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There’s one story in the pioneer mythology of the Upper Murray that should not go unchallenged, and it concerns the Dhudhuroa-speaking people.

The view from Farran’s Lookout, Tintaldra, looking upstream on the Murray River towards the Main Range, on Dhudhuroa country.

In Thomas Walter Mitchell’s book Corryong and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ District (1981) there’s a story which seeks to explain the disappearance of an entire group of First Nations people from the Upper Murray area. The Mitchell family had a long connection with the First Nations people of north-east Victoria, particularly as early settlers of the Albury area from 1837 under the guidance of widowed matriarch Elizabeth Mitchell (nee Huon). In 1860, her oldest son Thomas Mitchell began serving as an Honorary Correspondent to the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines, overseeing the Tangambalanga Aboriginal Reserve adjoining his pastoral run from 1862-1873. Thomas Mitchell had a strong interest in the Aboriginal peoples who came to the Reserve from the Kiewa and Upper Murray Valleys, collecting precious vocabularies of the languages they spoke. In 1875, he left Tangambalanga for the Upper Murray, re-establishing his family at Bringenbrong pastoral station. While Thomas died in 1887, in the early 20th century, his much younger brother, John Francis Huon Mitchell, who resided at Hawksview (near Thurgoona), had styled himself a local authority on local First Nations peoples, publishing a dictionary of the ‘Woradgery’ language, including his reminiscences of their ‘customs and ceremonies’, in 1912. Thus when Thomas Mitchell’s grandson, Thomas Walter Mitchell, of Towong Hill station, published his Corryong and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ District in 1981, he was regarded as the beneficiary of a wealth of authentic stories concerning the First Nations people of the Upper Murray — stories handed down through the Mitchell family, in which the Mitchells had considered themselves ‘friends to the blacks’.

In his chapter ‘The Aborigines’ Thomas Walter Mitchell wrote,

‘There were five aboriginal Alpine tribes in all, but only three of these, the Jai-ita-mathang, the Woradgery, and the Wolgal, were connected to the Upper Murray… But there was a sixth tribe of sorts, an unique and a very different component of the Australian aboriginal structure. The Gillamatong tribe had no specific bimble [ie: area] of its own, but ranged at will all over the Upper Murray and the Alpine areas, making a thorough nuisance of itself to all concerned, black or white. The murder of whites at Wermatong between Tintaldra and Walwa in 1840 is attributed to the Gillamatongs, and the universal nuisance value of this tribe rose finally to such a pitch that the other Alpine tribes, plus one or two neighbouring tribes, did a most unusual thing — they combined as one big unit and liquidated the Gillamatongs completely.’ [1]

This story, which provides a convenient explanation for the absence of First Nations people from the Upper Murray area, has an antecedent in Dr Arthur Andrews’ The First Settlement of the Upper Murray, 1835 to 1845 (1920) in which Andrews wrote (though with considerably less certainty than Mitchell) of: ‘…the people we read of as the “Geelamatong,” or “swift,” who are said to have raided as far west as Wangaratta, and were supposed to have been ultimately wiped out by a general rising of the various river tribes.’ [2]

Let’s take a step back from this story and try to find some primary evidence that pre-dates Mitchell’s 1981 and Andrews’ 1920 publications, and first ask, was the ‘Gillamatong’ a real ‘tribe’?

The earliest recorded mention of these people actually appeared on a ‘king plate’ inscribed ‘Ginningmatong, Chief of Talangata’ Presented by Nelson Tooth, 1839′. [3] Nelson Tooth was an early squatter (leaseholder) on the Tallangatta pastoral run, and the plate was issued at a time when squatters would recognise a local leader (‘chief’) within the First Nations group whose land they had invaded, presenting them the gift of a brass ‘gorget’ in the hope of promoting cooperative behaviour. In this example, Nelson Tooth had mistaken the name of local group, ‘Ginningmatong’, for the name of the man himself.

