The long anticipated visit of Qld ecologists Jen Silcock & Russell Fairfax took place on Easter Monday & they had a week recording TinTs and viewing other CMTs here. I hadn’t met Russell before but was surprised by how much their son Rowan & his vocabulary had grown in 7 months. The mosquitos were fierce and predictably took a liking to Ro’s tender 2 year old skin so the parents rotated child minding & tree measuring to keep him from needing a blood transfusion. Russell has a long standing interest in bimble box or poplar box as they know them in Qld and was very knowledgeable on their growth rates & habits. The presence of so many box trees with the central trunk removed causing the tree to become multi stemmed may be related to the existence of TinTs. Ringbarking in the 1880s also killed the main trunk with epicormic shoots growing under the cuts compensating for this loss. Unless the ringbarking teams returned some years later & cut off these shoots in a process called “sucker bashing” the tree would regrow and money spent on thinning the eucalypts would have been wasted.
The differences between a rung (ringbarked) tree & a tree where the center bole has been harvested by aboriginal people can blur over time. If the central trunk is intact & has a double row of faded axe tracks anywhere from knee to chest height it is the work of the Chinese ringbarking gangs. If the original trunk has rotted out it is harder to tell but ringbarking was done with teams of Chinese nationals returning from the goldfields empty handed so rung trees are in patches or on large swaths of heavily timbered land. Much of the timber that seems to have been cut with stone axes is much smaller and not always eucalypt. Some old hollow box trees around the native wells have also been cut down with stone axes. The hollow logs were inserted in the wells to filter the brackish water Im told. Old hollow logs make poor quality fence posts and there is plenty of firewood lying all over the ground for heating/ cooking purposes so I don’t know why whitefellas would cut them down.
Both whites & blacks used pine but stone & steel axes leave different shaped cuts. You can tell Aboriginal felled pine as they are cut closer to the ground and you will often see one of larger stumps has been used as a BBQ. Supplejack is another timber cut for Aboriginal use but mostly smaller branches or shallow coolamons. Ganayanay (Ventilago viminalis) was used in firemaking as well as mixing the ash with biyaga (Nicotiana sauveolens) to make chewing tobacco. Stone axcut supplejack is common around the camps. Another species often cut or broken off around special camps is budda saplings. Livestock don’t eat budda (Eremophila mitchellii) so this species would not be used when scrub cutting in a drought. At the firebox swamp where big old box trees have been burnt out from the inside I suspect they were stuffed with burning budda branches. Hopefully the UNE archaeologists Mark Moore & Mick Morrison can shed some light on how to tell stone from steel axe cuts when they come in June.
Jen & Russell & Rowan are now up around Charleville and they sent a photo of a small bottle tree growing in a box tree just off the Warrego highway. They spent a few days at the Currawinya Nat. Park in south west Qld on the way where Jen found a small sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum) TinT. This TinT was near a charcoal rub tree similar to those found here. She said there were lots of stone tools & ovens etc but not many scarred trees. The extreme scarring here may be due to timing. The Walgett region was settled by whites moving up & down the Barwon-Darling river system. The advancing whites pushed (euphemistically speaking) the black inhabitants off the rivers & the only places they could escape to were land locked areas with permanent water – like murrumanaarr & gullygooranah – aka Gingie station & Cumborah.
The initial displacement of the Aboriginal clans from their riverlands occurred in the 1840s in this district & it wasn’t until the gold rushes of the1850s that many were enticed back and employed as stockmen & domestic servants. I don’t know when the european well was put down along the paleo river here in Telinebone paddock but presume the shepherd’s hut nearby is the same age. How the whitefellas found the native well with its underground water supply we will probably never know – were they shown by Gomeroi people or did they stumble across it? The squatters & their successors brought better building materials such as corrugated iron roofing, metal tools, nails etc. as well as iron pots & billies that soon replaced bark shelters and coolamons. Steel axes also replaced stone ones so while wood & bark still had cultural uses for many years after white settlement the scars left by their removal changed.
As old Ted Fields wrote years ago in Yundiboo, vol. 2 issue 10 about the old wells in Telinebone “Even in dry times people could camp in this spot because there was that subterranean water. There are many scarred trees nearby which indicate that people lived here for long periods of time”. He went on to say – “The traditional campsite on what is now Gingie station was at Murrumanaarr & extended for at least five kilometres. The station had a camp where the Walfords & Beales & Crans lived & worked. They camped in the sandhills just Northwest or North of the homestead. I remember seeing the upright remains of 6 camps there but how many they were there all up I dont know …” The relatively recent population density caused by the timing of white settlement combined with the tenacity of the Eucalyptus populnea species & is what makes Gingie (aka murrumanaarr ) exceptional. The ringbarking of the 1880s also preserved many of the scarred coolabah in situ and as there have been no fires or clearing along the paleo river zone these trees remain as was.
Many other areas in the Gomeroi nation were densely populated too as reflected by the stone tool/ weapon making sites but these may have been popular places in the more distant past. The trees scarred by the people back then could have died of old age or the wounds healed up. If we assume most scars were made when the trees were mature (about 200 yrs old) & this practice became less common after 1850 then many scartrees here would be nearing 400. I would expect they would be coming to the end of their use-by dates? For a place to support a large population the water supply would have to be permanent & accessible –wells, springs or deep freshwater lakes. Rivers are different – they have always been relatively heavily occupied – but the people were spread along the length of the waterway so less concentrated in one spot. Basically water is life & life leaves evidence but stone outlasts wood.