Having considered the aboriginal ochre mine on Mount Gog last time, let’s look at several other locations right around the rim of the Kentish district where the local Tommeginne tribe has been known to be active.
Our sources of information come from the earliest explorers to reach the Mersey/Forth region. Firstly, from the limited records of Captain John Rolland, discoverer of Mount Roland in 1823. Much more comes via the Van Diemens Land Co surveyors Henry Hellyer, James Fossey, and Clement Lorymer who scoured the Mersey/Forth region in 1826-28 searching for suitable grazing land. Finally, there is the detailed information left by Government conciliator George Augustus Robinson who made three visits through this same area between 1830-1834. He was looking for the last few free Aborigines to escort them to their protected prison at Wybalenna, on Flinders Island.
Port Sorell, Pardoe Beach, East Devonport
This popular coastal region was one of the main summer habitats for at least a quarter of the whole tribe of Tommeginnes aborigines. Many stone tools and shell middens have be found around the Rubicon estuary and right along the coastal beaches to East Devonport. When surveyor Henry Hellyer’s party first reached the eastern banks of the Mersey River (now East Devonport) on 20 May 1826, they followed a well-defined native track up river past heaps of mussel shells and Aboriginal camp sites to Frogmore at Latrobe.
Two years later in 1828 when Captain Bartholomew Thomas settled at Northdown as the first white settler on the North West Coast, he considered there could be up to 100 Aborigines in the vicinity. Sometime later a fine collection of stone tools taken from Northdown just east of the Devonport Airport was given to the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston. In both May 1907 and December 1908 aboriginal skeletons were uncovered on the Pardoe beach; in June 1949, during the construction of the Devonport airport, further aboriginal bones were uncovered.
Latrobe, Spreyton, Native Plains, Kimberley
Aborigines wanting to cross the Mersey River to trek east and west along the coast got their first opportunity to ford it close to Carolyn Creek, Sherwood, two kilometres up river from Frogmore. Once across, they could trek through Spreyton, en route either to their gathering centre at the Mersey Bluff or alternatively continue westward along the coastal track to Emu Bay.
Robinson tells us that in the Spreyton area there was a small remnant group of hostile Aborigines led by a woman who had previously been abducted and abused by sealers from the islands of Bass Strait. When gas mains were being laid along Sheffield Road, Spreyton in June 2004, several aboriginal stone implements were found.
Those choosing following the Mersey River south from Sherwood passed through the Warrawee Forest Reserve, Big Bend, Native Plains to Kimberley. Field’s earliest stockmen spoke of these Mersey river flats as teeming with wildlife and being popular hunting grounds for the aborigines, hence the names Native Plains and Native Rock, The latter was supposed to have on it an aboriginal rock carving. Likewise the warm springs at Kimberley was a regular rendezvous for these indigenous people.
Chudleigh, Alum Cliffs, Mole Creek, Western Tiers
In 1830, when Lieutenant Travers Vaughan took up his land grant at Chudleigh, he found an extensive aboriginal camping ground which included a cluster of bark huts on his property. It was here where various aboriginal tribes from the east congregated while waiting their turn to mine red ochre at Mount Gog. This camping site which Vaughan called Native Huts Corner was one km west of township of Chudleigh on the right side of the highway heading to Mole Creek. In 1861 part of this camping area was used to establish a small Anglican cemetery. Still existing within these cemetery grounds is at least one old banksia tree estimated to be 1,000 years old. Under it many generations of the visiting tribes must have taken shelter.
Lieutenant Vaughan sold his land grant in 1837 to Launceston entrepreneur Henry Reed whose first homestead now known as Old Wesley Dale was built nearby with iron bars and slit windows to impede any aboriginal attack. The Aborigines called Alum Cliffs ‘possums rocks’ because holes in the perpendicular cliffs were home to hundreds of possums. The larger Mole Creek area was the main habitation for a couple more clans of the Tommeginne tribe, who acted as curators of the ochre mines. The nearby Honeycomb Cave, part of the Wet Cave system, was used as an aboriginal birthing centre.
