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Yuin people
Aka: Thurga (Tindale)
Dhawa (AIATSIS), Dhu Dhurga (SIL)
IBRA 6.1 South East Corner.png
South east corner bioregion
Language family:Pama–Nyungan
Language branch:Yuin–Kuric
Language group:Yuin
(shared word for man)
(a.k.a. Thurga)
(shared word for no)
Group dialects:
Bioregion:South east corner
Location:South Coast (NSW)
Coordinates:36°30′S 149°45′E / 36.500°S 149.750°E / -36.500; 149.750Coordinates: 36°30′S 149°45′E / 36.500°S 149.750°E / -36.500; 149.750
Notable individuals
Guboo Ted Thomas

The ethnonym Yuin refers to a group of Australian Aboriginal peoples from the South Coast of New South Wales. All Yuin people share in common, ancestors who spoke as their first language, one or more of the Yuin language dialects, including Djiringanj, Thaua, Walbanga, or Wandandian and Dhurga language (from Narooma to Nowra)


The name Yuin ("man") was selected by the early Australian ethnographer A. W. Howitt to denote two distinct tribes of News South Wales, namely the Djiringanj and the Thaua.[1][a] In Howitt's work, the Yuin were divided into northern (Kurial-Yuin) and southern (Gyangal-Yuin) branches.[3]


The country the Yuin ancestors occupied, used, and enjoyed reached across from Cape Howe to the Shoalhaven River and inland to the Great Dividing Range. Their descendants claim rights to be recognized as the traditional owners of the land and water from Merimbula to the southern head of the sea entrance of the Shoalhaven River. The Yuin people consisted of 12 clans at the time of European arrival in the area.[4] Three of the Yuin groups include:[5][6]

  • Walbanga, north of present-day Narooma
  • Murramurang, north of Deua River south of Lake Conjola.
  • Dyiringanj, or Djiringanj, from Narooma, south to Bega and west to the top of the range.


The population before 1788 has been estimated at about 11 000 between Cape Howe and Batemans Bay. The population was reduced to only 600 by the mid nineteenth century due to smallpox epidemics in 1789 and 1830, as well as tribal battles and the spread of venereal disease from whalers.[5]

3. Biamanga alias John/Jack Mumbla/Mumbler b.c. 1858, d. 1919 Sydney (Figure 62), married to Gunaal alias Rosie Carpenter from Roseby Park; children Harry (1885), Edward (1887 Tuross), Percy, Frank, Kate (1900 Annandale) and John (1902 Moruya). Biamanga's mother Elizabeth Turner was the daughter of Ko:ma of Dry (Murrah) River. Biamanga was given the task of Biambun because Merriman had no living children. He was given a Breast plate in 1912 which read "Biamanga, King of Wallaga Lake and Bega District, born Bredbatoura" (Anon 1912). This plate is in a private Australian collection.

The Eurobodalla Shire Council signed a Local Agreement with the Yuin people in 1998. In 2001, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Bega, Eden and Merrimans Local Aboriginal Land Councils, the Native Title Holders and the Bega Valley Shire Council.[7]

The Yuin at Twofold Bay near Eden had mutual cooperation with the killer whales of Eden.[8]


King Merriman, Umbarra, with King plate photographed about 1900

The Yuin are considered as the traditional owners of Wallaga Lake land.[5] The former Wallaga Lake National Park is incorporated into Gulaga National Park.[9]

Merriman Island in Wallaga Lake is a sacred place for the Yuin people. On 25 November 1977, it was the first place in New South Wales to be declared an Aboriginal Heritage site by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The island was named after King Merriman, leader of the Yuin, who died in 1904. His Aboriginal name was Umbarra. His wife was Queen Narelle.

Mumbulla Mountain, located in the middle of Bega Valley Shire, was named in November 1973, after Jack Mumbulla, who was a senior man of the Yuin people.[10] Mumbulla Mountain is the central place of significance in Biamanga National Park. Certain areas have been recognised as a ceremonial meeting places for Aboriginal men and women.[11]

Mount Dromedary, recently renamed Gulaga Mountain, in the Gulaga National Park, is described by Aboriginal people as the place of ancestral origin for Yuin people. Gulaga itself symbolises the mother and provides a basis for Aboriginal spiritual identity, for Aboriginal women and men.[11]

On 6 May 2006 the freehold titles to Gulaga and Biamanga National Parks were handed back to the Yuin people by the New South Wales Government. Freehold title of Gulaga National Park will be held in trust for the aboriginal owners by Merrimans and Wagonga Local Aboriginal Lands Councils, while that of Biamanga will be held in trust by Merrimans and Bega Local Aboriginal Lands Councils.[12]

Montague Island is known to the Yuin people as Barranguba. Barranguba is regarded as being the son of Gulaga, along with Najanuga; Barranguba being the oldest son and allowed out to sea, whereas Najanuga had to stay close to his mother.[13]

