© Mary Mageau
Whenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to pack a picnic lunch and be off for the day. Not for us—the freeways with their endless lines of speeding traffic and sterile scenery. Instead we head for the back roads and byways, where many surprises are found.
High in the hills of remote Upper Wight’s Mountain Road rests an early treasure, Queensland’s last remaining Aboriginal bora ring. Thankfully this has been gazetted as a reserve, and the Queensland University’s Anthropology Section has accepted nomination as its trustee. The ring is maintained by the local Rotary Club.
Prior to European settlement, the Samford Valley and Pine Rivers area was home to a number of Aboriginal clans. These all belonged to the Turrbul, Kabi and Wakka language groups. The basic unit of Aboriginal society was a self governing clan of about 70 persons. All were responsible for their own homeland. Their ties to the land were unique as they believed that each one belonged to their land—not the land to them. A tribe included several clans, all sharing a distinctive ceremonial and a common dialect.
The Samford Bora Grounds include a large man made ring, 26m in diameter, enclosed by a raised earthen mound. From this central ring a sunken path, 700m long and known as the Sacred Way, is linked to a second smaller ring. The rings were dug out by hand with sharp sticks and stone tomahawks and the earth was carried on sheets of bark to the outer mound. Women took part in the ceremonies at the large ring but were forbidden to walk beyond it. If this law was disobeyed, the woman’s penalty was death.
In the ceremonial bora rings, neighbouring tribes gathered regularly to celebrate and perform important tribal rituals. At the Samford Bora Ground the boys, age 12 to 15 were transformed into young men—Kippas. Their noses were pierced with a small sharp spear and then plugged. The boys received tribal body paint markings and were given new names. This ceremony lasted for several weeks and marked their official graduation into manhood.
While the women and men sang, the boys were made to sit in pairs around the mound as a female relative stood behind each of them. Men carrying boomerangs entered the ring each pointing their boomerang at a particular boy. The boy caught the end of it and as he did so the woman behind him clutched his hair and lifted him up. Man, boy and woman continued walking across the ring to the start of the Sacred Way when the woman was ordered back. This gesture symbolically removed the boy from the influence of his mother or another female relative.
The Samford Bora Grounds were last used by the Aboriginal clans in the 1870s when the Wight family, living on the next ridge, heard their corroborees. Occasionally we still visit the large central ring as this is the only section now being cared for. Here a deep quiet always lingers, and I experience an eerie feeling when I stop to reflect here. Thankfully this archaeological site still exists to remind and teach us of our rich, Aboriginal cultural heritage. It must be preserved.
Note: This photograph (courtesy of the Samford Museum) portrays a Bora ceremony in miniature, displayed in a diorama at the museum.
Another Bora Ring was built nearby on the Redcliffe Peninsula. It was as large as the Samford ring but has never been preserved, and lies buried beneath the suburb of Kippa Ring.