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Gamilaroi people
Total population
approx. 13,000
Regions with significant populations
Gamilaroi language, English and Aboriginal English
Christianity, Traditional, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Indigenous Australians

The Gamilaroi, also known as Gomeroi, Kamilaroi, Kamillaroi and other variations, are an Aboriginal Australian people whose lands extend from New South Wales to southern Queensland. They form one of the four largest Indigenous nations in Australia.


The ethnonym Gamilaroi is formed from gamil, meaning "no", and the suffix -(b)araay, bearing the sense of "having". It is a common practice among Australian tribes to have themselves identified according to their respective words for "no".[1]

The Kamilaroi Highway, the Sydney Ferries Limited vehicular ferry "Kamilaroi" (1901–1933), the stage name of Australian rapper and singer the Kid Laroi and a cultivar of Durum wheat have all been named after the Kamilaroi people.[2]


Gamilaraay language is classified as one of the Pama–Nyungan languages. The language is no longer spoken, as the last fluent speakers died in the 1950s. However, some parts have been reconstructed by late field work, which includes substantial recordings of the related language, Yuwaalaraay, which continued to be spoken down to the 1980s. Analysing these materials has permitted a good deal of reconstructive work. Robert M. W. Dixon and his student Peter Austin recorded some around Moree, while Corinne Williams wrote a thesis on the Yuwaaliyaay dialect spoken at Walgett and Lightning Ridge.[3]

The Gamilaraay, like many other tribes, taught young men a secret language, called tyake, during their rites of initiation. In these systems, the normal profane terms used in everyday speech had to be substituted with the special mystical vocabulary.[4][5]


According to Norman Tindale's estimation, the Gamilaraay's tribal domains encompassed some 75,000 km2 (29,000 sq mi),[6] from around Singleton in the Hunter Valley through to the Warrumbungle Mountains in the west and up through the present-day centres of Quirindi, Gunnedah, Tamworth, Narrabri, Wee Waa, Walgett, Moree, Collarenebri, Lightning Ridge and Mungindi in New South Wales, to Nindigully in south west Queensland.


The Kamilaroi were hunters and agriculturalists[7] with a band-level social organisation. Important vegetable foods were yams and other roots, as well as a sterculia grain, which was made into a bread. Insect larvae, frogs, and eggs of several different animals were also gathered. Various birds, kangaroos, emus, possums, echidnas, and bandicoots were among the important animals hunted. Fish were also consumed, as were crayfish, mussels, and shrimp. Men typically hunted, cleaned, and prepared the game for cooking. Women did the actual cooking, in addition to fishing and farming. Individual Kamilaroi did not eat animals that were their totems.

The nation was made up of many smaller family groups who had their own parcels of land to sustain them. One of the great Kings of this tribe was "Red Chief", who is buried near Gunnedah. The Kamilaroi were regarded as fierce warriors and there is ample evidence of intertribal warfare. The Northern Gamilaroi people have a strong cultural connection with the Bigambul people, and the tribes met regularly for joint ceremonies at Boobera Lagoon near the present-day town of Goondiwindi.


Kamilaroi tradition includes Baiame, the ancestor or patron god. The Baiame story tells how Baiame came down from the sky to the land, and created rivers, mountains, and forests. He then gave the people their laws of life, traditions, songs, and culture. He also created the first initiation site. This is known as a bora; a place where boys were initiated into manhood. When he had finished, he returned to the sky, and people called him the Sky Hero or All Father or Sky Father. He is said to be married to Birrahgnooloo (Birran-gnulu), who is often identified as an emu, and with whom he has a son Turramūlan.[8] In other stories Turramūlan is said to be brother to Baiame. It was forbidden to mention or talk about the name of Baiame publicly. Women were not allowed to see drawings of Baiame nor approach Baiame sites,[8] which are often male initiation sites (boras). Women were instead instructed by Turramūlan's sister, Muni Burribian. In rock paintings Baiame is often depicted as a human figure with a large head-dress or hairstyle, with lines of footsteps nearby. He is always painted in front view; Turramūlan is drawn in profile. Baiame is often shown with internal decorations such as waistbands, vertical lines running down the body, bands and dots.

