The Wailwan People

This is a short introduction to the Wailwan people who inhabited the Coonamble / Gulargambone / Quambone region of NSW. Led by Elder King Billie, They had their own language, culture and ceremonies. The following information is from "The Wailwan People: Sharing A Story" puplished by Powerhouse Publications. To browse the full document with more images, please click here.

Who are the Wailwan people:

A lot of work has been done to identify the Wailwan people and to reinstate the lost significance of this rare cultural record. Aboriginal elders provide significant insights into history. One of the few archival resources available on Wailwan culture are the sound. Among these is a recording of Davey Brown, a Wailwan man singing in his own language. Davey Brown is the most direct link uncovered so far. He was born at Sandy Camp station, close to Quambone, around 1870 and he was probably present when Charles Kerry took photos of the Wailwan people and their ceremonies in 1898. He died in 1976 at Coonamble. He was one of the oldest at Quambone. He knew the language and could sing.

Many other people have been interviewed. One elderly landowner remembered ‘a camp at Ringorah where King Billie resided with Davey Brown, Freddie Brown, Nattie Brown, Frankie Booka, ‘Crooked Toe Jackie’, Peter Bob Flood, Hector Lee, Jimmy Cooper’.


Over 600 names for different groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have survived colonisation. Most of these names were used to name their language as well. Some of these languages were very similar, with neighbours finding it very easy to understand each other and to learn the differences (examples from Europe of the level of difference would be Spanish and Italian, or Swedish and Norwegian). Some were very different indeed from one another. Perhaps 250 sets of them were as different as Italian from German, or even more different. Either way, it was and is common for people to be fluent in several, and then to speak English as well. Many languages were lost as a result of colonisation when Aboriginal people were separated, regrouped and often only allowed to use English. Today, though various words and expressions are used, less than 100 languages survive intact in common usage.

The Role of Ceremony:

Aboriginal ceremony is important business that passes on cultural knowledge and reinforces a connection to the land through dances, songs and images. Young Aboriginal people undergo various degrees of learning the law/lore of their clan and nation through special ceremonies such as the one shown in some of these photos. Some ceremonies involve only one section of the community — such as Men’s Business and Women’s Business. Each has rituals and information that are withheld from others, because of their secret nature and sacred symbolism. While these images depict a male ritual, young females have their own Women’s Business ceremonies. Such teaching and learning is a lifelong process, handing on knowledge from one generation to the next. The status of an elder signifies a person who is respected for their knowledge and wisdom. Ceremony remains strong in many remote communities today but there are also many Aboriginal people who do not take part in ceremony, although they still claim a strong connection to the land — a central concept of ceremony.

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