Cobargo - The Name
Cobargo - The Name
The town perhaps got its name from an aboriginal word meaning ‘Grandfather’, although there is little evidence to support this theory. The other possibility is the local Aboriginal word ‘cubago’ which some sources claim was used to describe Mount Dromedary. This also seems doubtful as the local Aboriginal community now insist that Dromedary is correctly named ‘Gulaga’ – about as far from ‘Cubargo’ as you could get. All we really know for sure is that in 1840 Alexander Imlay had a property called ‘Cobargo’.
- William Duggan Tarlington was the first white squatter to set foot in the Cobargo district, in February 1829.
- W.D. Tarlington, originally just William Duggan, was born in 1806 as the bastard son of a convict, Margaret Duggan (a servant from Lancaster, sentenced to life for stealing clothes). The father was apparently a William Ruffian. He subsequently adopted the name Tarlington when his mother Margaret married John Tarlington in 1811. John Tarlington was also a convict, coming to Australia on the ‘Matilda’ in 1791.
- Tarlinton (the ‘g’ was lost somewhere between 1811 and today) came to Cobargo from Braidwood and arrived in the district looking for pastoral land. He liked what he saw and obtained a squatting licence for an extensive landholding just south of the present town. He took up full residence in about 1852 and commenced work on the ‘Bredbatoura’ homestead (which is still there today).
- In 1840 Alexander Imlay also gained a squatting licence for the property ‘Cobargo’ and acquired substantial holdings.
- In the 1860’s many new settlers had started to arrive to exploit the lush growth of black wattle trees. Wattle bark was sent away to be used in the tanning of hides, generally to make leather goods.
- Cobargo was first known as ‘Wattletown’ and as ‘The Junction’ because of its location at the junction of the Narira and Bredbatoura Creeks.
- In 1864 there was an act of murder in the Tarlinton family. One of W. D. Tarlinton’s unmarried daughters, Margaret, bore a child to an Aboriginal farmhand (either Dick Holloway or Briney), but within hours of the birth the other daughter, Elizabeth, was seen burying the baby’s strangled body in a makeshift grave near the ‘Bredbatoura’ homestead. Margaret was subsequently charged with murder in 1869 but unfortunately in those days acts against ‘blackfellas’, even murder, by ‘a most respectable resident in the district’ were not treated seriously and the case was dismissed (even though the court transcripts of the case show that by today’s standards she would have been convicted of the murder).
- A local school began operating in February 1871 with a Mr John O’Reilly as teacher. The township then had a post office, General Store, Public School, Hotel, Church and several blacksmith shops. Dairying commenced in the 1870’s with the main product being butter. This was shipped to Sydney from Bermagui in kegs and the remains of the original shipping jetty can still be seen at Bermagui.
- It wasn’t until the improvement of the coast road in the 1880’s and the construction of a bridge over Narira Creek in 1882 that the village really started growing. On the 30th May 1885 the Cobargo Agricultural Society was formed (with Mr W. D. Tarlinton as chairman) and the first Cobargo Show was held in April 1889.
- The construction of the ‘Australian Joint Stock Bank’ building and manager’s residence was commenced in 1884 and the bank opened in 1887. (It was taken over by the Bank of New South Wales in 1903). The bank continued in these premises until 1917. The original building remains as the oldest house in town – it is preserved in a beautiful condition and is a ‘must see’ for visitors. It is the first building on the left as you turn into Bermagui Road.
- The first show in 1889 also coincided with a land auction of the allotments on the western side of the highway. A number of significant buildings were constructed on this subdivision in the early 1890’s. Some buildings still remain in their original condition today.
- The Cobargo Newsagency & General Store was constructed in 1892 and the building remains as probably the most original structure in Cobargo with hardwood framing and a verandah over the footpath. The original construction can still be seen in what is now the ‘Black Wattle Gallery’
- In 1887 the School of Arts Hall was erected, again mainly from local hardwood. The hall had a good supply of books, magazines and newspapers. Even today it is still used by community groups an for larger town functions.
- In the 1890’s the town and surrounding district was large enough to sustain a local newspaper – the Cobargo Watch.
- The present Post Office building was erected in 1890. The building also became a telephone exchange in 1910 when the postmaster was also responsible for telephone line repair work in the area. The Post Office was also very significant for many local people as from 1918 the postmaster’s wife, Mrs Merrion, conducted a maternity home in the residence.
- The Butter Factory and Co-Operative were established in 1901 on the banks of Narira Creek but were gutted by fire in 1926. The factory was soon rebuilt and operations continued until 1975. In 1980 the factory closed because of decreased cream supply due to the new emphasis on bulk milk production.
