The Kabook and Watoo People of the Gringai Barrington River Gloucester, NSW

John Cook AKA Jack Mooloogat Son of Thunder.
Photo taken by Blackwell at the aboriginal camp Barrington West Rd Gloucester NSW approx. 1881. Courtesy Gloucester Historical Society

We acknowledge the Traditional Lands of the Worimi , Gringai and Biripi people of the kutthung language the Custodians, spiritual and cultural owners of these lands. We acknowledge our Elders past and present to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Gringai continue to practice Culture and have a strong connection to our lands and secrete sites where our ancestors lay in the Barrington / Gloucester Manning Valley area.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following contains images of deceased persons.

Written and compiled by Robert Syron.

The Kabook and Watoo people of the Gringai clan of the Worimi Nation – (The Cook family) have lived continually in the Barrington for over 189 years recorded by the first white settlers 1826, until the present. The Australian Agriculture Company (AA Comp), formed in England in 1824 with $1M capital, took up a grant of 1,000,000 acres of land extending from Port Stephens to the Manning River. Robert Dawson established Headquarters at Carrington, Port Stephens in early 1826 explored the Karuah River and naming places he had passed along the way.

He continued to follow the Karuah River north, arriving in Gloucester in November 1826. As the land appeared ideal for grazing and agriculture, early settlement was encouraged. Later an outstation at Gloucester was established where “The Homestead” is located today.

Many Government Documents, newspapers, family trees, photos, journals, Aboriginal sites, references and personal stories can be found referring to the Cook Family – The Kabook and Watoo people – (Cherry Tree and Opossum Clan).

Cook Family Descendants from the Kabook and Watoo people speak the Kattang (or ‘Gathang’) language and it has been recorded that they are the last of the true custodians and Clan within the boundaries of the Allyn and Williams river up stream to Gummi Falls on the Manning River known as Kummi Kummi – (Place of many Crystal stones), Barrington Tops – (Beann Beann), Rawdon Vale, Barrington, Gloucester up to the Manning river down to Cresford the Karuah River and the Bulliac – Tugrabakh Bora Ground area, some 13km from Gloucester.

Amanda Lissarrague

Barrington Tops National Park and State Conservation Area overlie the territories of several Aboriginal groups the eastern side is the traditional country of the Worimi and Biripi people the southern valleys were occupied by the Gringai clan of the Worimi people the western side is Wonnarua country. The Biripi took in the area between Tuncurry, Taree and Gloucester. Worimi territory extended from Barrington Tops and Forster in the north to Maitland and the Hunter River in the south.

Barrington Aboriginal Camp Johnsons Hut (2)
Barrington Aboriginal Camp  – Johnson’ s Hut (n.d.)

The Kabook and Watoo people are West and South bordering the Wonnaura area. In an article –The Kattang, (kutthung) or Worimi: An Aboriginal Tribe – by W. J Enright March 1932 MANKIND p. 76)

“My old friend the late John Hopson stated that he had been informed by J. W. Boydell that in summertime the Patterson River Blacks ascended the Barrington Tops via the Allyn River Valley and on his visit in Dec 1915, we found a stone axe”.

The Worimi, Biripi and Guringay were divided into a number of Nurras or clans. Nurras were local groups within tribes, each occupying a definite part of the tribal territory. Both the Worimi and Biripi spoke the Kattang language.

The Kabook and Watoo people were hunters and gatherers who moved throughout their territory in response to the seasonal availability of food. This meant that the land’s resources were naturally replenished.

Our Clan occupied the valleys year-round, visiting the plateaus in spring and summer to gather food. During winter would hunt kangaroos, emus, possums and wombats, fish and other animals. A wide range of plant foods was collected from the lowland forests. The edible fruits found in the Barrington Tops area include: orange thorn, wild apple tree, giant stinging tree, figs, native cherry, geebung, native raspberry, lillypilly and medicines like Kangaroo apple and corkwood.

Other traditional plant foods include the bulbs of many orchids and the starch from the crown of tree ferns and the starch from stinging tree roots being roasted to make bread.
The Aboriginal occupation of Kabook and Watoo people of the Gringai clan is well recorded in oral history, and in the presence of open campsites with stone artefacts, scarred trees, ceremonial places and mythological sites recorded in dreaming stories.

Barrington River, NSW (n.d)

When Europeans settled in the Gloucester-Manning area in the 1820s and 1830s, the Aboriginal people lost their homelands to logging, clearing and livestock. Traditional hunting grounds were depleted, and sacred sites were destroyed. Wildlife dwindled. Oral history tells us that by 1840 the natural food supplies were almost exhausted.
Starving Aboriginal people began killing stock. The settlers and government troopers retaliated with random shootings and massacres. Around the Manning River basin, there were reports of waterholes and gifts of food being laced with arsenic known as The Harmony so the jungle of the Barrington became a refuge for Aboriginal people.
Today Barrington Tops National Park and State Conservation Area are important to today’s Worimi, Gringai and Biripi communities as an intact part of Aboriginal country.

