Site History

Gummingurru is in the country of the Jarowair Aboriginal people, who are one of the many Aboriginal groups associated with the Bunya Mountains and the feasts and ceremonies that were held there once every three years. Gummingurru is one of a series of ceremonial places where young men were initiated into manhood before continuing on to participate in 'men's business', held as part of the Bunya nut festivities. In the late 19th century the site was still being used for ceremonies and male initiation, but by the early 20th century most of the Aboriginal people of the Darling Downs had been removed from local properties and into the towns. During the 1950s many of the town-based Aboriginal people were sent to Cherbourg, Palm Island, or other Aboriginal settlements throughout Queensland. The site has probably not been used as an initiation site since about 1890.

Knowledge about the use of the Gummingurru site and interpretations of its stone arrangements comes from Ben Gilbert, a direct descendant of the first European settler in the area. Ben Gilbert was the farmer who owned the property on which the Gummingurru site is located. He was told about the site by Bunda, a Jarowair man who remained on the Darling Downs when other Aboriginal people were removed to Cherbourg and Palm Island. Bunda was a young boy of about seven years of age in the 1890s. His family camped near Gummingurru and his father and uncles went across to Gummingurru to perform ceremonies and other important men's business .

Bunda was never initiated at Gummingurru himself, but he knew some of the traditional knowledge of this important place. In the 1960s Bunda told Ben Gilbert the interpretation and meaning of the stone arrangements at the western end of the site. Some of the most easily interpreted designs include an emu, a turtle, a bunya nut, several waterhole features, a circle (probably the Bora ring itself), and a carpet snake. During the 1960s, Ben Gilbert arranged for the site to be recorded by the Queensland Museum and for it to be protected.

In 2008 the Gummingurru land was handed back to the Gummingurru Aboriginal Corporation (GAC). The traditional custodians now care for Gummingurru and are reviving the cultural knowledge of this place. The GAC calls this the 'resurrection' of the site. Resurrecting Gummingurru involves rediscovering stone arrangements that have been buried in the soil which covers the eastern and southern parts of the site. Buried stones are lifted back up to the surface and several newly rediscovered designs have been found in this way.

One example of this resurrection activity is the Catfish motif.  This first appeared as a fish outline.  Over a few months the outline became infilled with a backbone and other internal features.  Then whiskers appeared and the fish became a catfish.  Subsequently other background rocks were raised.  The animation below shows the sequence of the resurrection of this image.


Catfish rising in stages


This kind of maintenance of the site almost certainly occurred in pre-European contact times.

Today Gummingurru is no longer used as an initiation site. The Jarowair custodians want the site to be open to everyone who is interested in learning about Aboriginal culture and heritage. They have opened the site to all Australians: Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, young and old, male and female. People can visit the site and can undertake a range of learning activities, such as:

• a journey through the site with a traditional custodian, viewing the original stone arrangements as well as those that have been resurrected;
• looking at stone artefacts found near the stone arrangements;
• grinding ochre in the traditional way using large grinding stones;
• making ground edge axes by rubbing stones on grindstones; and
• playing especially designed games that tell the story of the site to visitors, especially children.

These learning activities are seen by the GAC as an important reconciliation activity to be shared by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.