Mortuary
Lost in Time

Stan Tutt in his book Sunshine Coast Heritage reports:

In 1966 Ewen Maddock, then over 90, described a native burial cave he and his brother Andrerw discovered one evening when returning from a day's timber cutting in tumbled gullies which lead to the southeast of the headwaters of the Mooloolah River. He recalled that evening of long ago.

"The caves were under sandstone ledges, and some of the bundles of bones were tied with clippings of white cloth, proving that the remains had been taken to the caves after European settlement".

Following the discovery, a policeman named Beecher got Mr Archibald Meeston, "who gathered the bones and took them away". 

On the eastern slopes of the Blackall Range there is another cave known to older residents. Some, whose voices are now forever silent, told that Archibald Meeston took bones from this hidden cave to be placed in a Brisbane Museum. It is thought that such sites are protected under Queensland law, which makes it an offence to disturb or remove material from any archaeological site.

Protected in law - but not in fact.

The ancient aboriginal grinding grooves in the sandstone bed of Little Rocky Creek cry that they have seen the seeds of the future.  




















There is no record in the Department of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders and Multicultural Affairs database of these remains. Nor are we aware of any Museum that received these remains.

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Gubbi Gubbi death rituals and practices.
Dr Eve Fesl OAM, CM discusses funeral rites of the Gubbi Gubbi people. Following this outline are attachments based on recordings made in historical records. These records are provided so readers can assess from the accounts a picture of traditional practices. As with all records of this type the reader should use judgement to analyse and understand. 

Simply use the keys below to access the documentation.


Funeral rites of the Gubbi Gubbi

Australian Aboriginal funereal rites differed across Australia.


When the British established their first penal colony in Sydney in 1788, there were 234 distinct language groups (and therefore tribal groups) existing throughout Australia.


Just as the languages differed considerably from North to South and East to West, customs differed, depending on terrain and practices associated with it, particularly in regard to food and water availability in the areas.

For instance, in central Australian areas male and female food gathering and ritual ceremonies were strictly confined to the specific gender, whereas along the coast where food gathering was shared, both genders were less strict in sharing ceremonies.  
Rites practised by other Aboriginal groups in Australia differed – a comparison with Yolgnu (Northern Territory) indicates that burial of the deceased was in the earth and whilst people cried loudly, there appears no indication of “spirituality” as they cried at the burial but a mourning for the deceased.

The Bandjalang people of Northern New South Wales also buried their dead and “wailed” (called in a loud continuous note) as this was being done.

On the other hand the Gubbi Gubbi people had someone “wail” in order to direct the deceased’s spirit back to his/her spiritual home. The body was cremated, broken into small pieces, bound and placed in a “burial tree”.


A burial tree stands, and is labelled as such outside the Noosa Shire Offices at Tewantin.

Probably the last ceremony where Gubbi Gubbi performed the wailing cry was in Melbourne in 1988 – The Year of Mourning” where Gubbi Gubbi Elder Mrs Serico performed the ceremony for hundreds of Victorian Koori people.


It is rumoured that skeletal remains and skulls had once lain in caves near the top of the escarpment (see Stan Tutt story) however no archaeologal evidence has been recorded to substantiate the stories. Gubbi Gubbi funeral practices are antipathetic to such claims. 
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Reminiscences of Early Queensland, Tom Petrie written by his daughter Constance Campbell Petrie

Burial Customs

Talking of how the aborigines regard death, brings us to their burial customs. 

Whenever the death of an aboriginal took place, all friends and relatives would gather together and cry, each man cutting his head with a tomahawk, or jobbing it with a spear, till the blood ran freely down his body, and the old women did the same thing with yamsticks, while the young gins cut their thighs with sharp pieces of flint stone till their legs were covered with blood. 

In the meantime a couple of men would get some sheets of tea-tree bark on which to place the body, and if the corpse was not to be eaten, it would be wrapped up in this bark and tied round and round with string made from the inside of wattle bark. The feet were always left exposed. Then two old men would carry the body, those mourning following behind continually crying all the time. You could hear their cry a long way off. 