In his travels of 1844, Chief Protector of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson, was told that, ‘The blacks on the Mitte Mitte [Mitta Mitta] are called the Tin.ne.mitong.’ [4] Robinson struggled with the unfamiliar language, opting for a T instead of a soft G. However, his reportage alerts us to an important point — that from the 1840s onwards, Europeans often referred to this group colloquially as the ‘Mitta Mitta tribe’.

The next recorded mention came from squatter and Honorary Correspondent to the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines, David Reid (then of Barnawartha), who in reporting on the local population of First Nations people in 1860, said that only 60 people remained, comprising the ‘tribes’ of the ‘Weeroo [Waywurru], Gelematong, Kiewa, Unorring, &c.’ [5] Whereas Nelson Tooth had heard the name as ‘Ginningmatong’, Reid pronounced this Dhudhuroa name as ‘Gelematong’.

However, by the turn of the century, ethnographer R. H. Mathews had sourced and recorded a more accurate rendering of the name from his Dhudhuroa-speaking informant Neddy Wheeler. Wheeler (who took his surname from the Wheeler family of the Nariel Creek and Colac Colac area), explained to Mathews that the language spoken by his people, the Dyinning-mittang, was ‘Dhudhuroa’ [6] (Mathews rendered the language name at first Dhoo’-dhoo-ro’-wa [7], and then Dhū’tharo’-wa [8]). Mathews recorded that ‘Dhudhuroa was spoken by the Dyinning-middha tribe on the lower Mitta Mitta and Kiewa Rivers, and also the Murray Valley from Albury via Dora Dora, Jingellic, to about Walaregang.’ [9] While the suffix of the name could be pronounced either as —mittang or —middha, Mathews better captured the sounds of the first part of the name, Dyinning, which others had rendered as starting with either with a ‘T’ or a soft ‘G’.

Now that we know that the ‘Gillamatong’ to which Thomas Walter Mitchell referred actually exists, and that they are a Dhudhuroa-speaking group which Europeans often referred to as the ‘Mitta Mitta tribe’, and who (contrary to later claims that they had no defined area of their own) occupied Tallangatta, the lower Mitta Mitta River and country along the Murray River from Albury to about Welaregang, we can examine the evidence for the claim that they were considered a ‘universal nuisance’ by other tribes.

On 14 June 1844, George Augustus Robinson was shown a location on the Tambo River by his Omeo (Yaitmathang) guide Charley, which he described in his journal: ‘Two miles above the crossing place up the stream is the spot where a great slaughter of Gippsland blacks [Kurnai] by the Omeo and the Mokeallumbeets and Tinnermittum, their allies, took place…’ [10] In other words, Charley told Robinson that his people, the Yaitmathang, were allied with the Mogullumbidj people of Mount Buffalo (‘Mokeallumbeets’) and the Dyinningmittang (‘Tinnermittum’), against the Kurnai.

Thomas Wilkinson, the first European occupant of Yallowin station (on the west bank of the Tumut River), who had arrived there in 1838, and who had his son write down his reminiscences just prior to his death in 1904, said of the First Nations people from his early days at Yallowin:

‘The blacks used to come in from Yass, Wellaregang, Omeo, and Mitta Mitta, and held corrobories at Yallowin. I have seen 300 there at one time… The blacks increased in numbers after a while, and 600 of them used to come through from Tumbarumba way. Not more than a dozen of them could speak English… On a hill in front of Yallowin homestead there still remains the mark of a ring-formed by the blacks in going through their corrobories which were carried on as part of the ceremony attached to “making men” of the youths after they had attained a certain age.’ [11]

