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Djabugay people
Aka: Tjapukai (Tindale), Djabuganjdji (Horton)
Jaabugay (AIATSIS), Dyaabugay (SIL)
IBRA 6.1 Wet Tropics.png
Wet Tropics BioRegion
Language Family: Pama–Nyungan
Language Branch: Yidinic
Language Group: Djabugay
Group Dialects: Djabugay, Guluy
Ngunbay, Bulway,
Area (approx. 800 km²)
BioRegion: Wet Tropics
Location: Far North Queensland
Coordinates: 16°50′S 145°30′E / 16.833°S 145.500°E / -16.833; 145.500Coordinates: 16°50′S 145°30′E / 16.833°S 145.500°E / -16.833; 145.500
Mountains: Black Mountain
(a.k.a. Bunda Gabagn)[1]
Macalister Range
(a.k.a. Bunda Bundarra)[1]
Lamb Range
(a.k.a. Bunda Djarruy Gimbul)[1]
Rivers[2] Barron River
(a.k.a. Bana Wuruu)[1],
Mowbray River
Other Geological: Barron Falls
(a.k.a. Din Din)[1]
Barron Gorge
(a.k.a. Djirri Nyundu Nyrrumba)[3]
Crystal Cascades
(a.k.a. Yaln.giri)[1]
Double Island
(a.k.a. Wangal Djungay[1])
Urban Areas:[2] Kuranda
(a.k.a. Ngunbay )[1],
Mount Molloy
Port Douglas
Notable Individuals
David Hudson
Roy Banning

The Djabugay people (a.k.a. Djabuganydji or Tjapukai) are a group of Australian Aborigines who are the original inhabitants of mountains, gorges, lands and waters of a richly forested part of the Great Dividing Range including the Barron Gorge and surrounding areas within the Wet Tropics of Queensland.[4]

All Djabugay peoples share, in common, descent from ancestors who,

  • have been given personal names that are sourced from, spoken in, and almost exclusively belong to the Djabugay languages (or dialects);
  • have transmitted, from generation to generation, Djabugay language (or dialects), Djabugay knowledge, Djabugay tradition, Djabugay heritage, plus Djabugay law.


The local Aboriginal authors, Rhonda Duffin and Rosetta Brim describe the boundaries of Djabugay country (bulimba) as follows;

"The Djabugay language was spoken over a wide area from Gimuy (Cairns) to Port Douglas and west towards Mareeba. In the south it extended almost to Atherton ... different groups of Bama (Aboriginal people), each speaking their own dialect of the Djabugay language"[2](Page 4)

Norman Tindale's (1974) Catalogue of Australian Aboriginal tribes similarly identifies Djabugay (Tjapukai) country as follows:[5]

"Barron River from south of Mareeba to Kuranda; north toward Port Douglas on the plateau south of and to the east of Mareeba; their western boundary followed the margin of the rain forest from Tolga north to Mount Molloy; rain forest dwellers ... the Tjapukai had by 1952 come to claim as theirs the coastal strip between Cairns Inlet and Lamb Range, with one horde living near Redlynch. "

Religious Beliefs[edit]

Local Aboriginal authors, Rhonda Duffin and Rosetta Brim, have written describing contemporary Djabugay religious belief as follows;[2]

"BULURRU is the source of life, the Storywaters, the Storytime. In other parts of Australia this time is known as the Dreamtime or the Dreaming.

"All things come from BULURRU - the sun, the moon and stars, the food we eat, the creatures of the world, the plants and trees, the rain, the very land itself. We ourselves come from BULURRU" (Page 5)

Arising out of BULURRU, from time immemorial, are stories of the creation and origin of all things, many of which have been performed, told, and even published by Djabugay people. For example:

"To the Djabugay people, the "Creation Era" (Dreamtime) describes the events surrounding the making of the world. In Djabugay country, "Bulurru" is the "spirit of creation, the sacred past, the word and the law to be followed". As the "Bulurru" ancestors journeyed across the land, stories, songs and ceremonies were recorded and have been passed down from generation to generation."

