In the old days young boys would have grown up amongst the shield-making,
helping their elders at various stages. Only initiated men who had become
warriors made shields for their own use.
Key to Shield Provenance of Rainforest People Wooden Shields...
Mullunburra Yidinji Clan Nungabana's personal pattern. This is the
4th shield made and painted by George Davis.1999.
Mamu Clan Made byGeorge Davis,painted by George +Shane Barlow, 1998.
May be viewed in the Millaa Millaa Museum.
Mullunburra Yidinji Clan Made by George Davis for the Eacham
Birringbarra Yidinji Clan, showing scorpion. Made byGeorge Davis,
painted by Marion Davis for second exhibition, 2001
Walubarra Yidinji Clan, showing turtles and fish Made by George
Davis, painted by Marion Davis for second exhibition,
Mullunburra Yidinji Clan Made by George Davis, painted by Marion
Davis, 2001. May be viewed in the Indigenous Library,
Mullunburra Yidinji Clan Nungabana Pattern. This is one of 4 little
shields, made by George Davis for his great grandsons
Ngadjon tribe Made by George Davispainted by Shane Barlow for the
Malanda Visitor's Information Centre destroyed by a fire in 2013
Shield markings represented the portion of tribal country that the clan
belonged to. Symbolically the shield is a bora ground. A groups’ camp
position at warrama (intertribal corroboree) was relevant to the direction
of their home country and the shield markings denoted where a person came
from, like a flag.
Halloran's Hill Shields
9."Landscape of the Present" The artwork on this shield
represents the much changed view from Halloran's Hill in Atherton
Queensland in modern times
10."Landscape of the Past" The artwork on this shield is a
representation of the landscape in the time before colonisation, as seen
from Halloran's Hill in Atherton Queensland in ancient times
The shields were carved from the buttress root of a Figwood tree and
painted with natural ochres from the area . The traditional lifestyle of
the North Queensland Aboriginal Tribes was uniquely suited to their
environment Their lives were governed by the seasonal changes and the
consequent effect on the availability of food. They enjoyed a lifestyle
based on hunting, gathering and fishing. Sensitive and alert to the
flowering and fruiting of trees, the nesting of birds and the habits of
animals, a deep respect and cooperation with the natural landscape was
their heritage. Tribal movement and ceremonial activities were of
necessity keyed into the seasonal cycle, the unity between the people and
the land provided the basis for all aspects of life.
(elder is now deceased - used with permission)
written by M. Huxley as told by George Davis, photographs by Duncan Ray
and M. Huxley, 2000
The trunk of a Figwood soars towards the rainforest canopy
Large buttresses spread out from the base of a Figwood
In the old days, only initiated men who had become warriors made shields
for their own use.
The shield blank is cut from the buttress of a Figwood tree, (Ficus
albipila) called in Yidin gunagarray.
The shield is shaped and chiselled
The shield is sanded and smoothed.
Loose fibres and splinters are burnt off. Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea
Johnsonii) resin, ngunuy is painted onto the shield and ignited.
A final sanding and the shield is ready for painting
Shields are painted with different coloured ochres and grass tree
(Xanthorrhoea Johnsonii) resin.
The small brushes are made from lawyer cane pounded at one end, and the
largest brush is a pandanus seed, pounded at one end
A white sap from a secret tree is mixed with a little saliva and painted
on with the ochre, which makes the ochres waterproof.
Symbolically the shield is a bora ground. A groups’ camp position at
warrama (intertribal corroboree) was relevant to the direction of their
home country and the shield markings denoted where a person came from,
like a flag. Shield markings represented the portion of tribal country
that the clan belonged to. This is first shield made and painted by George
Davis in 1998
George’s country includes some of the lowland forests of the Goldsbrough
Valley and he generously donated the wood for the shields, which comes
from the buttress root of Figwood ( Ficus albipila ) which grows only in
the lowland forests. This wood was once a very desirable trading item.
Getting the Wood
L to R: Owen Ray, Mamu elder Robbie Major, Margaret Huxley (seated),
Bernie Viddler with pooch, Duncan Ray (George's right-hand man) and George
An assortment of wood gatherers assembled in November 1999. George said we
had to cut the wood before the wet season, when the sap rises. Led by
Uncle George and Uncle Robbie we set off in two four-wheel drives for the
upper reaches of the Mulgrave River. In the rainforest along the river is
the fig called gunagarray in Yidiny (Figwood - Ficus albipila ). Incised
in its majestic roots were the imprints of shields laboriously removed in
the old days by stone axe. As soon as we arrived Owen found an axe-head at
the base of the tree which had probably been used in the past for this
George Davis with past and present implements. An old shield scar can be
seen on the tree.