They would go some distance till they came to a tree (generally in a gully out of sight) with a fork in the stem, six or eight feet from the ground. Here they would pause and seek about for two suitable forked sticks to match this tree, and these they fixed in the ground at a little distance from it, making the forks correspond in height with that of the tree. Next two sticks cut about seven feet long would be placed from the forked sticks to the tree fork, and from this three-cornered foundation a platform would be made with sticks put across and bound with the wattlebark string. All being ready, the body would be lifted up on to this platform, which, without fail, would be made so that when the head was placed next the tree the feet would point always towards the west.

After this, a space in the ground underneath the body about four feet square would be cleared bare of grass, and at one side of it a small fire would be built. This was that the spirit of the dead man might come down in the night and warm himself at the fire, or cook his food. If the body was that of a man, a spear or waddy would be placed ready, so that the spirit might go hunting in the night; if a woman then a yamstick took the place of the other weapon, and her spirit could also hunt, or dig for roots. These weapons were left that the spirits might obtain food; it was not supposed that they would ever fight. 

After finishing these preparations, the blacks would go away lamenting, and the body was left in peace. Then the day after burial—if it could be called burial—an old Turrwan would go without the knowledge of the others, back to where this platform stood erect with its burden, and stealthily he would print on the cleared ground beneath a mark like a footprint with the palm of his hand. After his departure, two women—old women (near relatives of the deceased, a mother and her sister if alive)—would appear on the scene. They, of course, would see this mark, and at once would imagine that the murderer had been there and left his footprint behind him. Strange to say, too, they would recognise to whom the footprint belonged !

So back they went to the others, and told them all who was the murderer—it was generally someone they had a spite against in another tribe—and there would be no question or doubt.

After that no one went near the body till the flesh had dropped off, when two old women, relatives, again went, and, taking it down, they would proceed to separate the bones from each other. Certain of these were always religiously put aside and kept—they were the skull, leg, arm, and hip bones while those of the ribs and back, etc., were burnt.

The bones kept were put in a dilly, and so carried to the camp, and this dilly, with its sacred contents, accompanied the old woman relative on all her wanderings for months afterwards.

In the meantime, however, the following happened :
At the camp a fire would be made some fifty or one hundred yards from the huts, and all hands were called to come and witness the performance. The bones were cleaned and rubbed with charcoal, and one of the old gins who discovered the murderer's footmark would sit in the middle, the rest surrounding her, and she would take the hip bones, and, with a stone tomahawk, would chop them, accompanying each chop with the name of some black of another tribe sung in a chanting fashion. Now and again the bone would crack, and each time it did this the woman happened to call the name of the man she had told them of, who had left his footprint behind on the cleared ground, and the rest would exchange glances, saying he must be the guilty party. 

Father (Tom Petrie) has been present on these occasions, and the blacks would always draw his attention to the unquestionableness of the conclusion arrived at. Nothing could persuade them that it was not fair, and should they come across the poor unfortunate singled out his death was a certainty. Perhaps some night he would be curled up asleep in the dark, when suddenly he was pounced upon and put out of existence or perhaps he would be innocently engaged at some occupation when a dark form, sneaking up behind him, would send a spear through his skull, or otherwise do the deed. 

A death always roused great desire for revenge, and the friends of the deceased would watch and plan in every way till at last their end was accomplished. And even when revenged like this, many a big fight took place over a death. For the tribe to which the dead man had belonged would send a challenge to the tribe of the man held responsible for the deed, by two messengers, carrying a stick marked with notches cut in it. This stick served to show that there were a great number of blacks, and that they were in earnest. The messengers suggested a place of meeting for the fight, and after staying perhaps a week would return to their friends, who would look forward to the affray. I have spoken of the blacks as cannibals, mentioning that it was only ordinary men and women of no condition who were buried. 

