Condobolin Aboriginal Art
Wiradjuri Arts Centre Indigenous boy
Wiradjuri art

Wiradjuri Culture

People of the 3 Rivers & carers of the land 

Geographically the largest indigenous nation within NSW, Wiradjuri have been custodians of the land for 40,000 years.  They have lived in harmony with the environment taking only what was needed.​​ They were caretakers, respecters and protectors of the environment they belonged to.

About the Wiradjuri Nation & Country

The Wiradjuri Nation is geographically the largest Indigenous Nation within NSW and it’s probably the largest in terms of population.
The boundary of the Wiradjuri Nation extends from Coonabarabran in the north, straddling the Great Dividing Range down to the Murray River and out to western NSW. Wiradjuri traditional country includes the townships of Dubbo, Condobolin, Orange, Bathurst, Wagga Wagga, Albury, Narrandera, and Griffith.
All of these centres have large populations of Wiradjuri traditional owners.

Land of Three Rivers

Wiradjuri  Wiradjuri lands were known as the land of three rivers;
  • Murrumbidgee (Known by its traditional Wiradjuri name)
  • Gulari (Lachlan)
  • Womboy (Macquarie)

The territory covers hills in the east, river floodplains, grasslands and mallee country in the west. These environments provided all the materials necessary for survival as hunters and gatherers. On the floodplains there were rivers, creeks, billabongs, swamps and lakes which contained many fish, yabbies, mussels, crayfish and tortoises. The waterways were home to many wetlands birds, such as teal, wood
duck, ibis and water fowl. Following the winter floods there was plenty of food for a long time. 

Away from the rivers the land was flat with few trees in the western area. The plains had many kangaroos and emus. When it rained the native grasses grew. Seeds of these grasses provided a reliable source of food. The roots of some plants provided good food. 
Each group had it’s own area to live. The group of between 10 to 50 people would collect everything that they needed from the environment. They would move to a new camp when the food supply was getting low. As the seasons changed and animals hibernated or moved on, and plants became dormant, the group may have found it necessary to move to another site in their area.

Traditional Life

Wiradjuri have been custodians of the land for 40,000 years. They have lived in harmony with the environment taking only what was needed. Groups of men, women and children travelled in groups following the seasonal availability of food and resources. Men and women would hunt and gather what they needed using many tools, weapons and methods.

Dreaming was very important. It is through dreaming that traditional ways were followed. Dreaming explains how the land, animals and plants were created. It also describes how people should act and behave.

People did not own the land but were responsible for looking after it. Each group had their own area to hunt and gather food. The size of the area varied according to the amount of food in it. A group would consist of maybe 10 to 50 people depending on food supply and other things. Each group was based on family groups and relationships held to extended family groups.

The Wiradjuri nation was made up of hundreds of groups living throughout the territory. These groups had the same language and the same beliefs. That is what made them a nation.

Each of the people had a specific relationship with the others in the group and the nation. The relationship rules came from the Dreaming and told them who they could marry and how they should live. It is how they got their totem. The dreaming also told of the ceremonial places that were sacred. The kinship rules meant that no-one would ever be alone without someone to care for them.

Society was built around religion and spirituality. Baiame was the creator and gave the laws for behaviour and custodianship of the land.

Children learnt about life and ceremonies as they helped with the daily work. They would learn how to hunt and gather food by helping the women and men. As the children grew older they were taught more and more of the group’s secrets. Education was a life long process. It was the women of the group who were responsible for teaching the children.

Wiradjuri Children

Children learnt about life & ceremonies

Photo credit: Marion Wighton Packham

The group was semi nomadic and moved camp to follow the food supply of the seasons. During the cold time they wore a fur skin from a possum or kangaroo around their shoulders to keep warm. Summers were hot so they wore a woven skirt or went naked. The pattern of life was determined by the seasons.

For the boys an important time was their initiation. The initiation was carried out in a large ceremony called a Burbung. Invitations would be sent to neighbouring groups and even to other nations. Planning and preparation took many months. The burbung ground was prepared by clearing and marking trees. Guests arrived and camped facing their country. The ceremonies began when everyone arrived. The young boys were taken into the bush for training, testing and initiation into the next level of knowledge. Each boy would go through several initiations in their life before adulthood.