George decided he could cut the wood for four shields without mortally
damaging the tree, which is a managed and treasured resource.
These blocks of wood were very heavy, no matter that Bernie made it look
easy. Uncle Robbie had a very effective rolling technique which worked
until we reached the upward incline where the cars were parked. The blocks
were loaded onto the tray of one of the vehicles and taken back to
Atherton where they were stored in an airy shed for drying out. When Uncle
George started to get impatient he drove around with them in the back of
his car and left them sweating in the heat of the car.
Carrying out the wood
Shaping the Wood
With Shane Barlow helping, the timber is cut and dried for a few more
Once the wood is sufficiently dry it is put on a block, measured up and
shaped using chainsaw and hammer and chisel.
Using a steel adze, Shane trims the wood back and thins it down. Next to
him he has a shield made previously by Owen, Duncan and George. (left)
More sanding and chiselling, slowly the wood is fined down and the shield
begins to emerge. (right)
The shield is emerging, front in good shape, side-on showing no warp.
Preparing the Surface
Loose fibres and splinters are burnt off and then the shield is sanded and
scraped to get back to a smooth surface.
The resin from the sap of a grass tree ( Xanthorrhoea johnsonii - ngunuy
in Ngadjon & Yidiny )
is quickly painted onto the shield
and then ignited.This acts as a wood-sealant and primer for later
Duncan is enlarging the handle hole by burning with red-hot coals.
George and Duncan give the shield it's final sanding.
Painting the Shield
With a photocopy of the Ngadjon shields which embellished the Australian
old five pound note
(Uncle George says the design on one of the two shields is the same as the
clan markings for the Ngunyinbarra clan of the Ngadjonji)
(**webmaster note: the original shields sit unrecognised at the National
Museum of Australia in Canberra **)
Aunty Emma's permission was given as the oldest clan member, for the use
of this design.
Shane works out the pattern.
The pattern is then chalked onto the shield.
This photograph shows the complexity of the aboriginal artists' palette.
The smaller brushes are made from lawyer cane pounded at one end to make a
soft brush, if a finer brush is required the lawyer cane is split. The
largest brush is made from a pandanus seed, pounded at one end.
Fine ochres were a sought-after trading article amongst the rainforest
Aboriginal people. The white ochre comes from the Walsh River country, the
yellow is always referred to as Ngadjonji yellow and comes from the clay
pebbles below the Malanda Falls. The resin is from the grass tree (
Xanthorrhoea johnsonii ). The white ochre has been scraped with a small
marsupial jaw bone. The other ochres are ground with rocks.
A white sap from a secret tree is mixed with a little saliva and painted
on with the ochre, this makes the ochres waterproof.
Yellow, then red are painted first,
followed by the whiteand finally the black.
Shane with the finished shield belonging to the Ngunyinbarra clan of the
Ngadjonji (whose land extended from the Russell River to Lamins Hill),
which he helped to make, and the traditional sword.
Eddie Mitchell's Ngadjonji clan markings, for which he kindly gave us
permission, chalked in, the Ngunyinbarra Ngadjonji shield and Uncle George
with an unfinished shield of Yidinyji design
The Shield on Display
On Tuesday 29th February 2000 a small ceremony was held at the Malanda
Environment Centre where the shield was received by the Elders and mounted
as part of the display of Ngadjonji History and Culture at the Centre.
Ngunyinbarra Ngadjonji Elder Emma Johnston (right) who accepted the shield
on behalf of her Clan and Tribe and allowed it to be included in the
Exhibit; Yidinyji Elder and Uncle to the Ngadjonji, shield-maker George
Davis (left); Emma's grandson, Ngadjonji artist Warren Canendo (front) -
under the shield in position in the Ngadjonji Exhibit. (**webmaster note: the Environment Centre was burnt down in 2013 and
the shield was incinerated, some years later The Malanda Falls Visitors
Information Centre was built as a replacement. The Centre won a World
Heritage Wet Tropics "Cassowary Award" and a Certificate of Excellence
from Trip Advisor in 2016 and features the Ngadjon People of the
written by M. Huxley as told by George Davis, photographs by Duncan Ray
and M. Huxley, 2000
Nungabana cuts and peels bark from walguy - maple silkwood (Flindersia
pimenteliana). To avoid ringbarking, the bark is usually taken from only
one side of the tree. The bark is soaked then heated to increase
flexibility, and folded down the middle. Then it's cut, folded and sewn
down the sides. The thread is made from split and treated bugul -
fish-tail lawyer cane (Calamus caryotoides).The thread must be flexible
for knot tieing. The handle is then sewn on. The dugubil - water bag is
finished by plugging the corners with heated beeswax mixed with charcoal
and rubbing the mixture on the stitches. It is then sealed by painting
with a softer wax mixture. A Dugubil was used for carrying anything the
people wanted to keep dry, for example the firestick,wet foods like honey
and in later times tobacco and pipe. Bark is cut and peeled off.