Here is how a cannibal feast would be proceeded with : 
First, the body was carried about a mile away from the camp, and there placed on sheets of tea-tree bark near a fire. I may mention that it was a practice with the aboriginal to keep his body (minus the head) free from hair, by singeing himself with a torch. It was similar to the habit of shaving. Should an aboriginal be unsinged he was unkempt, as a white man is who has not shaved. He could do his own arms and hands, etc., but would ask the assistance of others for the back. The singeing over, he rubbed his body with charcoal and grease, feeling then beautifully clean and nice. So perhaps it was this habit which made the aborigines singe their dead for the last time before devouring them.

A Turrwan would take a piece of dry sapwood from an old tree, and lighting it well by the fire would keep knocking off the red ashes till it burnt with a flame like a candle. With this he would give the body an extra good singeing all over, excepting the head, until the skin turned from black to a light brown colour. Then the body would be rubbed free of any singed particles, and turned face downwards, and three or four men, who had been solemnly standing at some distance from the others, would slowly advance, one by one, singing a certain tune, to the body. Each of these men held a shell or stone knife in his hand, and the first would start by slitting the skin open from the head down the neck, then retiring his place would be taken by the second man, who would carry the opening on down the body, the third man down the legs, and so on till the skin was opened right to the heels, and would peel off in one whole piece. During all this performance never a joke nor a laugh was heard, but everything was carried out with the utmost quietude and solemnity. The body would be cut up when skinned, and the whole tribe, sitting round in groups in a circle, each group possessing a fire, would watch expectantly for their share of the dainty. 

One can imagine how they would look forward to the feast as time advanced, and doubtless they watched with hungry eyes as the old men divided out the flesh in pieces to each lot. Immediately on grabbing their portion, each group would roast and devour it, and in no time " all was over and done." The heart and waste parts would be buried in a hole dug alongside the fire, and this interesting hole was marked by three sticks driven into the ground, standing about a foot high, and bound round with grass rope. The hair, ears, nose, and the toes and fingers, without the bones, would be left on the skin, which was hung on two spears before a fire to dry. Sometimes it would take some time to dry, and would have to be spread out each day ; then, when ready, it would be blackened with charcoal and grease. After that the skin was folded up and put into a " dilly," and so carried everywhere by a relative with the certain bones that were kept.

These remains were always carried by a woman relative, who kept them for six months or so, when she tired of the burden, or there was a fresh one ready to carry; and so a hollow tree or a cave in a rock was used as a depository. 

When my father came to North Pine there was a hollow gum tree near where he settled, full of skins and bones of the dead. This tree was burnt by bush fires, so, though part of it may still be seen, there is, of course, no trace of anything exciting in the way of remains. A tree used in this way was considered sacred, or "dimmanggali" and no one dare trifle with its contents. The remains were not just thrown into the hollow, but must be carefully left in dillies, and thus hung on forked sticks in the tree. A hollow tree was looked for with a hole in the trunk several feet from the ground (it must not open right down), or else a hollow one with no opening would be cut out as desired. The idea was to place the forked sticks in the earth, so that they stood upright, with the bags hanging on them.

When my father was quite a boy he was sent once to look for some strayed cows to York's Hollow (the present Brisbane Exhibition Ground), which was all wild bush, and was a great fighting ground for the blacks. At the time of which I speak the blacks were all camped there, and when young "Tom" arrived on the scene he came across an old gin crying, and going up to her asked “what was the matter”?. The woman replied that her "narring" (son) had been killed and pulling an opossum-skin covering from her dilly, displayed his skin. It made the boy start to see the hair of the head and beard, the fingers, etc., all on the skin, and going home he told Grandfather about it. 

The latter offered flour, tea, sugar, tobacco, a tomahawk, anything for the skin; but the old woman would not part with it. Her husband, man-like, was more willing, however, and after some weeks turned up with a nice little new "dilly" containing four pieces of his son's skin, two from the breast, and two from the back, and this he presented to Tom for his father. 