Mount Roland, Mount Claude, Gad’s Hill, Lorinna
Aborigines travelling back to West Coast from the Mount Gog ochre mine had the choice of two tracks. One passing on the southside behind Mount Roland, the other following the Dasher River to its source on the northside of Mount Roland. It was near Claude Road in 1826 that Henry Hellyer’s party actually encountered a group of aborigines trekking to Mount Gog.
George Robinson who travelled over their track behind Mount Roland described it as good as or better than the cattle route cut by surveyor Joseph Fossey from Chudleigh to Middlesex Plains in 1829. Robinson claimed the aboriginal track kept to the high country behind Mount Roland where as Fossey’s ‘great western road’ had to ascend and descend the very steep grade of Gad’s Hill.
Robinson reported the high country behind Mount Claude was a favourite hunting area known to the locals as ‘wombat country’. His party found several large bark huts, one with pieces of blankets and some cartridges inside. Since then some middens have also been discovered in this area.
The only crossing point over the Forth River for both original inhabitants and later white settlers was the wide stony ford at Lorinna. However following rain the river could rise rapidly and force them to camp there for days or weeks at a time. Fossey had put ropes across both the Mersey and Forth rivers along with rough log rafts, but the aborigines continually played with the ropes and burnt the rafts. In more recent times when the Forestry Department were building roads into the upper Forth, on several occasions they came across aboriginal artefacts and where warranted took appropriate action to detour around those places.
Upper Mersey Valley/ Pelion Plains / Cradle Mountain
In the Upper Mersey valley notable aboriginal archaeological sites occur at the Wurragarra Cave and the Turrana Rock Shelter in the forests of the Little Fisher valley, coming off the back of the Western Tiers. According to Professor Harry Lourandos evidence of aboriginal occupation found beneath these overhanging rock shelters date back several thousand years. Within the Cradle Mount National Park, two aboriginal sites are known. A stone quarry has been found on Mount Rufus and during excavations for the foundation of the Mount Kate hut artefacts were uncovered. In 1836 it was near Leary’s Corner on the road to Cradle Mountain, that George Robinson’s son failed to persuade the last family of free aborigines left in Tasmania to accompany him to Flinders Island.
Middlesex Plains, Vale of Belvoir, Lake Lea, Forth Falls
Continuing west from the Forth ford at Lorinna the aboriginal track climbed up the steep rise onto the Middlesex Plains, crossed to Lake Lea, then travelled south west through the Vale of Belvoir to Hampshire Hills and hence to Emu Bay or the West Coast. In a large native hut on the Vale Henry Hellyer’s men found a detailed charcoal sketch of Fossey’s road building activities drawn by an aborigine. It depicted their bullock team including the bullocky and his long whip. This sketch became the best evidence yet that aborigines could draw.
In August 1830 George Robinson located about eight significant camping sites around Lake Lea and the Vale of Belvoir including the remains of some bark huts. He noted the large numbers of kangaroos and considered it was a favourite hunting ground. Robinson travel down into the Forth Gateway and to Falls Creek with its several cataracts, where he also found native tracks and burnt out bush along the river flats. During the construction of the Cradle Mountain – West Coast Link Road, aboriginal artefacts were discovered in some places.
Don River/ Coles Beach/ Mersey Bluff
At the Don Heads Robinson found evidence of aboriginal campsites including several trees marked. The Mersey Bluff was a traditional meeting place of Tasmanian aborigines for thousands of years. Here they ate their shellfish and celebrated their corroborees. A spring of water in the Coles Beach Reserve provided them with freshwater. On top of the Bluff they left their engravings on the local rocks – the moon in its different phases, fish heads and side view of the Tasmanian emu (now extinct). A local schoolteacher discovered these carvings in 1929, and subsequently over 200 engravings were identified. Aboriginal rock carvings are only found in the North and North West corner of our island.
In 1976 an Aboriginal information centre called Tiagarra (meaning keeping place) was opened up on the Bluff. It was devoted to telling the history and displaying the cultural heritage of our local North West Aboriginal people. From this Centre, walking tracks lead to 10 different sites that show some of the rock carvings on top of the Bluff. The centre closed a few years back but there have been recent attempts to have it reopened.
The areas of aboriginal activity we have looked at above completely encircle our Kentish district. So is there also evidence that they hunted between the Mersey and Forth Rivers? That’s what we will consider in the next article.