In Kamilaroi star-lore myth it is recounted that Orion, known as Berriberri[a] set out in pursuit of the Pleiades (Miai-miai) and cornered them in a mother-tree where they were transformed into yellow and white cockatoos. His attempts to capture them were blocked by Turramūlan, a one-eyed, one-legged legendary figure associated with the Pole star.[9] They called Orion's Belt, ghūtūr,[8] a girdle that covered his invincible boomerang.(burran)[10][8] The seventh of Miai-miai, being less beautiful, was shy (gurri gurri )and afraid and she was thus transformed into the least visible of the 7 Pleiades.[8]

Rite of initiation[edit]

The rite of passage whereby Gamilaraay youths are inducted by initiation into full membership of the tribe was conducted at a Bora ceremony on a bora site especially prepared for the occasion. Tribes ready to participate in such rituals are contacted, and the ceremonies lasted several days.

The major bora, called Baiame's ground, was cleared on loamy umah soil, roughly 23 metres (75 ft) in diameter, with the scraped earth used to create an embanked ring about 20–23 centimetres (8–9 in) high to fence off the sacred space,[11] apart from one opening which led into a thunburran or narrows pathway that ran some 250 metres (270 yd) off to a smaller circle, some 14 metres (47 ft) in diameter, called a goonaba, constructed in a similar fashion,[12] Inside this ring two stumps (warrengahlee) formed from uprooted trees, one a coolabah the other a belar, trimmed and turned upside down so that the roots, decorated with twists of bark, flared out.

The pathway leading novices from the larger to the smaller circle was adorned with yammunyamun, figures cut into the exposed sapwood of trees along the route, or drawn on the ground. On the occasion observed by Mathews, on the right hand side, 82 metres (90 yd) down the track, was a mocked up bowerbird's nest, and 2.7 metres (3 yd) further on a scarecrow figure with trousers and jacket stuffed with grass, representing a white man. As the youths passed along this track, the significance of the symbols and their relevance to tribal beliefs was explained.[13][14] Further down the path, a yammunyamun image of a bullock was formed from bark, dirt and the animal's skull. At 131 metres (143 yd), a 2.7-metre (9 ft) long representation of Baiame and his spouse Gooberangal lay, moulded from the earth, respectively on the right and left of the track.[15] Further on, still on the left, was a carved figure of the Emu,[b] apparently crouching, its head pointed towards the large bora. To its right, a further 2.7 metres (3 yd) on, was Goomee, Baiame's fire, a 30-centimetre (1 ft) high mound with a lit fire on top. A further 16 metres (18 yd) on, parallel to the track and on Goomee's side, a codfish was depicted, and after it the Currea, a serpentine creature, and, 14 metres (15 yd) on the other side of the path, two death adders, followed then by a turkey's nest, an earth-stuffed porcupine's skin, and a kangaroo rat's nest. At last, there was a carving of a full tribal man on one side of the track, and an aboriginal woman on the other.[16]

Sandstone Caves[edit]

NPWS notice board with Gamilaraay/English texts

The Sandstone Caves (within the Pilliga Nature Reserve) are co-managed by the Gamilaraay people together with NPWS.[17] All interpretive signage is in the Gamilaraay language followed by English. A small example, created by the Coonabarabran Gamilaraay Language Circle (Suellen Tighe, Maureen Sutler, Sid Chatfield & Peter Thompson), is given below. (See adjoining image.)[18][better source needed]

Sandstone Caves, Gamilaraay country, Pilliga NR
Nhalay Yarrul

nhalay yarrul ghalidu,
Yilambu yarrul biruubaraay

Mulamula, nhalay yarrul!

This rock

Water & wind have caused this rock
to change over a long time.
The caves were made long ago
The rock is soft.

Look out!
Don't touch!


Yilambu dhurray marandu
yarrul barraldanhi ganugu.
Mubirr yarrula garray.

