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Bundjalung people
Aka: Badjalang (Tindale)(Horton)
Bandjalang (SIL)
IBRA 6.1 South Eastern Queensland.png
South Eastern Queensland bioregion
Language family: Pama–Nyungan
Language branch: Bandjalangic
Language group: Bundjalung
Group dialects: Arakwal[1]
Wiyabal(a.k.a. Widje[4])
Area (approx. 6,000 sq. km)
Location: North-eastern
New South Wales
Coordinates: 29°15′S 152°55′E / 29.250°S 152.917°E / -29.250; 152.917Coordinates: 29°15′S 152°55′E / 29.250°S 152.917°E / -29.250; 152.917
Mountains: McPherson Range
Mount Warning
(a.k.a. Wollumbin )
Rivers[4] Lower reaches of
Clarence River
a.k.a. Breimba;[5]
Tweed River;
Richmond River
Other geological: Cape Byron
Urban areas:[4] Ballina
Gold Coast
Tweed Heads

The Bundjalung people (a.k.a. Bunjalung, Badjalang & Bandjalang) are Aboriginal Australians who are the original custodians of northern coastal areas of New South Wales (Australia), located approximately 550 kilometres (340 mi) northeast of Sydney: an area that includes the Bundjalung National Park and Mount Warning (known to the Bundjalung people as Wollumbin ("rainmaker").[6])

Bundjalung people all share in common descent from ancestors who once spoke as their first, preferred language, one or more of the dialects of the Bandjalang language.

The Arakwal people are a sub-group or tribe of the Bundjalung people of Byron Bay.[7]


Norman Tindale's (1974) Catalogue of Australian Aboriginal tribes identifies the identifying Baryulgal dialect (Badjalang) country as follows:[4]

"From northern bank of Clarence River to Richmond River; at Ballina; inland to Tabulam and Baryugil."

Religious beliefs[edit]

The Bundjalung people believe the spirits of wounded warriors are present within the mountains, their injuries having manifested themselves as scars on the mountainside, and thunderstorms in the mountains recall the sounds of those warriors' battles.[6]

Wollumbin itself is the site at which one of the chief warriors lies, and it is said his face can still be seen in the mountain's rocks when viewed from the north.[6]

Much of the Bundjalung peoples culture and heritage continues to be celebrated.[8]

Nowadays people gather annually in the Bundjalung national park as a community to celebrate as a Bundjalung People's Gathering.[8]

"We want to celebrate our Aboriginal traditions and customs. We want to share them with other people and show them our beliefs and our culture is still alive today, it hasn't been lost" - Chris Phillips, event organizer"

On these occasions traditional garments are often worn by the Bundjalung peoples, who partake in custodial dances and other performances.[8]

Wollumbin is the mountain range to the north of Mt Warning, and it is said his face and form can be seen in the ranges profile, when viewed from the north, near Chinderah

Land claim[edit]

In November 2007 the Federal Court made a positive determination regarding the existence of native title within Githabul country.[9]

Following successful native title determinations, a few descendants because of invested interests are formally questioning the extent to which the 'Bundjalung' are, or have ever been, a people or a nation.[10]

Musical instruments[edit]

Place names
Instrument Usage
Didjeridu ("Didgeridoo") Traditionally the Didjeridu originated in Arnhem Land on the northern coastline of the Northern Territory, Australia, where it is called a 'yidaki or yiraki' in the Local Aboriginal language. The Didjeridu has some similarity to bamboo trumpets and even bronze horns developed in other cultures, though it pre-dates most of these by many millennia.
Gum leaf Traditionally the leaf from a tree of the Eucalyptus family was used by Bundjalung Nation tribes as a musical instrument by holding against the lips and blowing to create a resonant vibration. Originally used in the imitation of bird-calls.
Bull-roarer A bullroarer, rhombus, or turndun is a primitive ritual musical instrument, made of a small flat slip of wood, through a hole in one end of which a string is passed; swung round rapidly it makes a booming, humming noise.

It is used as the Aboriginal "bush telephone" to communicate over extended or long-distances. The instrument is called a "Burliwarni", "Ngurrarngay" and "Muypak". Bullroarers are given to men during their naming ceremonies.

The bullroarer itself is not unique to Australia. It has been used in ancient Egypt and by the Inuit of Northern Canada.

In New Guinea, in some of the islands of the Torres Strait (where it is swung as a fishing-charm), in Sri Lanka (where it is used as a toy and figures as a sacred instrument at Buddhist festivals), and in Sumatra (where it is used to induce the demons to carry off the soul of a woman, and so drive her mad), the bullroarer is also found. Sometimes, as among the Minangkabos of Sumatra, it is made of the frontal bone of a man renowned for his bravery.