Corroborees were performed by each group. Bonds with each other and the spirits were strengthened. The Wiradjuri council would sit during this time to discuss important issues and set laws.

There are many sacred and important sites within the Wiradjuri area including ceremonial sites, carved trees, bora grounds, burial sites, dreaming sites and initiation areas. These sites were special areas where they could connect with the spirit of the lands.

Two important sites for the Wiradjuri people within the Lachlan Shire are Mana Mountain & Goobothery Hill, The King’s Grave.

Manna Mountain in the background

Manna Mountain

Aboriginal place of special significance

Goobothery Hill - Kings Grave

A sacred burial site of an Aboriginal Chief

Goobothery Hill - Kings Grave

Traditional Cultural Aspects

Each family has a special association with an animal, bird or fish. This is their Totem and each member of the family is linked to the totem through dreaming.
You can not harm or kill your totem. Strangers identified each other by totem, and could determine who was friendly and who was not friendly. A man would never consciously kill or hurt someone of his totem.
People with the same totem could not marry each other.
Wiradjuri Arts Centre Eagle carved

Some totems are listed below:

Giramul : Possum
Wagen : Crow
Birigun : Red Kangaroo
Yungai : Mallee Hen
Narrung : Jew Lizard
Gunir : Pademelon
Gular : Galah
Bidija : Chicken Hawk
Kukuburra : Kookaburra
Totem at the Wiradjuri Study Centre in Condoblin
Shelter & Fire
The size of the group was determined by the amount of food available in the area and kinship relationships. Some groups were small with about 10 people, while other groups could have as many as 50 or even 100 members. Larger groups could only survive in areas with plenty of food supplies.
In the cooler season the group would chose a campsite with good water and plenty of food in the area. It was best to find a site that was protected from the westerly winds. Most campsites were near water because that is where the most food was to be found.
Central to the camp was a fireplace that was used to cook food and to keep warm. The fireplace was a hole in the ground and as food was cooked there, over time a pile of ash and scraps built up. There were other smaller fireplaces used by members of the groups for cooking or warmth located throughout the campsite, mainly near their gunyah.
Shelters were simple structures made with a frame of straight sticks and covered with leaves or sheets of bark. If Stringy-bark or paper-bark was around it was used. If there was no suitable bark then branches of leaves were used.
Windbreak - Types of Shelter


Used in summer or while travelling. It could be set up quickly and left when the group continued on the next day.

Types of Shelter - Lean-to


The most common shelter.
Each family would have their own gunya in the camp.  It is waterproof. A fire could be lit outside for warmth

Mia Mia type of shelter


Weatherproof shelter used in cold seasons. A family of 4 or 5 would
sleep inside with a small fire at the front

Fire was very important. It had a lot of uses.
The old dry grass was burnt to get fresh new growth. The fresh new growth attracted animals to eat it, so the hunters knew they only had to go to this area in the morning or late afternoon and there would be some animals to kill. The animals would be taken back to the camp to be cooked up.
To keep warm they would light a few small fires, not big ones, around the group and sit between them. This was better than having one big fire because all the body was warm not just one side.
During the cold weather they would light up a fire on the ground then scrap out all the coals and ashes. Then they could sleep on the warm ground that the fire heated.
The Wiradjuri used a fire drill stick. Often 2 or 3 people would work together taking turns to keep the stick spinning all the time until the fire tookhold. They used dry grass and very dry animal dung to get the fire started.
When the group moved camp, it was someone’s job to carry a burning stick and keep it alight. Often the group would stop to light up another stick as each one burnt up. This was much easier than lighting up a new fire using fire drill sticks.
Food & Cooking
The land provided the group with everything they needed. They learned to manage the country so the resources were not used up. About half of the food eaten came from plants. Fish and birds were also important. It took about 5 hours every day to collect enough food for the group. The women, girls and young children would gather plant foods such as seeds, nuts and fruit. They also hunted small lizards and collected things like witchetty grubs. The men and older boys would catch larger animals and fish. In this way a variety of food was gathered for the group and everything was shared, cooked and eaten together. Everything of value was kept and used.
The particular plants that were eaten varied in different parts of the country. Fruits, seeds and green vegetable plants were only available during the appropriate seasons.
Roots were an important food. They could usually be dug up all year round. The long roots (rhizomes) of Bracken Fern were chewed or beaten into a sticky starch. There are many native lilies with small tuberous roots which were collected for food, such as the Chocolate lily and Yam Daisy.
Along the rivers, Cumbungi or Bulrush was good nourishment, as was Water ribbons and Marsh Club Rush, which has hard tubers. In the west, where it rains less, the plants are sparse. Here the groups relied more on the native grasses. Seeds were collected and ground into a flour to make into damper. Wattle seeds were eaten. There were also fruits of the ‘bush tomatoes’ and Quandongs.
Many Kangaroos and emus lived on the plains, though hard to kill, they provided plenty of meat. The forest had plenty of possums that were not too hard to catch and they provided good meat.
Big old sugar gums could have as many as 50 witchetty grubs.
Indigenous Food - quandongs bushtomatoes