Garriya minyagaa ngiilay gaanga!

Long Ago

Our ancestors made stone tools.
They sharpened their axes.
They marked the rock.

Look out!
Don't collect anything!


Giirr dhulubaraay dhibaraay,
yuularaay dhawun nhalay.
Minya minyabul ngarriylanha ngiyani.

Giirr dhamali dhawundu nginunha!

The land

Around here there are plants,
animals and food.
We have everything we need.
We live with the land.

Let the land touch you!

Alternative spellings[edit]

  • Cammealroy
  • Comleroy
  • Cumilri, Camelleri, Cummilroy, Comleroy, Cummeroy
  • Duhai
  • Gamilaroi, Gamilroi
  • Ghummilarai, Cammealroy, Kahmilari
  • Gomeroi[1]
  • Goomeroi, Gamilaraay, Gamillaraay
  • Gumilroi, Gummilroi, Gummilray, Ghummilarai
  • Gunnilaroi
  • Kahmilaharoy, Kamilary
  • Kamilarai, Kamilari, Kamilaroi, Kamilarai, Kamularoi, Kaamee'larrai, Kamileroi
  • Kimilari, Karmil, Kamil, Kahml
  • Komeroi[19]
  • Koomilroi, Komleroy
  • Tjake, Tyake
  • Yauan

Source: Tindale 1974, p. 194

Some words[edit]

  • bundar. (kangaroo)
  • buruma. (dog)[c]

Notable Gamilaroi people[edit]

Traditional leaders[edit]

Modern Gamilaraay[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greenway states that the term means "young men" (Greenway 1878, p. 243).
  2. ^ According to a recent study of Kamilaroi cosmological lore, for them "the appearance of the Emu began at the Coalsack under the star α Crucis, which formed the Emu's head, then β and α Centauri, which form the start of the neck, down the dust lanes of the Milky Way to η Lupus and γ2 Norma, at which point the dust lanes expand with the body of the Emu, reaching the maximum thickness with ε Scorpii and λ Scorpii, and tapering towards 36-Ophiuchi and 3-Sagittarii, eventually ending near μ Sagittarii." (Fuller et al. 2014, pp. 174–175)
  3. ^ In ritual speech these terms were substituted respectively with the corresponding sacred words, ungogirgal, and gungumoal, for example (Mathews 1902, p. 159).


  1. ^ a b Smith 2018.
  2. ^ Bellata Gold.
  3. ^ Dixon 2011, p. 218.
  4. ^ Mathews 1902, p. 159.
  5. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 195.
  6. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 194.
  7. ^ Gammage 2011, pp. 281–304.
  8. ^ a b c d e Greenway 1878, p. 243.
  9. ^ Hewitt 1901, p. 90.
  10. ^ Greenway 1901b, p. 168.
  11. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 142.
  12. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 143.
  13. ^ Purcell 2011, p. 4.
  14. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 138.
  15. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 144.
  16. ^ Mathews 1897, pp. 145–146.
  17. ^ Office of Environment and Heritage.
  18. ^ Tighe, S., Sutler, M., Chatfield, S., Thompson, P. & National Parks & Wildlife Service. Notice Board at entrance to Sandstone Caves walk (observed 8 May 2018)
  19. ^ "Vale Uncle Lyall Munro Senior". Aboriginal Affairs. 17 July 2020. Archived from the original on 9 November 2022. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  20. ^ Chrysanthos 2019.
  21. ^ Fryer 2018.
  22. ^ SBS 2017.
  23. ^ Galvin 2014.
  24. ^ ABC 2010.
  25. ^ Plane's Indigenous identity By Marni Olsson-Young, Carlton Media on 17 December 2019
  26. ^ AFL PLayers Indigenous Map 2023
  27. ^ Lutton, Phil (10 July 2015). "Kurtley Beale, an Aboriginal Wallaby trying to fill in the blanks". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  28. ^ "Lost generation". Retrieved 15 April 2023.


Further reading[edit]