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.
As a teenager in the 1960's, I loved to climb Mt Domville and look for aboriginal artifacts: smooth stones with sharpened edges, that were perfectly sculpted to fit my palm and fingers. My Uncle had a farm at the base of Mt Domville, and had quite a collection of artifacts all lined up on the lounge room mantelpiece. Lately, I've hiked around Commodore Peak as I remember seeing a curious ring of stones back then as well, but I have yet to find what I think could have been an Aboriginal tool making site or water well. In late 2018 I was taken to an area in Bigambul country to photograph two Bora Rings and a Women's Shelter, and soon I'll see for the first time, a site also in Bigambul country with the ominous and unfortunate name of "Nigger's Leap", around which many conflicting stories have been told of events which occurred at this infamous place.
Welcome to Bigambul, Giabal, Kambuwal and Gambuwal country and my quest to record everything I can find out about the First People who inhabited the Millmerran district. I want to find answers to all my questions, such as: What tribes existed, when & where? The population, habits and lifestyle, traditions, customs, food, medicine, and language. Were there any photos in existence, any sacred sites, and/or remnants of the existence of the traditional owners. What happened to the Australian Aboriginal people of this district when the white settlers arrived? Are there stories to be told? I've learned a lot in a short space of time such is the wonder of the internet, libraries, historical societies, historians of old and present, and locals with the stories I need, and I'm excited to be collating what I can glean from these sources about my hometown Millmerran and it's Aboriginal heritage.
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 the local Aborigianls. 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. Most likely he had been officially consulted 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".
The view from Western Creek Tower 7 with Mt Domville in the distance on the right.
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: http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/aboriginal-smoke-signalling-and-signalling-hills-resistance-warfare)
Period of Dispossession
It is my deep wish to get to the truth of the devastating impact of white settlement on the original custodians of Millmerran country, and indeed continues to have, on the country itself - it's waterways, pastures and wildlife. It will be an ongoing revelation, and no doubt a deeply disturbing one as I uncover what happened to the local Aboriginal people in the Millmerran district in the 19th Century during the so-called Period of Dispossession.
For now, I'll quote from John Gardiner-Garden, Social Policy Group Research Paper 29 June 1999, speaking about all Australia Aboriginal people. It is a snippet, a brief introduction intended for the uninitiated and uneducated, like myself. "The first century and a half of European-Aboriginal relations in Australia can be characterised as a period of dispossession, physical ill-treatment, social disruption, population decline, economic exploitation, codified discrimination, and cultural devastation. The notional citizenship ascribed to the Aboriginal people at the beginning of this period was all but gone by the end of it, and as if to illustrate this point, in every State the law specifically sanctioned the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents. The aim of such removals was to separate 'full-bloods' from the 'half-castes', curb indigenous reproduction (girls being especially targeted for removal), provide a cheap source of labour and facilitate the Christianising of the indigenous population.
"By mid-20th century the laws intended for the 'protection' or 'welfare' of Aboriginals became laws which oppressed and alienated indigenous people. Commonwealth legislation was no exception. Throughout the period of assimilation Commonwealth legislation supported discrimination against Aboriginal people in such areas as voting rights, wage entitlements and social security eligibility. Indeed, it was not until 1966 that the Commonwealth extended social security eligibility to all indigenous Australians."
In 1897 Queensland passed the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act by which the traditional owners of lands were forced to live on reserves and State protectors were appointed to oversee the running of Aboriginal people. All Aboriginal people were subject to arbitrary removal.