- Bushranger Ben Hall’s wife Bridget was also a resident of Cobargo for some time. She died in 1923 aged 85 and was buried in the Catholic cemetery, however the grave is not marked. In 1862 she left Ben for a policeman Mr James Taylor and some believe this may be the real reason that Ben became a bushranger.
- Many of the early families are still well represented in the district today. The Salways, Cullens, Motbeys, Allens, Gillespies and Tarlintons are all direct descendants of the original settlers.
- The Yuin or Coast Murring occupied territory from Cape Howe to the Shoalhaven River and inland to the Great Dividing Range. The population pre 1788 was estimated at about 11,000 between Cape Howe and Batemans Bay, comprising two main tribes – Walbanja, north of Narooma, and Dyiringanj from Narooma, south to Bega and west to the top of the range.
- Smallpox epidemics in 1789 and 1830 plus tribal battles and some venereal disease from whalers is believed to have reduced the population by 95 percent, that is, only about six hundred survivors. Massacres by whites had little effect.
- The Yuin are considered as the traditional owners of Wallaga Lake land. Yuin is the generic name for all tribes from Merimbula to Port Jackson just as lnuit (man) is adopted by the Eskimos in northern latitudes. More recently, the name Koori, from the Sydney area language group, is becoming more popular to describe the Aboriginal people as a race.
- Water travel was by bark canoes – usually two persons with small bark blades paddling in a kneeling position, or smaller one person canoes paddling by hand.
- Burials usually took place in sand dunes where primitive stone axes have sometimes been found. Most sacred sites have been identified on Forestry Commission maps but a few others are claimed to be in and around Bermagui township.
- There were wars between tribes from different areas as late as the 1800’s.
There are historical reports of tribal wars in the early 1800’s and earlier. W.D. Tarlinton, an early settler at Cobargo, reported in the early 1800’s that ‘Aborigines roamed the district and blacks from the tablelands frequently journeyed down to make war on the Cobargo blacks’. This story was recounted in the first history of the Bega Valley written by A.B. Chauncey in 1916 –
‘About the beginning of the last century the Monaro tribes had encroached on the land of the coast tribes, and the savages’ way of settling disputes was by war. As was usual, the chiefs met beforehand to decide all particulars, and the spot chosen for the conflict was where the Cobargo Showground is now. This was about 1830, and the actual fight was witnessed by the late W.D. Tarlinton. The battle lasted all day, being won by the Monaro tribes, and the next morning there were 60 dead blacks on the field’.
Much of this information was sourced from the book “Bermagui – A Century of Features and Families” by Ron Gaha and Judy Hearn
Some aspects of the difficulty encountered by the Aboriginal people in their quest for survival on the South Coast and/or adaptation to white laws are presented here in sequence.
The main aim was to prevent Gulaga (Mt Dromedary), a sacred site, being desecrated by the removal of trees for building etc.
The Aboriginal population by Census was –
Merriman’s father, the most significant of the Wallaga Lake community founders, died. Fortunately Merriman (Umbarra) was able to maintain the integrity of the community with regard to customs etc.
Pastoral land was being fenced, preventing access to traditional tribal hunting grounds and ceremonial sites and sometimes fences were damaged, causing friction.
Miners were staking claims on Mt Dromedary, the sacred mountain. Some contamination of full blood aborigines by white intrusion had commenced.
Adapting slowly to white activity, in many cases aiding settlement by way of food and water sources, Yuin people worked at whaling and timber and on farms, but not mining (taboo on sacred sites). They were employed seasonally and in some cases owned land. They became involved in sporting activities, being natural athletes.
The Bega white population was about 1,200 however Aboriginal people were much less numerous and lived in fringe areas of town which persisted for some years. The Aborigines Protection Board was established in NSW.
They sought education so a school was established at Wallaga Lake.
Fielded a cricket team which continued for many years. Queen Narelle or Nerelle, wife of Merriman, died.
At Wallaga Lake the Aborigines Protection Board established 132 hectares, but inhabitants were virtual prisoners and far removed from their normal lifestyle. Prices for all commodities were higher.
While mining was taking gold worth $16,000 from Dromedary, the people at Wallaga Lake were living on $1,200 total per annum.
The Aborigines Protection Board severely restricted activities and forced Aborigines to be state dependent. After 1909 it forced all able bodied persons off the reserves to become farm laborers and domestic servants.
King Merriman (Umbarra) of the Black Duck totem died.
Jack Mumbler or Mumbulla (Biamanga) died. He and King Merriman had initiated the last generation of men including Percy Davis, Marram (Murrum) Alf Carter, Bickel (Bukel) Albert Thomas, and Eric Roberts (who died in 1983).