Bull-roarers are considered secret men's business by some Aboriginal tribal groups, and hence taboo for women, children, non-initiated men and/or outsiders to even hear.[citation needed] They are used in men's initiation ceremonies accompanied by the didgeridoo, and the sound they produced is considered by some Indigenous cultures to represent the sound of the Rainbow Serpent.[citation needed]

The sound of the bull-roarer is said to be the voice of an ancestor, a spirit, or a deity. In the cultures of South-East Australia, the sound of the bullroarer is the voice of Daramulan, and a successful bullroarer can only be made if it has been cut from a tree containing his spirit.

Clap-sticks Clapsticks were traditionally used by Bundjalung Nation tribes during a variety of ceremonies, ranging from secret ceremonies to rain-making ceremonies.

Traditionally 'Clapsticks' are percussion instruments — a must in every aboriginal performance. By varying the position of percussion, the sound will vary in pitch and tone, from soft to loud, from heartbeat, clapping,...to a metallic clank and have "echo". The aboriginal art on clap-sticks represents the local flora & fauna.[11]

Emu-caller Emu callers are short, one foot, about 30 cm long didgeridoos. The emu callers were traditionally used by Bundjalung Nation tribes when hunting Eastern Australia Coastal Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae). When striking the emu-caller at one end with the open palm it sounds like an emu. This decoy attracts the bird out of the bush making it an easy prey.[11]


Spiritual medicine[edit]

Throughout Australia, Aborigines believed that serious illness and death were caused by spirits or persons practising sorcery. Even trivial ailments, or accidents such as falling from a tree, were often attributed to malevolence. Aboriginal cultural cosmology was too constraining in meaning to allow the possibility of accidental injury and death, and when someone succumbed to misfortune, a man versed in magic was called in to identify the culprit.

These spiritual doctors were men (rarely women) of great wisdom and stature with immense power. Trained from an early age by their elders and initiated into the deepest of tribal secrets, they were the supreme authorities on spiritual matters. They could visit the skies, witness events from afar, and fight with serpents. Only they could pronounce the cause of serious illness or death, and only they, by performing sacred rites, could effect a cure.

Medicine men sometimes employed plants and herbs in their rites, but they did not usually practice secular medicine.

Secular medicine[edit]

The healing of trivial non-spiritual complaints, using herbs and other remedies, was practiced by all Aboriginal People, although older women were usually the experts. To ensure success, plants and magic were often prescribed side-by-side.

Plants were prepared as remedies in a number of ways. Leafy branches were often placed over a fire while the patient squatted on top and inhaled the steam. Sprigs of aromatic leaves might be crushed and inhaled, inserted into the nasal septum, or prepared into a pillow on which the patient slept. To make an infusion, leaves or bark were crushed and soaked in water (sometimes for a very long time), which was then drunk, or washed over the body. Ointment was prepared by mixing crushed leaves with animal fat. Other external treatment included rubbing down the patient with crushed seed paste, fruit pulp or animal oil, or dripping milky say or a gummy solution over them. Most plant medicines were externally applied.

Medicine plants were always common plants. Aboriginal People carried no medicine kits and had to have remedies that grew at hand when needed. If a preferred herb was unavailable, there was usually a local substitute. Except for ointments, which were made by mixing crushed leaves with animal fat, medicines were rarely mixed. Very occasionally two plants were used together.

Aboriginal medicines were never quantified — there were no measured doses or specific times of treatment. Since most remedies were applied externally, there was little risk of overdosing. Some medicines were known to vary in strength with the seasons. One area of Aboriginal medicine with no obvious Western parallel was baby medicine. Newborn babies were steamed or rubbed with oils to render them stronger. Often, mothers were also steamed.

A notable feature of Aboriginal medicine was the importance placed upon oil as a healing agent, an importance that passed to European colonists, and is reflected today in the continuing popularity of Australian Blue Cypress oil (Callitris intratropica), Eucalyptus oil, Emu oil, Goanna oil, Mutton Bird oil, Snake oil and Tea tree oil (Melaleuca oil).

Earth, mud, sand, and termite dirt were also taken as medicines. In many parts of Australia, wounds were dressed with dirt or ash. Arnhem Land aboriginal people still eat small balls of white clay and pieces of termite mound to cure diarrhea and stomach upsets.[12]

Bush medicine
Medicine Ailment Treatment
Gum Burns, wounds and diarrhea. Traditionally, the indigenous native Bundjalung Nation Aboriginals of eastern Australia would use the resin from the trunk of a eucalyptus gum tree to treat burns, wounds and diarrhea. The eucalyptus tree gum is high in tannin, a common astringent also found in tea-leaves and still used for treating burns.
Tea tree leaves (Melaleuca alternifolia) Wounds, infections, coughs, colds, sore throats, skin ailments Traditionally, the indigenous native Bundjalung Nation Aboriginals of eastern Australia exposed to harsh conditions with little or no protection were observed by Europeans crushing tea tree leaf and binding it over wounds and infections with paper bark strapping. The results were staggering, infection was controlled and wounds healed rapidly.

In addition, the indigenous native Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal people used "tea trees" as a traditional medicine by inhaling the oils from the crushed leaves to treat coughs and colds. Furthermore, tea tree leaves are soaked to make an infusion to treat sore throats or skin ailments.

