Biraban

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Biraban
Biraban.jpg
Biraban, drawn by Alfred Thomas Agate.
Bornc.1800
Died(1846-04-14)14 April 1846
Other namesWe-pohng, Barabahn, Bi-ra-ban, Biraban, John McGill, M’Gill, MacGil, Maggill.
Spouse(s)Ti-pah-mah-ah (Patty)
ChildrenYe-row-wa

Biraban (c. 1800 – 14 April 1846) was a leader of the Awabakal people, Indigenous Australians located at Lake Macquarie and surrounds.[1][2][3][4] His native name prior to Awabakal initiation was We-pohng; his naming as Biraban is reference to his totemic relationship with the eaglehawk.[5][6][7][8]

Early life[edit]

We-pohng was born at Bahtahbah (Belmont, New South Wales) c.1800.[9][10] During his childhood We-pohng was kidnapped by the British and raised within the military barracks located in Sydney.[5] Subsequently, We-pohng was assigned to Captain J.M. Gill, a member of the 46th Regiment.[11][12][13][14] We-pohng remained with Captain Gill from February 1814 until Captain Gill departed Australia in December 1817.[11][12][15][14] It was at this time We-pohng became fluent in English and was bestowed the name M’Gill (and its derivatives) as an indication of Captain Gill’s “ownership”.[11][16]

We-pohng commenced assisting Captain Allman in 1821 with the establishment of a penal colony, assuming the role of regional guide, interpreter and a special constable, with We-pohng utilising his tracking skills to apprehend convicts escaping from Port Macquarie.[11][17][18][19]

Prior to his return to Newcastle in 1825 We-pohng married Ti-pah-mah-ah, with which he had one son, Ye-row-wa.[20][21]

Return to Awabakal[edit]

From 1825 Biraban served as an informant to the missionary Lancelot Edward Threlkeld teaching him the Awabakal language and cosmology.[5][22]

In 1826 Biraban experienced his Awabakal clan initiation in which he was transposed from boyhood to manhood.[11][23][24][25][26][27] Subsequently, Biraban acted as a spokesperson for the Awabakal clan, with part of his duties involving reporting ‘assaults on Aboriginal people to Threlkeld who, in turn, reported them to the colonial authorities,’ and acting as a distributor of British material goods to Aboriginal people.[28]

Biraban assisted Threlkeld to establish a LMS Mission, and later the Colonial government Ebenezer (mission), on Awabakal land.[9][29] In preparation for the LMS Mission Biraban worked alongside two other indigenous men to fell ‘trees to make room for the erection of…[a mission] house and prepare for planting some Indian corn.’[30]

Linguistic and translation work[edit]

Speaking English fluently Biraban was frequently was called upon by the colonial government to act as an interpreter between Aboriginal clan members and settlers.[26] A notable work in which Biraban was involved was the interpretation and transcription of Christian religious texts into the Awabakal language.[31][32][33] Threlkeld recognised the value of Biraban as his local teacher, writing, ‘[i]t was very evident that M’Gill [Biraban] was accustomed to teach his native language, for when he was asked the name of anything, he pronounced the word very distinctly, syllable by syllable, so that it was impossible to mistake it.’[34] It was later admitted by Threlkeld that Biraban was crucial to his translation work, with the Awabakal translation and publication of St. Luke's Gospel being ‘principally translated by Macgill himself.’[35]

Whilst translating Christian texts Biraban also shared with Threlkeld knowledge of Awabakal cosmology, detailing stories of Koun, Tippakal, Por-rang, and his personal life.[36][37] Biraban also incorporated Christian theology into the Awabakal cosmological order, offering a dreaming narrative, to Threlkeld, concerning Jehovah; Biraban conceptualised Jehovah as an indigenous being which appears to only men.[38][39][40][41] Biraban’s authority within the Aboriginal clans and his ability to disseminate Christian beliefs to Aboriginal people positioned Biraban to be considered by Threlkeld as a missionary teacher, yet this plan was abandoned as Threlkeld felt Biraban was unable to be baptised due to his preference for alcoholic beverages.[26][42]

By 1830 the value Biraban’s translation work was widely acknowledged. Governor Sir Ralph Darling gifted to Biraban a brass plate with the inscription: ‘Baraban, or Macgil, Chief of the Tribe at Bartabah, on Lake Macquarie: a reward for his assistance in reducing his Native Tongue to a written language.’[43][26][44] At this time Biraban was also active in Supreme Court translations with Threlkeld. Yet, despite being fluent in English, Biraban’s non-Christian status resulted with the Court dismissing Biraban as a competent witness.[45]

Contemporary recognition[edit]

Biraban is the inspiration for the poem The Eagle Chief.[46]