Who was Jack Cook?

Jack Cook was born 1830 at Cobark Station NSW – died 1925. Grave site at Aboriginal Camp Map Por 20 Par / Fitzroy NSW and wife Jessie Cook (nee Brummy) b.1848 Copeland NSW and d.1942 at 94 years on the Lower Bowman NSW and lived on the banks of the Barrington River. They hunted and collected food on the Cobark River, Williams River, Manning River, Bowman River and Karuah River depending on the season.

Jack Cook- Malookut
Jack Cook-Malookut – The signal to stop hunting the eastern long necked turtle, entering its breeding season is the falling of wattle flowers.

It has been passed down through Family that Malookut was Captain Thunder Bolts Horse Boy known as Frederick Ward. Malookut was also one the last of his clan, to have gone through the last known Keepara – Kiapara ceremony or Boombit from boy to man where he got his name (Malookut-, lightning). On the Barrington One of the Bora rings, or Initiation ground of the local Tribe and was in the Bulliac-Tugrabakh area, some Four miles from Gloucester. Another two Bora Rings where they used to camp and hold their Corroborees located where the Gloucester Public School now stands one ring used by the Woman and the other used by the Men.

Barrington River Boat used to get to school (date unknown)
Barrington River boat used to get children to school (n.d.)

The Bucketts the hills West of Gloucester is an English corruption of an Aboriginal word Buccan Buccan, meaning losts of rock and was identified with the initiation ceremony of the local tribe. An Aboriginal boy, before the first stage of initiation, was given a stone and had to run to the first peak named Toocal Buccan (big rock north) as fast as he could and touch a large rock there. After the ceremony the boy was handed a second stone, the sacred one, and again he had to journey to the second peak named Weela Buccan (The Smaller Southern rock) as fast as he could and then to the final peak the Mograni with a stone and back again. The stones were an important part of the ceremony to pass a youth into tribal manhood.

Afterward the boy carried a sacred stone in a small bag to ward off evil and sickness. This bag was attached to his belt and tied with possum string. Only initiated men could see this stone. If a woman saw it she was killed. The Buccan is a sacred hill and taboo to the Aboriginal Woman and for one of them to set foot on it meant the penalty of death and is also the place where Malookut buried the king stone his Boomerangs, spears and Shield, knowing that the culture and the old ways were not permitted by whites.

There was a popular but wrong story at Gloucester that the Buckets had been named after a bucking horse. The words “buccan, buccan” were use in the region long before a horse (Yarraman) was known. The native numbers had dwindled and the tribal life was disappearing though the aboriginal families had their own reserve, on which a school was built later for their children. This was the first stage of transition from tribal habitat to the white mans way of living, then came the day of isolated wonders.

The Buccan Buccan Known as the Bucketts Gloucester NSW Photo taken by Robert Syron

The camp life was at an end and the surviving members of the clan became part of the town and had English names like The Cooks, Doyles, Brummy, Jackie Springheel and his son, Billy Springheel. “Jackie was so fast that he could chase and catch a kangaroo rat by its tail”. It has also been past down that Sid Cook could run down a dingo and kill it with his hands.

Malookut and his Family lived on the banks of the Barrington River, Cobark River- (Place of Silver Wattle) in a bark humpy’s they lived the old way right up till his later years. Maloogat continued to hunt for Kangaroo-(Womboit), Porky pine, Emu-(Mitucit), Fish-(Markorow), wombat, Flock Pidgins, collect bush tucker (native plants) Stones and timber for tools as his elders did before him. It has been passed down through My Grandmother Eileen May Syron (nee Cook) Born 1911 that Malookut would fish the Gloucester River for perch- (Tuketh), Cobark – (Silver Wattle) River – for Herring, Barrington River for Eels- (Tompi)- black eel, (Snusu) -silver eel and would also fish The Carricknbark River for Rainbow Trout. My Grandmother also said The Cobark- (Silver Wattle) River was always running and had many deep holes-(Berrico) that were a great food source for family and tribe and at times would see Pingootnabarney-(Platypus) in the Cobark and Barrington River.

When winter time came Malookut would go up to the Mountains-(Womboin) where the Mullet- (Peewah) would freeze to death and catch them as they floated to the top of the water at the crossing at a natural rise of the River and would use a fish trap made of stone.

Malookut Clan travelled to Kummi Kummi- (Many Crystal stones) now called Gummi Falls NSW for their spear tips, secret stones and was one of the main hunting grounds for the tribe. Close by is a Bora Ring- (Meeting place) that was used when collecting the stones at Kummi Kummi.

Another main Hunting ground was at Waukivory – (Scene of Big Battle) between a coastal tribe and the Kabook- (Cherry Tree Clan) from Gloucester, Barrington district. Legend states that it was a very important area because it decided which tribe held this very fine hunting ground, the Kabook Clan won this battle on the day.

