Meel eye and Merran to look out
BY CHRISTINE TURNER COLES
I acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and the traditional custodians of the lands where I live, learn and work.
I pay my respects to the Elders past, present and emerging, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the nation.
DARLING DOWNS ABORIGINES - CUSTOMS AND LANGUAGES
The following information was found in the Millmerran Historical Society's records. Written on a typewriter on yellowing foolscap paper, sadly it bears no authorship, date, or source for the material. Regardless, it contains such a wealth of information I am compelled to share it.
1. The Bigambul Tribe
The Bigambul Tribe (also written "Bigambel") is now a mere name. It is long ago since these people occupied the Darling Downs, and how far away they seem to be when we gaze across the wheat fields, the scattered homes of white men, and the surveyed roads of industry and commerce.
They lived, nevertheless, happy in their own way, feasting on the best the land produced, carrying on the tradition and laws of their forefathers, now faded in the darkness of forgotten things.
The range of country inhabited by this tribe covered the Darling Downs. Their language possessed, strangely enough, the same name as that of their tribe, although in many cases that is not the rule, the two being called by entirely difference names.
The word "Bigambul" is derived from biga meaning "like", "same", "so much", "so many". Their speech contained many words which were very beautiful when correctly spoken. The following are some of the animals which the Darling Downs aborigines encountered in their daily life.
Bamburr - Kangaroo Oorun - Emu Gool - Fish Wawkoo - Crow Gurrooba - Wood Duck
Ngolgol - Dingo Gooleegalee - Pelican Krelungan - Fly Gehrr - Brolga Dooey - Eaglehawk
Doobi - Possum Kagurrin - Kookaburra Burri - Mosquito Cairabun - White Cockatoo
Timba - Snake Gurinein - Crayfish Beeboo - Swan Boonaba - Black Duck
Origins of the Name of Millmerran - Meel "eye" and Merran "to look out"
In 1884, Back Creek's name changed to Millmerran, an anglicised version of the Bigambul word Meel Merran, meaning "to look out".
I've wondered about the location of the lookout that was the genesis of Millmerran's namesake, given the number of contenders: Mt Domville, Commodore Peak, Mt Basalt, Captain's Mountain, Pine Mountain to name a few. Perhaps it wasn't any one of these at all, instead, the whole district was called Meel Merran by the local Aboriginals.
There are various points of view, pardon the pun, regarding the origins of the name of Millmerran. Local historian and author Nell MacQueen told me that the town received its name thanks to the Gore's of Yandilla Station. The family would often travel to Mt Domville for a picnic and to enjoy the spectacular 360 views, camping at nearby Pine Mountain for up to a month. They learned that the Bigambul name for "the place to look out from" was Meel Merran. There is therefore an argument here for Mt Domville to be called Meel Merran by local indigenous people. And then this, from Millmerran 75th Anniversary compiled by G. S. Gillespie: "The name Millmerran is of aboriginal origin from "Meel" the eye, and "Merran" to look out, it being a lookout place of the blacks in the early days. The name was suggested to Mr. Walpole (the town's founder) by Mr. A. Meston, who was a recognised authority on aboriginal speech. Mr. Metson advised that the first syllable of the name could be pronounced as Mill although "Meel" is the correct sound as given by the aboriginal." This account in my mind does not contradict the former, as it is possible that Mr Meston and the prominent Gore family were acquainted and a discussion about an appropriate name change had taken place. Perhaps they never met and he was contacted as an authority to derive an anglicised version of Meel Merran following the Gore family's suggestion.
I am hoping to uncover more about the Gore family's interaction with the local first inhabitants. They named their property Yandilla which means "running water".
Another local indigenous place name is Koorangarra which derives from Kooroon "resting place for birds", and garra "water".
Millmerran's Signalling Hills
Did the Meel Merran tribes use these lookouts for recreational purposes? To enjoy the view? Have picnics? Possibly. However, Aboriginal lookouts had more functional purposes and were primarily used for the important task of sending messages by smoke signalling. Utilising the higher altitude visibility, smoke signals from lookouts were employed for many purposes ranging from welcomes, warnings, of invitation to hunt, or defiance, of mourning or rejoicing. They would have spread quickly over the wild and rugged country. Signalling warnings that a major well has dried up, neighbouring tribes were on the war-party, or strangers were present within hunting grounds. Perhaps like the Moreton Bay tribes, the use of signalling hills for hunting and fishing extended to informing and perhaps co-ordinating large-scale hunting drives, to summon groups over vast distances - for instance to the Bunya Festival. We know the tribes of the Millmerran district travelled to the Bunya Festivals. On the Bunya Mountains the signalling fires were generally lookouts, and the Traditional Owners of that region acknowledge that many of the Bunya Mountains lookouts and tracks to them served this purpose in pre-Settlement and early Settlement times. Mrs Bennie - an early resident of the Bunya Mt area - surmises that by this means, groups from even hundreds of kilometres away would turn up "almost simultaneously" at assigned spots. (For more information visit:
Period of Dispossession
It is important to acknowledge the impact that white settlement had on the original custodians of country. What happened to the local Aboriginal people in the Millmerran district in the 19th Century during the so-called Period of Dispossession? Read more
(1) A History of the Darling Downs Frontier: 1 – Conflict on the Condamine – Aborigines and the European Invasion by Maurice French