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Capricorn Coast Sitemap:
Central Queensland History
The Darumbal Tribes
by Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson is an artist, author, businessman, science nerd, and social commentator based in Queensland, Australia.
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History of Rockhampton & Environs: The Darumbal Tribes
The region of Rockhampton and Capricorn Coast is the
traditional land of the tribes and clans of the Darumbal (or
people. Observations by Matthew Flinders and subsequent
explorers noted their appearance and nature as distinctly different
to the natives around Gladstone and Miriam Vale.
settlement was understandably resisted by the
Darumbals who were often recorded by explorers and settlers as a
violent warring tribe, and as recently as 1904 in the Early
History of Rockhampton, JTS Bird described indigenous tribes
of Central Queensland as perpetrators of 'murder and outrage'.
While these words come from a different time, they nonetheless
portray a landscape of European attitudes towards the blacks as
being a sub-class of human without the right to defend their lands
In modern times, we would call the Darumbal
attacks a resistance movement, no different from the East Timor
uprisings in the 1990s, or the Kanaka revolts on New Caledonia, or
indeed the French Resistance against the Germans in World War II.
Equally, we would label the retaliatory massacres perpetrated
against them as ethnic cleansing.
In the mid to late 1800's,
it was this lack of appreciation from Europeans, bred from centuries
of enforcing colonisation around the globe, that led to the violent
clashes perpetrated by both sides.
It should also be noted
that before European settlement, clashes did occur between tribes,
but they were rare because each tribe knew the range of their
territory. Incursions into another tribe's region were usually
due to lack of resources in their own region, eg food shortages
brought upon by drought.
However, long knowledge of the
seasons gave rise to alliances between tribes, and clans within
tribes. In the northeast of Darumbal country for example, the
Kuinmurrburra nation had six allied tribes within it; the Kutuburra,
Ristebura, Wanuburra, Wuruburra, Pukanburra, and Muinburra, which
existed in relative harmony to allow for nature's swinging moods.
In the case of European exploration however, it was not a
simple case of 'white invasion'. Aborigines referred to as
'blackboys' or 'native police' were brought along on expedition,
usually from Sydney or Brisbane with no connection to Central
In the eyes of the local tribes, these southern
Aborigines were perceived no less as invaders than the white man.
Often the imported blacks were regarded even more harshly, for the
white man at least had ignorance as an excuse for destroying the
local Aborigines' connection with the land. The imported black
man did not. Aboriginal culture was not an alien concept to
bay, the natives of the Keppel Islands fared no better for their
isolation. In colonial times, often referred to simply as The
Keppel Islanders, and nowadays called the Kanomi-Woppaburra tribe,
the island natives did not interact with the mainland Darumbals, for
they mutually feared each other, and indeed spoke a much different dialect.
The Kanomi (or Conomie) of North Keppel Island and the
Woppaburra (or Wonnara) of Great Keppel Island shared a common
language, traded with each other, and their men interacted
With the settlement of Yeppoon in the late 1860s,
the principal landholder on the coast, Robert Ross, removed the
Kanomi population from North Keppel after complaints they were
disturbing his cattle. Distressed, some of the natives tried
to swim back across the twelve kilometres of ocean. Most
drowned or were taken by sharks, while a few made it back to the
In 1912, the last of the Kanomi-Woppaburra tribes
forcibly removed from the Keppel Islands and relocated to Fraser
Island by the Queensland Government.
Today, Great Keppel Island is also
referred to as Wapparaburra after the original inhabitants, and
descendents of the clan still have landholdings there.
Darumbal Dreamtime Centre in Rockhampton, near the Yeppoon Road
turnoff, built to commemorate and educate people about the rich
culture that pre-existed the arrival of Europeans, is the largest
Aboriginal cultural centre in Australia.
During the 1990s,
the Australian Army began to allow limited access for Darumbals into
Freshwater Bay to allow them to renew their cultural ties with the
land. Due to the pristine nature of the area, it is estimated
that around 400 sites of cultural significance remain largely
untouched. In 2007, new access agreements were reached between
the military and the Darumbal peoples.
* The suffix -burra or -bura in a
tribe's name means 'belonging to'.
Suggested further reading:
- Geography of the Capricorn Coast
- History of Rockhampton & Environs - Early Settlement
- History of the Capricorn Coast - Early Settlement
- History of the Capricorn Coast - Coming of the Railway
Local History index page