Along the Barrington River, Cobark River, Williams River the clan would collect stones to make axes and grinding tools the flat oval shape rocks (Magos) can only be found in theses rivers they are Black Scheelite very rarely of granite, oblong in shape with a round face. The Magos are then chipped into the shape and size then ground to an even edge and were also used without a handle. A rod sandstone rock at Kirripit now known as Rawdon Vale is where the tribe used to come and grind the Magos.

When the Clan could no longer hunt and move across the land, Jack Cook -Malookut- and his Family were forced to move to Cobark station and worked for the Hook Family and later in his older years moved to “Barrington blacks Camp” with the last of his clan who survived the annihilation of the tribe at Rawdon Vale NSW.

Also see Peeps into the Past – Berrico Public School – Aborigines.- Part II (Written for the Wingham Chronicle) by J.E.W.). Dungog Chronicle, 2 May 1922, p3.

“The Kabook Tribe of aborigines which inhabited this district were linguistically allied to and apparently a branch of that strong tribe that ranged over the Manning and Wallamba water sheds.” . . .

Peeps into the Past – Aborigines – Part II (Written for the ‘Wingham Chronicle) by J.E.W. Dungog Chronicle, 9 May 1922.

The following refers to ‘Boomerang Jackey’ an Aboriginal man of the Dungog area  mentioned in “An Adventure, and Wonderful Discovery of Stone Cannon Balls” (From Correspondent) The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Saturday 18 July, p2.

“On the skirts of the brushwood, we came across some tribes of blacks encamped. They are a very fine race here, being chiefly natives of Port Stephens and its neighbourhood. A princely looking savage , almost hid in glossy curls of dak rich hair, calling himself “Boomerang Jackey,” smiled and bowed most gracefully, saying, “bacco, massa ? any bacco? . . . . ”

Portrait of King Boomerang, chief of Dungog, New South Wales
Portrait of King Boomerang, chief of Dungog, New South Wales

The stone sphere shown below were formed naturally and reportedly are numerous in the Gloucester area, possibly used by Aboriginal people in that area who would roll them downhill to ward off other tribes and possible attackers.

Round balls found on the barrington
Circular shaped stone formed naturally in the Barrington Tops area (approx. 30cm radius) – Image provided my Robert Syron.

The Cook Family

The Kabook and Watoo people of the Gringai clan of the Worimi Nation were granted Land in 1880. In 1956 after many letters written to the Government by Jessie Martin (nee Cook) begging for the family to stay on their land was heard with death ears. This did not help with the white land owners next door contacting the government requesting the land for cattle feed, they won!

The Cook Family were removed from the family home and land on the Barrington west road leaving behind the graves of our ancestors who lay on a gentle slope.

Photo taken by Blackwell 1905 to 1910
At the Aboriginal Camp Barrington West rd Gloucester NSW
Gloucester Historical Society

Back row 1st on the left Wife- Jessie Cook (Nee –Brummy) her Brother, Dave Brummy, Sarah Ann cook- Daughter and far right Husband to Jessie Cook- (Nee Brummy) John –aka- Jack –Cook- Malookut- (Lightning)
Front row three Sons Alfred b.1895, Sydney b.1893, David Cook b.1887, and Jessie Martin (nee Cook) you can see her wedding ring with 2 Children, Sitting Tom or Tim Martin, and holding her Daughter.John-Cook-AKA-Jack-Mooloogat-Son-of-Thunder.jpg

Today the Family members travel back annually in numbers to connect to the land and the site where our ancestors lay as trespasses now having to request permission to enter onto the land that was once ours. Today we continue passing on our culture through story, art, bush craft, music, dance and lore.

A Commemoration of Jack and Jessie Cook (nee Brunny) and their descendants was erected at Gloucester in 2014.

Jack and Jessie “were well regarded by all in the Gloucester Community”

Jack Cook

Gloucester Public school
“This Cairn marks the site of an Aboriginal Corroboree ground, Glouc, Dist. Hist. Society 1968”

Jack Cook Malookut – lightning, aka – Jack, Fathers name is not known together his Mother- Name unknown from the Opossum Clan had 3 known children known as:-

Jack Cook – Malookut – lightning aka – Jack b.1838 Cobark Station NSW- died 1925 Grave site Aboriginal Camp Map Por 20 Par / Fitzroy NSW.

Jim Cook – Native name not known, sadly died young.

Susan / Susie Cook – kundaiabark – Wild Apple Tree b.1862-Monkerai NSW (Reg 38746) died 19 Oct 1932 Perfleet NSW (Reg 47644).

