Indigenous People of Bribie Island

Pre-colonial

Affray of aboriginal tribes, three miles from Brisbane, NSW.
Affray of aboriginal tribes, three miles from Brisbane, NSW.

Engraving, published on 17th June 1854 in The Illustrated London News

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Tow-Row net
Tow-Row net

Used by the Indigenous people of Bribie.

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Aboriginal men fishing with tow-row nets ca1890
Aboriginal men fishing with tow-row nets ca1890

Courtesy Thomas Bancroft photo collection SLQ

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Affray of aboriginal tribes, three miles from Brisbane, NSW.
Affray of aboriginal tribes, three miles from Brisbane, NSW.

Engraving, published on 17th June 1854 in The Illustrated London News

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The island was inhabited by the Ngunda people - later known as the Joondoburri - when Europeans first arrived. Despite thriving on the rich resources of the island for thousands of years, by 1891 there were no indigenous people left on the island.

Bribie Island was known as Yarun or Yirin which means ‘Hunting Ground’ and the name Ngunda for the people was recorded by some early Europeans to the area.  The people were later called the Joondoburri. They were a coastal group occupying Bribie Island and parts of Pumicestone Passage on the mainland. They spoke a unique musical language that may have been closer to an early language spoken in Moreton Bay, but with some words similar to Kabi on the mainland. The name Joondoburri was first used in a newspaper article in 1891, written by Archibald Meston. Meston was appointed the Southern Protector of Aboriginals for Queensland from 1898 to 1903. 


Early explorers and visitors described the Ngunda as a very fine-looking set of men, most of them six feet and the women seldom less than five feet eight inches in height and wild, hardy and fierce.


The Ngunda men spent their days fishing, using casting nets, tow-rows and fish traps. Because of the murkiness of the Pumicestone Passage spears weren’t used much and even dugongs and turtles were caught with nets. Women gathered roots, tubers, seeds, fruits, berries, crabs and molluscs. Women never fished before the Europeans came but they soon learnt to use hooks and line.


Nets and dilly bags were used and made by both men and women. Weaving material was manufactured from the bark of the kurrajong (hibiscus heterophyllus), or other fibrous plants, rushes, pandanus leaves, lawyer cane, etc.


The plentiful swamp fern called bungwall (blechnum indicum) was a staple and its root was either roasted, ground and made into cakes or eaten like a roast potato as were other roots and tubers unless toxic.


Because food was generally plentiful on Bribie Island, the people had fixed dwellings. Their huts were built of long slender wattles, both ends of which were stuck into the ground to form an arch about four feet high. Strongly interwoven with rude wickerwork, the whole hut was covered with tea-tree bark to make it quite impervious to rain. Bark and skins were used as bedding and each hut could hold six to ten people.


The Ngunda were described as an invariably kind and generous people but this changed when European civilisation brought many changes to the Moreton Bay area. By the mid-19th century the indigenous Bribie Islanders became well known for their hostility to early settlers in the region whom they felt were encroaching on traditional territory.


Written by Lynne Hooper from information in the public domain.