This biography attempts to inform the reader as to the limitations of biographical work: the records of First Nations peoples in Australia is limited, partly through oral cultural tradition, partly through the destructive colonial policy of ‘assimilation’. However it is vital the reader ‘fill in the blanks’ when reading about our Indigenous people’s lives. While statistical information is lacking, Indigenous experience through history is identifiable.
Multuggerah, c. 1820 – 1846, was an Aboriginal leader born around 1820, son of Old Moppy of the Jaggera nation (this spelling has many variations such as Yugara or Jaggerah) with no recorded mother (Kerkhove n.d.; Horton 1996). A First Nations person, he was born into an extended, extra-nuclear family which included elements of the local environment such as flora, fauna and geological formations as well as through bloodlines, moiety, totem and skin names, and kinship (Watarrka Foundation 2020; Welcome to Country 2020). Although undocumented due oral rather than written traditions, the reader must understand that Multuggerah’s extended family included members of tribes throughout South East Queensland and likely much further: contemporary notions of the nuclear family may not be applied to Indigenous peoples.
Multuggerah was born in the era when the British were extending their settlements into the Jaggera, Barunggam, Waka Waka and Gubbi Gubbi Nations, and the British chose the site of the Brisbane penal settlement in May 1825 (Australian National Museum n.d.). Over the next fifteen years, tribal peoples provided support in finding pathways up the escarpment to Toowoomba: Multuggerah’s father, tribal chief Old Moppy, was comfortable enough to send his children as guides to Lt. Owen Gorman (Kerkhove n.d.), who was Military Commandant of Brisbane until May 1842 (Cranfield 1963 p. 395).
Multuggerah was known to the British by a selection of aliases such as Moppy, which possibly referred to his hair (a common and perhaps racist appellation), Young Moppy, which was due to his father known as ‘Old Moppy’, and also as John Campbell. The name Campbell was acquired in a name-exchange ceremony with John Campbell, initiated by Multuggerah, and where his brother Jimguthanr did the same with Mr Summerville (Darling Downs Gazette 1910). Multuggerah was immortalised with such stories as ‘Raid of the Aborigines’ (Kerkhove p. 2-3), however his relationship with the British altered with his brother Wooinambi’s murder in 1841 and Chief Moppy’s murder in 1842: taking his father’s role as tribal leader, Multuggerah began more forcefully resisting further settler advances into the Toowoomba area (Kerkhove p. 7).
It is vital at this point for the reader to become aware of the effect livestock has on ecosystems managed by tribal peoples who form a symbiotic relationship with their natural ecosystems: the introduction of livestock destroys native vegetation (Connor 2018) and most native Australian flora cannot withstand this impact. Vegetation not only provides tribal people with food but also their spiritual connection to the land: it identifies their place in the universe (Riley 2014). The impact of livestock in the 1800s must not be underestimated in the mind of the reader: livestock presented an existential threat to the First Nations people.
Between 1844 and 1846, the focus of Multuggerah’s resistance was on the disruption of supplies and the culling of livestock, and Multuggerah often used stolen livestock as a bargaining point to ensure the safety of his people (Kerkhove p. 8). While a number of white settlers were injured and some lost their lives, the number of Indigenous people murdered has been uncounted (Wellington 2019; Marr 2019). Absent from history’s pages are the hundreds of warriors who died defending their lands as are their extensive families.
Meewah is the First Nations name for the small yet prominent hill just east of where Toowoomba now stands. It was called One Tree Hill by the British and is currently called Tabletop Mountain. This was the location of one of the area’s most historical battles and is commemorated still (Toowoomba Region 2021). Multuggerah’s people defended the area at great loss of life but for twenty years halted the advance of the settlers into First Nations lands (Kerkhove p. 5). However, Indigenous resistance was effectively ended with Multuggerah’s murder in August 1846 (Kerkhove p. 15).
The legacy of First Nations people in Australia is not usually evident and in Toowoomba as there are no roads named after Indigenous peoples: this was only realised after local elder Darby McCarthy worked with Mark Copland to advise the Toowoomba City Council on ways to commemorate Indigenous peoples (Marr 2019). McCarthy and Copland together formed a group called ‘Friends of Multuggerah’ and through the Social Justice Commission petitioned the city council to name the planned Toowoomba bypass ‘Multuggerah Way’ (Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba 2017). The Department of Transport and Main Roads opened the new toll road in September 2019 named ‘Toowoomba Bypass’ (Transport and Main Roads 7 Dec 2020).
A plaque was dedicated to Multuggerah at Middle Ridge State School on 7 Dec 2005 although no photographic evidence is currently available (Monument Australia n.d.), and although the J.E. Duggan park lookout acknowledges Meewah as a sacred site it does not mention Multuggerah (Visit Toowoomba Region n.d.). However, the Friends of Multuggerah hold an annual commemoration ceremony in that park in honour of the man who lead his peoples to many victories.
Although Multuggerah died almost 200 years ago, his legacy of fighting for his lands and his people with cunning and diplomacy continues to impact the descendants who live on his people’s lands. As historian Dr Kerkhove noted, local stories and literature of the 1800s telegraphed his repeated domination of the settlers (Kerkhove pp. 5-6). As treaty negotiations continue to advance, perhaps the First Nations heroes of our past will not be so conspicuous by their absence: our Indigenous heritage is for all Australians to treasure.
Connor, S.E. et al. 2018, Forgotten impacts of European land‐use on riparian and savanna vegetation in northwest Australia, Journal of vegetation science, 29(3), pp.427–437, viewed 27 August 2021, <https://usq.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=cdi_crossref_primary_10_1111_jvs_12591&context=PC&vid=61UOSQ_INST:61USQ&lang=en&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&adaptor=Primo%20Central&tab=Everything&query=any,contains,Forgotten%20impacts%20of%20European%20land%E2%80%90use%20on%20riparian%20and%20savanna%20vegetation%20in%20northwest%20Australia>.