Their three Children married and had Children named:-

  • Jack Cook -Malookut aka-Jack, wife was Jessie Brummy b.1848 Copeland NSW- d.1942 at 94 years on the Lower Bowman NSW, Jessie Brummy was from The Kabook people Gooreengai clan of the Worimi Nation and together they had 8 children.
  • Sarah Ann Cook b.1876-d.1928 – Married – W. Langford
  • Jessie Cook b.1886-d.1957 – Mar -T. Martin
  • David Cook b.1887-d.1949 – Mar- E. Moran
  • Maggie Cook b.1891-d.1951 – Mar- W. Ritchie
  • Sydney Cook b.1893-d.1956 never married moved to the mission at La Perouse NSW.
  • Alfred Cook b.1895-d.1963-Mar – G. Simon.
  • Susie Cook b.1899-d.1941 – Mar – J. Aspinall
  • John-B b.1909-d.1926 – Mar – M. Boomer
Alfie and Dave
Alfie Cook (left) and (Dave Cook (right)  (n.d.)
Sid Cook
Sydney ‘Sid’ Cook (n.d.)
Kevin Syron Brother NSW Boxing Champion 1956
Kevin Syron NSW Boxing Champion 1956

Jim Cook had a wife and children. When both Jim and his wife died his Sister Susan/ Susie Cook (Kundaiabark-Wild Apple Tree) raised the Children.

Susan/ Susie Cook (Kundaiabark-Wild Apple Tree) b1862-Monkerai NSW (Reg 38746) died 19 Oct 1932 Perfleet NSW (Reg 47644).

Susan/ Susie Cook had a Daughter to a Mr George Russell a farmer who was a coastal half cast he had an Aboriginal mother and Scottish father who drowned at sea and owned land at Coolongolook NSW. Together they had Annie Russell who died 1909 from typhoid.

Annie had a daughter known as Ella Simons (b.1902- d.1981). Ella’s real name was Cinderella Jane Russell and marred into the Simon Family. It has been said that Ella’s Father was probably Samuel Whitbread a saddler at Wingham.

Source: Through My Eyes by Ella Simons and Australian Dictionary of Biography: Simon, Cinderella Jane (1902-1981).

Alfred b. 1895, Sydney b. 1893 and David Cook b. 1887
Siblings from left Alfred b.1895, Sydney b.1893 and David Cook b.1887

I will now call Jack Cook Malookut- lightning aka – Jack by his Aboriginal Native name from now on.

Malookut wife Jessie Cook (nee Brummy) had a brother called Dave Brummy (See photo below – Back row 2nd from the left)


IMG_0084Jessie also had a Brother In-law named Jacky Springheel – (Goorack-Turtle) aka- Jack or Springheel Jacky who was the Elder of the Clan “King of the tribe” as the whites put it!

Springheel wife and child died from typhoid that was going around the Barrington School. Springheel had a Brother named William Springheel who married Sarah Brummy, Jessie cooks – (Nee Brummy) Sister. William and Sarah had a son named David Springheel (Reg No 1908/008069 Marriage certificate.)

I have a very old Dream Time Story that has been passed down about Maloogat and Yettee on the Barrington River near Barrington Tops, Rawdon vale area and was also recorded about 1860 from Jacky (Goorack-Turtle) Springheel- the elder of the tribe Died 1904 he was Malookut- Storm/Thunder and Jessie Cooks Brother in Law.

“The Legend of the Barrington Towers or the Towers” Gloucester Advocate Tues 18 Dec 1934.  Barrington Tops by Wirrapit – Lightning.
The Happy Lovers

“Countless years ago, there lived a beautiful maiden of the Kabook– (Cherry Tree Clan) inhabited the Rawdon Vale and Barrington districts) her name was Yettee (the laughing one) and she was beloved by a splendid young warrior named Mooloogat – (The Son Of Thunder) But alas as was the tribal custom she was betrothed to old Golwah, (the eagle) Golwah suspected that Mooloogat might attempt to steal her so he had her guarded night and day by three picked warriors. However, one dark rainy night Mooloogat killed the three guards and he and Yettee escaped. Golwah was of course very angry and sent six of the most noted warriors in the tribe in pursuit. After many days of weary wandering Mooloogat and Yettee found themselves at the spot where now stand the Towers. Here their pursuers caught them up and in the epic fight that ensued Mooloogat killed the whole six but was himself so badly wounded- that he died. Then the great Alcooingha (good spirit) in answer to the supplications of Yettee took pity on them both and turned them into the two wonderful Towers and here they have stood for thousands upon thousands of years with the waters of the Barrington rushing past and between them, in flood time with a thunderous roar and in normal times bubbling and rippling with laughter hence the names Mooloogat and Yettee. the name of the 3rd tower on the side of a steep hill is Golwah whom the great Alcooingha (good spirit) condemned forever to gaze from a safe distance upon the happy lovers.”

“These towers are About 12 miles west from Rawdon Vale, and just before or on The Barrington River on to the lower country from the mountains, stands three gigantic pillars of stone know by the white community as the towers, or Barrington Towers, two of them 100 feet in height now the water swirls at the base of the great pillars of hardened sand stone, which are worn smooth and appear as if fashioned by the hands of man and the other, the smallest one is up on the steep hill side.”

Also see a similar article Aboriginal Legend of the Barrington Towers. By “Womboin” The Gloucester Advocate, 26 April, 1940.