In 1866, the Sydney Mail reported on a gathering of 50 First Nations people at Tumut (where Gilmore Creek enters the Tumut River). While European observers noted their corroboree, and that the ‘object of this visit we learn is to procure a certain description of reed for making spears of, and which is only obtainable in these parts at Tumut Plain’, given the time of year, the gathering may also have pre-empted a trek into nearby mountains for collection of bogong moths. Significantly, the people gathered together were said to be ‘the remnants of this almost extinct race, and are from Muttama, Gundagai, Burrowa, and Tumut.’ In other words, this was a gathering on Wolgal country, and included Wiradjuri-speaking people from Muttama and Gundagai, as well as people from ‘Burrowa’, Burrowye in the Upper Murray, in Dhudhuroa-speaking country. [12] [*amendments, 7.2.2022, 12.2.2022 two LOSC readers have convincingly argued that Burrowa is in fact Boorowa in NSW rather than Burrowye in VIC, in which case my interpretation does not stick. However, I leave this paragraph here for interest’s sake, as the alternative underlines the connectedness of Wolgal and Wiradjuri peoples and although this is not longer directly related to this post topic, it is still a good point! *amendment 22/2/2022, Despite concerns that Burrowa in the quoted article is not Burrowye in the Upper Murray, there is evidence that Burrowye was also called ‘Burrowa’ in the earliest period of European settlement (ie: 1838) — see for instance, Michael Cannon (ed.), Historical Records of Victoria, 2A, p.330; and ‘HISTORICAL STATEMENTS.—DISCOVERY OF THE RIVER MURRAY. TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 16 May 1873, p.2; and also Dr Arthur Andrews, First settlement of the Upper Murray, 1835-1845: with a short account of over two hundred runs, 1835 to 1880, D. S. Ford, Sydney, 1920. ]

From these and numerous other examples, it can be concluded that the Dyinningmittang were not only allied with the Yaitmathang (Omeo) people, the Mogullumbidj (Mount Buffalo) people, but also gathered for ceremony and trade on a frequent basis with Wolgal and Wiradjuri people, on Wolgal lands around Tumut.

Now that we know the Dyinning-mittang were not a ‘universal nuisance’ to other surrounding tribes, who obviously never ‘combined as one big unit and liquidated the Gillamatongs completely’, then we must ask what happened to the Dyinning-mittang?

Reporting to a Victorian government inquiry in 1858, James Wilson, a squatter who resided on the Mitta Mitta from 1840 until 1854, said of what he referred to as the ‘Mitta Mitta tribe’, ‘There are very few aborigines in the Mitta Mitta district, probably not more than twelve (12). The Tallangatta creek was the hunting ground of the Ginning-matong tribe. There are only three of this tribe now alive.’ [13] While Wilson’s reportage regarding the number of survivors may have been imperfect, it is apparent that by 1858 a great mortality had occurred among the Dyinning-mittang. European diseases and vices may be counted among contributing factors, but to examine one significant source of mortality, we must look to the earliest days of the European invasion of the Upper Murray.

In a record of his itinerary, visiting the pastoral stations along the Upper Murray in 1839 (around two years after the permanent arrival of Europeans), Crown Lands Commissioner Henry Bingham wrote a note during his visit to Towong station: ‘The natives were hostile in this part of the District[,] for special report of an affray — [indecipherable] both parties see my letter to the Colonial Secretary 13 August’. [14] In the corresponding letter, Bingham wrote that he had ‘held an inquiry on the 7th instant about 80 miles up the River Hume [Murray] relative to a certain affray between some servants of the Messer [Richard and William] Guise, having a stock station there, and the natives; the result of which was that I considered it necessary to detain in custody a free man, by servitude, named George Wilson in the service of Richard Guise Senior, for feloniously firing and wounding a black native named Billy-ongong, when swimming across the River Hume.’ The detention of a free man for firing upon a First Nation person at this time was a rarity, but in any case, Bingham ‘regretted’ to inform the Colonial Secretary that his prisoner had escaped, so no more details of his inquiry were ever heard. [15]

With a family origin story in French nobility, the Guises had been among the first Europeans to invade the Upper Murray, taking up lands at Guy’s Forest (South Burrowye) in 1837, then Wermatong, Walwa, Towong, and Jingellic; as well as Khancoban and Bringenbrong. [16] As local historian Jean Carmody observed, ‘William [Guise] in particular has been described as “a most predatory man”, who tried to lay claim to all of the land between the Murray and the Murrumbidgee, extending east of a line which would join present-day Albury to Gundagai.’ [17] In other words, the Guises and their stockmen had occupied, in the space of two years or less, virtually the entire country of the Dyinning-mittang; and as Bingham had noted, the response to this from the Dyinning-mittang had been ‘hostile’.