Quandongs were eaten along with fruits of the “bush tomatoes”


Although hard to kill, emus & kangaroos provided plenty of meat

Witchetty Grubs

Women & children hunted small lizards & witchetty grubs

Central to the camp was the firepit. A hole nearly a metre deep was dug. The main  meals were cooked in this pit.
The main meal of the day was in the evening when the while group was in camp. A fire was lit to heat up clay balls that were made from the river clay. These balls were about as big as a cricket ball. If there wasn’t any clay near the camp small rocks would be used. 
The fire would heat up the clay then all but a few of the clay balls were dug out.  Then leaves were put on them and the food was put on the leaves and covered with more leaves. The rest of the clay balls were added and the lot covered with ashes and dirt. The food would cook about two hours, then it was dug out and everyone could have a good feed. 
Using the same oven over and over meant that a large mound of ash, burnt clay, charcoal and debris built up. These are now called oven mounds. Birds and small animals were cooked by throwing them onto a fire whole, with the feathers or skin still on them. They didn’t take long to cook up a bit as they were turned a couple of times. Yabbies were cooked on the coals. These foods were often cooked in the small fires that each family had near their gunyah.
Campsite Aboriginal cooking clay pit

Campsite pit with clay balls

Cooking process

Cooking process

Clay Balls

Clay balls

Tools & Weapons
Everything had to be either made of traded from another group. Nothing was wasted. Water was sometimes carried in containers made from animal skins and food in baskets made from woven reeds. 
Grinding stones were used for grinding seeds into flour. Canoes were important as they were necessary to transport people and things across water and were used in fishing. They were made from a single piece of bark cut from a tree, softened with fire and bent into shape. Clay from the river bed was used to plug holes. Nets were used to trap fish, ducks and larger animals. Long mesh nets were strung across creeks or rivers to catch fish.
Nets were dragged in shallow water by a few people to catch fish. Smaller nets were used to catch yabbies. A special net was made to catch Bogong Moths in summer.
Duck nets were stung across creeks to trap the birds as they flew into them. A net was strung across a creek between two trees. Then some people would walk along the creek from the other direction and frighten the ducks. This made the ducks fly away. They always fly low along the creek and get caught in the net. When the birds became tangled the net was lowered to get them out.
Fish were sometimes caught with banks made of closely spaced stakes or stones placed across the mouth of a river channel, so that the fish were trapped when the floodwaters receded.
The Indigo plant was crushed up and placed in a pond of water. This would take the oxygen out of the water and the fish would float to the surface where they were collected. When they had enough fish they would stir up the water and the remaining fish would recover.
Spears were always carried by men. They had several kinds of spears each one for a different purpose. Some spears were thrown by hand while others were thrown with a woomera.
Spears were usually 2-4 metres long, depending on the size of the owner. Spears were made from Ironbark, Gidgee, Acacia (Wattles), Grass Trees, Cypress Pine, Mallee or common reed. Each man would have hunting spears, fighting spears, fishing spears and ceremonial spears and he usually carried 3 or 4 spears at any one time. Spears about 1.2m long made from the stalks of the common reed, with a wooden or bone point, were used to hunt small animals. For larger animals, long spears made from other wood were used. These were thrown by hand, or with a woomera.
Fishing spears were about 1.5m long. They were used to spear fish from a canoe or while swimming. Another tool used to catch fish was the canoe stick, a wooden tool shaped into a canoe paddle at one end and a spear at the other.
Manna Mountain
Manna Mountain
Manna Mountain grinding grooves

Wiradjuri grooves

Wiradjuri grinding grooves & sharpening grooves can be seen at Manna Mountain located in the Lachlan Shire


A tool used to throw a spear very accurately over a long distance. Made from a piece of wood cut from a tree.


