Stone Walls of Jindabyne

15 Mar

Just who built large rock walls near Jindabyne is unknown, yet other rock structures hint at an advanced indigenous understanding of astronomy, writes Deborah Smith.

At the next summer solstice in December, Angel John Gallard will look to the skies from a special place – a wall made from large stones that runs down a steep slope, exactly east-west, into Lake Jindabyne.

The former national park ranger first came across the carefully built structure in bushland more than 30 years ago, but his renewed interest was inspired by research showing indigenous Australians had sophisticated knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon and stars.

Astronomers have recently shown that Wurdi Youang – a semi-circular Aboriginal stone arrangement in Victoria that is aligned east-west – marks out where the sun sets on the winter and summer solstices.

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Many small Aboriginal rock arrangements in NSW also appear to have been built in an east-west, or north-south direction – a practice requiring close observation of the heavens.

”It is starting to show a very widespread understanding of the cosmos within Aboriginal society,” Gallard, who has found and recorded many Aboriginal sites in his 77 years, says.

The history of the large, Lake Jindabyne granite stone wall is unclear. But Gallard says the more than 100 metre-long structure was described by an early settler – a Boer War veteran who explored the Snowy Mountains on horseback – as one of several walls built by Aborigines in the local area.

This fits with his own finds of many Aboriginal stone artefacts close to the site, and a circular stone arrangement on the crest of the ridge near where the wall begins.

He believes it has a spiritual purpose, as a Rainbow Serpent dreaming site. But, on the longest day of the year, he will also seek out any clues of an astronomical intent. ”There is a hell of a lot of manpower gone into it,” he says.

Research shows Aboriginal people built a range of smaller stone structures including fish traps – such as the ancient ones in Brewarrina in western NSW – huts to shelter from the wind, and ceremonial arrangements. And Gallard, whose great great grandmother was a Ngarigo woman from the area, is also excited by an even more extraordinary set of three larger, stone walls in another area of remote bushland in the district.

A feat of engineering, they plummet down extremely steep inclines, yet have been built from thousands of rocks, some of them massive, with smaller stones carefully wedged between them.

There is about a 50-metre gap between the first 42-metre long wall and the second one, which is slightly offset from the first and ends on the edge of a cliff that plunges to a stream below. The third wall then climbs up the opposite side of the gorge.

”It is a big mystery,” Gallard, who is also an environmental activist and chairman of the Snowy River Alliance, says.

Members of the Snowy River Historical Society point out that Chinese men after the gold rush constructed many stone fences in the district. They say very little is known about this set of three walls in the bush, but it is possible they were built to mark out one of the large cattle and sheep runs leased in the district in the 1850s.

Could they be Aboriginal? ”I’m not convinced,” one society member, Keith Clarke, says.

But Gallard questions why such an enormous amount of effort would have been put into building structures with no apparent function on a dangerously steep site. ”It’s not a fence. It has to have a spiritual or astronomical purpose.”

There are also two sets of small stone lines nearby on the top of the ridge, lying east-west, which mimic the layout of the bigger walls. ”We need a multidisciplinary team to work out what is going on,” he says.

While the purpose of these stone walls remains a mystery, a large body of research by Sydney astronomers Dr Ray Norris, of CSIRO, and Dr Duane Hamacher, of Macquarie University, shows Aboriginal people were careful observers of the night sky.

Celestial knowledge played a major role in the culture, social structure and oral traditions of the hundreds of distinct Aboriginal groups that existed prior to British colonisation, they conclude in a recent paper presented at an international symposium on archaeoastronomy.

This is ”something Aboriginal people themselves have long known but is only beginning to receive long-overdue acknowledgement by mainstream Australians”, they say.

Aboriginal people understood how celestial events correlated with the passing of time, the changing of the seasons, the emergence of food sources, and ocean tides. They used the sky for marriage and totem classes. And they were also familiar with eclipses, meteors and cosmic impacts.

To keep track of their own age, some Aboriginal people made notches in digging sticks with the appearance of each new moon. Message sticks with depictions of the moon in various stages of its cycle were also used to set the time when different tribes would meet for a corroboree.

”Marking the change of seasons was essential to the Aboriginal hunter-gatherer societies and the positions of celestial bodies were a good way to accomplish this,” Hamacher says.

In north-eastern Victoria, for example, the rising of the star Vega, was a sign to the Boorong people that mallee fowls would begin building their nests. And the Pitjantjatjara people in the central desert knew that Pleiades’s rising meant dingo breeding season had come.

Hamacher has shown that a particular Boorong story first recorded in the 1850s was a reference to a giant variable star, Eta Carinae, which had recently erupted and grown to become the second brightest star in the night sky after Sirius.

In most Aboriginal cultures the moon is male and the sun is female. Stories about how the sun-woman chases her lover, the moon-man as he zig-zags across the sky to escape her, show a lot was known about the relative motion of the two heavenly bodies.