Cranfield, LR 24 Oct 1963, 1927- 1964-01-01, Early commandants of Moreton Bay, Royal Historical Society of Queensland, viewed 27 August 2021, <https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/data/UQ_212724/s00855804_1963_1964_7_2_385.pdf?Expires=1630024890&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJKNBJ4MJBJNC6NLQ&Signature=Awi2Rxb6PfPfmANWVp~jCpAXA1HTskLKwZXFKFOqcO3Qo3GnK2giX2BoObB7Fz0Kkl2JJRXFf5gbDFclMYYK4X-4dfdbEca7dIoPOW1P0N19IAtx-NUah4RdQahAl2PlImOg~n3BBrv-47KAXfNOesOskCwVlofFic2MEjOCGzTqRrp5lmAEwV8DushfBjNDaDJU6ubqrmjJG5lFpzZ7pbb7zPoh5fEl83lvUZF9icfQcvA4GoyNrNIe8Zq1xeOLPHmsSEMGsnda5i8BndUkLYiq3UxL5Urv4av~LMy0et-yyL-p3QfGfauyVpvwc5cZZ0oOfOt24c5ZlLKYFA5uTg__>.
Darling Downs Gazette 1 Oct 1910, ‘Early Settlement in Queensland. No. 5’ by J Campbell, Trove, p. 6, viewed 6 Aug 2021, <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/184875003?searchTerm=multuggerah>.
Department of Transport and Main Roads last updated 7 Dec 2020, Toowoomba Bypass, Department of Transport and Main Roads, viewed 19 Aug 2021, <https://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/projects/toowoomba-bypass>.
Horton, DR 1996, Map of Indigenous Australia, The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, viewed 6 Aug 2021, <https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/map-indigenous-australia>.
Kerkhove, R n.d., Multuggerah (c. 1820–c. 1846)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, viewed 6 Aug 2021, <https://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/multuggerah-29904/text37020>.
Marr, D 15 Sep 2019, Battle of One Tree Hill: remembering an Indigenous victory and a warrior who routed the whites, The Guardian Newspaper, viewed 17 Aug 2019 <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/15/battle-of-one-tree-hill-cutting-through-silence-to-remember-a-warrior-who-routed-the-whites>.
Monument Australia 2010, Multuggerah, Monument Australia, viewed 26 August 2021, <https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/indigenous/display/113363-multuggerah#:~:text=Multuggerah%20%7C%20Monument%20Australia%20Dear%20Monument%20Australia%20visitors%2C,those%20of%20many%20companies%20who%20exist%20for%20profit%29>.
National Museum Australia, n.d. Defining moments: Founding of Brisbane, National Museum Australia, viewed 15 August 2021, <https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/founding-of-brisbane>.
Riley, L 12 Aug 2014, Aboriginal Kinship Presentation: Totems, The University of Sydney, viewed 14 Aug 2021, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpHG9V2qJiE>.
The University of Queensland eSpace Library n.d., ‘Stephen Simpson, M.D., M.L.C’, presented by Stevens, E.V., 26 Mar 1953, viewed 6 Aug 2021, <https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:211506/s18378366_1953_5_1_794.pdf>.
Visit Toowoomba Region n.d., Experience Aboriginal culture and heritage in the Toowoomba region, Toowoomba Regional Council, viewed 10 Aug 2021, <https://visittoowoombaregion.com.au/blog/experience-aboriginal-culture-and-heritage-in-the-toowoomba-region/>.
Toowoomba Region 2021, Events: Battle of Meewah commemoration, Toowoomba Regional Council, viewed 31 Augst 2021, <https://user.tr.qld.gov.au/events/eventdetail/85800/-/battle-of-meewah-commemoration>.
Welcome to Country 13 July 2020, Kinship systems, Welcome to Country, viewed 6 Aug 2021, <https://www.welcometocountry.com/blog/kinship-systems/>.
Watarrka Foundation 2020, The role of family and kinship in Aboriginal culture, Watarrka Foundation, viewed 26 August 2021, <http://www.watarrkafoundation.org.au/blog/the-role-of-family-kinship-in-aboriginal-culture>.
The key challenge in researching Multuggerah was the lack of statistical information and this ultimately became an educational component in writing this biography: the battles were noted in detail for deaths and injuries to whites but it seems black deaths and injuries were deliberately not noted. This alerted me to the basic challenge of my topic: critical differences not just in cultural values but also racism and British colonialism.
My impression is that traditional conservative biographies must be built upon available data, yet this approach does no justice to our Indigenous peoples who had an oral culture and about whose lives the British were largely oblivious: my challenge was to ensure the reader could view the subject’s life from his perspective despite the cultural divide. I overcame this divide by referencing sources which furnish the reader with factual information regarding First Nations worldviews.
I loved the feedback from the other students in the course who engaged in a dialogue with me about our learning processes. Providing feedback allowed me to reflect more on my own writing errors and helped me identify ongoing referencing format irritations. The lecture notes provided me with a correctly formatted document by which I could copy visually: this was much easier than following an impenetrable written matrix of requirements and objectives.
I changed the title page, the formatting of paragraphs, the referencing styles (although I’m quite sure it is not perfectly accurate), but most importantly, I clarified the nature of tribal families. I expect most people of European descent would have great difficulty in fathoming kinship and I would also expect many people to simply dismiss tribal definitions of family. However, once the reader can gain an insight into Multuggerah’s (and all tribal people’s) breadth and depth of familial ties, perhaps the reader may be more able to infer the trauma brought by the British and continued by white Australia