During the initial period of invasion, the Upper Murray was entirely without government surveillance, and the Guises (and other early settlers like the Shelleys) had been left to use any means necessary to take possession of the land. And the murder of two shepherds on Wermatong station (adjoining Tintaldra) [18], and another two stockmen downstream at Thologolong [19], suggests that at least some Dhudhuroa-speaking people had been intent on violent resistance of this occupation. Bingham’s belated ‘inquiry’ into the resulting ‘hostility’ was probably the tip of the iceberg.

The notion that the Dhudhuroa-speaking Dyinning-mittang effectively had no country, and that their population had been obliterated by other local First Nations people, is a convenient white-wash of a story which has been peddled by apologists for the European invasion. Thomas Walter Mitchell’s Corryong and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ District may be a great romance of early European settlement in the Upper Murray, but in its telling of the fate of the ‘Gillamatongs’, it wantonly seeks to avoid an ugly but important truth: Europeans did not occupy the Upper Murray by peaceable means alone, and neither was their presence tolerated without retaliation.

This is original written content that is copyright protected to ©Jacqui Durrant, 2021. You are welcome to share links to this blog, but please do not use the content elsewhere without permission. Thank you!


[1] T. W. Mitchell, Corryong and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ District, Wilkinson Printers for R. Boyes, Albury, 1981, p.12.

[2] Arthur Andrews, First settlement of the Upper Murray, 1835-1845: with a short account of over two hundred runs, 1835 to 1880, D. S. Ford, Sydney, 1920, p.35.

[3] Tania Cleary 1993, p.131, cited in Sue Wesson, The Aborigines of Eastern Victoria and far South Eastern New South Wales, 1832-1910: An Historical Geography, PhD thesis, Monash University, 2000, p.64. Tania Cleary, Poignant Regalia: 19th Century Aboriginal Images and Breastplates, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, Glebe, 1993.)

[4] Ian Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, 1839-1852, published by Ian Clark, Melbourne, 2014, entry for: 22 June 1844.

[5] ‘Aboriginal Population in 1860’, The Argus, 5 October, 1860, p.5.

[6] R. H. Mathews, MS 8006, Series 3, Item 7, Notebook 7, National Library Australia.

[7] ibid.

[8] R. H. Mathews, MS 8006, Series 3, Item 4, Volume 2 [Marked 6], National Library Australia.

[9] R H Mathews, MS8006, Series 5, File 3, Box 6, manuscript materials, National Library of Australia.

[10] Ian Clark (ed), op cit., entry for 14 June 1844.

[11] Thomas Wilkinson, ‘A Record of Olden Days,’ The Tumut and Adelong Times, Friday 22 July 1904, p.2.

[12] ‘Aboriginal Gathering’, Sydney Mail, Saturday 27 January 1866, p.4.

[13] Report Select Committee of the Legislative Council — The Aborigines, John Ferres, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1858-9, p.26.

[14] NRS 906: Colonial Secretary: Commissioners of Crown Lands – Itineraries, Murrumbidgee, Henry Bingham, 10 Jul – Nov 1839, Aug 1843, Jul 1844, Mar – Nov 1845, Apr – Jun 1847 [X812], Reel 2748; Squatters and Graziers Index, State Archives and Records NSW.

[15] ‘Henry Bingham, C. C. L. to Col. Sec., 13 August 1839’, in Michael Cannon (ed), Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 2B, Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-1839, Victorian Government Printing Office, Melbourne, 1983, p.709.

[16] Arthur Andrews, op cit., p.123-4, p.99; R. V.  Billis, and A. S. Kenyon, Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip, Macmillan & Company Ltd., Melbourne, 1932, p.76.

[17] Jean Carmody, Early Days Of the Upper Murray, Shoestring Press, Wangaratta, 1981, p.4.

[18] T. W. Mitchell, ‘Baal Udthu Yamble Yabba,’ in The Australian Ski Year Book, Ski Council of New South Wales, Sydney, 1953, p.68.

[19] Arthur Andrews, op cit., p.32.