The scars or markings could be seen on these pieces, which were as thick almost as a bullock's hide. The old blackfellow took pride in giving this present, and after so honouring Tom called him his son, and all the tribe looked upon the boy as such, and from that time forth he was considered a great man or Turrwan no one saying him nay, but doing anything for him and letting him know all their secrets. 

It got to be known all over the place from tribe to tribe that he had been presented with portions of Yabba's son's skin, and so he was received everywhere with open arms as it were, for Yabba was well known and respected.

Women relatives of a dead person, possessing a skin, might give small portions from the back or breast to their friends of other tribes, when meeting them. The receivers would lament again over the skin when in their own camp, but having been given this, they felt quite safe about their men relations visiting the tribe of the deceased, for this giving of skin meant that the recipient was not connected in any way with suspicion.

The bodies of children were never skinned, they were placed up on trees unless in extra good condition, when they would be eaten. Very young children or babies were roasted whole, and women generally ate them. In some instances babies were killed at birth, and then eaten by the old women —for instance, if the mother died, for they blamed the child. Cripples or deformed people were met with often enough among the aborigines, some with withered limbs, and these were invariably treated kindly, as indeed were also all old people. 

Aborigines would live to be seventy or eighty years of age, and if at any time they were unable to fend for themselves, their relatives took them in hand, treating them with great respect and veneration. However, at death the bodies of cripples were just shoved anyhow into hollow logs.
An aboriginal camp was always shifted immediately whenever a death took place, and the trees round about where a native had died, or where he had been eaten, would be nicked as a sign of what had taken place. 

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A cave known to the Aborigines, the pioneers and to Archibald Meston - somewhere on the Blackall Range.
Records indicate the skeletal material, in a "dilly bag", was taken from this cave in 1890.
Two Representative Tribes of Queensland, John Mathew

Burial Customs

After death there was usually a cannibal feast, and profound mourning was invariably engaged in nightly by the whole camp and prolonged for several weeks. The skin was sometimes taken off, and parts like the kneecaps and the toes were also removed. Bones of the arms, legs and head would be fractured to obtain pieces convenient for carrying. 

These relics would be treasured by relatives for five or six years. The women would carry them about with them and would store them in the cosiest corner of the camp.

There were different methods of disposing of the dead. One mode was to erect a stage for the body on a tree, or to construct one of saplings and bark resting on upright forks.

On such stages the body was left until completely desiccated, when the bones would be deposited in a hollow tree. After contact with Europeans the common method was interment in the ground. One grave I knew was marked by small logs being carefully arranged on the surface, which were said to represent the brothers of the deceased, and the position of the logs was intended to point out where they lived.

The young folk were prohibited from partaking of human flesh. The distinction as to who should partake, would suggest that other motives than the mere appeasing of appetite conduced to uphold cannibalism.

A strip of skin taken from the thigh was sometimes wrapped round a spear and employed as a magical indicator to discover the person who had by sorcery or other cause, been the agent of death.


Mourning

The duration of mourning was about six weeks. At night mourners could be seen flitting about the camp carrying glowing torches, for the purpose, it was said, of driving off the spirits. I have seen the gleam of the torches, but as the explanation of their use was given me by whites it may not be reliable.

Every night a general, loud wailing was sustained for hours, and was accompanied by personal laceration with sharp flints or other cutting instruments. The men would be content with a few incisions on the back of the head, but the women would gash themselves from head to foot and allow the blood to dry upon the skin.

The cry of the mourners was : 

** Ngata ! ngata ! mimin ! mimin !
Wuthung nganyunggai balomathi gindil !
"
*' Brother my is dead oh dear !
"
The meaning of the first four words was unknown to my informant. After this wail there would follow a long-drawn ululation. 

To join with others in mourning for their friends was considered a sympathetic, courteous and proper action. A blackfellow, once complaining to me about the unkindness of another, regarded it as all the more reprehensible, seeing that he had joined in the mourning for the ungrateful man's brother.

