Tuross Head Aboriginal History

The Brinja Yuin people occupied land from south of the Moruya River to the Wagonga Inlet. Their population was about 1000-1500 prior to European settlement.

Traditional ceremonial activities reinforcing cultural beleifs and practices were conducted around the shores of Coila Lake. Many middens, open campsites and bora ceremnonial grounds have been found.

Archeological excavations in the area known as "the Narrows" between Coila and Tuross Lakes has revealed very dense concentrations of Aboriginal artefacts. The local aboriginal community appreciates the support and respect given by the general public to the protection of these site.


The culturally sensitive landscape of the Tuross River including Coila Lake.

This area contains a combination of Aboriginal heritage values relating to traditional
spirituality, travelling, working, living and resource collection. Large numbers of
archaeological sites have been recorded within the boundaries of this CSL, with
concentrations around Meringo/Congo, Tuross Heads and between Blackfellows
Point and Potato Point.

The majority of archaeological sites are stone artefact
assemblages, some of which are very extensive, such as at Congo. A number of large middens have been recorded on headlands, such at Binge Point and in dune fields behind beaches such as at that north of Blackfellows Point. The contents of some middens indicate economies based on a wide range of resources, from the forests, oceans and wetlands.

Other middens suggest a focus on a particular resource zone such as mudflats. Rare site types – ochre quarries and silcrete quarries have also been recorded at Congo, suggesting that this area may have had particular significance in traditional times.

The Yuin [Djuwin] tribal area as recorded by Howitt in 1904 extends from the
Shoalhaven River in the north, to Cape Howe in the south and west to the Great
Dividing Range. According to local Aboriginal knowledge, thirteen [13] sub tribal
groupings exist within the Yuin tribal area. Yuin tribal subgroups with traditional
links to this area include the Walbanga and Bringa.

On a linguistic level, the Coila
and Tuross area is associated with the Dhurga [Thoorga / Durga] language, however
the Djirringanj language region extends into the area from the south.

Within the Yuin tribal area Howitt recorded another type of division; the Guyangal
[guya = south] and Kurial [kuru = north] coastal sub tribes, together known as
Katungal [Katung = sea].

Within the Guyangal sub tribe Howitt recorded number of
clan divisions, one of which being the Bugelli Manji clan group occupying the
Moruya district, north of Coila Lake. Whilst the term Manji is a grammatical suffix
referring to a place in general, earlier references relating to the Bugelli Manji clan
identify their range as being associated with the Moruya, Bergalia, Congo and Bingi
areas, not far from Coila Lake and record alternative spelling for the same term such
as Burgali, Borgalia, Bengalee, Birgalea, Bukelle, Bengalia, Bogalea and Bungully.

Today, we know the area as Bergalia, immediately south of Moruya. Other
Aboriginal clan group and or place names recorded during the early settlement
period include Canga [Congo], Moorooya [Moruya], Terosse [Tuross] and Bowdally

Aboriginal spirituality is a primary feature of the cultural heritage values associated
with the Tuross River and Tuross Lake landscape. The area not only provides an
important habitat for a number of totemic species such as the gunyu [black swan], it
is also associated with the creation story relating to the Jumalung [Platypus].

The area of spiritual significance encompasses the Tuross Falls, the Tuross River, the Tuross Lake and associated islands, through to the ocean headwaters. Ancient
traveling routes incorporate the Tuross and Wadbilliga Rivers in the pathway linking
significant features along the coast [for instance Gulaga] to significant inland
features. Additionally, the coastal traveling route made use of Tuross Head as a stop over point during extended journeys and the ceremonial ground in the vicinity of Coila Lake.

One contact site is recorded in this region. In the late 1800s, Coorall, a young
Aboriginal boy provided an oral account of a ship passing by Tuross Point, no doubt
his family were camped nearby. Oral accounts record Black Hill, on the northern
slopes above Coila Lake, east of the highway as the site of conflict between European settlers and local Aboriginal residence.

A number of scenarios have been recorded including a potential massacre and or an extensive burial of Aboriginal people struck by Yellow Fever in the late 1800s. Although some regions of Australia were less violent than others disease and violence during the frontier period were often hidden from the public records thus limiting relevant evidence. None the less, the area is considered to contain spiritual elements; spirits are sometimes seen and heard in the area [Trisha Ellis in Donaldson 2006].

Six of the fourteen Aboriginal Reservations declared across the Eurobodalla Shire
were located in the Tuross area. In 1850 the Eurobodalla Reserve was established at
Eurobodalla, west of Bodalla. In 1877 the government declared a further three; one at
Blackfellows Point for Yarraro, one at Terouga Lake for Merriman and one at Tuross
Lake for Richard Bolloway.

In 1878, a fifth reserve was declared at Tuross Lake for Neddy, and in 1880 a sixth reserve was set-aside at Turlinjah for Benson Wynoo who worked for John Hawdon. Aboriginal children attended Turlinjah Public School. The area was still being used into the 1940s. Six reserves is a substantial number of reservations in a relatively small area. Birth and death records correlate with the occupation of reservations in the area. Richard Bolloway was born at Brou Lake in 1831. Elizabeth Jane Chapman and Rosa Bolloway were both born at Turilinjah in 1891 and 1873 respectively. Bodalla, Nerrigundah and Cadgee all contain Aboriginal burial places.

