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Awabakal people
aka: Awabagal, Awaba, Kuri, Minyowa, Minyowie [1]
IBRA 6.1 Sydney Basin.png
Mid North Coast bioregion
Language family:Pama–Nyungan[2]
Language branch:Yuin–Kuric
Language group:Kuri
Group dialects:Awabakal
Area (approx. 1,800 sq. km)
Bioregion:Mid North Coast
Location:Mid North Coast, New South Wales
Coordinates:33°5′S 151°30′E / 33.083°S 151.500°E / -33.083; 151.500Coordinates: 33°5′S 151°30′E / 33.083°S 151.500°E / -33.083; 151.500[1]
Other geological:Lake Macquarie[1]
Notable individuals

The Awabakal people /əˈwɒbəɡæl/, are those Aboriginal Australians who identify with or are descended from the Awabakal tribe and its clans, Indigenous to the coastal area of what is now known as the Hunter Region of New South Wales. Their traditional territory spread from Wollombi in the west, to the Lower Hunter River near Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in the north.

The name Kuringgai, also written Guringai, has often been used as a collective denominator of the Awabakal and several other tribes in this belt, but Norman Tindale has challenged it as an arbitrary coinage devised by ethnologist John Fraser in 1892. For Tindale, Kuringgai was synonymous with Awabakal.[1] Arthur Capell however asserted that there was indeed evidence for a distinct Kuringgai language, which, in Tindale's schema, would imply they were a distinct people from the Awabakal.[3]


In their language, awaba was the word for Lake Macquarie, meaning flat or plain surface, and by extension referred to the people native to that area. The Awabakal were bounded to the north–west by the Wonnarua, the Worimi to the north–east, and the Darkinung peoples to the west and south. Awaba is now the name of a small town in the region.


Traditional lands of Australian Aboriginal tribes around Newcastle, New South Wales

Awabakal language was recorded by Lancelot Edward Threlkeld and Awabakal Leader Birabahn in 'An Australian grammar : comprehending the principles and natural rules of the language as spoken by the Aborigines in the vicinity of Hunter's River, Lake MacQuarie & New South Wales' -'and this is the first, and most comprehensive record of any indigenous language in Australia.

The City of Newcastle is in the process of educating the wider community about dual name sites and traditional language history of Newcastle Muluubinba.


Tindale estimated Awabakal territory to cover some 700 square miles (1,800 km2).[1] More recent estimates are that Awabakal territory covers 2870 square kilometres.


The eaglehawk or wedge-tailed eagle has special significance for the Awabakal people. Kon, their "celestial entity", looks like an Aboriginal man, but in flight resembles an eagle-hawk.[5][6]

The Awabakal people played a significant part in shaping the environment of their region. They practised fire-stick farming extensively, which helped them to hunt and to navigate through dense prickly scrub along the coast.[6] Newcastle's main city thoroughfare, Watt Street was built over an Awabakal path from the shore to the top of a hill.[7] Fishing, particularly for shellfish, was a significant part of the Awabakal people's diet and culture pre-colonisation.[6]

The Awabakal, in pre-colonisation times, were noted as being strong and determined defenders of their territory, the means by which the defence occurred need to be explored to deepen understanding of the culture. They had possession of their rich coastal territory for thousands of years, during which time they successfully repelled incursions by the neighbouring Gamilaraay people and established places of defence, "virtual armouries", high in the Watagan Mountains.[6]


Descendants of the traditional owners, that is, descendants of those Awabakal forebears who survived the British invasion/colonisation massacres, especially during the land grab of 1826, are direct descendants of Margaret and Ned or Mahrahkah. These descendants are connected through their families/family culture together and represented by the Awabakal Descendants of the Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation.

These people, the traditional owners of the Awabakal region have lived on, loved and looked after the magnificent Awabakal land and water systems continuously for millennia, at least since the last Ice Age, 11,800 years ago.

Their extraordinary resilience, is in part due to their excellence in civic relations, as demonstrated by their forebear, the most important Indigenous Intellectual of Australia in C19th, Birabahn and this is seen in their consideration of newly settled Aboriginal people on Awabakal lands and water places.

Recently settled Aboriginal people in this region partake in community support organisations like 'The Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Cooperative Limited', which is a not-for-profit community controlled organisation operating in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Hunter Region. It was established in 1976. It is responsible for the delivery of community and health services to Aboriginal people in this region, including:

  • the Awabakal Medical Centre;
  • the Awabakal Disability Service which provides "short to medium term support to young people living with a disability";
  • culturally appropriate care for older people;
  • and child care services.[8]

Butterfly Cave[edit]

The Butterfly Cave at West Wallsend is part of “women’s business” related to birthing, and has been the subject of decades of active protection by women. However, the site sits on privately owned land allotted for a growing housing estate, owned by Hammersmith Management which is owned by the Roche Group. As of late 2021, women must seek permission to cross the owned land, despite the site being a protected site under the Federal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection (ATSIHP) Act and was recognised as a New South Wales 'Aboriginal Place' in 2013.[9]


The Awabakal Environmental Education Centre began operating in 1976. It is an NSW Department of Education and Communities facility.[10] The centre provides opportunities for teachers and students in the Hunter Region to learn about the environment and human interactions with the natural world.[11] Wollotuka, meaning an 'eating and meeting place' originally began as a support programme in 1983 to assist and promote university studies for indigenous people. Wollotuka's all indigenous staff moved into their new building, Birabahn in 2002, and the Wollotuka Institute was officially established in 2009.[12][13]

Native title[edit]

In 2013 an association of Awabakal and Guringai descendants laid claim to native title over land from Maitland to Hornsby.[14] The claim was opposed by representatives of the Worimi and Wonnarua as asserting rights over their own traditional territories.[15] In 2017 the claim was withdrawn after the NSW government claimed that, while the claim group, the Descendants of the Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation had shown descent from the original people indigenous to the area, it was argued that they had failed to demonstrate continuous preservation of customary laws and practices since the onset of white colonization. [16]

Notable Awabakal people[edit]

Alternative names[edit]

  • Awaba (Awabakal toponym designating Lake Macquarie)
  • Awabagal
  • Kuri (generic term ("man") in Sydney area languages).
  • Kuringgai
  • "Lake Macquarie, Newcastle" tribe
  • Minyowa (Awabakal horde at Newcastle)
  • Minyowie

Source: Tindale 1974, p. 191

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e Tindale 1974, p. 191.
  2. ^ Lissarrague 2006.
  3. ^ Attenbrow 2010, p. 33.
  4. ^ "Aboriginal Culture". Archived from the original on 12 April 2021. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  5. ^ Threlkeld 1974, pp. 3, 5, 66.
  6. ^ a b c d e Maynard 2014, p. ?.
  7. ^ Duncan 2013.
  8. ^ Awabakal.
  9. ^ Aboriginal sacred sites across Australia still at risk as traditional owners 'locked out' of reforms, Shahni Wellington and Kirstie Wellauer, ABC News Online, 2021-12-01
  10. ^ "Home – Awabakal Environmental Education Centre". Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  11. ^ AwabakalEEC.
  12. ^ Wollotuka1.
  13. ^ Wollotuka2.
  14. ^ Kelly 2013.
  15. ^ Connor 2016, p. 111.
  16. ^ Fellner 2017.
  17. ^ Van Toorn 2006, p. 43.


External links[edit]