Ringbarking is avoided
The bark is heated over a fire, to make it flexible.
The bark is trimmed and folded. The sides and top are sewn.
The bags can be used for transporting food and supplies.
Today, most of us are ruled by alarm clocks and the calendar. The
Mullunburra calendar noted the natural events of the forest. The
appearance of animals, the flowering of plants - many of the forests
natural cycles - told the people what foods were ready to gather. The
judulu (brown pigeon) call told the women that the jumbun grub was ready.
The falling fruit of garrangar (fruit vine) meant the scrub turkey eggs
were available. People generally ate anything but movement was dictated by
where the staple foods were. There used to be a lot of cassowaries around
but since the 1940's the scrub has deteriorated. As early as 1941 George
remembers running into wild pigs in the rainforest.
The Migration Food Cycle - The Yidinji Seasons
...wet season January through May Head up the valley - Scrub turkey's nest
for eggs White-tailed rat camps in hollow logs; easy to find and kill
Flying fox - hit with a stick. Men hunt for tree kangaroo, possum,
wallaby, cassowary and birds. Women and children collect yellow and black
walnut and black pine. Excess is wrapped in ginger leaves and placed in a
...winter June and July Start back to the coast - Scrub python eaten
mainly in Winter; grubs and brown and black frogs - part of winter diet -
Eat yams and cycads. When the cicada's call changes the blackpine and
walnut are ready to eat. When the wattle starts flowering go down the
trail to the coast. The Python is then out from hibernation and ready to
...spring August, September, October Start back to the coast - Echidna,
turtles, eels and fish were easier to catch as the water dropped.
Davidsonian Plum from July through to September
...summer November and December Goanna and Snakes were hunted either side
of winter. Eat white apple straight off the tree; gather Badil (Cycad);
collect yellow and black walnut in lowlands.
Nungabana (George Davis) was born in the shelter of the buttress root of a
Blush Alder Tree at Gadgarra State Forest in 1922 and spent his first 12
year roaming the bush with his grandfather Gudtjoi (Jimmy Longdon) who
taught him the traditional ways. Then he worked for forty years in the
timber industry (still in the rainforest.)
George started: Biddi Biddi Community Advancement Co Operative Soc. -
which is a housing cooperative for aboriginal people on the Atherton
Tableland. George was the founding President from 1971 to 1983 and still
supports this organization. Dulabed Aboriginal Corporation - He is
president and an elder for more than 10 years George has educated: Eacham
Historical Society - George has lead field trips and demonstrated shield
making. He has donated two shields for display. School for Field Studies -
George lectures to students. Sport and Recreation Tinaroo - George
lectures to school students about Aboriginal Culture. Mt. St. Bernards
School - George lectured to students on the art of axe making and
Rainforest Aboriginal Culture. State Primary School Atherton - George
lectured to students on bushtucker and Aboriginal Culture. State High
School Atherton - George lectured to students and has produced a book on
local Aboriginal Culture. State Primary School Malanda - George lectured
to students on Aboriginal Rainforest Culture. TAFE College with Sue Taylor
- George lectured to students on many aspects of Aboriginal Rainforest
Culture, and has lead field trips. Society for Growing Australian Plants -
George has lectured and has lead a Society field trip to the Goldsbourgh
area Local Police - lectured on Aboriginal Culture and is a police
liaison. Centrelink Reconciliation - lectured about local Aboriginal
Culture George supports: Tableland Reconciliation Group George has worked
on scientific papers with: Bob Dixon - (linguist and author) Jeanette
Covacevich - Sen. Curator (Vertebrates) QLD Museum, Brisbane Tony Irvine -
CSIRO Rainforest plants Laurie May - DNR forestry Wet Tropics - Kearneys
flat park Kylie Pursche - Record story for school students to explain
traditional aboriginal ways Bama Wabu - Aboriginal Rainforest Network (Wet
Tropics) Nicky Horsfall - Anthropologist - Aboriginal Cultural
Significance of Wet Tropics Bill Stella and Sorrel Willby - ABC film
documentary on a rainforest walk down the Russell River Marcus Lane -
Anthropologist Petronella Varzoon-Morel - Anthropologist George has worked
with: Griffith University - he has revived a Yidinji walkway at Gadgarra
creating local employment Atherton Shire Council Gallery - George has
conducted several displays which were educational and well patronized by
the whole Tableland Community. Heritage Trail Network, Haloran's Hill -
George has created two Shield designs showing the landscape of the past
and the present.
