Times Gony By – Society & Sustenance at the Seashore

Children at the Arrawarra Fish Traps, 1970, Photo: courtesy of Coffs Collections (coffs.recollect.net.au).


THE seashore played an important role in the lives of all the people who lived in the region, especially as a source of food for the people of the Gumbaynggirr Nation.

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Around November each year they would watch for swarms of white and yellow butterflies to tell them when particular fish were coming.

They would gather at Arrawarra (Ya Waarra – meaning meeting place) to feast, sharing their food.

Although believed by some people to be constructed by settlers, the Gumbaynggirr people consider the stone fish trap at Arrawarra as their heritage, operating for thousands of years and still used today on special occasions.

The trap is baited to attract fish, which enter through a gap in the wall at high tide.

The gap is blocked and as the tide falls, the men catch them with nets, sticks and spears.

Stories are also told of how dolphins would be with schools of fish, and the women would wade waist deep into the water, singing to them.

The dolphins would then drive the fish toward the shoreline and traps, where they would be caught.

Sometimes, when extra fish were needed for special occasions, canoes (baagu) carved from honeysuckle banksia trees, were used by the men when the water was calm, to fish off the coastline near reefs.

Shellfish such as abalone, urchins, pipis and crabs are still harvested from the shoreline, with Turbine Snails (gugumbal) being the most popular food.

However, food gathering in the area around Arrawarra Headland itself is forbidden, with women and children not allowed near it.

Throwing stones or tearing the leaves of the pandanus trees is prohibited, as this can cause unwelcome rain to come.

From at least the 1880’s, ‘day shelters’ were constructed at the northern end of Moonee Beach, away from their inland main camp and in addition to gathering shellfish and pipis, they would sometimes visit the nearby Skinner family for flour, tobacco and tea.



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