Used for hunting and fishing and one of the most deadly tools. Made from Mulga, Gidgee, Yarran or Ironbark wood


Very important and used  in ceremonies and fighting.  Made of hard wood with a strong handle

Indigenous Tool Digging Stick

Digging Stick

Used by women to dig up roots, burrowing animals and grubs. Made from very hard wood

Indigenous Tool Boomerang


The Wiradjuri mae for boomerang is “Baddawal”. Boomerangs were used to hunt, to dig, used as clapsticks to make music, used in fights and even used to ligh fires by some of the old men.


A dish like a bowl or pot.  Used by women to carry water or food.  Some woman would balance them on their heads.  Made from the elbow of a root or branch of a tree.

indigenous Tool Bullroarer


A flat piece of wood shaped and decorated by the owner. It was attached to a piece of string and swung around to make a unique sound. Used to warn people to stay away when men’s business was taking place & used by children to let their parents know where they were.

Message Stick

When travelling through another groups area people carried a message stick. The message stick explained who the person was and why they were travelling. It
ensured safe passage, ifcaught in another groups area without permission there would be trouble.

Canoe & the Canoe tree

Bark canoes and rafts were used on rivers and lakes to get across the water. They were also used for hunting and fishing.
Bark was carefully cut from a tree using stone axes. Using fire to soften the bark, it was rolled into shape. This had to be done very carefully as the bark could split easily. After the canoe was shaped animal skins and plant resin were used to plug holes so it would not leak.
Mostly the large River Red Gums were used as they had suitable bark and they grew along the rivers and lakes.
Cutting a canoe did not harm the tree, it left an oval-shaped scar about three metres long on the tree. Many of these trees remain living today.
Scarred Trees
Bark Trees were used in many different ways, but they were seldom cut down. Only the part needed was removed from the tree. This meant that the tree would survive and there was little effect on the environment, as a result some of these trees still exist today and we call them ‘scarred trees’.
There are different types of scarred trees:
  • Trees which have some bark removed for use;
  • Trees which have some wood removed for use;
  • Trees which were cut in some way to make climbing them easier; and
  • Trees which have a design carved on them. 
It took a while to cut off the bark and a lot longer to cut out a piece of wood. Stone axes or bits of stone were used to cut and wedge out the piece. Digging sticks and the end of a boondi was used sometimes. Whatever was around would be used.
Bark was cut off trees to make canoes. The canoes were used on rivers and lakes. Mostly the large River red gums were used as they had suitable bark and they grew along the rivers. Cutting a canoe left an oval shaped scar above three metres long.
Large sheets of bark were used to put on the lean-to shelter as a covering material.  Bark was also used for coffins and wrapping the dead.
Throughout the area there are trees with small oval scars where bark was cut off to make Coolamons or Shields.  Some Coolamons were made by cutting off a gnarl caused by insects and hollowing it out.
Wood was used to make all sorts of tools and weapons. Boomerangs were made from the elbow section of wood, like River red gum root that was exposed by the water washing away the soil.
Shields and Boondis were made of wood or bark. Spears and spear throwers as well as digging sticks were all made of wood and taking them off trees left scars on the trees.
Native bees and animals like possums live in old hollow trees. Someone would find the right tree by watching the bees or look for possum scratching on the trunks. Then one man would go up the tree, he would cut toeholds into the trunk as he went up to get the honey or catch the possum. Sometimes a small smoking fire was lit at
the base of the tree to flush out the possum.
Scarred tree
Scarred tree
Tree Carving
Carved trees are the ones that have patterns cut into the bark or wood. The Wiradjuri were one of the main groups in Australia to develop tree carving as part of the culture. Actual designs were carved into the trees.
Most carvings were done on Box trees (a type of eucalypt) or Cypress Pine trees.  Tree carving was used to mark ceremonial grounds and burial sites of important people.
The initiation grounds were and still are very important and the carved trees warn people to respect them. Around the initiation ground several trees would be carved.
Wiradjuri carved complex designs to mark the burial sites of important men. The designs were associated with man and were thought to provide a pathway for his spirit. The carvings are like a headstone to identify the dead person’s social standing. Mostly only one tree would be carved at a burial site but at some sites a few trees were carved with the carvings facing the burial site. The carvings were done by initiated men.
A suitable tree was chosen and a piece of bark was cut off part of the trunk. Then the carving was cut into the wood. Most of the carvings are geometric designs with ovals, swirls and other shapes. Each tree was unique in its design.
Tree carving was a very skilful art. A stone axe was used to carve the design. It was difficult to cut the hard wood with the traditional tools.
Ring Trees
Aboriginal ‘Ring Trees’ are those which have been modified early in their growth, either by placing a stone or another object in a partial split of a sapling trunk, or by binding a branch to another section of the tree.
These trees are believed to mark areas of significance, including boundaries between groups. Some “rings” occur naturally making identification subjective in some cases. Naturally occurring “rings” may have been regarded as having some significance in some areas.
Indigenous Carved tree