George Davis received a Cassowary Award in 2001 "George Davis has made an
outstanding contribution to the survival and enhancement of tropical
rainforest Aboriginal culture and heritage. George is from the Mullunburra
Yidinji clan group and grew up in the traditional way under the guidance
of his grandfather. He went on to spend the next 49 years traveling all
over north Queensland's rainforests cutting timber."
ince retiring in Atherton, he has dedicated his time to his cultural
heritage as both an artist and educator. He is widely respected in the
Aboriginal community for his skill in making traditional artifacts such as
shields, waterbag and boomerangs. He's also widely respected in the wider
community as a true gentleman and a valued elder of the Atherton
community. George is committed to community education and visits local
schools and other centers to talk about his culture and share stories
about the country he loves. George is also the author of the book "The
Mullunburra People of the Mulgrave River" for high school students and
everybody who is interested in aboriginal culture and history. As a World
Heritage neighbour, George was actively involved in World Heritage
management through the Landholders and Neighbours Liaison Group.
Nungbana was a Mullunburra-Yidinji elder - The Early Years compiled by
M. Huxley, 2002
Nungbana was born on the Atherton Tablelands in 1922. Nungabana was
brought up under the guidance of his Grandfather Gudtjoi in their
traditional country, learning a culture that has been passed from
generation to generation over thousands of years. The Mullunburra - people
of the stony river bed - are a clan of the Yidinji Tribe. Nungabana is an
acknowledged authority on the Atherton Tablelands rainforest aboriginal
tribes and one of the last of the traditional implement-makers. His
country includes some of the lowland forests of the Goldsbrough Valley and
this is where he cuts the wood for shields, which comes from the buttress
root of Figwood (Ficus albipila) called in Yidin gunagarray. In the old
days, he says young boys grew up amongst the shield-making and
implement-making generally, helping their elders at various stages. After
a man was initiated and had become a warrior he got his first shield made
by an elder. Shield markings represented the portion of tribal country
that the clan belonged to, symbolically the shield is a bora ground. A
groups’ camp position at warrama (intertribal corroboree) was relevant to
the direction of their home country and the shield markings denoted where
a person came from, like a flag.
The Yidinji are an Aboriginal tribe whose traditional lands extend from
the Cairns area along the coastal plain to around the mouth of the
Mulgrave River and areas of the Atherton Tableland. The Mullunburra -
people of the stony river bed - (‘Mullun’ meaning stony river and creek
bed and ‘burra’ meaning to belong to) are a clan of the Yidinji Tribe.
Each year they traveled back and forth along a traditional route between
camps in the Goldsborough Valley and the bora grounds (warrama) behind
Lake Eacham on Fullers Road. The camps were connected by tributaries of
the river that gave its name to the Mullunburra. The Mullunburra-Yidinji
enjoyed a lifestyle based on hunting, gathering and fishing. Uniquely
suited to their environment, their lives were governed by the seasonal
changes and the consequent effect on the availability of food. Distinctive
aspects of rainforest culture included the holding of intertribal fighting
corroborees using huge swords and shields, the regular use, after complex
processing, of poisonous plants as a food source and horned shaped lawyer
cane baskets made only in the Cairns to Cardwell region. Tribal movement
and ceremonial activities were of necessity keyed into the seasonal cycle,
the unity between the people and the land provided the basis for all
aspects of life. The Mullunburra were very sensitive and alert to the
flowering and fruiting of trees, the nesting of birds and the habits of
animals. They knew what they fed on, where they rested, the paths they
used. The arrival of gunyal (the cicada) in the clan’s traditional area
heralds the start of the wet season, and the availability of the food
sources of blackpine, yellow walnut and eggs of the scrub turkey. When
gunyal changes his tune in song this told the aborigines the food was
ready to eat, and their trek up to the Tablelands followed. The appearance
of animals, the flowering of plants, many of the forests natural cycles,
told the people what foods were ready to gather. The judaloo (Brown
pigeon) calling told the women that the jumbun grub was ready to eat; the
falling fruit of garangal vine meant the scrub turkey eggs were available.