Almost everywhere in Aboriginal Australia, herbs that once were soaked in water are now boiled over fires. Aboriginal people today rarely distinguish this from a traditional practice, although they know the billycan is a white man's innovation. Boiling is much quicker than overnight soaking but it may destroy some active ingredients and increase the potency in solution of others.

Paperbark Headache Traditionally, indigenous native Bundjalung Nation Aboriginals would chew young paperbark leaves to alleviate headache.
Emu oil (Dromaius Novae-Hollandiae) Psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis; a variety of skin conditions: bruises, burns, eczema, sun-dried skin, painful joints, swollen muscles Traditionally, indigenous native Bundjalung Nation Aboriginals would massage emu oil into the skin to promote wound healing and to alleviate pain and disability from musculo-skeletal disorders.

The oil was collected by either hanging the emu skin from a tree or wrapping it around an affected area and allowing the heat of the sun to liquefy the emu fat to enhance absorption or penetration into the skin.

An adult emu (15 months old) weighing 45 kg carries up to 10 kg of body fat, from which 7-8 L of a thick oil is obtained by rendering at temperatures up to 15 °C.

Notable Bundjalung people[edit]

Notable Bundjalung people include:

  • Troy Cassar-Daley – born at Grafton to an Aboriginal mother and a Maltese-Australian father.[13]
  • Ruby Langford Ginibi – author, lecturer in Aboriginal history, culture and politics, whose grandfather 'Sam', in a game of cricket in 1928 at Lismore, became one of only two Aboriginal cricketers to ever get Sir Donald Bradman out.[14]
  • Anthony Mundine – professional boxer and multiple-time world champion. He is also a former New South Wales State of Origin representative footballer who played for St. George Illawarra Dragons and Brisbane Broncos in the Australian NRL. Before his move to boxing he was the highest paid player in the NRL.
  • Warren Mundine – an advisor to the current Prime Minister, former National President of the Australian Labor Party and also a Director of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation.
  • Mark Olive – also known as the 'Black Olive' & 'Bush food crusader', a Wollongong born chef who trained in Europe, with over twenty years cooking experience, and he has his own pay TV indigenous cooking show, The Outback Cafe and is also the author of cookbooks such as Olive's Outback Cafe: A Taste of Australia.
  • Johnny Jarrett (Patten) – former Australian Bantamweight boxing champion (1958 - 1962).
  • Wes Patten – actor, television host, and former NRL player with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, St.George Dragons, Balmain Tigers and Gold Coast Chargers. Roles in television and film include playing opposite Cate Blanchett in Heartland (1994) and Hugo Weaving in Dirt Water Dynasty (1988). Other roles include stints on A Country Practice, Wills & Burke, and G.P.
  • Albert Torrens – a former international rugby league footballer who played for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, Northern Eagles and St. George Illawarra Dragons in the Australian NRL and for the Huddersfield Giants in the European Super League.
  • Bronwyn Bancroft (born 1958) is an Australian artist, notable for being amongst the first Australian fashion designers invited to show her work in Paris. Born in Tenterfield, New South Wales, and trained in Canberra and Sydney, Bancroft worked as a fashion designer, and is an artist, illustrator, and arts administrator.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bunjalung of Byron Bay (Arakwal) Indigenous Land Use Agreement". Retrieved 20 May 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sharpe, Margaret C. (1994). "An all-dialect dictionary of Banjalang, an Australian language no longer in general use." 
  3. ^ a b Ethnlogue.com Accessed 20 May 2008
  4. ^ a b c d Tindale, Norman (1974) "Badjalang" in his Catalogue of Australian Aboriginal Tribes. South Australian Museum
  5. ^ Bunjalung Jugun (Bunjalung Country), Jennifer Hoff, Richmond River Historical Society, 2006, ISBN 1-875474-24-2, citing Yamba Yesterday, Howland and Lee, Yamba Centenary Committee, 1985
  6. ^ a b c Crossing the Great Dividing Range from the Australian Government's Culture and Creation Portal, retrieved 16 May 2008
  7. ^ "ATNS - Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements project". www.atns.net.au. Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  8. ^ a b c Celebrating Indigenous Spirit from Echo News retrieved 16 May 2008
  9. ^ National Native Title Tribunal (2007) "Githabul Federal Native Title Determination Brochure"
  10. ^ "Arakwal & Bundjalung nations don't exist". Northern Star. 14 May 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Aboriginal Artifacts: bullroarers, emu-callers, clap-sticks; Paintings
  12. ^ Traditional Aboriginal Bush Medicine - Aboriginal Art Online
  13. ^ "Troy Cassar-Daley". Talking Heads (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 4 May 2009. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Ruby Langford Ginibi. Ginibi, Ruby Langford, 1934- (transcript of sound recording). Digital Collections — Audio. Interview with Heimans, Frank (National Library of Australia). p. 1. 

External links[edit]