Justine Dillon, Kombumerri Traditional Custodian
Text by Justine Dillon, Kombumerri Traditional Custodian. On behalf of Ngarangwal Aboriginal Association Incorporated.

Brief History

Aboriginal people have lived in this country for thousands of years. Aboriginal people have a long history and a very rich and ancient culture.

From the beginning, the Kombumerri people have been the ‘Salt Water’ people with history dictating our people had identifying marks on the males right wrists (from netting in the Broadwater) and the females left little finger being severed (to identify married or women initiated to fish with the men) to distinguish the coastal and inland peoples (Saltwater vs. Freshwater). The Kombumerri lived off the land and the water as the first people to this Gold Coast region. We ate oysters off the reef in the middle of Nerang river, which is now destroyed when the canal development first started after the 1950’s. Our people were healthy, with no pollution, no disease and clean living.

The Kombumerri people have been officially dated at 20,000+ years by the Australian National University and our ancestors’ burial ground in Broadbeach has been dated at 1200 years. The Bora Ring at Burleigh Heads along the Gold Coast Highway is our men’s initiation space and our sacred secret dreaming mountain that has our women’s burial grounds on the very top, (including woman’s business) is located at Burleigh Heads, Jellurgal (connects to our Dreaming story ‘Jabreen’).

The language was varied with suggestions that there was up to 5 dialects alone used within the Kombumerri tribal nation alone. Recently, works have uncovered our separate language and we have called it Ngarahngwal to align with our Nerang River tribal nation and last living occupied settlement of full blood Kombumerri ancestors. Our language is the Mibiny and our dialect is ‘Ngarahngwal’.

Each tribal nation had their own boundaries, laws, lore’s and protocol that was adhered to and respected by their neighbours. Each group did not cross cultural boundaries unless invited and permission given.

All of our history was a verbal generational gift passed down to children that would sit and listen to their Elders, this was custom to in-turn make these children the future Elders and storytellers of the Kombumerri people with stories of our people being a sacred commodity among our people.

The Kombumerri have bloodline family members but also have family members that have been adopted by Senior Elders that have been accepted as part of our tribal nation – they may have Indigenous connections to other areas but have been adopted into the Kombumerri people. This is a taboo subject and Elders advise the younger Kombumerri that certain family adoptions are to never to be discussed.

The Kombumerri people have had an ongoing generational connection with their tribal neighbours the Quandamooka people (Noonuccal, Ngugi, Gorenpul), our people continue the ancestral practices of intermarriages between our groups, cultural heritage exchanges and liaisons and strive constantly to maintain a connection to the Island and people of Minjerribah. There are many other tribal nations surrounding the Kombumerri borders with the Bullogin people occupying the country North of the Coomera river up to the Logan River. Unfortunately, these people were eradicated for farmlands and can no longer speak for their country, so we are custodians for their country as their closest neighbours along with the Yuggera peoples to the North of the Logan. To the South past the Tweed is the Minjungbal people. To the West of them and the South West of the Kombumerri in Binna Burra area was the Birin Burra people and North of them was the Wangeriburra people of Tamborine Mountain – which is the Western border territory of the Kombumerri people.

The name Ngarang-Wal refers to ‘neerang’ the word for the Shovel-nose Ray and we choose this title as our people occupied camps close to the river and used this animal as a food source along with many other flora and fauna species along the Nerang River. Our people used Nerang River as a transport passage to the saltwater, Ngarang-Wal was referred to some Elders as meaning ‘Nerang River’. We are known as the ‘Saltwater people’ too, there is enormous & significant evidence of Kombumerri occupation on the banks of the Southport Broadwater and many other places here on the Gold Coast.

Respecting Traditional Custodians

Traditional Custodians

The term Traditional custodians is used to describe the original Aboriginal people who inhabited an area. Traditional custodians today are the descendants of these original inhabitants and have ongoing spiritual and cultural ties to the land and sea where their ancestors lived. The Traditional custodians of the area stipulated are known as the Kombumerri and speak Ngarahngwal language within the Mibiny region.

Elders and authorised Speakers

In traditional Aboriginal culture, Elders are custodians of traditional knowledge and customs and are charged with the responsibility of providing guidance to the community on cultural matters. An Elder is someone who has gained recognition as a custodian of knowledge or lore, and who has permission to disclose knowledge and beliefs. In Kombumerri culture is it a common belief an Elder initiation starts from a young age and is chosen by those children who stay and listen to the stories so that they’re able to pass them on. On occasions, Elders may request an authorised person to speak on their behalf. An Elder is not necessary an older person and it is important to understand that, in traditional Aboriginal culture, age alone does not necessarily mean that one is recognised as an Elder. An Elder must have the trust and respect of their community and be recognised as a cultural knowledge keeper. Aboriginal people traditionally refer to an Elder as “Aunty” or “Uncle” – however, it is recommended that non-Indigenous people check the appropriateness of their use of these terms.

There are many Elders within the traditional areas of Kombumerri that were brought to the area through unforeseen means including past Acts and Legislations relating to Aboriginal people. Although many of these elders have great cultural knowledge, we must still remember that the Traditional Custodians must always be consulted.

Significant Ceremonies

Welcome to Country

A ‘Welcome to Country’ is where the Traditional Aboriginal Owners’ welcome visitors and guests to their people and land at the beginning of a meeting, event or ceremony.

The following is a procedure in which must be followed:

Welcome to Country or Opening speeches in Kombumerri country must be conducted by a Bloodline descendant of the Kombumerri Traditional Owners and must be a recognised and authorised person. At no time will a member of your organisation conduct a ‘Welcome to Country speech’ because they are of Aboriginal descent. This does not mean they are Traditional Owners or have the mandate to proceed with the speech.

Acknowledgement of Country

If a Traditional Owner is unavailable, you may conduct an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ for your event or ceremony. Acknowledgment of Country is where other people acknowledge and show respect for the Traditional Owners of the land on which the event is taking place.

Here is the suggested script for an acknowledgement speech:

“Kaiala, I would like to acknowledge the Kombumerri people who are the traditional custodians of the land that we are meeting upon today. I would like to pay my respects to all Elders past, present and emerging as they hold the memories, traditions, culture and hopes of our Indigenous people. Thank you.”

Traditional Dance, Song and Didgeridoo performances

The Kombumerri people did not have the didgeridoo as a traditional instrument in this area but were introduced to it by visiting countrymen from Tweed, Quandamooka areas and freshwater inland tribal neighbours and have since adapted our performances to align with the ‘Aboriginal’ genre.

Many of us boast cross-connections to areas where the didgeridoo was used traditionally. Lore from our Quandamooka neighbours and family tells us that women are forbidden to play the didgeridoo – the Kombumerri follow this protocol strictly.

The Kombumerri do not have their own dance troupe so we ask our neighbouring countrymen and women to aide us in sharing our cultural heritage. They have successful groups and we try to promote and share their successes; these groups have continued to carry on our Kombumerri culture with our song and dance that was created from local words and shared legends with the Quandamooka people. We had direct permission to use these songs that were created for this area and our Uncle from North Stradbroke Island still retains the rights to his Songlines, permission must still be sought to use these songs and dance.