound gin that has found favour inn her master sight is put over them to keep them from running away and if they manage to get away and are cought God help them ...

Page 53
The "Wild Time" is thought of by many present day Aborigines in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria region as being a period in their peoples history from before the European invasion of their lands up util the cessation of hostilities whith whites. Teh "Wild Time" had no uniform date of termination but phased i tself out over many years dependent as to place and circumstance.

As an example, the "Wild Time" ended for some Aborigines on Bentinck Island (a mere 45 miles north of Burketown) as recently as 1948!

Page 54
Long Norman:

"When whitemen been come to kill all blackfellow my father been run away from my Father's father's country along Goyanjala. [Coanjula Ck] Run away and hid in my Mother's country. Mother long me been and hid in my Mother's country. Mother long me been telll me she been hid along bush along her country no whitemen been find him (her). They been plant themself hide in montain behind where no whitefellow can find him.

"My mother had no brother no sister. I don't know, who been chase him my Father and Mother. I only know whtemen been chase him and shoot down mob of blackfelllow. Scrutton been leave that country, he became blackfellow country again. He kill blackfellow when he been have that place.

Page 56
According to GARAWA oral history Europeans were around the China Wall and Upper Calvert River shooting down bush Aborigines. This would have been about 1904. Because of the rugged nature of the country a few small groups of Aborigines were still living in their traditional country,  avoiding contact with the Europeans.

Page 57

The mid 1890s saw a shift in Queensland's attitude to its Aboriginal population. This was partly brought about by Archibald Meston, a noted journalist of the period, who used his pen to prick the conscience of the Government. Meston claimed an extensive working knowledge of the Aborigines of the colony and in 1895 produced a thought provoking essay entitled "Proposed System for the Improvement of the Aboriginals". This was printed as a pamphlet by the Government.

Page 60

In October, 1896, W.E. Parry-Okeden the Commissioner of Police, left Brisbane to investigate the workings of the Native Mounted Police. On 18 November 1896, he arrived in Normanton from where "G" District was commanded by Inspector David Graham. The district included such stations as Burketown, Turn Off Lagoons and Camooweal, and therefore extended to WANYI and GARAWA country.

Page 61
The Commissioner of Police entirely condemned the Native Police system as he found it working, yet recommended to Parliament against disbanding the N.M.P., calling instead fro several detachments to be strenthened, and for a more humane approach to Aborigines. In particular, he called for the Native Mounted Plice to establish friedship with the Aborigines, by the "occasional distribution of tobacco etc."

Page 62

To implement the Goverment's friendly intentions, centres were set  up for distributing food and tobacco to Aborigines. One such with an annual allowance of 100 pounds, was established at Lawn Hill in 1897 (TOZER 1897: ).

Thomas Brassey MacIntosh, who had earlier been the managing partner of Westmoreland Station, was appointed manager of Lawn Hills in 1896, and it was he who set up the ration depot at Lawn Hills. He induced Aborigines to come out of the ranges between Lawn Hills and the Nicholson River - N.T. Border areas: "Until the beginning of the year the wild Aborigines were a source of great trouble here killing cattle and horses and then getting away into their fastenesses." ...

Page 69
By the end of 1897 regular Police patrols were being made from Turn Off Lagoons via Mt Oscar out-station to Lawn Hills, Pages Creek, Louie Creek and Lillydale and Riversleigh Stations situated on the Gregory River. The Lawn Hills Manager supplied beef in carcass at 25/- a head and colonial tobacco at 3/6d. per lb. to the police who paid with vouchers and distributed the rations at the main camping ground. A ration of salt was also issued to preserve meat for later use and on suitable occasions other items were issued. ...

Page 73
In the late 1880's copper and silver lead indications had been discovered in teh general vicinity of Lawn Hills, and about 1894 Frank Hann the owner of the station, with a syndicate, had taken up a silver lead mining lease, but costs were too high and the venture was abandoned.

However, when lead and silver prices rose, interest in the lodes was renewed abnd by 1899 four companies (i.e. Queenland Silver Lead Mines Ltd., The WANGEE Prospecting Co., The Lawn Hill Prospecting Co., and The Pioneering Working Miners Co.) held 70 leases between them (QLDER 1899: July - Dec. 1091-2).

Page 75

With the cessation of open hostilities in the Lawn Hill area and the periodical issuing of Government relations to augment the food obtained by hunting and gathering, WANYI in the vicinity of Lawn Hill formed their main camping area south of Lawn Hill Station at Dundja-Dindji (Alt. Dundja-Dundji) on Pages Creek an eastern tributary of Lawn Hill Creek.

Page 80
Isolated murders of Europeans still occurred however, and usually resulted in retributive justice being meted out by armed posses from the stations. One murder was even reported in the Sydney Bulletin (18.8.1894):
  "About 2 months ago a man named BURMBY CLARKE was killed here by 2 niggers. Said nigs, then cleared int ranges with horses etc.

"The Police asked a doctor to go out and post-mortem Clarkes body, but doc wanted 25 pounds for the work, and the police offer only 10d. a mile out, (7 pounds ten shillings). The Doctor would not accept, so a police officer went to the boiling down establishment and had a tin can made, and in company with 2 troopers started to the place whwere Clarke had been murdered and buried. On arrival they dug the body up, cut the head off, put it into the  tin can, and returned with it to Burketown, where they are going to hold an inquest on the head.