Jacky (Goorack-Turtle) Springheel- the elder of the tribe Barrington NSW late 1890s to 1903 Maybe dressed for his Wife and Childs funeral that died from typhoid. Photo taken from Gloucester historical society

Jacky Springheel (Goorack-Turtle) also stated many times to a Mr Laurie from Barrington that “when he was a little boy he had seen the Red Coats from Newcastle and could hear the Bugle calls at Rawdon vale coming from the encampment at Wattanbakh – (place of smooth sand stone rocks) Rawdon Vale, Barrington River.” Jacky Springheel would have known and probably witnessed the killings of his elders and clan at McKenzie’s cliff as a young boy.

Article in local history publication ‘Aboriginal School” also mentions Jacky Springheel “The writing of the back of this photograph indicates it is Springheel Jacky, King of the Barrington Blacks. He is mentioned in the Cornish family history in “Gloucester’s Book of Memories.”

Jacky Springheal

Barrington Towers on the Barrington River Photo Taken by Robert Syron
“The Barrington Towers”
One of the Barrington Towers on the Barrington River Photo Taken by Robert Syron

McKenzie’s CLIFFS A TRAGEDY OF 1838. (By WIRRAPIT)The Gloucester Advocate 22 March 1935.

“About 8 miles up the Kerripit River from Rawden Vale one comes out what were known to an older generation as McKenzie’s Cliffs, in places 200 feet above the river and some two or three hundred yards from the top of these cliffs a beautiful and magnificent view meets the eye, seemingly almost underneath this the clear country of Teragie, while in the far distance one gets a glimpse of Upper Cobark and all around the rugged jumble of mountains. To-day looking on this quiet and peaceful scene it is hard to believe that where one stand was enacted one of those terrible tragedies that unfortunately too often happened in the early days when the white pioneers were taking up the land and outsing the primitive aboriginals from their hunting grounds. “THE GOOD OLD DAYS”. The Rawden Bros merchants of Liverpool (England) and J t Jombay, after whom Rawden Vale (now wrongly spelt Rawdon) is called, took up, somewhere about 1834 and held under occupation license all the country now known as Teragie, Moppy, Cobakh, Rawdon Vale and Catteneal, where they depastured many thousands of sheep which on account of the blacks, etc., were all shepherded. These sheep were driven to Berrico at shearing time. Mr. McKenzie, a son-in-law of Mr. John Rawden was the first manager and no doubt he had many difficulties to contend with, one of his chief troubles being caused by his employees, almost all of whom were assigned servants (convicts), many being hardened criminals. These men were employed as shepherds and whenever they got a chance practised almost unbelievable cruelties on the blacks, but stealing the black women was the most serious in the eyes of the aborigines. An Epic Battle. At last matters became so unbearable to the blacks that they decided upon revenge and one cold misty morning in August 1838 they rushed the hut, in which seven shepherds were living at’ ‘Wottenbak,’ just above the present Rawdon- Vale Cobark crossing, on the Cobark side of the Barrington, and after a desperate fight killed six of the sheep herds. One escaped death there only to meet it a few hundred yards across the river, where he was caught by the pursuing foe. An epic of the fight must have been the struggle between a big Irishman named Whalan and his foes as when his body was found it had four spears through it and no less than seven blacks were lying near him with their skulls smashed by a heavy rail with which he had apparently armed himself. On the bank of the Kerripit almost in front of the homestead at ‘Stobo’ lie the remains of these old-time shepherds. SHOCKING PUNISHMENT. Of course, the whites could not for their own safety allow such an event to pass without in some way punishing the blacks, but the way they did retaliate must appear to us moderns as shockingly cruel but unfortunately for themselves the blacks were looked upon by the early settlers as vermin fit only to be destroyed. The settlers from the Williams River side came across to the head of the Gloucester driving the blacks before them while the settlers on this side drove all the blacks up the river and at last cornered them on the small flat above McKenzie’s cliff’s where they shot men women and children without mercy or consideration. Those who escaped the bullet were killed by falling over the cliffs and being smashed on the rocks below thus, was the whole tribe of blacks with one or two exceptions which inhabited this part of the district exterminated?

Mr. McKenzie was, some four months later, accidentally killed fell off his horse while crossing the Cobark River opposite the reserve above Cobark House and his remains rest on a grassy knoll close by. After Mr. McKenzie’s death Mr. Simon Lord, a well-known Sydney merchant (after whom Lord’s Creek is named) of the early Forties of last century, took over the management of the Rawdens properties for a few years and until they were sold. Some time after around 1841 the original Hooke’s and Laurie family moving in after that date.

Through my research I discovered it was not Dr Ludwig Leichhardt who Jacky Springheel travelled with in his exploring expeditions of Australia it was a man named Boyd Horsbrugh.

‘Barrington”  Dungog Chronicle : Durham & Gloucester Advertiser, 26 Jan 1904. On 21 January 1904.

‘That an old Aboriginal who had travelled with Leichhardt in his exploring expeditions of Australia named Jacky Springheel died here on Sat last at about 90 years of age, although black in colour he was in every other respect a white man.”

