A local story of struggle

June 24, 2016

Noelene Briggs-Smith (OAM), an Aboriginal elder, who has provided outstanding service to the whole Moree community (and beyond) was the guest speaker at the Myall Creek Memorial commemoration on June 12.

“I was born in my great, great grandmother’s tin hut, situated at the largest Aboriginal camp at the top end on the banks of the Mehi River, thus acquiring its name ‘Top Camp’,” Ms Briggs-Smith told the crowd.

“My parents married in 1938 and built their hut in front of Granny’s and like all the other huts erected from flattened kerosene tin and old iron or any other scrap that would serve the purpose to build with from the town dump.

“The huts had dirt floors and we had to carry fresh water Chinese style with bucket and yoke from the nearest house that had a windmill on Bingara Road. When there was no wind to work the windmill, we robbed the nearest park and animal watering trough at the railway siding, rolling drums under the cover of darkness to the camp.

“I spent my younger years with Granny Lizzie, cuddling up behind her in the old rusty, broken fold up bed from the shearing shed, waiting for her to tell me her stories.

“Like those who were born tribal, she didn’t remember having a birth day; only remembering she was born in the hot season. Her mother ‘Sally’ came from Rocky Creek and gave birth to her in the area now known as Edgeroi, believing their totem was Yurundiali, the Sand Goanna.

“When Granny died in 1952, in the segregated Aboriginal ward at the back of the Moree Hospital, Dr Hollingsworth estimated her age to be 98 to 101 years old. “When young, Granny remembered seeing things from high up when they carried her on their shoulders. Distances were travelled by foot, no shoes and when they came to a place where the ground was hot, they tied bark around their feet. They didn’t stay at this place for long and when they left nothing was to be taken from there, especially the coloured stone as it was considered as taking from ‘Mother Earth’ and bad things might happen. This would have been Lightning Ridge.

“They followed the seasons for food, knowing what grew where and when and after heavy rain and flood, they went to a place with rocks in the river and ate fish for weeks. This would have been at Brewarrina.

“Pointing to the east, ‘up that way’ she would say they would all meet at a place with big rocks and swimming hole where they would settle arguments and who could marry who. This would have been at Cranky Rock.

“When they settled at the first reserve set up in Terry Hie Hie in 1895, she said there was a place not far from there; ‘the men’s place’, where women were not allowed. This would have been the largest boys-to-men Bora initiation ground in the district.

“Granny would lower her voice and look sad and said there was a place where Aboriginal people didn’t go anymore. ‘Big fight’, I ask?

“‘No, no. Bad place, Bad place, terrible thing happened there, all killed by white fellows’. She pronounced the place as Bin-gar-a, not Bingara, for she spoke her own language”.

In 1999, Mr Jim Boyce asked Ms Briggs-Smith to help him arrange for Moree Aboriginal Elders to gather at a place called Myall Creek.

“We arrived at the Myall Creek War Memorial Hall and the Elder from Moree was greeting each other from the district, talking about a memorial for the Aboriginals who had been massacred in 1838.

“It was then I realised that this was the place that hurt my Granny Lizzie to talk about years ago. The decision was made then by the Elders for the Memorial to go ahead.

“I founded the Moree Aboriginal Dhiiyaan Centre back then that became a Keeping Place. Moree Plains Council closed it in August 2010, when the New Town Library was established leaving our Aboriginal services behind.

“I joined the Friends of Myall Creek Committee, joining in the struggle for a desperately needed National Aboriginal Keeping Place in our region. Other countries throughout the world have their keeping places and I believe that Australian Aboriginal history should be preserved.

“I strongly believe our history not only enhances local history but it benefits the history of our Australian nation and ours is too long overdue.

Now is the time to act before it is all lost," Mrs Briggs-Smith said.