1917 – 1941
Mr and Mrs Sampi supervised the Wallaga Lake Government Mission station and supplied food and clothing. She taught sewing. child care and nursing and was like a mother. The Sampis issued food, clothing materials and blankets supplied from government stores in exchange for Aboriginal labour. The Sampis left during World War Il.
The Aborigines at Wallaga Lake didn’t move around much and speared fish to supplement food, The fish were grilled on hot coals along with cockles, which popped open to reveal red flesh. Roasted possum was another delicacy captured by cutting toe holes to climb trees. Swans were caught by swimming underwater, aided by reed tube. Fish were attracted by rubbing grease on the hulls or sides of boats or canoes, or caught by hand in the shallows.
The Depression put 85 percent out of work and many returned to the community. Between 1921 and 1939 the population at Wallaga Lake rose from 73 to 159 and by and large, were respected by the white population.
Seasonal labour involved picking beans, peas and corn, logging and mill work. A common sight at Murrah was “King Billy” Hammond. grandson of Biamanga, dropping in for tea. He lived at Tarraganda in later life and picked corn at Gowings.
The Akolele area was excised from Wallaga Lake Reserve and sold to developers without Aboriginal consent.
Aboriginal pick and shovel labour was used to initiate the water supply to Bermagui from Mt Dromedary via Couria Creek. Arthur Thomas and Rex Morgan (1916-1977) played Rugby League with Don Wills and other white friends against local district teams.
The Aborigines became citizens of their own country, Australia, and thus eligible for social welfare benefits.
Aboriginal people picked beans for Art Riches and were good workers. The houses at Wallaga Lake Reserve were renovated by Bill Crome and Art Riches.
Some deterioration in attitude to white government. “King Billy” Hammond died.
Aboriginal people were counted in the census for the first time. Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal member of any Australian parliament as Senator for Queensland.
Merriman Island in the centre of Wallaga Lake was the first Aboriginal site of significance in NSW to be declared an Aboriginal Place under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. About two hectares in area, it is just across the water from the Wallaga Lake Community, led by Guboo Ted Thomas. Just after World War II, Andy Bond (a veteran of WWI) was removed from his home at Wallaga Lake Heights and given Merriman Island as a place to live – an impossible situation!
In 1976, Guboo Ted Thomas appeared in tribal livery for the Bermagui School Centenary. He subsequently led a campaign to stop logging on Mumbulla Mountain because of intrusion into initiation sites.
Agreement was reached to establish an 1,100 hectare area known as Biamanga Aboriginal Place to be jointly managed.
In 1983 the Aboriginal Land Councils were set up at Batemans Bay, Mogo, Bodalla, Narooma, Wallaga Lake, Eden and Bega.
Arthur Thomas died in 1989. He was a good mate of Edgar Jaggers and a DMR worker most of his life.
A development application was submitted to Eurobodalla Shire Council for a cultural centre on Aboriginal land at Wallaga Lake. This centre now contains displays of culture and history along with guided tours of sites and demonstrations of food and medicines.
Umbarra, or King Merriman (d. 1904) was an Aboriginal elder of the Djirringanj/Yuin people of the Bermagui area on the South Coast of New South Wales.
Although Aboriginal people traditionally did not have kings or chiefs, only elders, the white colonial powers used often to grant king plates to certain elders, hence the moniker King.
He lived on Merriman Island, in the middle of Wallaga Lake, while his people lived on the shores of the lake. Umbarra was believed to have clairvoyant abilities, and communicated with a black duck, his moojingarl, which forewarned him of forthcoming dangers.
Many legends now exist about Umbarra and his moojingarl. One day it told him of a group of warriors coming from the far south to do battle. King Merriman remained on the island while the other men took the women and children to a place of safety and then hid in the reeds. The first to sight the approaching warriors the King warned his men who fought a fierce battle but lost. The opposing tribesmen then set out for the island. King Merriman threw powerful spears, and a boomerang which severed the arms and heads of his opponents before returning to him, but it was not enough.
He then turned himself into a whirlwind and flew off. He passed over the fierce Kiola tribe and their wise men correctly divined his presence and that it meant the defeat of the Wallaga people and the advance of another tribe. King Merriman journeyed on to the Shoalhaven tribe to warn them but the Kiola tribe defeated the invaders and the King, whose power was finished, stayed for a time at the Shoalhaven then travelled away.
General access to Merriman Island is forbidden due to its great significance for Indigenous people – it was the first place to be gazetted as an Aboriginal site. A focus of tribal culture, the island is associated with the story of King Merriman, widely known among the Yuin Aborigines of the south coast.