storytime.....feelings....story as told by George Davis photographs and
paintings by Marion Davis
In that long ago Dreamtime (called Storytime), which is still present, the
world was featureless, and the ancestral beings were both human
(Gulnyjarubay) and non human (Gurrgiya). These beings made the country as
they walked over it. They left stories about the places where they did
things, and in the process defined Aboriginal Law, the proper way for
people to live and behave. No part of the land is a wilderness, though
some areas may be dangerous to unauthorised visitors. All of it is named,
humanised, part of the story, reminding people of correct behavior. If you
don't behave properly you get speared, and you are not welcome!
I am related to my country. My grandfather was named after the hills, I am
related ..."The spirits of the ancestors are still alive." If you know the
story of the country where Gulnyjarubay (a Dreamtime being) walked, you
will always know the spirits are with you, they are there, they guide you
and they are the actual constitution of the presents. At the time
Gulnyjarubay walked there he laid down the constitution for the aboriginal
people to follow and not to break it. And most of them did not break it
either. They kept with it all the time. And as far as the relation goes to
the hills, well there are hills in Goldsborough but they are not actually
my real grandfather. But they are my grandfathers relation.
We call them grandfathers. One of them is Badil, the other one is Bumbil.
And I call them my grandfathers, along with my real grandfather. And the
spirits of them, they are still there and to me they are still alive when
I look at the mountains. They are there. They always will be there, till I
die. My grandfather's estate is my area, it is related to me. It is like a
house, it provides me with a cupboard, where I can get food and whatever I
want (out of that area). My country is like my house. In every corne there
is a shelf where I can get food or anything I want. I don't own my
country, it owns me.
And I can go in every quarter of my land and get the food I want. I can
get everything because I know where to look for it. I know where
everything is: fish, carpetsnake, cycad (badil). It is like going in a
store and grabbing things from the shelf. I get shelter and spiritual
Gurrgiya was an offsider belonging to Gulnyjarubay (a Dreamtime being). He
started naming places from the joint mouths of the Mulgrave and Russel
Rivers. As he came up the river, he was naming places as he swam along.
There is one place called Muguyuru, a place where fish go to spawn on the
Mulgrave River. It was there that the ancestral Gurrgiya, the khaki bream
was speared through the gills.
Gurrgiya then stayed at the waterhole until he grew stronger and could
continue the trip up the river. When Gurrgiya came to the Windin Falls he
couldn't go further.There he met a frog, Madjurr (Mixophyes sp.) sitting
at the bottom of the Windin Falls and also couldn't get over.
Then the Dreaming said: "Well, you still got the Tableland to explore". So
they both turned into Currawongs, Jawa Jawa, and flew over Windin Falls.
George Davis, was born with a black spot on the side of his neck, at the
equivalent point at which Gurrgiya was speared in the Dreaming.
George Davis was the first half-caste born in his family-group, so his
grandfather named him Gurrgiya, the yellow fella, the Khaki Bream. That's
how he got his name.
George's great grandson, Cameron Rudken
Nungabana George Gilbert Davis passed away 21 September 2002
Mr George Davis is a Malanbarra Yidinyji elder and uncle to the Ngadjonji
by marriage. He is an acknowledged authority on the Atherton Tablelands
rainforest aboriginal tribes and one of the last of the traditional
implement-makers. Malanbarra Yidinyji and Ngadjonji were neighbours and
according to Uncle George they shared trade, bora grounds on boundaries,
some ceremonies and sometimes intermarried. Though they were not of the
same language group, over the thousands of years they may have shared
boundaries they did acquire some shared vocabulary. Traditionally many
members of both tribes would have been able to speak both languages.
George has worked all his life to ensure that some of the old knowledge is
preserved and in this spirit he agreed to a request by the Ngadjonji
elders to make a shield for the Malanda Environment Centre and
another for the Eacham
Historical Society using traditional shield-making techniques and
Ngadjonji clan markings. Shane Barlow and some others helped the
enterprise at various times, thus acquiring some of the skills required
for shield-making and some knowledge of shield markings.