Spiritual beliefs[edit]

Yuin peoples describe a spiritual, mutual relationship between one or more of their people and an aspect of the natural world, such as animals. This relationship brings connections and obligations, not just to the animal but to other humans and to places and things associated with that animal.[14]:1 While the term, "totem" has been used by anthropologists and others who have written about the Yuin, the Yuin themselves do not normally use this term to describe these relationships.[14]:5

The Yuin believe these beings began in the Dreamtime, made by an ancestral creator, although not all of these beings have Dreamtime stories associated with them (or those stories have been lost).[14]:11,14 Dreamtime stories for the creation of the diving birds and the black swan are recorded by Susan Dale Donaldson.[14]:14-15

The best known Yuin relationships of this sort are with the Pacific Black Duck (Umbarra) and the Black Swan.[14]:1 The Black Duck was the personal moojingarl of King Merriman, who is named Umbarra after it, and a duck-shaped island in Wallaga Lake is named Merriman Island.[14]:11 Umbarra was believed to communicate with black ducks, who would warn him of danger.[14]:11

In 2003, Rose, James and Watson identified that the Yuin have five types of these relationships: personal, gender, family or clan, tribal and ceremonial. Some animals, including the Black Duck, can be found in any of these relationships.[14]:11-12,18 Yuin typically do not eat their relative animals, which are considered part of their extended family - restrictions which may extend to related animals (all ducks, for example, because of the Black Duck connection).[14]:10-13,16-17


The Yuin word for an individual, personal connection of this sort, moojingarl, literally means "my friend" (from moodji, friend, and gaarl, my) and involves reciprocity with that animal and a place or places where it is commonly found.[14]:14 Yuin typically do not marry people with the same personal or family moojingarl.[14]:10-13,16-17 A moojingarl is believed to "appear" unexpectedly, with its behaviour variously indicating approval, that all is well or that danger approaches.[14]:13 A person's "spirit" is expected to return to their moojingarl, so the appearance of - for example - a dolphin may remind viewers of a relative whose moojingarl was the dolphin.[14]:14 A moojingarl is believed to reveal itself to a Yuin person, rather than be chosen for them.[14]:16

Family birds[edit]

Family spirits are inherited. Many family spirits are birds - in which case they may be called "family birds".[14]:17


The Black Duck has a relationship with all Yuin, and may be particularly significant for Yuin who may not have a personal moojingarl, or who do not know their family bird due to dispossession and assimilation.[14]:12,14 The Yuin are also associated with Mount Gulaga, believed to be the origin of the Yuin. Gulaga, Merriman Island is visibly duck-shaped.[14]:14


Ceremonial connections are earned by Yuin who "attain a certain ritual status".[14]:18 Many ceremonial relationships are with fish.[14]:18 Ceremonial relationships connect to the "specialised powers" that "clever people" have, such as Umbarra's power to turn into a whirlwind.[14]:11-12

Messenger birds[edit]

Distinct from but related to the moojingarl and other types of relative spirits are "messenger birds" or "mail birds", who are believed to communicate with their calls. Mopokes calling from a particular direction indicate that people are approaching from a particular direction (if they sing "fast and happy") or that a death occurred in the direction from which they are coming (if they call while slowly approaching from a distance).[14]:20-21 Willie wagtails deliver bad news, like the death of a loved one, and swans flying north indicate approaching storms.[14]:20-21

When angered, "wind birds" (perhaps whip birds) are believed to make the west wind blow by whistling.[14]:20-21

Notable Yuin[edit]


  1. ^ "In the early days of white contact there was a compulsion to try and find major units in Australia of the kinds familiar to the people of Europe. Layman recorders were not satisfied to accept the autonomous tribal units that they were in contact with as the largest ones present. Soon several tribes extending along the south coast of New South Wales were treated together as the 'Yuin,' because they were all familiar with the word as meaning 'man.'."[2]


  1. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 193.
  2. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 156.
  3. ^ Howitt 1904, pp. 81–82.
  4. ^ Interview with Graham Moore (Yuin Elder)
  5. ^ a b c The Aboriginal Peoples – The Yuin Tribes 2004.
  6. ^ Luff 2005.
  7. ^ Mazel 2005.
  8. ^ ABC South East NSW 2013.
  9. ^ Gulaga National Park 2006.
  10. ^ Mumballa Foundation 2004.
  11. ^ a b Debus 2006.
  12. ^ Pacey 2006.
  13. ^ Foster 2006.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Donaldson, Susan Dale (2012). "Exploring ways of knowing, protecting, acknowledging Aboriginal totems across the Eurobodalla, Far South Coast, NSW: Final report" (PDF). Eurobodalla Shire Council.


External links[edit]