Awesome is an overused word. It is also a misused one. But in relation to this rock painting of the creator being Baiame, it is the only appropriate word. Awesome, in its true sense.
Baiame is the creator spirit of the Dreaming of the Aboriginal peoples of South-Eastern Australia, including the Wonnarua, Wiradjuri, Darkinjung, Awabakal, Worimi and Kamilaroi.
The first European references to Baiame date from the 1820s and 1830s and appear in the accounts of missionaries and white ‘explorers’. There are many variations in the spelling of his name.
When William Ridley, the former missionary who was expert in the Gamilaaray language of the Kamilaroi, translated the name of the Christian God, he used the name Baiame. In the early 1870s Ridley visited the place where I live here at Gundy. Nothing of what he saw then remains today but his published report of the site was the subject of an earlier post on my blog.
The Baiame cave is outside the village of Milbrodale in the Lower Hunter Valley, not far from the town of Wollombi. It is close to Bulga, the site of an Aboriginal ceremonial bora ground, the place where boys were initiated into manhood. The Bulga bora has been described as being of ‘immeasurable significance’ by the NSW Department of Planning. (I will write more on the Bulga bora in a future post.)
To the South, the cave is close to Mount Yengo (pronounced Yango) which, as I mentioned in a different earlier post, can be seen from Lagoon Mountain at my home in the Upper Hunter. Mount Yengo is the place Baiame stepped off the earth and into the sky after he had created the world and the Law and knowledge and ceremony. He created all things, including the first bora ground.
A description of the Baiame cave was first published in 1873 in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of NSW Volume 27:353-8. R. H. Mathews had visited Milbrodale in 1872 to survey land owned by a local farmer. He was shown the cave with its astounding painting of a human figure with extraordinary arms that spread five metres across the wall of the sandstone rock shelter. He identified the figure as Baiame and made a record of the cave paintings which became his first publication as a self-taught anthropologist. It was the start of a pioneering 25 year career in the field.
Mathews’ article was the start of Aboriginal archaeological research in the Hunter Valley. At Milbrodale in 1966 the Australian Museum conducted archaeological excavations of two rock shelters near the Baiame cave. They found evidence of occupation dating from 1400 years ago and an Aboriginal burial dated post-white settlement.
To me, Mathews’ drawing of Baiame is strangely inaccurate. It reality, there is a strong sense of movement of the figure from left to right. There’s more curve to the great arms and the large eyes seem to be looking to the right. The legs below the knees do not match Mathews’ representation. They are only faintly visible on the cave wall but they too give the strong feeling of Baiame striding across the wall. It’s all much more dynamic than Mathews’ drawing suggests. He appears to ‘walk like an Egyptian’ – torso viewed front on, but legs in side view.
The whole of Australia is a sacred site but Wollombi is a really special place. There were seven main tribes that used to meet at Wollombi. Has anyone [in the audience] been to the Creator Cave up there? The Creator Cave, it’s named for Baiame…the Creator Spirit. There are seven feathers [painted under Baiame’s outstretched arms], three feathers and four feathers on the other side and that’s the different tribes who used to meet there.
(Joel Wenitong, speaking at the opening of the Ceremony exhibition of art by senior Aboriginal men at Cessnock Regional Art Gallery, 31 March 2012.)
From the cave, a natural amphitheatre spreads out before you, the meeting place of the seven tribes of whom Joel Wenitong spoke. From looking at the Tindale map of Australian Aboriginal language groups, I assume that in addition to the six nations listed above, the seventh feather under Baiame’s arms represented the Darug or the Geawegal or the Biripi. There’s no way of knowing. It’s likely all came to this place from time to time.
I have no doubt that the Aboriginal people of the Gundy area here in the Upper Hunter walked to the ceremonial gatherings held at this place over the millennia.
