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Cultural Sites - Bora Rings

The Bora ceremony explained by the experts:

“Bora” – a great national institution of the Australian Aborigines is a Kamilaroi word derived from “bor” or “boor” signifying the belt of manhood.  It has been employed to express the initiation ceremonies as a whole in Eastern Australia.  The word "bora" also refers to the site on which the initiation is performed.

"The ceremonies of the Bora, have for their object, according to Dr A.W. Ilowitt, the conferring upon the youths of the tribe the privileges, duties, and obligations of manhood.  At the same time that the youth is enrolled among the men he is removed from the maternal control.  The ceremonies are intended also to create a gulf between the past life of the boy and the future life of the man, which can never be re-crossed. They are also intended to strengthen the authority of the older men over the younger.  Finally, the opportunity is taken of impressing upon the mind of the youth in an indelible manner, those rules of conduct which form the moral law of the tribe."  Howitt "On some Australian Ceremonies of Initiation" - Journ. Anthrop. Inst, xiii, 1884. p.4557. 

Bigambul Country  to the west of Millmerran covers thousands of acres of open woodland vegetation typical of the Western Downs. Here the location of a number of Bora Rings - plus other places of probable cultural significance,  and a few stories - has been passed down from private landowners and interested locals over the past century.  It is my aim to compile a photo history of these places and put to print what oral history exists... for the record.   


I was taken on a field trip by "one of a handful of people" who are privy to the whereabouts of Bora Rings that are located within a few kilometres of each other, with a Women's Shelter nearby, and all only a half hour or so drive west of Millmerran.  Robert is a photography enthusiast as well, and an all round patient & interesting guide with valuable knowledge of local history and botany.  I was off to a fantastic start and felt high with anticipation as we sped down the dirt roads towards a significant connection with the culture of the region's original inhabitants.  It is late spring, the sky is brilliant blue and the clouds are floating by, not to carry rain or usher the storm the country needs, but to add color to the sunset sky.  It's perfect light for photography, and in my excitement I stride quickly through brittle land too grass-poor for wildlife, through the dry belah, brigalow, pine and eucalyptus forests, alert for signs of animal or bird life, or the scarred trees from an indigenous stone axe.  We came upon large natural areas of hardened cleared ground, where Rice Flower (Sago Bush) grows in abundance around the perimeter, and where colourful dried algae and lichen (signalling healthy air I'm told) carpeted the flattened rocky areas. It was in these large open spaces that the Bigambul males chose to draw their circles of stone and conduct the initiation ceremony of the Bora in the forests of Western Creek. 


The first ring I was shown was sitting high enough on the ground's surface to be easily spotted from a hundred meters as we approached.  It was quite a moment for me to see it.  My guide confirmed that some stones were "put back" every few years if they'd became dislodged by animals or weather events, as it was obvious that the circle could not have remained so perfect after possibly hundreds of years. (The second ring, however was in its original and timeworn state, as the photographs will show).  At approx. 7 metres in circumference, this ring is relatively small, and was probably connected to a larger ring some distance away.   The arena itself was 80 metres or more wide, and one can only wonder how many gathered at these events.  Of course attendees would only have been male, with females sheltered far away from their maturing sons who were undertaking the rite of passage customs of their tribe.   How long did these events take place?  What was involved?  What knowledge of the moral law and rules, was passed on.  Will we ever know?   Stay tuned!

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