Carved Tree

Indigenous Ring tree

Ring Tree

Women spent many hours weaving a variety of items used in everyday life.
They used grass, water reeds, animal fur and other useful plants to make baskets, scoops, dilly bags, mats, mourning bags.
Indigenous Weaving Bird
Indigenous Weaving Baskets
Indigenous Weaving Emu

The photos are of weaving work by Bev Coe and the ladies of  Sista Shed in Condobolin

Photo Credit: Marion Wighton Packham


Much of the information on this topic above has been sourced from Paul Greenwood’s book “Land of the Wiradjuri” which was developed as a resource to assist in understanding the Wiradjuri traditional culture.  Although the book is intended to provide information on Wiradjuri culture, some information is generic to the Aboriginal culture.

The Murie in Condobolin


The following information was posted by the “Wiradjuri Mob” 2nd January 2015.

Why is the Murie an Aboriginal Place?
The Murie Reserve is a former settlement or ‘fringe camp’ known simply as ‘The Murie’ by the local Aboriginal community.
Why is it important to Aboriginal people?
The Murie Aboriginal Place is of cultural, spiritual and historical importance
to the Murie Elders Group. It is located within Wiradjuri Country.

The Murie Elders Group are passionate believers in the preservation of local
history and culture. The group has been working for a number of years to protect and preserve the cultural knowledge of The Murie. It is regarded as a very special place and The Murie ‘will always be home’ for many people.
The area was nominated as an Aboriginal Place by the Murie Elders Group.
The Murie is an important place because of its history. Situated about four kilometres south of Condobolin, it was the location of a large self-managed Aboriginal settlement from the 1900s to the 1970s. The settlement was a living and camping place for many generations of Aboriginal families. Living at the fringe camp allowed Aboriginal people to move freely around their Country, rather than be bound by laws that ruled the lives of their relatives and friends on formal Aboriginal Reserves governed by the Aborigines Welfare Board.
The Murie is an area which demonstrates that cooperative and valued relationships were forged between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community members in the past. During the early 1930s Depression period The Murie was used as a ‘poor white man’s camp’. This period of shared history is recognised as an important part of the history of Condobolin.
For Aboriginal people The Murie is a significant place for reflecting on the spiritual link to ancestors. The place is a reminder of the impacts that early exploration and settlement of the area had on Aboriginal culture and communities.
The Murie is important to Aboriginal people for a variety of other reasons as well. First, the area was used over a long period – there is evidence of Aboriginal occupation of the reserve that pre-dates European contact. Second, the reserve is utilised as a source of bush foods and natural medicines. Third, the area has a small cemetery where family members were buried and so this area is considered of great cultural importance to the Aboriginal community. Finally, the area is a place where children learn from Elders about their ancestors, and the cultural practices and history of the place. The area is also used for teaching the wider community about Aboriginal culture.
What’s on the ground?
Part of The Murie Reserve was divided into housing blocks. The remnants of demolished houses as well as household items can be seen on the former settlement. There are twentieth century burials on The Murie as well as at least one traditional burial, previously marked by carved trees.

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