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University of Newcastle Library Guides

Aboriginal Dreamtime of the Hunter Region: Introduction

Archives : Dreamtime

The Aboriginal Collections held in Special Collections are vast and of strong research interest, being records of local Koori or Goori culture and traditions, rock and cave art in the Hunter Valley, as well as a unique collection of weapons from the estate of the late Percy Haslam, renowned scholar and lover of Aboriginal culture. We wish to thank all the individuals, societies and institutions for their trust and generous support in depositing this archival research material with the Special Collections Unit of the University of Newcastle. They have helped to create a rich collection available to researchers and the wider community in the study of the indigenous culture and traditions of the local Koori (or Goori) people in the Hunter Valley.

BirabanWe can count ourselves fortunate that some of the ancient Aboriginal languages and dreaming tales of the Hunter region have survived. In just 200 years, and after thousands of years of habitation, the last speakers of the original tongues of this region were all but wiped out. Their sacred land as well as hunting grounds were involuntarily turned into someone else's property. So much has been lost.

For what we do know, much we owe to the work of two individuals, the Aboriginal leader of the Awabakal clan, Biraban (or M'Gill), who flourished c1800 - 14th April 1846, and the missionary Lancelot Edward Threlkeld (1788 - 1859), who created an Aboriginal mission on the banks of Lake Macquarie in 1826. Threlkeld, as well as acting as protector of the Aboriginal people, compiled a grammar and vocabulary of the Awabakal dialect. As part of his missionary instruction, and with the help of Biraban as his tutor, he questioned the Aboriginals about their language, beliefs and witnessed some of their rituals, recording dreaming stories, important places, as well as ritualistic practices. Threlkeld's correspondence and papers were edited by Niel Gunson in Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L.E. Threlkeld: Missionary to the Aborigines 1824 - 1859. Canberra, A.C.T.: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1974. Threlkeld's published works on the Awabakal language that were originally published as pamphlets were brought together and edited by John Fraser in 1892 under the title An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal the people of Awaba and Lake Macquarie (Near Newcastle, New South Wales) being an account of their Language, Traditions, and Customs. Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1892.

Since that period, this region has seen a number of individuals who have who have sort to safeguard and record whatever local Aboriginal knowledge they were able to garner during the period of detribalisation. Two important figures were the late Canon Carlos Stretch and Mr Percy Haslam who, though their work on Aboriginal languages and culture have formed the basis of a new and inspired generation of scholars who can help bring this wonderful culture to life again. One of Percy's dreams was to have the native languages taught in schools, and we are happy to report that there are at least five studies of languages currently underway.

Our Virtual Sourcebook of Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region contains scanned and digitised accounts from historical sources.

Please click the menu items left for details on the various collections

Further information relating to local Aboriginal Dreaming, history and culture can be obtained by visiting the Wollotuka Institute, the University of Newcastle.


Gionni di Gravio