It is inconceivable to think that there was so much aboriginal activity all around the Mersey and Forth Valleys and not within the Kentish district itself, which lie between these two rivers.
Once we begin to examine the field notes left by the first explorers to this region and the detailed diary of Aboriginal conciliator George Augustus Robinson, they leave little doubt that the Aborigines did inhabit and hunt across the Kentish district on a seasonal basis probably for hundreds of years. Let’s look at the evidence?
Aboriginal track from Mount Gog to seacoast
The first of the explorers to reach the upper Mersey River was Captain John Rolland of 3rd Foot Regiment based at George Town. He was commissioned to search for an inland route through to the North West Coast.
Coming via Westbury Captain Rolland’s party arrived beside the Mersey River near Mole Creek on 6th December 1823. At Dens Plains his party disturbed a number of Aborigines who ran up the side of Mount Gog. Rolland crossed the river, followed them up Mount Gog and crossed the top endeavouring to get a view of the North West country. He wrote in his notes: Indeed it appeared to me that I was now on a track of the natives to the sea coast. Several years later George Robinson also stood on the top of Mount Gog with a number of Aborigines that had accompanied him. They told him that the usual route from Mount Gog to the sea coast was to follow down the west side of the Mersey River through open burnt-out river flats that later became Foster’s Armistead Estate near Kimberley.
The VDL Co surveyors used Captain Rolland’s notes, so in 1826 when Henry Hellyer followed a well-worn aboriginal track from East Devonport to Frogmore and Sherwood, he assumed that it probably continued to follow the Mersey River right back to the ochre mine at Mount Gog. His subsequent explorations of Native Plains and Kimberley proved this to be a correct. So, a considerable amount of this main aboriginal track from the seacoast to Mount Gog passed through Kentish territory.
The Mount Claude track
Another important aboriginal track that crossed a lot of the Kentish country came from the West and far North West coast via Lorinna to Mount Gog. As it passed through the Vale of Belvoir, across Middlesex Plains and descended into the Forth valley at Lorinna (all part of the Kentish municipality), the surveyors saw several campsites and a number of aboriginal huts.
Once across the ford, as the track comes north over Mount Claude, these same men record seeing more huts in the high country behind both Mount Claude and Mount Roland. From the top of Claude the track drops down to the Dasher River and follows it along the base of Mount Roland, before climbing again up through Paradise to the ochre mine. This provides plenty of evidence that at least during the summer months, this high country was regularly inhabited by our first indigenous people.
The Dasher River track
From Mount Roland it seems a branch aboriginal track continued to follow the Dasher River downstream to where it joins the Mersey River near Kimberley. The VDL Co surveyors trekking inland used this Dasher River route a couple of times. Once Hellyer and Lorymer followed the Dasher right back to its source, climbed up over Mount Van Dyke and Mount Claude, and looked down into the Forth River Gorge before returning much the same route to Kimberley.
Just east of the present bridge over Dasher River at Claude Road they encountered some aborigines. Exactly what occurred we are not told, but it was significant enough for Henry Hellyer to name the small creek coming down between Paradise and Mount Roland as Spearthrown Creek. Sometime later, the State Nomenclature Board sanitised this rather provocative name by changing it from Spearthrown Creek to its present name Stave Creek.
The burnt out areas of open plains that follow the Dasher River from Gowrie Park through Claude Road, Paradise and Duck Marsh are further indications of aboriginal activity. The fact that the original inhabitants always carried fire sticks for cooking made it so simple to constantly keep open corridors through the bush. This made trekking so much easier for the men carrying spears and waddies and the women trailing behind them laden with babies, food and all other domestic requirements. The open spaces were better than the bush especially for barbequing their native animals and for overnight sleeping arrangements.
Hunting north of Mount Roland
A more direct reference to aboriginal hunting on the Kentish Plains occurs in George Robinson’s diary in July 1834 after the Aborigines accompanying him had caught a boomer kangaroo near Mole Creek. The boomer kangaroo was the early colonial name given to the largest of the three species of kangaroo found in Van Diemen’s Land, the other two being the forest kangaroo and the wallaby. The Aborigines told Robinson that the boomer kangaroo was not native to the Mole Creek area, but came from ‘the boomer country on the north side of Mount Roland’ between the Forth and the Mersey rivers. They said it was the only place the boomer kangaroo were known to exist westward of the Tamar River. It appears the Aborigines were familiar enough with hunting on the Kentish Plains to know it was the only place where the big species of kangaroos could be found.
A couple of days after the above incident and about four years after his previous visit, Robinson again stands on top of Mount Gog. This time Robinson says an aboriginal woman named Fanny points out to him the native track, visible from patches of burnt ground, that ran from Mount Gog in a diagonal direction north to Bloomer Hills. These hills appear to be what we know today as the Badgers. This belief is strengthened when we check Hellyer’s 1828 camp map to find he has named a creek running off the Badgers as Boomer Creek. This diagonal track that crossed the Kentish Plains probably continued passed Boomer Hills down the Don River to the seacoast. This would have provided Aborigines living west of Mersey River access to Mount Gog. Possibly an additional track from the Kentish Plains followed down Redwater Creek passed the caves of the same name, through Railton to the Native Plains.
The Kentish Plains
The many patches of open grass-land that constituted the Kentish plains were located between the Dasher River and the Don River. Notably along the eastern side of the Don River from West Kentish north to the West Nook Road, and from the foot of the Badgers, south across eastern Sheffield and out along both Spring St and the Old Paradise Road.
These burnt out open areas created by the local Tommeginne tribe shouldn’t surprise us now that we know, prior to European settlement, that our Kentish district’s second claim to fame was its big boomer kangaroos.
Had any of these early explorers discovered the Kentish Plains during the 1820s, there was just a chance that they may have found some of the very last free Aborigines still at large on our island. But when at last these plains were ‘officially’ discovered on 1 August 1842, all aborigines except one family been gone many years.
By the time the first immigrant settlers arrived in Kentish around 1860, there had been no aboriginal ‘fire farming’ for nearly 40 years. All their tracks and bark huts had long since disappeared and even the grassy plains themselves were being covered with re-growth.
Our pioneer settlers in Kentish and their descendants had little knowledge of these original inhabitants; nor any interest in the stone tools that they may have discarded. However, in more recent times retired Parks and Wildlife Ranger, Roxley Day has picked up an aboriginal stone implement on his West Kentish property. It was a cutting tool about 60mm long with two very sharp edges and unlike any stones in the area. Likewise licensed surveyor Richard Sands has also found aboriginal artefacts on his farm near Sheffield. A stone I once picked up near my home when living in the township of Sheffield also appears to be an aboriginal stone. Probably others have done the same thing. So maybe you too could still find something, especially near the river banks, even though it is now nearly 200 years since first indigenous inhabitants were active in our Kentish area.