Woman

As a sign of mourning the women tied bunches of emu feathers in their hair all over the head, and these were left to drop off gradually in course of time. 

During mourning certain kinds of food had to be avoided as mundha (tapu). Fasting for the dead was called ngarin. The names of the dead were not uttered. They were usually referred to as kananngur, i.e., poor fellow.

Nguthuru

Nguthuru in Kabi, Ngul in Wakka, was the regular word for the shadow of any object. It came to be specialised as the name for a ghost or phantom. There was no well-defined idea about future existence, but there was a belief that the dead became Nguthuru, or that the Nguthuru of the living survived death, and frequented the treetops. 

They were regarded as being sufficiently substantial to be able to answer a cooey addressed to them.

Stones

This receptacle of the artillery of sorcery was about the size and shape of an opera-glass case, and had a cord attached, by which it was carried slung over the shoulder. Although supposed to be of supernatural origin, and to have been fished out of water, it had all the appearance of a hand-made article, just like other bags closenetted with cord. However, there was no limit to the credulity that attached to the nguam, or ngunggaran, and its contents. In addition to the stones, which were wrapped round with hair or with string made of squirrel's fur, a nguam would contain bones and other relics of the dead, and, possibly, hair, or excrement of some individual against whom bodily mischief was determined.

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Vocabularies of 4 Representative Tribes of South East Queensland - F J Watson


The Eaglehawk and the Crow

Doleful Lamentations

Nothing could exceed the dolefulness of the lamentations made for the dead. The crying is as much like the howling of the dingo as the wailing of human beings. It is carried on vigorously and persistently for weeks after the decease, and then broken off by occasional crying fits. 

Very commonly the corpse is flayed and certain portions of the flesh eaten. Some parts of the body will be preserved and carried about as relics or charms, such as the knee-caps, the shin-bone, the hand, the skin. In Gippsland the hand of a dead person is worn round the neck as a charm and as an instrument of sorcery, a practice similar to the preservation of the finger-nails (and portions of the fingers attached) of a deceased person by the New Hebrideans.

Mothers will carry the dead bodies of their children on their march, even in a putrefying state. This, according to Mr. Curr, is also a kind of penalty inflicted upon young mothers who are blamed for causing their baby's death by carelessness. I am reluctantly disposed to doubt Mr. Curr's reason. I have other testimony of this and similar practices being followed purely from affection. The women especially cling affectionately to parts of the body of deceased relatives, a very creditable tenderness in those whose belief practically is that death ends all. 

One mode of disposing of the dead is to bundle the bones into a hollow tree. I have found three or four tombs of this kind within an area of about four square miles. Before being thus disposed of, some tribes wrap the corpse in bark. A practice followed on the east coast of Queensland, and at a place so far distant as Encounter Bay, South Australia, is to stretch the dead on an elevated platform of boughs until the corpse has become desiccated. After the flesh is decayed, the bones are burned.  

A very general mode of burial is to prepare the body for interment by doubling the legs so that the knees will come under the chin; the hands are then tied by the side, and the corpse is placed in a grave in this sitting position head upwards. I am informed that on the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee the dead body was deposited with the head towards the south (My informant is Mr. Humphry Davy). In the north of Queensland cemeteries are to be seen where there are accumulations of skulls. 

Immediately after a death the camp at night is resonant with hideous sounds. When first I heard the howls of despair it made my very flesh creep with horror, and to heighten the effect the mourners might be seen the greater part of the night hurrying hither and thither brandishing torches, with the object, it was said (I know not how credibly), of frightening away evil spirits. As might be expected, the grave is very shallow. 

I have seen one in the Burnett District, Queensland, with several short logs placed at the side of it on the surface, which are said by the blacks to represent the number of brothers the deceased had, and to indicate by their position relatively to the corpse the direction in which the brothers resided. 


