|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (03/06/2005)|
|Place File No||1/03/225/0001|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
The traditional Aboriginal fresh water fishery at Brewarrina
(Ngunnhu) [pronounced noon-oo] comprises a number of dry-stone construction
weirs and holding ponds (pens). The weirs and pens are formed from Schist rocks
and boulders. While the individual elements of the Ngunnhu are simple, they are
arranged in an unusual and innovative way that allowed fish to be herded and
caught during both high and low river flows. According to Aboriginal tradition, the ancestral creation
being Baiame [pronounced By-ah-mee] revealed this design by throwing his net
over the river. Baiame and his two
sons Booma-ooma-nowi and Ghinda-inda-mui built the fish traps to this
design. The role of an ancestral
being in creating the Ngunnhu (a built structure) is unusual in Aboriginal
Ngemba people are the custodians of the fishery and continue to use and have responsibilities for the Ngunnhu. As Baiame instructed, these responsibilities are shared with other Traditional Owner groups who periodically gatherered in large numbers at the Ngunnhu for subsistence, cultural and spiritual reasons.
The Ngunnhu is a complex fish trap comprising an arrangement
of dry-stone walls built on a rock bar in the Barwon River, a major tributary
of the Darling River in western NSW.
The Ngunnhu is nearly half a kilometre in length. The fish traps consist of lines of
stone-walled pens joined by lengths of stone walls arranged in the form of a
net across the Barwon River.|
The Ngunnhu was built at some unknown time in the past. Baiame, an ancestral and creation being for the region, is said to have been responsible for the design and its intended use of the Ngunnhu. R.H. Mathews, in the early 1900s was the first to undertake any detailed documentation of the fish traps.
There is no direct measure available for the age of the fish traps. One indirect measure is to consider changes in the flow of the river. The water flow in the Murray-Darling River system has fluctuated greatly over the last 50,000 years. Before about 15,000 years ago, enough water flowed to fill the enormous and now dry lake basins of the Willandra and Darling Lakes.
Fish traps would have been pointless if river levels were consistently high, or if low water periods were not reasonably frequent and regular. On evidence from the lower Darling River, the last two periods of low and/or extreme fluctuations in stream flow conditions were between 15,000 and 9,000 years ago and about 3000 years ago to the present. Further research would be needed to see if those dates can be supported for the upper Darling and its tributaries (Hope and Vines 1994).
The rock bar from which the material for the traps is sourced consists of schists, which underlie sands and gravels marking the bed of an ancient river that flowed at right angles to the Barwon River at the location of the Ngunnhu. Both the schists and sands and gravels have been hardened by the formation of a layer of silcrete, which is believed to reflect a period of land stability and soil formation many millions of years ago.
The traps are primarily intended to catch migrating fish and were designed and operated with an extensive understanding of the behaviour and ecology of migratory native fish. Stone walls guided fish into enclosures which had narrow openings. Fish could be hunted within the enclosure. Knowledge of fish migration in relation to season and river flow was essential to the efficient operation of the Ngunnhu. The traps were used more extensively in Spring when large numbers of fish were migrating upstream, and different traps were used at high and low flows. Small rises in river levels, or 'freshets', were known to stimulate migration of native fish and the traps were specifically used at these times. Some 'freshets' were known to stimulate downstream migration and the traps were effectively reversed by opening entrances on the upstream side of the traps.
Spiritually, the link between the Ngunnhu and its creator Baiame is highly significant. Aboriginal people in this region are intrinsically connected to Baiame and the Ngunnhu and have cultural obligations under Aboriginal law to care for them. The fishery is highly valued by the Brewarrina Aboriginal community because it is a symbol of traditional life and land ownership. It is a landmark for the Brewarrina Aboriginal community – essential for the community’s sense of place. The Ngunnhu was, and still is, a significant meeting place to those Aboriginal people with connections to the area and continues to be used. It is also important for teaching Aboriginal children about traditional fishing methods and their cultural heritage.
|Condition and Integrity|
The Ngunnhu has been considerably damaged in the past. In the mid 1860s a crossing was built
by European settlers at the upstream end of the Ngunnhu by filling holes with
stones from the traps and moving other stones to provide the ford that bullock
drays could use. Stones from the
traps were also moved to enable navigation of river craft, and in the 1920s
dray loads of stone were removed for building the foundations in the town. |
Construction of the 1.2 metre high Brewarrina weir on the Barwon River in the mid 1960s further disturbed the ruins of the Ngunnhu at the upstream end. The weir was built to provide a domestic water supply for the town. The weir has adversely impacted on the cultural integrity of the Ngunnhu and on the ecology of the river. Where the Ngunnhu enabled many fish, particularly small sizes of fish, to pass up stream, the weir prevents the upstream migration of all fish except during floods when the weir is submerged.
The weir, and the fishway that was included in the original construction, also changed the flow pattern through the traps. The weir evenly distributed flow across the river where beforehand it followed a channel near the south-east bank. The fishway also channelled low flows to the north side of the river. Prevention of fish migration by weirs and dams is a major reason for the decline in native fish populations in the Murray-Darling river system.
However, despite these impacts much of the Ngunnhu remains, particularly at the downstream end. There is great potential to rehabilitate the individual traps (which are currently in disrepair) to their original condition.
6ha, off Doyle Street, Brewarrina, comprising an area enclosed by straight
lines joining the following Map Grid of Australia (MGA) points consecutively: |
1. 486260mE 6685850mN, 2. 486230mE 6685810mN, 3. 486060mE 6685810mN, 4. 485780mE 6685780mN, 5. 485760mE 6685870mN, 6. 485820mE 6685900mN, 7. 485980mE, 6685930mN, 8. 486100mE 6685970mN, 9. 486170mE 6685970mN, then directly to the point of commencement.
Bandler, H. 1993. Expertise in Water Resources
Exploitation in Australian History.|
Bandler, H.1993. Hydrology of the Australian Nomads: Australian Aboriginal expertise in exploiting water resources.
Builth, H. 2002. The Archaeology and Socio-Economy of the Gunditjmara: a Landscape Approach. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis. Adelaide: Flinders University.
Dargin, P. 1976. Aboriginal Heritage: Aboriginal Fisheries of the Darling-Barwon Rivers. Brewarrina Historical Society.
Gill Merri. 1996. Weilmoringle: A unique Bi-cultural Community. Unpublished National Estate Grants Program Report
Hope, J and Vines G. 1994. Brewarrina Aboriginal Fisheries Conservation Plan. Unpublished National Estate Grants Program Report.
Mathews, R. H. 1903. The Aboriginal Fisheries at Brewarrina. Art and Material Culture.
McBryde, I. 1973 Stone Arrangements and a Quartzite Quarry Site at Brewarrina. Mankind. 9(2): 118-121.
New South Wales Heritage Office. 2000. Brewarrina Fish Traps Statement of Significance. NSW Heritage Office Website (www.heritage.nsw.gov.au).
Petrie, C. C. 1904. Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland. Watson, Ferguson and Company.
Sutton, M. 2004. A Comparative Study of Indigenous Fresh Water Fish Traps. Unpublished Report for Indigenous Heritage Assessment Section.
Report Produced Mon Dec 9 16:58:16 2013