The Biraban Public School in Toronto recognises Biraban’s connection to the region and work as leader and linguist.[47]

In the Canberra suburb of Aranda Biraban is remembered with a street named in his honour.[48][49]

The University of Newcastle hosts the Birabahn Cultural Trail[8] and Birabahn Building.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Keary 2009, p. 117.
  2. ^ "Family Notices". Sydney Morning Herald. 1 May 1846. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  3. ^ Lake Macquarie & District Historical society (1979). Toronto Lake Macquarie, N.S.W: The Pictorial Story. Boolaroo, NSW: Westlake Printers. p. 7.
  4. ^ "Sydney, September 30, 1826". The Australian. 30 September 1826. p. para. 4. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Threlkeld 1892, p. 88.
  6. ^ Gunson 1974, p. 31.
  7. ^ van Toorn 2006, p. 42.
  8. ^ a b University of Newcastle (2017). "Biraban Cultural Trail". The University of Newcastle. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  9. ^ a b Brisbane Water Historical Society & The Entrance and District Historical Society 1968, p. 11.
  10. ^ Lake Macquarie & District Historical society, Toronto Lake Macquarie, N.S.W: The Pictorial Story, Westlake Printers, Boolaroo, 1979, p.7.
  11. ^ a b c d e Keary 2009, p. 123.
  12. ^ a b Brisbane Water Historical Society & The Entrance and District Historical Society 1968, pp. 9-14.
  13. ^ Lake Macquarie & District Historical society, p.7; M. Sainty, ‘46th Regiment of Foot’, Biographical Database of Australia (BDA) [website], 2017, <http://www.bda-online.org.au/files/MR8_Military.pdf>, retrieved 30 September 2017
  14. ^ a b van Toorn 2006, p. 4.
  15. ^ Lake Macquarie & District Historical society, p.7
  16. ^ Brisbane Water Historical Society & The Entrance and District Historical Society 1968, p. 14.
  17. ^ Brisbane Water Historical Society & The Entrance and District Historical Society 1968, p. 15.
  18. ^ Gunson 1974, p. 76.
  19. ^ Gunson, N. Threlkeld, Lancelot Edward (1788–1859). Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  20. ^ J. Turner & G. Blyton, The Aboriginals of Lake Macquarie: A brief history Lake Macquarie City Council, New South Wales, 1995, p.39
  21. ^ Newcastle, New South Wales, retrieved 30 September 2017.
  22. ^ L.E. Threlkeld, ‘Reminiscences of the Aborigines of New South Wales’, pp. 51-62.
  23. ^ K. Austin et al., Land of Awabakal, Yarnteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Corporation, New South Wales, 1995, p.22
  24. ^ Backhouse, J.; Walker, G.W. "Extracts from the Journal of James Backhouse and G.W. Walker". In Gunson, N. (ed.). Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E. Threlkeld Missionary to the Aborigines 1824-1859. Volume I. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. p. 126.
  25. ^ J. Turner & G. Blyton, pp.40-41
  26. ^ a b c d N. Gunson, ‘Introduction’, p.6
  27. ^ The University of Newcastle, ‘Virtual Sourcebook for Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region Guide: 1830-1869’, The University of Newcastle[website], 2017, Cultural Collections, < http://libguides.newcastle.edu.au/aboriginalsourcebook/1830-1869>, retrieved 14 September 2017.
  28. ^ Keary 2009, p. 124.
  29. ^ C. Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, Vol. 2, Philadelphia, Lea and Blanchard, 1845, p.250; K. Clouten, Reid’s Mistake: The Story of Lake Macquarie from its Discovery until 1890, Lake Macquarie Shire Council, New South Wales, 1967, pp.22-24.
  30. ^ Threlkeld, L. E. "Memoranda of Events at Lake Macquarie". In Gunson, N. (ed.). Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E. Threlkeld Missionary to the Aborigines 1824-1859. Volume I. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. p. 90.
  31. ^ Keary 2009, p. 128.
  32. ^ J. Turner & G. Blyton, p.40; L.E. Threlkeld, ‘Memoranda of Events at Lake Macquarie’, p.97
  33. ^ Gospel of Luke, retrieved 30 September 2017.
  34. ^ L.E. Threlkeld, ‘Memoranda of Events at Lake Macquarie’, p.88; ‘Original Correspondence: Civilisation of the Blacks’, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 12 March 1831, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/2199518?searchTerm=M%27Gill&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc|||l-category=Article|||l-state=New+South+Wales|||l-decade=183, retrieved 11 September 2017. ‘
  35. ^ Various. "Selected Correspondence". In Gunson, N. (ed.). Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E. Threlkeld Missionary to the Aborigines 1824-1859. Volume II. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. pp. 177–314.
  36. ^ Threlkeld, L.E. "Reminiscences of the Aborigines of New South Wales". In Gunson, N. (ed.). Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E. Threlkeld Missionary to the Aborigines 1824-1859. Volume I. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. pp. 51–62.
