A Brief History of the Stradbroke Island Aborigines and Their connection with the Galleon Legend
Over the years since white settlement of the Morton Bay and Stradbroke Island region (1830's onward) about half of the Europeans who have seen the Stradbroke Galleon have been shown it by members of the Stradbroke Island Aboriginal population. The first recorded instance of this was when Queensland member of Parliament the Hon. E.J. Stevens was shown the shipwreck in the 18 Mile Swamp by an Aboriginal woman who worked for him in or around the 1860's.
At the time Stevens held a cattle grazing lease over a section of the island.
Since then there have been numerous other stories coming into the white community of certain favored members being shown the wreck, usually on condition of secrecy.
One of the most persistent rumors associated with the shipwreck is that certain members of the Stradbroke Aboriginal Community have or had gold coins that had been taken from the wreck. I personally spoke to one man, who grew up in Dunwich, who swore that he had been shown a gold doubloon by an Aboriginal friend.
One of the most important breakthroughs in the quest for the Stradbroke Galleon came after I had received a lot of publicity after finding a shipwreck on Fraser Island. A lady of Stradbroke Island Aboriginal descent phoned me and explained that she had heard I was searching for the Stradbroke Galleon and that she was descended from the survivors of that shipwreck.
She explained that her family insisted on keeping their heritage secret but that her grandfather had often told her and her siblings stories about their families roots and how they had come to be stranded in Australia many generations ago
A large population of kangaroos and wallabies still exists on Stradbroke Island. Much of the southern section of Stradbroke Island was declared a nature reserve in the 19th century so much of the co-system and its creatures still exists as it did years ago. We photographed this big, male kangaroo, who stood about 2 meters high, on the flats near Never Never Creek. Kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and reptiles formed a part of the Stradbroke Island Aboriginal population's diet though the mainstay appears to have been the abundant and ever present sea food, particularly shellfish. On the east coast of the Island the main shellfish eaten was the pippie or yugari the shells of which are found in huge midden heaps in the sand dunes which were not destroyed by sand mining. On the west coast, cockles and mud whelks were preferred.
What white folk call pippies and what the Aborigines call Yugari were one of the main stays in the Stradbroke ISland Aborigines' diet. These tasty shellfish lived in the sand of high energy surf beaches, always below the high tide mark. They live by filtering food out of the water as the waves wash over the sand. Like oysters, pippies can be eaten raw or cooked. The flesh is firm and tasty. To cook them just throw them on teh hot coals of a fire for about 30 seconds to one minute, just long enough for them to open up, Scoop out the tasty meat and eat. If you cook them too long they go tough. On a good day it takes about 10 minutes to get a feed for two people. Pippies also make excellent bait for bream, whiting and other beach fish.
Aboriginal Shell Middens such as this one on the left were scattered through the beach dune system marking campsites of Stradbroke Island Aborigines before sand mining destroyed most of them. Fotunately some Aboriginal middens did escape the miners because of their location on sand islands in the Swamp where it was not economical to mine.
This North Stradbroke Island Echidna (spiny ant eater) is still considered a delicacy by Australian Aboriginal people. The Aborigine's preferred method of cooking is to wrap the echidna in wet clay and bake in hot coals. When the clay turns hard remove from fire, crack open and pull apart. The spikes are caught in the clay and removed revealing the tasty oily flesh. Fortunately for this echidna, found down near the Slipping Sands on Stradbroke Island, we were not hungry at the time.
Above is a Spanish gold Doubloon. Local Stradbroke lore says that in the 19th and early 20th century Stradbroke Island Aborigines used Spanish gold and silver coins to buy white commodities.
I interviewed one person was born and lived his entire life at Dunwich who swore an Aboriginal friend had shown him a gold doubloon from the shipwreck
To place the Aboriginal habitation of Stradbroke Island (known as Minjerriba by the Aborigines) into a chronological context it may help to understand that Stradbroke Island as we know it today only came into existence about 6,000 years ago when the rising sea levels caused by the end of the last Ice Age created Morton Bay and cut the land mass of Stradbroke off from the Mainland. Prior to this event the coastline was about 20 kilometers to the east of its present location. One does not have to stretch the imagination too much to see that the rising sea levels would have caused considerable dislocation and cultural readjustment to the tribal groups inhabiting that section of coastline as their traditional lands disappeared under the rising waters.
That being as it may the traditional owners of the Northern section of Stradbroke are the Noonuckles. It appears from early European accounts of Stradbroke that the Aborigines there had a very pleasant life style which promoted good health and a hospitable disposition.
When Flinders called in a Cylinder Beach to locate freshwater and met the locals he was not greeted with any hostilities and it appears that Flinders was so struck by the general appearance of good health and vitality of the Stradbroke Aborigines that he even commented that he thought they were the finest looking population of Aborigines he had see in Australia.
When the shipwreck survivors of the early 1820's Pamphlet, Flinnegan and Parsons walked into one of the small Aboriginal settlements on Stradbroke they were given food and shelter and even a canoe to help them on their way.
There are a number of other cultural features which are interesting and unusual about the Stradbroke Aborigines of that time, perhaps the most commented on is their practice of forming a co-operative fishing relationship with dolphins. There are numerous, well documented accounts of this by European eye-witness such as Thomas Petrie and John Campbell.
Below is Petrie's account:
"The sea would be calm, and there would be no sign anywhere of a porpoise (Talobilla); the blacks would go along the beach jobbing their spears into the sand under the water, making a queer noise and also beating the water with their spears. By-and-by, as if in response, porpoises would be seen as they rose to the surface making for the shore and in front of them schools of tailor fish. It may seem wonderful but they were apparently driving the fish towards land. When they came near the blacks would run out into the surf, and with their spears, would job down here and there at the fish, at times even getting two on one spear the fish were so plentiful. The porpoises were actually swimming in and out of all this, apparently unafraid. One old porpoise was well known and spoken of fondly."
In fact the Stradbroke Island Aborigines formed strong bonds with the dolphins, giving them names and sharing the fish caught with them. The story goes that each family formed a relationship with a family of porpoise and that relationship continued down through time.
The Stradbroke Island Dolphins still enjoy relating to humans (surprisingly).
To the left the two species meet at Tangalooma on Morton Island, to the right an athletic dolphin puts on a display for a couple of kids at Stradbroke's Amity Point. It is common when surfing or swimming around Stradbroke to have pleasant encounter with these beautiful creatures
Supplied by Amity Bungalows
Below are images of Aboriginal men making a shield using the bark from the mangrove tree. These images are from the Thomas Dick Collection circa1900's.
Whilst these images are of Northern New South Wales Aborigines the technology and methodology of the Aboriginal peoples along this section of Australian coastline is very similar if not exactly the same as there was a high degree of information exchange between these peoples sharing a very similar environment. These photos are of particular interest because of the similarity in the terraine to many sections of the Stradbroke mangrove forests.
A water colour sketch of Aboriginal housing in Moreton Bay, probably on Stradbroke Island near Amity Point circa 1848 by Owen Stanley on H.M.S.Rattlesnake.
These shelters were generally constructed from bark of the paper bark tree and wattle branches.
Aboriginal men at work. Note large non-return hunting boomerang in belt. This type of boomerang is designed for accurate throwing to hit and kill animals or large birds. It twirls through the air like a returning boomerang but remains in a verticle position.