“It was xmass eave 1853 they travelled from Sydney in search of Leichhardt body and Jack Springheel took this opportunity to get payback on the tribe who killed his Uncle who travelled with Dr Ludwig Leichhardt in 1848.

“There is at present living at Brungle between Turaut and Gundagai an old aboriginal named Robert Freeman, 66 years of age who recites with an apparent vivid memory his experience of the early days of Australian ‘exploration. At the age of 15 years he was persuaded to make one of a party of ten which set out from Sydney in 1853 in search of Dr Ludwig Leichhardt the explorer who had never returned from an expedition of discovery across the interior from Brisbane to the Swan River Settlement.
On referring to Australian history it will be seen that the German botanist Dr Ludwig Leichhardt organised three different expeditions and it was on the third that he disappeared for ever. His first trip, in 1844 was directed towards the north-eastern portions of the continent and with five men he made his way to the Gulf of Carpentaria discovering such important rivers as the’ Fitzroy, Dawson, Isaacs, Mackenzie, Burdekin, Mitchell and Gilbert. Rounding the Gulf, he discovered the Roper and followed the Alligator River down to Van Diemen’s Gulf where a vessel waited to board his party.

On return he was received with the utmost Enthusiasm in Sydney and to such an extent did the people consider themselves in débuted to the explorer that they raised a subscription of £1500 for him and the Government rewarded his services with and there £1000. In 1847 he made his second tour Through Queensland but on account of being hampered by his large flocks of sheep and goats he was compelled to return after wandering for seven months over the Fitzroy Downs. The third trip started from Moreton Bay the following year and none of the party of eight was ever heard of again.

The party with which our friend the black fellow was associated are alleged to have brought back the only reliable tidings of the explorer’s fate indeed he says they were on the eve of recovering the remains but were disappointed through native treachery. His experiences are light and interesting reading the verdict being that poor Leichhardt and his party were speared in their sleep by the natives.

Robert Freeman is a native of Gosford between Sydney and Newcastle where he was employed on a station by Mr. B. Orsborough. Mr. Orsborough was one of the Parties and persuaded the boy to accompany them as he was a useful lad. He says he remembers Sydney when the present site of Paddy’s Markets was under a’ camping ground for tramps and Mess John and Robert Milson were the only inhabitants of Milson’s Point. The party 10 in number started from Sydney on Christmas Eve 1853, and consisted of Mr Hobby Healy (leader), Boyd Orsborough, Captain Anderson, Henry Edgar, Dr. Drysdale, Jack Jefferson, Alexander McArther, John Brown, Springheel Jack and Robert Freeman. They took with them 15 mules; three pack horses, two saddle- horses each, besides guns, pistols, swords, knives, ammunition, stores, and all of which were supplied by the Government.

The aboriginals English was a good deal broken, and at times it was a difficult matter to save but I will endeavour to give his narrative.

“Leaving Sydney, we went to Gloucester NSW, Tenterfield, Armidale, Dundee, and Warwick (Queensland). Leichhardt had adopted this Route as he wished to avoid the desert and we wanted to get on to his tracks. Our provisions were coming to us by water from Sydney to Brisbane and while waiting for these we often found ourselves hungry and only a leg of mutton between ten men. We travelled to the Condamine River (from where Leichhardt’s party had made a start) and to Colin Campbell’s station where we waited for a month to receive our provisions which were being carried by team from Brisbane. After leaving here the blacks began to get troublesome and we had continually to keep watch at night. It was little use taking interpreters as every 150 miles the natives spoke a different language.

With the only one mishap of the loss of three mules (which we afterwards recovered) we arrived at Yalculba a Commissioners Station where we camped for four weeks to spell the horses previous to setting out on the dreary desert. This was the last place we expected to see a white man and soon after Betting out we crossed the Fitzroy -Downs where Leichhardt had lost so many sheep and goats with his second expedition. We camped that night without finding water all day, for in the hope of getting plenty we brought none with us from the last stepping place and our thirst lasted until 12 o’clock Next day when water was found.

All next day we travelled through Brigalow scrub over our heads, being unable to find a clear spot to camp, but eventually we arrived at the Marrinore River This is the spot where Thomas Mitchell had previously arrived, with the intention of settling the country but hearing that Dr. Leichhardt was lost he set out for Sydney his idea being to organise a search party through the country he, perhaps knew better than others.

He was however shipwrecked between Brisbane and Sydney on his way back. We were continually on the lookout for black fellows for guides who might be able to give us some in formation as to the whereabouts or fate of the missing party. With the aid of our interpreters of which by the way we had obtained two from Yambookle station and who were at one-time wild blacks we secured a black fellow and his gin, but they would not camp closer to us than the other side of the river.

They were gone in the morning however it was always the custom of Springheel Jack an aboriginal and myself to collect the mules every morning and on this particular occasion I wish to refer to Springheel went unaccompanied. He had an extraordinary feeling of revenge towards blacks because his uncle was one of Leichhardt’s parties and was supposed to have been murdered.