Apart from the odd element of farming infrastructure, the main impingement on, or rupture of, a landscape that echoes with over thirteen thousand years of Aboriginal ceremony is the open cut coal mine near the skyline between the trees in the top left hand quadrant of the first of the above photos. It is just visible if you enlarge the photo by clicking on it. I often think that in terms of heritage preservation, the concept of curtilage is the least understood. This mine and the dust that ensues from it has a huge impact on the complex psychogeography of this highly significant place. As I intend to show in a follow-up post on the Bulga bora, the threat to both Aboriginal and ‘European’ heritage in this area from the expansion of coal mining is very real.
Living in the Hunter, my husband and I are always conscious of the fact that the roads we use today are often retracings of the ancient Aboriginal pathways. While the convict-built Old Great North Road is the most spectacular example, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and Australia’s Register of the National Estate, not all of it still operates as a road today; parts are walking tracks only. Here, close to home, many roads, including the Timor Road to Nundle, follow an ancient Aboriginal footpath.
The Baiame cave is unarguably the most important Aboriginal site in the Hunter and one of the most significant in South-Eastern Australia. It is listed on the Register of the National Estate but it is on privately-owned land. It is open to visitors but access is poorly sign-posted and can be hard to find. The most direct road to the cave is not open to the public. It almost takes an act of faith to head off on a dirt track from near the Milbrodale Public School across the paddocks and through groups of farm outbuildings. All this fades from mind when you arrive at the cave.
There is a further element in the psychogeography of this place. Off road motor racing. Several times a year Baiame must look down from the sky and wonder about the world he created. An off road racing track winds though the valley, a section of which covers part of the plain, in front of the cave to the left, where trucks and cars and dune buggies and bikes race.
I have a horrible feeling that the race track goes right past the cave. It’s hard to tell but I watched a YouTube video shot from within a racing vehicle. It was difficult to get my bearings but it seemed to wind through the same farm outbuildings that are on the dirt road to the cave.
Off Road Fun at Milbrodale
The picturesque Milbrodale valley was once again alive with the sound of off road racing vehicles when the Hunter Valley Off Road Racing Association (HVORRA) staged the 27th Milbrodale Mountain Classic…
With the event being round five of the New South Wales Off Road Championship incorporating round two of the NSW Premier Long Course Championship and Round two of the East Coast Tri-Challenge therefore attracting a quality field of 70 off road vehicles.
The event has become a prestigious race with many competitors seeking the Man of the Mountain title awarded to the fastest single lap of long course heat.
This event is always subject to weather conditions, which is something that HVORRA cannot organise, however the association took proactive action this year to eliminate dusty conditions.
The entire short and medium course tracks were watered continuously, for the entire week leading up to the event, thanks to Mark Eveleigh for organising and supplying a water truck.
These efforts coupled with continued watering of the track during the event weekend with three additional water carts certainly reduced the dust impact and made for safe, exciting racing.
With excellent spectator viewing and great photographic points in the spectator area close to the track, this year’s huge crowds were provided with some very spectacular action of off road racing at its best.
Racing commenced on Saturday morning with the Prologue, cars starting one at a time at one minute intervals, times taken will determine the drivers starting position for the first round of heats.
At 1pm racing of the medium course began with cars split into two heats, of six laps over a 10 kilometres course.
By the end of the first day of racing, some race vehicles were in need of repair due to some spectacular rollovers and the track taking its toll on some of the competitors and their vehicles.
Sunday saw two heats of four laps of the medium course, followed by a round of the short course track.
This certainly provided spectators with some fast and furious racing with buggies and tin tops completing wheel to wheel during four car wide starts.
After lunch all cars still racing, headed off on the Long Course which due to dry track conditions was reduced to four laps of approximately 16 kilometres. This event is tough on man and machine with only 24 of the 70 starters completing the full race distance.
The event is well supported by the local community, with the Milbrodale School, Bulga Community Center and Bulga Rural Fire Service assisting with the event throughout the weekend, along with the co-operation of property owners and neighbours who have supported the running of the Milbrodale Mountain Classic for the past 27 years.
(Singleton Argus, 20 September 2013)