I have remarked elsewhere on this blog that for a long time before the arrival of European settlers and the 1861 ‘formal settlement’ of Tharwa, Aboriginal people had been using this area as a crossing point for the Murrumbidgee River as they made their way up and down from the mountains.
Onyong (a European abbreviation of Allianoyonyiga), a very respected elder and warrior of the Ngambri mob of the Ngunnawal people was one of the first to encounter white settlers in the Tharwa area. Despite the changes imposed on his land and his people Onyong showed strength and courage and, without loosing Aboriginal respect, worked for settlers on both major European stations in the area – Cuppacumbalong and Lanyon – in addition to forming a life-long friendship with Garrett Cotter, an Irish convict who also worked for a number of European settlers and after whom the Cotter Reserve is named.
Onyong was killed during a leadership fight with his old friend and countryman, Noolup (also known as Jimmy the Rover). Some accounts suggest he was shot by a European settler for stealing cattle. He was buried on the hillside not far from the general store in Tharwa with access via Union Street though his burial area can also be approached via a short walk northwards along the river from the Tharwa Bridge. The grave is unmarked and its exact location is not known today.
Given the general respect he was held in, his funeral, held in accordance with traditional Aboriginal customs, was attended by Aboriginals and European settlers. One of the latter, William D Wright from Cuppacumbalong Station remarked many years later, in 1923, that:
“The body was trussed in the knee-elbow position, and the fat about the kidneys was removed. The fat was supposed to possess great virtues, and was distributed to the gins, who carried it in the bags which were hung from their necks.
A hole was dug in the ground, at the bottom of which a small tunnel was excavated. In this tunnel the body was placed, together with the chief’s weapons a broken spear, shield, nulla-nulla, boomerang, tomahawk, opossum rug, and other items for use in the nexg world. The grave was then filled in.”
A gin is a slang (derogatory) name for an Aboriginal woman and a nulla-nulla is a hunting stick.
Wright went on to comment, rather morbidly:
“Well, that was the end of that ‘worthy’ with the exception that a number of years later a man named Smithie dug up the skull and with questionable taste had it made into a sugar bowl, which I actually saw in use on his table.”
My second picture is a sketch of Onyong by Robert Williams (then aged 13), reproduced from Tales From Ngambri History, 2003 – courtesy http://www.ngambri.org/
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on Tharwa. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Tharwa General Store and School – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The Australian Capital Territory’s Oldest Village.