"The niggers first split Clarke's forehead open with a tomahawk, and then put a bullet into each temple; the rest of the body was in no way bruised, and showed no sign of violence.
"We aren't yet quite civilised up here."

Traditional patterns of Aboriginal ceremonial life must have been severely disrupted by Europeans and Native Mounted Police throughtout the Gulf district. Thus the "old instructions" to the Native Police required them to:

"At all times and opportunities to disperse any large assembly of blacks without unnecessary violence" (PARRY-OKEDEN, 1897:           ) .....

Page 92

The Aboriginal people then (as now) formed the overwhelming bulk of the population in the eastern N.T. By comparison the European population was (and is) small. Borroloola, the only township and port in the eastern N.T. and the N.T. town nearest to the claim area is a classic example of European aspirations and settlement in the region.

Beginning as a lonely grog shanty built by Jack Reid on the banks of the McArthur, by 1886 Borroloola had taken on the aspect of a "wild and woolly" frontier township:
  "The European population of 'Borroloola' numbers about 150, while a considerable number are scattered through out the surrounding pastoral country on the various stations. There are four general stores, of which two also hold storekeepers licences to sell spirituous liquors, a tinsmith, a baker, a butcher, three saddlers, a market gardner, and a dairy farmer, who supplies very good buttter at 3s/6d. per lb." ...

Page 96

In 1920 the acting Chief Protector, W. Waters, gazetted five Aboriginal Reserves in the N.T., the nearest to the claim being Groote Eylandt. He further proposed theat 1,885 wq. miles be reserved in the Robinson River district, aobut 70 miles north of the claim area. Waters, who recognised the needs of Aborigines, stated:
"The natives of Australia have never been recognised as having any legal title to their tribal lands. The whole of the lands of Australia were constituted Crown Lands and under various Land Acts have been sold or leased by the various Governments to white settlers.'

"In the Northern Terriitory long leases of large areas have been granted to pastoralists extending uninteruptedly in the aggregate over ....

Page 97
A former mier on the Burketown Mineral Field, George Cant (Silverking Mine), took up Blocks 24 and 25 on the head of the South Nicholson, where he built a hut and named his station "Springvale." Beck, Beck and Brown took up Block 23 (P.L. 2453) to the west of Springvale, forming a station onn Buddycurrawa Creek.

The demand for employable Aborigines was principally on the huge Tableland Stations such as Alexandria, Brunette and Creswell Downs. These stations for many years were worked almost exclusively by Aboriginal labour, which would have included people from the claim area. The conditions on these stations were described by a contemporary:

"The stations comprise very large areas. Brunette covers an area of 12,000 square miles, Alexandria 10,000 square miles and there are others equally large. On all the stations cattle only are bred, with a few horses for working the run. Very few white men are employed." ....

Page 99
Aboriginal women and families were also deprived of their half-caste children, as Police periodically reounded up such children for removal to the "Half-Caste-Home" in Darwin.  Thus on 13 July 1932, the Police at Anthony's visited Creswell Downs and removed "Duke" and Willie" and "Mavis" whose mother was a WANYI woman and a NIMARINGI for Nicholson River country.


Page 102


The deplorable condition of Aborigines in Cape York Peninsula motivated the Presbyterian Church to establish a number of Mission Stations along the eastern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria (i.e. Mapoon in 1891, Weipa in 1896, and Aurukun in 1904).

The Church of England were also active forming Mission Stations at Yarranbah near Cairns in 1891 and over on the Gulf at Trubanaman on the Mitchell River in 1904. (See Map 13, p.103)

Half-caste and orphaned Aboriginal children were removed from their local surroundings in the Gulf district and institutionalised at these places for their moral protection and education.

Page 109


This mission has for long beeen a dominating presence in N.W. Queensland. It goes back to when a small group of Brethren Missionaries led by Mre and Mrs Akenhurst of Sydney and Will Sharpe arrived in Burketown in 1932 with a view to setting up a school there for Aboriginal children. They then obtained permission from the authorities to set up a Mission Statioin on the coastal Aboriginal Reserve in which DOOMADJI Island was also located.

A feature of the littoral in this area are the many saltpans lying behind such areas a DOOMADJI and the coast, and because of the frequent flooding of the pans, such areas are locally referred to as "islands" even though they are geographically part of the mainland.

Joe Hoosen, and Arab stockman working for Westmoreland Station, married "Topsey," a half-caste girl, in Burketown in January 1909. Hoosen and his wife, whose mother was "Rosie" a GANGALIDA (i.e. YOORKOOLTA) woman fromm the coast about Point Parker, then moved down to the coast and worked for George Douglas who held a small runn of country to the west of Bayley Point.

Document concludes on page 135.

Permission of the author for publication  is sought.
Contact details for John Dymock would be greatly appreciated -

QLD 1896 Meston appointed Special Commissioner, Reports on condition of Aborigines in N. Queensland.
QLD 1896 T.B. MacIntosh appointed manager of Lawn Hill. Aborigines from western ranges encouraged to 'come in' to Lawn Hill. Easter migration of WANYI 50-60 Aborigines at one camp.
QLD 1896 Burketown. Population 300