Perceptions of the country
Original inhabitants
Before European contact
First contact with Europeans
After European contact
Native Title Today

In the beginning: the Creation

Archaelological evidence suggests Australia’s original human inhabitants arrived on the north-west coast over 40,000 years ago at a time of low sea levels. This created short ocean crossings between the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. The first people spread out to live across the whole of Australia, divided into language groups on what became their tribal and family lands. Many Aboriginal people, including the Badimia whose traditional country includes Charles Darwin Reserve, believe that they were created there along with the land itself and the plants and animals.

The country itself and the first pathways across it were made by the creation spirits of the Aboriginal people as they journeyed around the land and sky. The Badimia believe that there was a creative period in the world, which some Aboriginal people call the Dreaming. The Badimia people call this time Cudaroo, or the time when the earth was soft. This was the time when the creative beings travelled over the country and transformed the Earth from a soft and formless state. The creative beings made the features of the Earth and also left spiritual powers in the land.

             N. Green, Director of Research, Yamatji Land and Sea Council, in National Native Title Tribunal detemination on Application        WO00/351

Dreaming tracks

The pathways travelled by the Creative Beings are often called 'Dreaming Tracks'.

Dreaming tracks often connected water holes and soaks or led to major permanent pools or springs. In this semi-arid region, drinking water is the critical element for the survival of both people and many animal species. Major water supplies were important sites for gatherings, for seasonal trading or law meetings and other big ceremonies and social events.

The 'maps' the original people used to find their way across the country were often in songs. 'Songlines' or stories told of the journeys of the ancestral spirits. 'Standing stones' were sometimes erected on a prominence to point to the next section of the track. These maps and signs enabled travellers to move safely on the first 'highways' across the country.

This picture shows Mt Gibson jutting out facing west. To the south of this hill is a gold mine. My ancestors followed this series of hills for seasonal camps. In the caves they camped for thousands of years following a dreaming journey that took them right to the south of Lake Moore and back again. This journey stretched out for 35,000 square kilometres.

Julie Dowling, Artist with Badimia, Widi and Nyoongar ancestry, describing her painting Mt Gibson – Looking North-East from her exhibition Warridah Sovereignty, 2004.

Website, Brigitte Braun Art Dealer,

Defined tracks

Important sites such as Warrdagga Rock on Ninghan and the Coodingnow waterhole appear to have been major meeting and ceremonial places for groups from all the surrounding tribes: Nyoongar to the south, Galamaia to the south-east, Wongai to the east, Widi and other Yamatji people to the west and north. All reached their destinations via a series of defined paths which lead from waterhole to waterhole and which would have provided authorised passage through other people’s country. These were called ‘native tracks’ by the explorers. The tracks passed through and around otherwise dry country which was often covered with thick vegetation or boggy salt lakes. Some of these paths may have originally been well-worn kangaroo pads leading to animal drinking holes, springs and soaks.

These tracks connected waterholes, soaks, springs and rockpools where water could be procured no more than a day’s walk apart even in dry seasons.

August 20th 1868: Travelled all day along the gully … until at length its source was reached, when the country became dense thickets, through which I travelled until I came across numerous native tracks, which being followed in a southern direction, brought me to a fresh-water swamp, where I stopped, having travelled 28 miles due east from last night’s camp

N.W. Cooke Expedition to the Eastward of the Irwin Exploration Diaries 1865-71 Vol. 6 PR5541, J.S. Battye Library

Bypassing Charles Darwin Reserve

The colonial explorers depended on either finding or being shown these paths if they were to cross the country safely. The records of those explorers, the early maps and now the existing roads suggest that a network of major tracks surrounded Charles Darwin Reserve but did not appear to cross it. It is not yet clear whether any ancient highways crossed Charles Darwin Reserve itself. There are no big permanent waters, no conspicuous landmarks, no Aboriginal language place names recorded on maps of Charles Darwin Reserve. There is widely spread but thin evidence of occupation by Aboriginal people in the form of grinding stones, flakes and cores and rock-covered gnamma holes. Minor tracks would have linked these sites.

We can reconstruct the likely routes of at least five main tracks in the region. Some of these may have been major dreaming tracks connecting neighbouring people into Badimia country.

To the north of Charles Darwin Reserve a main track from Damperwah Spring on Karara Station heads towards Mt Singleton and Warrdagga Rock, crossing Mongers Lake at Lucky Crossing. This track was used by Cooke, Monger and Forrest in the late 1860s.

To the south-east one track crosses between Mongers Lake and Lake Goorly at Jibberding Spring heading to Mt Singleton (Nyingarn) along a series of claypans springs and rockholes. This was used by Surveyor Robinson in 1887.

To the west, another track follows the eastern edge of Mongers Lake from Jibberding Spring to Kourigee Swamp and through the Dalgary Rockhole on to Wanarra Rock. It became the Dalgary Road, which is now abandoned.

To the east, an important track runs from Nyoongar country to the south, up the western shore of Lake Moore heading to the hill Nyingarn. This was also used by Surveyor Robinson. A major crossing of Lake Moore was marked by a line of standing stones across the lake bed. This crossing between springs on either side of Lake Moore was so well-worn that it was misinterpreted from aerial photography and drawn on the official topographic map as a fence line. It is part of a highly significant dreaming track.

Up the centre of the Lake Moore to Mongers Lake area a track runs through Pigeon Rock, a rockhole and soak in the south-eastern corner of Charles Darwin Reserve. Its Badimia name is Marnbi Gudaru. It is registered as a ceremonial site under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, protecting it from any interference. It was also a watering hole on the old horse and camel track from Wubin to Ninghan via Jibberding Spring and White Well, which was presumably a major traditional track. This track was straightened in 1927 to become the Great Northern Highway, relocated to the west of the Mt Gibson range and bypassing the waterholes which were no longer required for watering horses and camels.

Marnbi Gudaru may have once been called Banawar Spring, the centre of the first pastoral lease on Charles Darwin Reserve. First mapped as 'PD' (Position Doubtful) in the 1870s some distance from Pigeon Rock, it appeared in the vicinity of Pigeon Rock on later maps. The name may have been confused with another rock and soak elsewhere named Banawar, and it disappeared from later maps. This Pigeon Rock is not to be confused with the Pigeon Rock Well in the north-west corner of Charles Darwin Reserve.

Bush Heritage Australia Logo