This morning he took chase after two gins and a little boy expecting to catch the boy and knock his brains out against a tree and have a cartridge of which he had only two for each gin. The boy however ran into the water and Springheel fired at him but missed. He then made for the gins that he saw hide in the thick rushes.

All gins were entirely without clothing. One gin disobeyed his order to come out and he shot her dead. He cut off two of her little fingers to show his people that he had really shot a black for such a murderous action he was severely upbraided by Healy but he only replied “only me shootum not you” meaning that he alone was responsible for his own actions.

We wanted no women with us but our object in endeavouring to get them to come along a little way was the hope that they might perhaps put us on to some black fellows who could give us the information we required.

During our travels in the day time we sighted a smoke but making for it we found only a young baby. After investigation we discovered the gin up a tree with a tomahawk in her hand.

She descended in answer to our interpreter and called another gin who was gathering yams a little distance off. They escaped but we followed to secure them so that they might not send blacks to attack us. We brought them back and they directed us to a camp of black fellows. We rushed down on their camp not giving them time to run and after some interpretations two black fellows volunteered to show us where Leichhardt was killed.

We travelled for five days and the next day we were to reach the spot which should tell the tale of the missing explorers. That night we camped on the Gingellic River and the discharge of our guns which had been loaded for perhaps a week or more startled the natives. We noticed our guides were afraid of us and our intention was to shoot them down if they attempted to escape to prevent those bringing reinforcements against us.
Our blacks could hear their mate’s positing not far off and this tended to make them very uneasy and we sat up two at a time to keep watch. Some of the party suggested that they should be handcuffed but Haply would not hear of it and asserted that it was only necessary to keep a good watch over them.

The fire began to get low and the blacks commenced gathering sticks to replenish it returning continually with hands full. Each time they went a little farther off at last they ran and escaped from us. Our chance of accomplishing our end was thus lost. These blacks related to an interpreter that Leichhardt was three days on the plain without water and was compelled to return to a certain watering place at which he was killed. While the whites were asleep the blacks drove the mules away, and, returning, speared every member of the party to death.

One man awoke and rushing out of the tent shot a black fellow dead but was almost immediately speared. The spears used were about 6ft. long with a jagged point so that when once inserted they could not be extracted with any ease. The blacks took all the guns and threw them into the waterhole. We always took the precaution to keep watch at night but Leichhardt never did.

Every morning we noticed tracks around our camp in the soft sandy soil but the blacks did not venture near when they saw watch was kept. Our rations then began to get short and we found it necessary to return feeling that we had missed our chance. Very little of any consequence happened on our return journey to Sydney except that Mr Orsborough and Captain Anderson missed the party on one occasion and were lost for a day and night without food.”

Map of Aboriginal Territories and Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) Boundaries


Map of Newcaslte & Port Stephens area. nd
“Map of the Colony of NEW SOUTH WALES as known in the years 1824 to 34. The Estate subsequently granted to the Aust. Agricultural Company.”

Map of Newcaslte & Port Stephens area. nd. [insert]
Map of the Colony of NEW SOUTH WALES as known in the years 1824 to 34. The Estate subsequently granted to the Aust. Agricultural Company. [Insert]
Mullacut is also mentioned in the following Newcastle article “Film Planned for Newcastle “(Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Friday 5 January 1951)
Thunderbolt’s Horse Boy.

“While in Hollywood, he stayed with well known actor, Alan Mowbray. When eight, Loch met an aboriginal named Mullacut at Copeland near Gloucester. Mullacut had been the bushranger Thunderbolt’s horse boy, and the idea of making a film on the subject of the bush-ranger’s life had for years appealed to Loch. When he returned to London from Hollywood, Loch began research in preparation for the film. In Essex he bought a brightly painted stage coach with yellow doors – a typical Western stage coach of the 19th century. For two years he has been engaged on research on Thunderbolt’s life. He has written numerous letters to people in Newcastle, Maitland, Glouceter and elsewhere. According to Loch, Thunderbolt liked music, terrorised the countryside, but never killed anyone.”

About the Author Robert Leslie Syron

Gringai Clan Barrington NSW
Registered traditional Aboriginal owner of Worimi lands
Australian Aboriginal War Veteran

Robert Leslie Syron was born 1965 and is a Worimi/Gringai & Biripi Man, NSW.  Robert started full time work in a Butcher shop at 15 years of age after 4 years was awarded a trade certificate as a butcher and managed a butcher shop for 10 years. At 25 he enlisted in the Australian Army and served with the 2nd 4th Battalion and 2nd Battalion RAR as a Rifleman. Robert was a Machine Gunner, No 1 Scout, Section Signaller, Platoon Signaller, Company Signaller and acting Section Commander. He undertook the Regimental Signals Course, Signals Instructors course, Reconnaissance Patrol Men’s Course, Sniper Course, Hot Extraction and Rappelling Course and served overseas on active service in Rwanda 1994 -1995. His Awards include the Infantry Combat Badge, Australian Active Service Medal, United Nations Rwandan Medal, Australian Defence Medal and the ANZAC Peace Prize 1995.