"The greatest ancestor of all is Gudju Gudju, the Rainbow. Gudju Gudju could transform into ancestors such as Budaadji, the carpet snake, who created all rivers and creeks of Barron Gorge National Park. During the wet season, Gudju Gudju's presence is most profound in his rainbow form. The voice of Bulurru, the creation spirit, can be heard through Gudju Gudju in the sound of thunder. The Traditional Owners ask that you take care and respect their country during your visit."

  • in a book entitled Djabugay Ngirrma Gulu: Djabugay Language Tree,[6] Djabugay authors, artists plus a linguist tell of Damarri, the ancestral being (one of two brothers) who after many adventures, lay down and whose supine body can now still be seen in the contours of the Barron River and Redlynch Valley.
Buda-dji painted onto the front the Queensland Rail engine ascending the Barron Gorge, to Kuranda
  • on the railway journey to Kuranda from Cairns, Queensland Rail daily tells many hundreds of thousands of visitors as they travel up and down the side of the Barron Gorge of Buda-dji, the ancestral being, who, in the shape of a giant carpet snake, formed the Barron Gorge,[7] and the Railway Engine itself has been painted with a representation of this ancestral being.

In 2004, a Federal Court Judge, Justice Spender, determining whether or not the Djabugay people continue to hold laws that find their source in traditions preceding British colonisation of Australia (i.e. whether or not they hold native title), also discussed Djabugay people's belief in BULURRU, when he quoted and confirmed:[4]

"For Djabugay people, .. physical features .. not only affirm the veracity of BULURRU Law but they also stand as tangible proof of the continued presence of BULURRU ancestral and totemic beings on and in Djabugay country (bulmba)."

"In summary, the physical landscape, and in particular the "Storyplaces" and "Storywaters" associated with BULURRU, serves as evidence of the inalienable connection that exists between the Djabugay claimants, ancestral BULURRU beings and the lands and waters.." (Paragraph 17)


European settlers explored and cleared the land for gold and tin. In May 1886, a railway was constructed from Cairns to Herberton with part of the rails going on top of a walking track. The Djabugay were unhappy about this development and withstood the settlement by spearing bullocks and settlers. As the settlers entered, traditional hunting and gathering grounds were taken over.

This led to the infamous Speewah massacre in 1890 where John Atherton took revenge on the Djubagay by sending in native troopers to avenge the killing of a bullock. The Djubagay were segregated from them and forced to live at the Mona-Mona Mission and were unable to hunt, fish or move around. Their numbers fell dramatically at the turn of the century.

By 1896, the region supported coffee plantations and the Djabugay were used as labour on farms.

Many now own their own land, some other settlements and farms in the area.

On 17 December 2004, it was recognised that native title existed in the Barron Gorge National Park for the Djabugay. Their culture thrives today.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Bottoms, T. (1999) Djabugay Country: An Aboriginal History of Tropical North Queensland Allen & Unwin. Sydney
  2. ^ a b c d Duffin, Rhonda & Brim, Rosetta (1993?) Ngapi Garrang Bulurru-m: All Things Come from Bulurru. Kuranda, Queensland. ISBN 0-646-09380-0.
  3. ^ a b QPWS website Barron Gorge National Park - Nature, culture and history Accessed 14 May 2008
  4. ^ a b Djabugay People v Queensland (2004) FCA 1652 (17 December 2004) Accessed 10 May 2008
  5. ^ Tindale, Norman (1974) "Tjapukai" in his Catalogue of Australian Aboriginal Tribes. South Australian Museum.
  6. ^ BANNING, Roy; QUINN, Michael; MCLEOD, Frank; & RILEY, Derwent (1989) Djabugay Ngirrma Gulu: Djabugay Language Tree. Cairns
  7. ^ Queensland Rail's entry on Djabugay mythical being "Buda-dji"