University of Newcastle Library Guides

Mayfield website:  Aboriginal Dreaming

The Mayfield Website was created in 1995 to provide primary historical source materials such as early printed accounts, pioneer letters, oral history transcriptions, photographs, maps and plans on the little known history of the Newcastle, NSW suburb.

Mayfield website


Aboriginal Dreaming – Daniel F Cooksey Papers

In 1925 Daniel F. Cooksey (1864 -1927) discovered an interesting collection of Aboriginal artefacts in Mayfield, Newcastle. Many were collected along the South Arm of the Hunter River and the former BHP site. The discovery was considered so important at the time that the Ethnologist of the Australian Museum, W.W. Thorpe, travelled to Newcastle and officially reported the find in 1928. Cooksey is recognised as the earliest discoverer of evidence of Aurignacian culture in Australia, which is quite significant, but the scholar F.D. McCarthy doesn’t appear to mention him at all in his work entitled “Australian Aboriginal Stone Implements“. W.W. Thorpe however went to a lot of trouble to formally recognise D.F. Cooksey stating in Mankind (March 1932): 88

“The Elouera – The writer desires to place on record the earliest discoveries of this interesting implement. The late Mr D.F. Cooksey found the first at Mayfield, Newcastle, during June, 1925. It was one of many from this source, and figured in the Records of the Australian Museum, XVI, No.5 pl.XXIV, figs. 2 and 2A, May 1928. In December 1925, another example was found by the writer in a midden at Lane Cove. This was described with the Mayfield specimen. About this time several were discovered at Garie, National Park, by a party of geographical students from the University of Sydney. – W.W.T.”

Also, Cooksey in a news clipping “Stone Age Relics” in The B.H.P. Recreation Review (July 15th 1925) (81 KB PDF) mentions that a “Mr C. W. Loch” of Mayfield (of the Survey Department of BHP) was also interested in Aboriginal artefacts and was the informant who directed him to the site (in Mayfield) where he located the artefacts.

An associate of Cooksey’s, Mr C.C. Humphries, did approach the local Council in 1926 to create a museum for the storage of such artefacts, but requests for a local repository were largely taken in good humour and dismissed. As to the artefacts, a portion consisting of 96 objects ended up at the Australian Museum, with the major part of around 5000 objects of Cooksey’s Collection going to the British Museum in London. We happily refer to them as “Mayfield’s Elgin Marbles”. A small collection remained with the family.

A big thanks need to go to Mr Colin Whitehead, retired member of staff who made copies of the Cooksey manuscripts in the late 1970s – early 1980s, then in the possession of Cooksey’s son, Fred Cooksey of the Water Board. During the compilation of our Virtual Sourcebook for Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region, he contacted us about them, and also contacted the family on our behalf to obtain permission to reproduce the papers. It is a great fortune that he did copy these important manuscripts, as the originals have since disappeared. The family believe their father deposited the papers in a local institution, but unfortunately none of the local institutions appear to possess them. Enquiries to the Australian Museum, where some of the artefacts were deposited, didn’t shed any light on their whereabouts either.

We were kindly granted permission from the Cooksey family to reproduce his papers for our site. The papers can be viewed online through the Virtual Sourcebook (see entries for 1925 onwards).

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