Robert Syron
Robert Leslie Syron, Worimi/Gringai and Biripi Man NSW

In 2011 he completed an Associate Diploma in Aboriginal Studies in Music at the University of Adelaide with honours and was awarded the Reg Sprigg Bursary merit award in the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM) advanced program in 2009, the Reg Sprigg Bursary award highest achiever in the CASM program for 2011, the Elder Conservatorium Directors Award, for outstanding achievement in research, music, composition, performance; and for contribution to Indigenous student Advocacy 2011 and a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society.  In 2015 he was accepted to study Bachelor of laws with honours and a Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice (Combined Degrees) 5 years full time at The University of Newcastle.

Robert Leslie Syron also crafts Indigenous tools including boomerangs inscribed with traditional symbols. The following photographs show some of Robert’s handcrafted boomerangs made from a variety of timber found in the Gloucester area.

Photograph by Robert Leslie Syron – includes white mangrove timber
Created by Robert Leslie Syron – includes white mangrove timber
001 (2)
Created by Robert Leslie Syron – includes white mangrove timber
Mangrove Timber
Created by Robert Leslie Syron – white mangrove timber

The handcrafted weapons were inspired by motifs shown in historical sources.

Bulliac-Tugrabakh area, some Four miles from Gloucester Bora Ground

Bulliac-Tugrabakh area

Plate v1

Plate v

Bora Ground
Bulliac-Tugrabakh area, some Four miles from Gloucester Bora Ground


My finished Painting To dark for the light horse
Artist – Robert Leslie Syron

Oral History Interview with Robert Syron – Sydney Oral Histories (2013)

Through My eyes by Aunty Ella Simon
Miss McQueen of Gloucester
Jim Henderson of Gloucester
Robin Budge the Museum of Gloucester
My Grandmother Eileen May Cook B-1911
Jenny Keys
Rosalie Neve
Uncle Sid Martin
Aunty Bev Manton
Aunty Colene Perry (nee Ping)
Uncle Barry Syron
Trove news papers
Pioneers’ of a Great Valley
Gloucester’s book of memories
Gloucester Library
“In sad but loving memory of aboriginal burials and cemeteries of the last 200 years in NSW” Office of Environment and Heritage.
Maps Australian agricultural Company – AAC

Other sources

Pathfinder The History of Aboriginal NSW Aboriginal Trackers – Jack Cook

Legislative Assembly New South Wales. Aborigines. Printed under No. 1 Report from Printing Committee, 6 August 1908.

Interesting Reminiscences  By “Kyoorie,” in the Wingham ‘Chronicle” Dungog Chronicle : Durham & Gloucester Advertiser. 21 May 1920.

The Barrington Aborigines. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Tuesday 13 March 1883.

Proposed Mission Station on the Barrington River. The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 September 1888.

A Trip to Cobark- Nearly 60 years ago (by Hayseed.)Dungog Chronicle : Durham & Gloucester Advertiser, 30 August 1929.

Taming An Outlaw – How Jack Cook Made History. The Richmond River Herald & Northern Districts Advertiser, 4 March 1932.

Fifty Yeas Ago (By Birrimboo) Dungog Chronicle : Durham & Gloucester Advertiser, 15 July 1938.

A Trip to Cobark- Nearly 60 years ago (by Hayseed.)Dungog Chronicle : Durham & Gloucester Advertiser, 15 July 1929.

Many thanks to Robert Syron for sharing historical research about the Cook family and Aboriginal history associated to Gloucester and Barrington areas.

If you have further information please contact Dr Ann Hardy 
Co-ordinator, GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab
15 August 2018

5 thoughts on “The Kabook and Watoo People of the Gringai Barrington River Gloucester, NSW

  1. An excellent account and long overdue in the telling. Years back I was a frequent visitor to the Upper Allyn, at an old milling camp. The sawmill buildings were still there, as were many weatherboard houses. I mention this so you know where I am talking about. Across the river lived an old man I knew only as Old Bill. He told me that further up the river were some large and deep potholes which Aborigines would conceal under brush and grass to trap kangaroos. I never found their exact location however. You might know of them already. If not, then every little bit helps.

    Bill Needham (Author Burragurra-Lower Hunter Valley publication)

  2. Very interesting my step father was a Hipwell and his mother was a Jarret who were from that part of the world. Hear many stories as a young child about the local aboriginal including the shooting of one of the brothers who the chant of Jimmy Blackdmith was based on. I used to tell my grandmother the stories she used to get most upset and used to say they killed your people it never clicked to 20 years later when I took my step father up there on a drive and he told the stories again his mother used to tell me.

  3. Thank you Robert Syron for getting this published. I remember all the years of information gathering, research for authenticity and truth telling, the travel and many cups of tea. Keeping Our Cook Family Story Alive. Aunty Bev

Leave a Reply to Bill Needham OAM Cancel reply