During the early 1900s, seasonal farm work along the Tuross River and the related
holiday camps at nearby coastal locations such as Potato Point and Blackfella Point
involved hundreds of Aboriginal families. Almost half of the heritage places
associated with Aboriginal people's participation in the seasonal farm industry across the Eurobodalla are located along the Tuross River.

The farmlands stretched along the Tuross River, from the headwaters at Tuross Heads, around Tuross Lake, upstream to Nerrigundah in the west. Coopers Island, also within Tuross Lake, was a major seasonal work place. Work camps evolved on or close by the farms where families worked. Pocket camps were also established in Bodalla in response to the available seasonal picking work. Additionally, Sawmills were established at Potato Point and Nerrigundah. Both of these places employed Aboriginal people

Resource collection places within this landscape primarily relate to the coastal,
estuarine and river systems; Potato Point, Tuross River, Tuross Lake and Coila Lake
all contain heritage value in relation to ancient and contemporary resource collection
practises, particularly in relation to fishing and seafood collection.

Coila Lake is classified as a traditional prawn collection site [Vivienne Mason in Donaldson 2006]. In the 1930s, Linda Cruse's parents lived next to Coila Creek in a shack, near where the service station is today. Her father fished on Coila Lake. He sold the fish to feed his family [Linda Cruse in Donaldson 2006]. The Connell family moved from Nerrigundah to Black Hill in 1948. The family lived there for two years in an old house that Ernest Connell fixed up. They were working at Coopers Island at the time picking seasonal vegetables. Margaret remembers fishing and prawning in Coila Lake and walking to Bingi through the bush and across the paddocks [Margaret Carriage in Donaldson 2006].

Time off work was spent dancing at the Nerrigundah Barn, swimming at the Blue
Hole at Nerrigundah, Singing at the Tally Ho Hall and watching movies at the
Bodalla Hall. In this area holiday camps were frequented when the picking season
came to an end and include Blackfellows Point, Potato Point, Brunderee Lake, Little
Lake, Tuross Lake, Tuross Head, Coila Lake and Brou Lake. Many of these places
align with traditionally utilised camping places and as such relate to heritage values
associated with traditional spirituality, resource collection and travelling routes. The
Schools at Cadgee, Turlinjah, Bodalla and Nerrigundah were all attended by
Aboriginal children whose families worked on farms in the area.


The eminent anthropologist A.W.Howitt says the term used by the Yuin for the headman was the 'Gommera'. Just how the Gommera came to assume his position is not entirely clear but it does seem he needed to be respected as a hunter and a warrior. He was wise, he had magical powers and he had spiritual connections.

The Gommera also presided over justice. Howitt, writing in 1883, had this to say :-

"Among the Yuin there was the same practice of expiatory ordeals as among the other tribes I have quoted and the old men prefer this to armed parties being sent out to exact blood-revenge in a feud. The kindred of the deceased frequently revenged themselves by lying in wait for the suspected person, and killing him when out hunting alone. This naturally led to reprisals, and thus to complications such as those which caused the great blood-feud in the Kurnai tribe."

"An instance is known to me of an expiatory meeting in the Yuin tribe in consequence of a Moruya man being killed by a man from Bodalla, but I am not aware whether by violence or by magic."

"The Bodalla Gommera sent a Jirri (messenger) to the Bodalla man, telling him he must come to a certain place and stand out. Meanwhile the men of Moruya were preparing their spears and heating their boomerangs in hot ashes to make them tough. At the time fixed, the man appeared, armed with two shields. As he was charged with killing someone, he had to stand out alone; but if he had been only charged with injuring him, or with having used Joias, that is, magical charm, without actually killing the person, he would have been allowed to have a friend to help him. His friends with their Gommera stood at one side, a little out of spear range, while the Moruya men and their Gommera were at one side of the friends of the dead man."

"It having been arranged how many of the fathers and brothers (own or tribal) of the dead man should attack the defendant, the Gommera then told them what to do, and they went forward towards the Bodalla man, who stood alone expecting them. At about 30 yards distance from him they halted for a while to give him time to prepare himself for defence, then standing in a line facing him, they threw their boomerangs and then their spears at him. He being wounded, his Gommera shouted out 'Jin ail', that is, 'Enough!' and they ceased. There was no further action in this matter, for blood had been taken."

source: http://mdhs.org.au/history.html


some links to more info on our Aboriginal History in this area:


Peas, beans and riverbanks: seasonal picking and dependence in the Tuross Valley


The Canberra Archeological Society undertook an excursion in 1966.
Here is part one, part two and part three of the itinery and here is the map they
used in two parts : part one and part two

"Great Bird" newspaper article and here

The Koori who lived here (long before White settlement named our Shire the 'Eurobodalla') were the Djuwin of the Walbanga, Brinja-Yuin and Djirringanj. These people speak the Dhurga and Djirringanj languages.

The Brinja Djuwin language


Book Extracts;
(I very much encourage you to find the following books in the Moruya Library and read them cover to cover)

Eurobodalla Cultural Aboriginal Study March 2005 pdf file 600kb

Eurobodalla Cultural Aboriginal Study July 2006 pdf file 800kb

Reminincences of Moruya Aborigines - Barlow 1888
pdf file 800kb

... and maybe take a walk alond the Bingi Dreaming Track - Congo to Bingie