  37. ^ van Toorn 2006, p. 46.
  38. ^ Keary 2009, pp. 144-145.
  39. ^ ‘The Christian Herald’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1856, <http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/12975782?searchTerm=M%27Gill%20native%20aboriginal&searchLimits=l-title=35|||sortby=dateAsc|||l-category=Article>, retrieved 14 September 2017; L.E. Threlkeld, ‘Memoranda of Events at Lake Macquarie’, pp.98-134
  40. ^ van Toorn 2006, pp. 47-52.
  41. ^ Jehovah, retrieved 30 September 2017.
  42. ^ Various, ‘Selected Correspondence’, pp.271-2.
  43. ^ J. Turner & G. Blyton, p.40; P. Sutton, ‘Unusual Couples: Relationships and Research on the Knowledge Frontier’, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [website], 29 May 2002, < https://aiatsis.gov.au/sites/default/files/docs/presentations/2002-wentworth-sutton-unusual-couples-relationships-research.pdf>, retrieved 10 September 2017; ‘Annual Conference with the Natives’, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 9 January 1830, <http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/2194260>, retrieved 21 September 2017; National museum of Australia, ‘Aboriginal breastplates-language teacher rewarded’, National Museum of Australia, <http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/aboriginal_breastplates/language_teacher_rewarded>, retrieved 20 September 2017
  44. ^ Ralph Darling, retrieved 29 September 2017.
  45. ^ Macquarie University, ‘R. v. Jackey [1834] NSWSupC 94’, Macquarie Law School [website], 16 August 2011, Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, < http://www.law.mq.edu.au/research/colonial_case_law/nsw/cases/case_index/1834/r_v_jackey/>, retrieved 25 September 2017; Macquarie University, ‘R. v. Long Jack [1838] NSWSupC 44’, Macquarie Law School [website], 16 August 2011, Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, < http://www.law.mq.edu.au/research/colonial_case_law/nsw/cases/case_index/1838/r_v_long_jack/>, retrieved 25 September 2017; ‘Law Intelligence’, the Sydney Herald, 16 May 1836, <http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/12854350?searchTerm=M%27Gill%20Threlkeld&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc|||l-category=Article|||l-state=New+South+Wales|||l-decade=183>, retrieved 25 September 2017; ‘Supreme Criminal Court’, The Sydney Monitor, 25 February 1832, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/32077003?searchTerm=M%27Gill&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc|||l-category=Article|||l-state=New+South+Wales|||l-decade=183, retrieved 25 September 2017.
  46. ^ http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/2556288?searchTerm=Mrs%20Dunlop&searchLimits=l-decade=184%7C%7C%7Cl-format=Article%7C%7C%7Cl-year=1842
  47. ^ Johns, M. (2017). "The Name". Biraban Public School. NSW Government. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  48. ^ P. Sutton, p.3
  49. ^ Canberra, retrieved 30 September 2017.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Brisbane Water Historical Society; The Entrance and District Historical Society (1968). The Story of the Aboriginal People of the Central Coast of New South Wales. Wyong, New South Wales.
  • Gunson, N., ed. (1974). Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E. Threlkeld Missionary to the Aborigines 1824-1859. Volume I. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  • Gunson, N. (ed.). Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E. Threlkeld Missionary to the Aborigines 1824-1859. Volume II. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  • Keary, A. (2009). "Christianity, colonialism, and cross-cultural translation: Lancelot Threlkeld, Biraban, and the Awabakal". Aboriginal History. 33: 117–155. JSTOR 24046826.
  • Threlkeld, L. E. (1850). "Reminiscences of Birabān". A key to the structure of the Aboriginal language; Being an analysis of the particles used as affixes, to form the various modifications of the verbs; Shewing the essential powers, abstract roots, and other peculiarities of the language spoke by the Aborigines in the vicinity of the Hunter River, Lake Macquarie, etc., New South Wales: Together with comparisons of Polynesian and other dialects. Sydney: Kemp and Fairfax. pp. 5–7.
  • Threlkeld, L. E. (1892). "The Key" (PDF). In Fraser, J. (ed.). An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal the people of Awaba or Lake Macquarie (Near Newcastle, New South Wales) Being an Account of Their Language, Traditions and Customs. Sydney: Charles Potter. pp. 83–104.
  • van Toorn, P. (2006). Writing Never Arrives Naked: Early Aboriginal Cultures of writing in Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]