Tracing our footsteps

HONOURING HISTORY: Githabul senior elder Sam Bonner talks about the history of the Githabul people in Warwick.
HONOURING HISTORY: Githabul senior elder Sam Bonner talks about the history of the Githabul people in Warwick. Elyse Wurm

WHEN early settlers were on cattle drives through Queensland, Githabul people were riding a few steps ahead of them to set up camp and get meals on the stove.

"A lot of those people wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for our people,” senior Githabul elder Sam Bonner said.

A ruling made by Queensland South Native Title Services naming Githabul people as traditional owners of Warwick is a turning point in acknowledging the history of the rolling hills and natural wonders of the region.

But senior elder Sam Bonner believes a better understanding of the true history of the area is still needed.

"The main trouble of traditional owners is people don't know the history,” he said.

Mr Bonner said he would spend time with older people when he was young, listening to stories of the lives they led in the days of settlement.

Reaping wheat, pulling corn and building stockyards was made possible with the assistance of the Githabul people.

"This is how the people survived.

"We could have survived, we had plenty of meat, kangaroos, fish.

"This place was plentiful back in those times.”

An extensive native title research project, the South East Regional Research Project, uncovered the traditional ownership finding late last year.

The research revealed Githabul country covered Woodenbong to Tooloom, extending north to Warwick, the Condamine River and Allora as well as south to the Clarence River.

A clan of Githabul people, the Geinyan group, was found to be located throughout a region bordered by Killarney, Stanthorpe, Allora, Herries Range and Cunningham's Gap, in an area sometimes shared with Githabul country.

If a native title claim was made over the region, it was determined Githabul would meet the requirements of the registration test.

Keeping the history of Githabul people alive became harder as time passed, Mr Bonner said, as many people moved away during the industrial revolution to find work.

"When those old people left, the stories went with them,” he said.

The Githabul group in New South Wales and Queensland filed a native title claim in 1995, but later excluded Queensland in order for the claim to be passed at that time.

Mr Bonner said the Githabul people in NSW have received funding, while those in Queensland have only received a single grant, for replanting trees.

Efforts are still being made to give Githabul greater input into the way land is used.

"Who knows more about the country than the traditional owners?” Mr Bonner said.

"The authorities don't think about it.”

Mr Bonner would like to see greater representation on council, saying indigenous people were under-represented in government.

"They're trying to wipe us Aboriginal people out of it so they don't owe us anything,” he said.

Mr Bonner and his wife Ethlelynn are the delegates for the Githabul people on the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations.

"We've been fighting for six or seven years now for water rights,” he said.

"In the Condamine right through and the catchments running into the Condamine.”

Mr Bonner said there were a lot of dangerous weeds in the area, including blue cotton and moss vine.

He said the water could be used to create jobs for the younger generation and address issues in the environment, including toxic weeds that have not been controlled in the area.

"The money I'm going to get out of this water, I'm going to fight so we can clean our country up,” he said.

Topics:  githabul people indigenous australians traditional owners warwick history

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