Warning – this article contains words and images of deceased Aboriginal peoples.
The Women of Wollumbin – Part 1
copyright Stella Wheildon 2014
Marlene Boyd – Ngarakbal Gulgan
Marlene Shanker Boyd – 20th April 1945 – 22nd of February 2007.
The crowning centre piece nestled within the beautiful Tweed Valley Caldera of the Australian east coast is a sacred mountain known to all the aboriginal tribes and moieties across this vast land…..
This ancient volcano caldera is geographically the most easterly point of the Australian continent and the summit of the central mountain is topographically the first place the light of mother sun touches the Australian landscape and triggers awake all the ancestral sites across the country. It is a sacred creation place of traditional lore and customary culture that is thousands and thousands of years old. It is also the ancestral home of the Ngarakbal dialect moiety and it’s marriage clan, the Githabal, located to the west – following the pathway of mother sun.
The mountain has many names. One is Wollumbin. A Ngarakbal word for the name of one of the totemic ancestor creation spirits who “made the mountain”, long ago, way back in the dreamtime or the Bootheram, as the Ngarakbal say….For Bootheram is the Ngarakbal word for the dreamtime and Bootheram can NEVER be changed. That is the Lore.
There are many ancestral Lore Bootheram’s for this ancient place. Lores that explain things like the geography, history, hydrology, biology, protocols and the myriads of cycles, to name just a few. These Bootheram Lores were passed down through time unchanged and unchallenged, until colonial invasion.
Recent contemporary post-colonial history tried to teach that the ancient Bootheram Lores and cultural wisdoms of the Ngarakbal no longer existed. Having invested decades utilizing divide and conquer war techniques in the attempt to eradicate the wisdom of the ancients and replace the ancient Lores with their own, the crown failed. For the lore is strong and alive.
So how did this ancient lore wisdom survive?….well, It is Lore protocol to never speak of Lore in any country other than your own ancestral country…and there were many tribal countries before invasion…..and within these countries there are men’s lores and there are women’s lores…..that is the Lore and it is NEVER to be disrespected or changed…the traditional penalty is death.
So I am going to tell you the story of some of the amazing Ngarakbal and Githabal women….the Women of Wollumbin…the “Keepers of the Flame” of the sacred feminine Seven Sisters Lore…descendants of Warriors….Survivors of the 100 year holocaust of invasion…..and how they kept their ancient traditional Lores and customs alive by singing their lifeforce into the cultural embers of their traditional volcano home, as it always has been since the beginning of time.
Marlene Shanker Boyd – 20th April 1945 – 22nd of February 2007.
Marlene Boyd, her ancestors and her family are an intrinsic part of the Tweed Valley landscape, history and of the ancient origine Lore of Australia. A deeply spiritual woman, her life, and her purpose was always one of responsibility to, and struggle for, her traditional matrilineal lore and culture to be given recognition, and through that recognition, survival….despite determined opposition she fought for it’s truth all of her life.
Born on the 20th April 1945; into the Ngarakbal Nganduwal Aboriginal Moiety of the Wollumbin Volcano. Born “In-Country” and schooled at Middle Pocket, Billinudgel, not far from beautiful Byron Bay, Marlene Boyd was the youngest daughter of a traditional skin-lore marriage between a Ngarakbal man Chris Boyd and his Githabal wife Millie.
Marlene came from a long line of warriors. Her Great Great Grandfather was Kippa Tommy Boyd/Andrews who was incarcerated at the Nerang Aboriginal Reserve in South East Queensland, an area which is the northern part of the famous Australian Gold Coast today.
She was the Great Grand Daughter of ‘King’ Billy Andrews of Murwillumbah; though ‘King’ was a title given by the crown and of no traditional relevance to ancestral culture it served to identify the leading elders of the communities and whom could ‘speak’ the Lore on behalf of the tribal moieties remnant surviving peoples.
Through her maternal grandmother, Charlotte Brown, Marlene was a direct blood descendant of Wollumbin Johnny [Brown] of Eungella, or ’Ngungulla’ which was how she pronounced it in her dialect. Ngungulla, it’s lush rain forested ridges and crystal clear rivers lay at the foot of the central sacred mountain. The very heart of the Ngarakbal traditional lands and lore.
Wollumbin Johnny [Brown] was a fierce warrior who rallied to push invading native police forces from the original Murwillumbah settlement which had been established at Byangum, where the two rivers meet. His small resistance army fought the invaders back downriver from the sacred mountain, pushing them to the Cudgen ridge were the police had strategically located their main fort. From this fort a clear view of the caldera and the sea provided a stronghold against the rebel Aboriginal peoples. Fearless warriors who braved the crowns guns, themselves armed only with wooden spears, in one last heroic attempt to stop the relentless occupation of their lands. …’King’ Brown [Wollumbin Johnny] had fought relentlessly against the invading forces but was eventually captured and severely punished. Under the heartless dispersal laws of those times he was systematically relocated away from his traditional country. Sent to a number of police Labour Reserves – enslaved for over 15 years. Two of his relocations included Barambah Labour Camp [now Cherbourgh Aboriginal Reserve], with his last incarceration being at Tin Can Bay Aboriginal Labour Camp in South East Queensland near Gympie. From there he managed to escaped and returned south, traveling over 400km to his ancestral Ngarakwal home. His remains were traditionally tree buried in Eungella.
Marlene Boyd was herself an activist, born into an activist family. A true child of the Aboriginal Human Rights Revolution Campaign’s which commenced in the late 1950’s. She was 15 years old before she was legally classified as a human being by the Crown. Marlene had witnessed her grandparents, Euston Williams and Charlotte Brown struggle tirelessly until successfully achieving Human Rights recognition for their people in 1967. Prior to the referendum of 1967 all Aboriginal people were classified as flora and fauna. They had no legal status as being human being. That abhorrent legislation existed only 48 years ago.