Revenge

Unless when the cause of death is very obvious, such as a spear- wound, it is held to have been brought about secretly by another blackfellow. Diverse methods are adopted for the discovery of the murderer. For instance, among the Kamilroi an ancient shinbone relic, wrapped in cord and some greasy matter, is held near a fire, and when it fizzles it is believed to point in the direction of the guilty person, who is then easily identified. In central Victoria a straw would sometimes be inserted in a small ant-hole or other perforation in the covering of the grave, and the direction in which the upper end would point would be the road to take to find the person who had caused the death. 

And then it might be the first blackfellow of another tribe who might be met that would be slaughtered in cold blood in revenge. Captain Grey testifies that, among the blacks of Western Australia, the dread of blind vengeance on the occasion of a death was extreme, because nothing could save an innocent person from being pounced upon either in obedience to some augury or for satisfaction of spite on the part of a sorcerer. 

The murderer had always to be sought for, and somebody would have to satisfy the demand. In many tribes the corpse is interrogated as to who was the cause of his death, and responses are obtained generally by spells. 


Decoration

While in the act of lamentation for the dead, the women would lacerate their bodies from head to foot till blood would be streaming from innumerable small incisions. The blood was allowed to dry upon the skin. Near relatives of the deceased wore some token of mourning upon the head, the usual practice being to attach tufts of emu's feathers to locks of the hair, and leave them to drop off of themselves. In some parts clay was plastered over a net upon the head and allowed to harden until the whole assumed the form of a skull-cap. 

After being worn for a time it was laid upon the grave. A form connected with mourning as practised by the Murunuda, South Gregory District, was to cover the whole body with lime. Another custom in mourning was a prolonged abstinence from certain kinds of animal food. Mr. Bradshaw informs me that at Ruby Creek, Kimberley, on the occasion of a man's death his wives are clubbed to death with great ceremony by the old married men. This atrocity has not been noticed in other localities. We are not surprised to learn that while in the same neighbourhood the corpses of men are wrapped up in bark and laid on ledges in caves, those of women are flung under bushes as if not worth attention. My informant is Mr. Froggatt. 

Ghosts

The Australians have what may be termed an apprehension of ghosts rather than a belief in them, the relations of the living with the spirits being more or less intimate in different tribes. In the tribe with which I was best acquainted, while the blacks had a term for ghost and believed that there were departed spirits who were sometimes to be seen among the foliage, individual men would tell you upon inquiry that they believed that death was the last of them. In other words, a man's personality died with his body and was not continued in his ghost. 

A ghost was called a ' shadow,' and the conception of its existence was shadowy like itself. A general feature of Australian mythology is the peopling of deep waterholes with indescribable spirits. The Kabi tribe deified the rainbow, a superstition apparently confined to this people. He lived in unfathomable waterholes on the mountains, and when visible was in the act of passing from one haunt to another. He was accredited with exchanging children after the fashion of the European fays. He was also a great bestower of vitality, which he imparted in the form of 'yurru' — i.e., rope (what this rope was I do not know), in the manner explained above. 

Supreme Beings

Many tribes revered the names of ancient heroes or demigods, who were credited with certain wonderful exploits, and who generally became metamorphosed into stars. The conception of a supreme being oscillated between a hero and a deity. 

Some tribes recognised both a supreme good spirit and a powerful, dreaded, evil spirit, creation being ascribed to the former. At the initiation ceremonies of the Darkinung tribes of New South Wales two figures are made upon the ground by heaping up earth. They are represented as like human beings lying flat on the back. 

A quartz crystal called ngooyar is placed upon the forehead of Dhurramoolun, the good spirit, and a koolaman (wooden vessel) containing blood just let from 
the arms of some men is placed upon the breast of " Ghindaring, a malevolent being," whose body is said to be red and to resemble burning coals. 

Gods?

I confess to having failed to obtain in the south of Queensland any myth about the creation or the flood; the nearest approach to an account of the former was the personal conjecture which a blackfellow made regarding the origin of his race, which was that he thought they had sprung up like the trees — uncommonly like Topsy's "I specs I grow'd." 

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