The Yulluna peoples comprised a tribe of traditional Aborigines that lived south of the Selwyn Range in north west Queensland. In those ranges we celebrated our totemic heroes at many mythological sites, and expressed in the caves and on rock walls their artistic talents. Here too we made use of waterholes and caves that were more protected from the scorching heat and high evaporation rates of this region, which in turn quickly dried rivers down to disconnected waterholes.

The Burke River and its tributary creeks rises on the southern side of the Selwyn Range. With Wills Creek in the west, it watered the plains running down towards Boulia and gave the Yulluna access to fishing and to the abundant game that enjoyed these grasslands. The Yulluna harvested not only game, but also the various fruits and legumes that were produced along these creeks.

Discover Our Country

This map gives some indication of the traditional domain of the Yulluna. Mount lsa is 60 kilometers to the north and 40 kilolometers to the west of Duchess. Boulia is 60 kilometers directly to the south of the boundary.

The Yullunna domain is about 120 kilometers at its widest. and about 145 kilometers from north to south.

The Selwyn Range, where the Yulluna inscribed their rock walls and caves with images of animals, birds, and memorials of their occupation, is marked in brown.

The area is rich in mineral deposits, and these are being mined at Cannington, Phosphate Hill, and other sites. This makes the Yulluna objects of envy amoing their Aboriginal peers, and disputes have broken out over boundaries.

The evidence for the boundaries being close to their placement on this map is fairly secure.

Our History

The same features that ensured the Yulluna a productive and stable lifestyle on the land were unfortunately also valued by pastoralists, who quickly fol lowed in the wake of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition of 1860 - 1861. Copper was discovered to the north of the Range as early as 1862, and gave rise to the town of Cloncurry as a service centre.

By the mid-1870s, land in the area was being eagerly sought after for raising cattle. But while the miners generally did not compete with the Aborigines for large-scale use of the land, the pastoralists did. More significantly, they demanded sole use of the water resources.

One historian argues that the Burke and Wills expedition travelled up Wills Creek, crossed the range at O'Hara's Gap, and proceeded down the Corella River. rather than the Cloncurry River, as had been suggested. If this is the case, the Yulluna would have observed the invaders traversing their domain quite early in the history of contact.

One of the principal historical figures in this endeavour was . Alexander Kennedy, who successively held Buckingham Downs (1877}. Noranside (1878}. and Bushy Park (1908). His partner, James Powell, was killed at Carlton Hills, part of the the same cattle empire, and this made Kennedy a vengeful and implacable enemy of Aboriginal people.

In 1878 a man named Britcher was speared near Chatsworth, and in the same year, Molvo, a Russian, was killed at Woonamo Waterhole on Buckingham Downs. In reprisal, a detachment of Native Police wiped out the alleged offenders, although it was later claimed that Molvo had brought the disaster on himself by abuse of Aboriginal women. The waterhole in question is close to the border ofYulluna and Warluwarra territories, and it is highly likely that both tribes felt the ferocity of the settlers' reprisals.

There exists a tradition that there was only one Yulluna survivor of this massacre, a young boy who hid among tree roots. and later grew up to be an elder that spent his last years about Chatsworth: by then a man named Carbine.

The situation in the 1870s was described by Johnston in his history of the Queensland Police in these terms:

" generally the approach of the police authorities in the 1870s w as not to use diplomatic, humanitarian and social devices to reduce frontier problems; rather it was to approach a situation of growing violence head on"

W R Johnston. The Long Blue Line: A History of the Queensland Police. Brisbane:Boolarong. 1992. p. 97.

For a source such as Johnston to admit that "the number of shootings could never be known with certainty; in any case, sometimes the police burned the bodies so that there would be no evidence of what took place. The possessions of the Aborigines, 'all the fishing and wallaby nets, opossum rugs, stone tomahawks" were burned or carried away."

is testimony enough to the efficient brutality of the Native Police. But the settlers were if anything worse. The historians' problem is that while the activities of the Native Police were shrouded in secrecy and official obfuscation, the murders committed by settlers were even less visible. They occupied large tracts of country remote from purview by government officials, who were anyway usually unwilling to intervene.

Johnston states that "They [the Native police] had likewise failed to prevent Europeans abusing, injuring or killing Aborigines on the frontier; they were powerless to put a stop to the private patrols carried out on stations, or to the kidnapping of gins and boys by bullock drivers" and concludes, on the same page that this was "a situation of violence begetting violence. These Europeans on the frontier urged the police (and the government) to greater activity to eliminate- exterminate- the black problem."

Edward Palmer, himself a grazier with property north of Cloncurry, and a member of the Queensland legislature, wrote that "The white pioneers were harder on the blacks in the way of reprisals ... even than the Native Police. My experience of them [the Native Police] is that they prevent indiscriminate slaughter of the blacks by white stockmen "

The ultimate confrontation between the new settlers and original landholders came in 1884 with the Battle with the Kalkadoons, in which 600 or so well armed warriors faced the fire of equally well armed but far better equipped and organised invaders. The outcome was a massive loss of Aboriginal life. This was followed in turn by equally ferocious 'cleanin_g up' in which perhaps half as many again were killed indiscriminately.

After years of fear, the reaction of the white settlers was swift and vicious, motivated by revenge and a determination that such a climate of fear would never recur. Kennedy - a participant in the massacre- was noted by Fysh as saying 'They're all scorpions, and who wants to be stung with one of those poisonous things? and Armstrong, remarked that 'He [Kennedy] would make use of "those poisonous things" if they would accept station discipline' but that discipline was harsh and unforgiving. For instance, in 1900 Alexander Kennedy would have simply killed the badly burned Aboriginal child 'to put him out of his misery.' It was Kennedy's wife, Marion, who had very different values: 'A human life was a human life.

This is the man who occupied Noranside, in the centre of Yulluna country, from 1878. When Eglinton contributed his data on the Yulluna language and society (in about 1880) to CurrB he counted about 200 Yulluna. But when W E Roth wrote- a matter of only fifteen or eighteen years later- he could state, from personal experience, that 'the Yellunga (Yulluna) people of Noranside are fast disappearing. ' It is not simply a coincidence that during this interim, Alexander Kennedy held the Noranside and Buckingham Downs leases.

What came to the rescue of the Yulluna were a succession of sympathetic and kindly owners of the Chatsworth Station pastoral lease, who later also purchased Noranside and Mount Merlin. This tradition of good-will towards the original landholders persists to the present, although none of the contemporary Yulluna have worked at the station for some years.

Today there remains only four lineages of Yulluna people that can be independently validated.

ReferencesH Fysh. Taming The North. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. 1950.p.114.R E M Amstrong. The Kalkadoons: A study of an Aboriginal tribe on the Queensland Frontier. Brisbane: William Brooks. 1980.p.94D Perkins. The Woman behind the Man: Mrs Alexander Kennedy. Mount lsa and District Historical Society. 1998. p.52.EM Curr. The Australian Race. Vol 2. 1886. p346.WE Roth. The OueenslandAborginies. Voll Brisbane: E Gregory, Govt. Printer. 1897. Section 45; p.41.