The story of a men’s initiation in 1883 on Doctor George Mountain revealed

Local Yuin men and a Melbourne based academic believe they may have located a ceremonial site on Doctor George Mountain near Bega during the production of a short film about an Aboriginal men’s initiation that took place in 1883.

Searching with Indigenous staff from South East Local Land Services, a Yuin elder and a Deakin University academic relocated a site where a men’s initiation may have taken place in 1883 for the purpose of it being recorded by one of the world’s earliest anthropologists, Alfred William Howitt.

The search for the initiation site was initially prompted following research by historical anthropologist Dr Jason Gibson, who had been examining the writings of A.W.Howitt, who today is regarded as one of the world’s earliest anthropologists.

According to Howitt’s journal about 130 Aboriginal people travelled to Bega from across the south east of Australia to perform a ceremony, known as a ‘Kuringal’ on Doctor George Mountain.

Dr Gibson today said that Howitt’s journal indicates that the gathering included members of the Gunai Kurnai from East Gippsland, the Yuin of the NSW South Coast and high country groups, the Ngarigo and the Wolgolu which had collectively discussed a request by Howitt to record a Kuringal for at least two years before it took place.

“While this was not the last time a Kuringal was performed, it’s quite likely it was the last time it was done on such a grand scale. This was a big gathering and a significant historical event,” Dr Gibson said.

“Howitt came all the way from Orbost on horseback to record the event and despite recording some details, it’s still taken a lot of detective work to find the site,” he said.

After much searching in the bushland of Doctor George Mountain Yuin elder, Warren Foster, Dr Gibson and Local Land Services Aboriginal staff, think it’s possible they have rediscovered the ceremonial site of the 1883 Kuringal.

“We can’t be absolutely certain but it seems to fit Howitt’s description of the site. Regardless, it’s almost certain this is a place where my ancestors would have performed important spiritual ceremonies over many centuries. Standing there I could feel the energy and the history.  It was quite a big moment for me personally,” Mr Foster said.

“Ceremonial sites are very important to us. They have great spiritual significance and need to be protected,” Mr Foster said.

Former Local Land Services Aboriginal Community Support Officer, Dan Morgan, who initiated the project and film production said he was very pleased with the outcome.

“I knew when Dr Gibson, approached me with what he’d found in Howitt’s writings that we needed to know more and I felt it was important to recorded visually,” he said.

“The location was important for not only future management and protection but also to recognise and acknowledge the deep spiritual and cultural connections these significant sites of ceremony represent to our community,” Mr Morgan said.

South East Local Land Services spokesperson and local Yuin man, Graham Moore, said the organisation is very pleased to have helped facilitate a project that helped develop greater understanding of First Nations’ history in the region.

“It may or may not be the actual site of the 1883 men’s initiation but it has all the hallmarks of such a site and there are many other significant ceremonial sites across the Bega Valley.

“Filling in the gaps in knowledge of First Nations history in the South East is important to us all,” Graham Moore said.

South East Local Land Services funded the film “Kuringal” which has been produced by Bottlebrush Media in a collaboration with Mr Foster and South East Local Land Services.

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