Today, the Yuin operate the Umbarra Cultural Centre near the Lake. The fomer Wallaga Lake National Park is incorporated into Gulaga National Park.
The Yuin are considered as the traditional owners of Wallaga Lake land. They operate the Umbarra Cultural Centre near the lake. The former Wallaga Lake National Park is incorporated into Gulaga National Park.
Merriman Island in Wallaga Lake is a sacred place for the Yuin people. On 25 November 1977, it was the first place in New South Wales to be declared an Aboriginal Heritage site by the the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The island was named after King Merriman, leader of the Yuin, who died in 1904. His Aboriginal name was Umbarra. His wife was Queen Narelle.
The story of ‘Umburra’ as told by Warren Foster
This story is about Umbarra the Black Duck, which is the totem of the Yuin nation.
Back in the old days, when the people used to live around here, a lad named Merriman had his totem called Umbarra the Black Duck. Umbarra warned Merriman everywhere he went of the danger. How he did it was he fluttered. The Black Duck fluttered and he dived down into the water and made splashes. When Merriman, the old man, saw that bird doing that, he knew that there was danger coming.
One day, all the tribe was out getting a feed of fish, bimbullas and djungas. Merriman spotted Umbarra and he was going off his head. He was diving in the water, splashing about, ruffling his feathers up and so Merriman knew there was some people coming.
He told all the people to get all the women and children. He put them in the canoes and he sent them out to the island, Merriman’s Island. All the women and children, and the Elders, went out there.
All the warriors were around the lakeside waiting for these other fellas. They were coming here to steal the women. The night came and those fellas came. They were sneaking up and, as they were getting nearer, the Black Duck he warned the people. When they came and tried to go to the island where all the people were, all the warriors on there kept them off from invading that land and taking the women.
That’s why we’re still here today, because Umbarra the Black Duck saved us.
Mumbulla Mountain, located in the middle of Bega Valley Shire, was named in November 1973, after Jack Mumbulla, who was a senior man of the Yuin nation. Mumbulla Mountain is the central place of significance in Biamanga National Park. Certain areas have been recognised as a ceremonial meeting places for Aboriginal men and women.
The connection between the people and their land, particularly their sacred sites, is so strong that the facial features of Jack Mumbulla (also known as Biamanga) and Percy Mumbulla are believed to have been present in the rocks on Biamanga before they were born. The person is the land, and the land is the person.
Mount Dromedary, recently renamed Gulaga Mountain, in the Gulaga National Park, is described by Aboriginal people as the place of ancestral origin for Yuin people. Gulaga itself symbolises the mother and provides a basis for Aboriginal spiritual identity, for Aboriginal women and men.
Gulaga is the source and centre of the created world for the Yuin people; to damage the mountain would be to physically damage the people. ‘The ties between person and country constitute an intense and enduring solidarity; they exist before the person is born, are manifested throughout the person’s life, and continue after death’.
On 6 May 2006 the freehold titles to Gulaga and Biamanga National Parks were handed back to the Yuin people by the New South Wales Government. Freehold title of Gulaga National Park will be held in trust for the aboriginal owners by Merrimans and Wagonga Local Aboriginal Lands Councils, while that of Biamanga will be held in trust by Merrimans and Bega Local Aboriginal Lands Councils.
The story of ‘Gulaga’ as told by Warren Foster
This next story is about Gulaga, which is our mother mountain, our sacred mountain. It’s about her two sons Najanuga and Barranguba.
Barranguba is Montague Island, that’s what the white people call it. Barranguba is the older son of Gulaga and the way the story goes is that, Gulaga she had two sons-Barranguba and Najanuga and Barranguba was the oldest.
Just like the older son or older brother who gets sick of living near their mother, he moves away. So Barranguba asked his Mum could he move away from her side for a bit and he went out into the sea to watch the actions of all the fishes and whales. Take care of all that.
The little brother, he saw the big brother going out and he said to Gulaga ‘Mum, mum, can I go out too? I’m big. I’m grown up, can I go out and watch the fish and the whales?’
She said, ‘No, son. You are too little. If I let you go out there, you’d get swallowed up by Gadu, the sea. I’ll put you down near the foot of me, so I can watch you and you can watch your brother out in the ocean.’
She put him down where he is now and that’s where he stayed, to watch the actions of his brother while under the eye of his mother. We call that little mountain `mummy’s little boy’, because he’s always with his mum.
Montague Island is known to the Yuin people as Barranguba. Barranguba is regarded as being the son of Gulaga, along with Najanuga; Barranguba being the oldest son and allowed out to sea, whereas Najanuga had to stay close to his mother.