Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Bunya Festivals

A famous food of aboriginal Australians, the high calorie, nutritious bunya nuts ripen every year in high summer. Before white settlement, the trees grew in great forests stretching from the Sunshine Coast westwards to the Bunya Mountains. The harvest varied from year to year, but approximately every three years there was a glorious over-supply.
Seasonal events resulting in a greater food supply than local people could consume were taken advantage of by aboriginals to invite their neighbours in. As with the Bogong moth hatchings down south, and the winter mullet runs in Moreton Bay, the ripening of the bunya nuts enabled tribes from the Bunya territories to host large gatherings of people. They came from as far away as the Carnarvon Ranges, Moreton Island, the Clarence River Valley, New England, and the Maranoa district.
Estimates of the number of people attending festivals in the Bunya Mountains range from 5000 - an estimate made in the 1840s - to an 1870 estimate of 20,000. At these triennial “festivals”, corroborees (songs, stories and dances, often by famous composers) were performed, religious ceremonies held, trading done and law cases settled. The festivals were an important mainstay of pre-white culture in this area.
The area now marked on the maps as the “Bunya Mountains” was not the only place given this name. Early settlers’ stories of festivals in the “Bunya mountains” are more likely to refer to the area near Maleny which we now call the Blackall Range. The coastal tribes originally went there for their gatherings, rather than coming inland to “our” Bunya Mountains - the ones marked on modern maps near Dalby. However the Blackall Range tribes were driven out of their territory by 1861. This may well have increased the attendance at the inland site, the territory of the Jarowair people, for at least another generation - explaining the large difference between earlier and later estimations of attendance numbers.
The last substantial bunya festival was probably the one of 1875, at Mt. Mowbullan. After this date, the exploitation of timber in this area began in earnest, and the aboriginal population of the local tribes was severely reduced by the less scrupulous whites. Smaller gatherings persisted until at least 1903.

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