Marlene Boyd and her family are amongst the most highly regarded Aboriginal Lore keepers and Activists ever produced by this country. The Ngarakbal and Githabal images, language, culture and song have been collected and studied by our most noted academics and educational institutions since the 1800’s, and Marlene furthered this work with many of today’s academics and film makers recording her living culture for her children and grandchildren to proudly follow down through time. Unbroken ancient traditional lore and culture.
Marlene’s Githabal Mother, Millie Boyd [nee; Williams], was a most highly regarded and respected East Coast Elder who became known internationally as a tribal ‘Clever Woman’, teaching ancestral culture, lore and custom of her people – she, like her elders before her was an activist – fanning the embers of her culture to survive…a true giantess amongst her people.
Marlene’s Father, Chris Boyd, had been a Labourer in the Tweed. In those pre-human rights recognition day’s Aboriginal people could not leave the reservations unless they had an official police labour work permit. Chris Boyd and his wife Millie managed to obtain labour permits and ‘escaped’ with their children from the suffering and deprivation on the crowded reservations by returning to their ancestral Ngarakbal country. Throughout Marlene’s and her brothers and sisters childhood the family lived and worked in the Tweed. They resided in several police permit locations at Dunbible, Billinudgel, Terranora, and Duranbah, working on seasonal banana, sugar cane and small crop plantations.
The family often visited friends and relations living on what was once Greenbank Island Aboriginal Reserve in the mouth of the Tweed River, to attended Church services there and at Fingal Heads and also at the Bag Church site in South Tweed Heads….Church was the only means of allowing gatherings in those times…..These clever people used the church meetings as a smokescreen to hide them from the authorities ever watching eyes and ears…and all the while they discussed the need for recognition of their status as flora and fauna to be changed…for them to legally be human beings….for their ancestral lore to be respected.
As large numbers within the coastal churches grew secretly campaigning the Human Rights movement , the young Boyd’s would take messages from Greenbank Island Aboriginal Reserve back to their grandparents, Euston and Charlotte, who were leaders amongst the Githabul activists and still living on the crowded Woodenbong Aboriginal Reserve Station to the west…. The young Boyd family regularly travelled [under police permit] this journey to assist their Aboriginal Elders in lobbying for the recognition and rights of their Aboriginal culture and people. This movement was occurring alongside South Sea Islander [blackbirder] descendants of the slaves that the crown had stolen from their island homes. Many of these South Sea Islander peoples were counted amongst the Boyd families closest friends in the Tweed, and together they shared the same struggle to overcome their own loss of connection and enslavement.
The Ngarkbal and Githabal peoples fought, just as their ancestors before them, to keep the embers of their ancient culture and lore alight…they did this by speaking out for the integrity of their ancestral lore to be respected and protected, intact….”talking up culture to save culture”….and never changing the Lore….they walked in truth and eventually they won….in 1967 they were declared human, but they never received possession of their ancestral lands.
Marlene Boyd’s tribal name was ‘Eelemarni’. She inherited the Fairy Emu ‘Bootheram’ Lore of her traditional landscape through her matrilineal lore, linage and kinship decadency, from her Ngarakwal grandmother Charlotte Brown. Like the true culture women before her, Marlene in her turn, held the title ‘Ellemarni’ and its Bootheram that links the two ancient volcano moieties of Ngarakbal and Githabal….
As Keeper of the Ancient Women’s business of Skin Lore, kinship, totem and descent that gives her people their connection to country.
Marlene Boyd was a living embodiment of one of the Seven Sisters. ‘Ellemarni’ was the ‘Gulgan’ (Keeper) of the Seven Sister’s creation lore and sites within her traditional landscape; and as ‘Ellemarni’ Marlene Boyd held the Seven Sisters creation song from the East Coast Volcano ….She was the Mountain, and would sing the first portion of the trans-continental song line of Australia from the point the sun first touched these ancient shores….this was her totemic skin-lore birthright. Like the women who came before her, Marlene was committed to feeding the fire of these ancient traditions despite many attempts to extinguish that flame. As ‘Ellemarni’ she brought the light of renewal and hope into this land for all of us.
Marlene Boyd was a true Lady. Proud of her identity and heritage, she continued to protect and fight to uphold the integrity of her matrilineal moieties ancient traditions and connections unbroken, to the very end of her life. Her sublime strength and determination to keep the women’s Eastern coastal flame alive has inspired people from all over the globe. And many have not hesitated to help her fan the embers of the sacred feminine – and care for country.
Her last film appearance in the film “the Gathering” achieved international recognition and awards. This same film won an award at the Byron Bay film Festival in 2007, just weeks before she passed.
She was a Sister, A Wife, A Mother, An Aunt, A Grand Mother, a Great Grand Mother, A Friend, A confidant, A mentor and A Teacher. But most importantly she was a Warrior for her people.
Marlene continued her mother’s works and her cultural responsibilities, doing business, walking in her truth….Walking Cultural truth…She passed over at 8.15am on the 22nd of February 2007, still fighting for the right of survival of her Ngarakbal culture in this modern post-colonial world…
She was much loved and respected for it.
Marlene is survived by her children and many beautiful Ngarakbal grandchildren and great grandchildren in whom the ancestral Bootheram lore traditions and legacy continue on unbroken…..And every morning, as the fire of mother sun lights the summit of Wollumbin sending out the lifeforce to every site across the land, we will remember her warmth, and nurturing and what she did for all of us….