Aboriginal Bush Craft

Watersmeet resides in the Gubbi Gubbi tribal area that spans from Caboolture, up through the Sunshine Coast and Connonondale Valley, to Gympie.  The tribe consists of families that hunted and gathered together across the area depending on the season. Find out more by clicking below.

Our local tribe, The Gubbi Gubbi, and Watersmeet

Watersmeet resides in the Gubbi Gubbi tribal area that spans the Sunshine Coast and Conondale Valley from the North Pine River near Caboolture in the south, to the Burrum River in the north, near Gympie.  Historically, Gubbi Gubbi families hunted and gathered together here depending on the season, and maintained cordial relations with the Kamileroy, Wakka Wakka and other tribes from neighboring regions.  They reserved whole ridges for their visitors to ensure that there was sufficient food upon their arrival, and even proactively burned land to maintain food quality for their visitors.  The Gubbi Gubbi, Wakka Wakka and other tribe names originate from the word for “No” in their respective languages.

The Bunya Nut features prominently in the Aboriginal way of life.  The nuts provided great protein and essential oils, and were ground into a paste for children and the elderly.  During the long Bunya season, tribes as far as 600 kilometers away in northwestern New South Wales would make an annual pilgrimage to the Sunshine Coast.  More locally, the Gubbi Gubbi people would come to the Watersmeet hinterland region and the nearby Blackall Ranges to collect Bunya nuts when they noticed the white gums’ shedding bark or the migration of white moths, representing the December to March period.  The younger men would use a sling to pull themselves up over 10 metres of a tree trunk to reach the first branch and then climb the branches like a ladder, while the sharp leaves would cut them and leave scars.  The nuts were larger than watermelons so the men would shake them loose from the tree to fall and crack open on the ground.  The value of Bunya nuts is so well recognized that the Maleny Coop used to accept them as payment and local barter groups still use them as currency.

At Watersmeet, a cluster of Bunya trees is in the neighboring western paddock as you drive over the middle cattle grid.  The Gubbi Gubbi see a group of trees as a family, with generations of grandparents, parents and children, depending on the size and origin of the seeds.  The tribe members were again keen observers of nature’s clues to the seasons: the flowering of the Hops Bush (toward the end of Black Butt Ridge on Watersmeet) and the opening of large purple lilies on the two spring fed dams .  This would mark the end of the Bunya season and indicate that fresh water oysters were ripe for eating, triggering the pilgrimage back to the coast.  The shell fish were an antidote for the oils of the Bunya nut that caused oily, shiny skin and acne, noticed by early European settlers on aboriginals as they returned from their hinterland trip.

During the Taylor season, the men would travel to the outer edge of ocean bays, in canoes made from light timbers such as the Cork Wood Tree, found near the water hole in the gulley between Black Butt Spur and Tallow Wood Ridge.  The men would disperse and beat sticks on the water’s surface to attract dolphins that were regarded as their sea ancestors.  The dolphins would come and push schools of Taylor in from offshore so that the men could then push them in further to spear and net.  The string used to tie the stone onto a spear was taken from the inner bark of trees such as Wattyl and Figs found on Watersmeet.  The preferred spear stones were volcanic such as basalt and quartz, found on hills and in the creeks here.  The strings were glued in place by extracting sap from the Hoop or Norfolk Pines, such as the one in the house yard, and shields were made from light timber with matted grain, such as the Cork Wood Tree and Fig Trees on the property.

A Tour of Watersmeet with the Gubbi Gubbi

Our friend Lyndon Davis of the Gubbi Gubbi guided us on how Watersmeet plays a part in this historical landscape.

At the entrance, you are greeted on either side by Illawarra Flame Trees. They are renowned for their use in making rope from the inner bark and shields from the matted grain of the timber. There is also the tall Celery Tree on the right hand side of the entry garden bed, with its edible leaves. The rocks in the upper side of the mountain when entering the drive are too soft for spear heads, but would have been used for pounding nuts.

To the left hand side of the road that curves down to the cattle yards is a Sand Paper Fig next to the even larger Red Cedars. The trunk bears fruit, the leaves feel like sand paper and were traditionally used for shaping boomerangs. The boomerangs were normally cut by axe from the lower section of Wattyl trees where the trunk meets the ground and the roots curve off to the side. Such Wattyl can be found on the hill of the house.

There are several Foam Bushes through out the paddocks. If the leaves are thrown in to a water course, they can stun fish and cause them to float to the surface.

On the track along the western boundary, south of the middle cattle grid, is a large fig that came down in a storm. In the trunk of the fig are some large Bunburry Fungal that can be eaten when orange, or used as fire carriers by being heated to maintain embers and carried for great distances. The branches of the fallen fig can be used to make shields, and the Sword Sedge . grasses surrounding the fig are good for weaving nets and baskets. The Black Myrtle (Woombye Cinnamon) tree above, with its long skinny branches, is excellent material for axe handles. There are also Bird Wing Vines that attract butterflies because their seed pod look like cocoons.

From The Knoll, the highest point on the property, you can gaze north at the upper reaches of the Mary River meandering through the Conondale Valley. In the river swim a plentiful supply of Mary River Tortoises, the only one in the world that can breathe from its nose and tail. In the past, the flowering of the Black Bean tree signified the timing to hunt the tortoise. To the west is the Conondale Valley and its mountains, the start of the neighboring Wakka Wakka territory. To the southeast, you can see the Glass House Mountains and contemplate this folk story that has been shared from generation to generation in Lyndon’s family.

Each of the Glasshouse Mountains represents the final form of a local family. One day the floodwaters were rising and a father asked his eldest son to attend to his pregnant mother while the father took the younger siblings to higher ground. However, the eldest son selfishly separated from the group to save himself, leaving his struggling mother. Once the father got the other siblings to safety, he returned to rescue the mother and reunite the family. However, the older brother was chastised and severed from the family, as represented by the mountain that is separated from the group and seems to be sobbing in the opposite direction.

Throughout the property, there is an abundance of survival resources. The new shoots of the bracken fern were used as a cough mixture and to rub on sore joints. With native palms, the inner trunk pith was eaten and the semi-circular base of palm fronds that wraps around trunk were used to make baskets or for carrying babies. They would be soaked in water for two hours to mold into shape. The fresh water springs on the property would have been frequented by people and animals. The cool water indicated to the aboriginals that it is fresh and suitable for drinking, as it is too cold to have been sitting and stagnating. Keep an eye open for the plentiful staghorns on old Wattyl trees, where carpet snakes are likely to hide.

Bush Tucker

In the rainforest section, south of the house, there is an abundance of bush tucker, including the following:

Just behind house, in the garden there are several forms of bush tucker:

North of the House:

In the swamp area, by the main dam, there is:

  • Bull Rush (they ate the tuba)
  • Hollow Water Grass (the hollow shoots were used as a straw by hunters who sat underwater breathing through straw awaiting ducks, whose legs they grabbed as they swam above)

On BlackButt Ridge:

  • Geebung Berry
  • Smokey Quartz, found in the creek between Black Butt Ridge and Tallow Wood Ridge is volcanic, therefore hard and ideal for axes, spear heads etc
  • Laciandra Tree (if you eat the fruit your tongue goes blue)
  • Native Yam
  • Kunjavoy (it is the antidote to the stings given by the Gympie Gympie tree)
  • Piccabeen Palm Berries were eaten and the skins and shells of berries were often kept to be used to make paint for body painting after a meal
  • Soap Tree (you can cut leaves, rub on hands and use as a natural soap after it foams up)