Hamacher says the evidence is also growing that Aboriginal people made careful measurements that allowed them to determine the cardinal points of the compass. A key site is Wurdi Youang, an egg-shaped stone arrangement about 50 metres across near Mount Rothwell in Victoria, which was built by the Wathaurung people before European settlement. Some of the stones are estimated to weigh up to 500 kilograms.

Norris, Hamacher and their colleagues have recently confirmed that three outlying stones to the west of the circle indicate the setting positions of the sun at the equinoxes and solstices. They have also shown the straight lines of the circle are related to the solstices.

”The age and exact purpose of this arrangement are unknown, but the two independent lines of evidence for solar indications support an astronomical relationship,” Hamacher says.

The team has also looked at records of stone arrangements in NSW. Their preliminary analysis shows many seem to be deliberately aligned east-west or north-south.

”The determination of cardinal points requires careful measurements of the sun throughout the day and year,” Hamacher says.

East and west can be found by observing the extreme positions of the rising or setting sun on the horizon during the year, at the solstices, and then marking the middle point.

South can be determined by observing the rotation of the Southern Cross during the course of a winter’s night, marking the position on the horizon vertically below its extreme easterly and westerly positions, and identifying the half-way point, the astronomers say.

Dr Sharon Lane, of Quality Archaeological Consulting in Victoria, says Aboriginal people built stone structures for ceremonial as well as functional uses, which were noted by early European explorers. They include a variety of fish traps built in tidal waters, rivers and creeks, and swamps and marshes around the country.

”Since their ‘discovery’ by archaeologists in the 1970s, hundreds of stone circles have been recorded in western Victoria,” Lane, who wrote a report on the finds in 2009 for the Victorian government, says.

Some were stone huts, others appear to have been hunting hides, and some were arrangements of stone which surrounded hearths and ovens.

She says it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between Aboriginal and European stone structures, but historical research is important, particularly the checking of maps that show old property boundaries, trig points and river and creek fording places.

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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Uncategorized


30 responses to “Stone Walls of Jindabyne

  1. Sue Dreamwalker

    March 28, 2012 at 6:09 am

    HI Emu, just re-reading here, and digesting again…. 🙂 have a great day/evening. ~Sue

    • The Emu

      March 29, 2012 at 2:58 am

      Thanks for taking the time to call by again Sue
      Storys and the unexplained like this one always intrigue me
      and most of the time they are a door into past ancient wisdoms

  2. claudia

    March 25, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    …as a Rainbow Serpent dreaming site…wow..sounds intriguing…enjoyed your bit of history lesson, woven together with the mysteries..really nice..

    • The Emu

      March 26, 2012 at 7:51 am

      Hi Claudia , thank you for reading and commenting
      Wish you much love and happiness
      Aussie Emu

  3. rannycalderon

    March 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Very interesting post Ian ..I’m always late the past weeks ..Was exrremely busy ..
    good day xxx~connie

    • The Emu

      March 22, 2012 at 6:48 am

      Thanks for commenting Connie, seems I am late all over the place too lately
      Trying to keep up with everyone and commenting is getting harder lately
      Reckon I am going through menopause
      Cheers girl and keep smiling
      Aussie Emu

      • rannycalderon

        March 22, 2012 at 5:39 pm

        hahaha ….. good day ..Just came home for a long day seminar …. tiring and boring at the same time .

        • The Emu

          March 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm

          Hi Connie, lovely to hear from you
          Thanks for dropping by and reading and commenting
          Wishing you a beaut weekend
          Aussie Emu aka Aussie Ian

  4. giselzitrone

    March 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Grüsse dich lieb und wünsche einen schönen Frühjahrsbeginn Herzlicher Gruss Gislinde.

    • The Emu

      March 22, 2012 at 6:46 am

      Hi Gislinde , hope your week is going well and life is good to you
      Here in Australia is coming into Autumn so days are getting cooler
      Our hot weather is over for now,wishing you well Princess and much love
      Aussie Emu

  5. Androgoth

    March 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    This is a very interesting posting that you have
    added Ian and with lots of useful information too…

    Have a really great rest of week Ian
    but before that enjoy your Hump Day 🙂 lol


    • The Emu

      March 21, 2012 at 7:33 am

      Thanks Androgoth for calling by
      I had three hump days in my life and now got three children
      For me now Hump day is a visit to the zoo and looking at the camels
      Cheers mate

  6. Renee Espriu

    March 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    I love this kind of history and the questions it poses, much like Stonehenge, and the mystery that surrounds the ultimate question of ‘Why?” Thanks for sharing.

    • The Emu

      March 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm

      Hi dear Renee , glad you enjoyed that bit of Australian mystery
      The question is as you say Why ? seems to be something the ancient Aboriginals all knew about
      Hope all is well with you , sorry I have missed your blogs but I just checked and somehow I inadvertently have gone from follow to unfollow
      I will visit soon and catch up, wishing you a great week
      Emu aka Ian

  7. Sabina Brave

    March 18, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I like such stories. 🙂
    Have a wonderful Sunday Ian 🙂

    • The Emu

      March 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

      Hi Princess Sabina , glad you enjoyed that little story from Australia
      Emu aka Ian

  8. Alex Autin

    March 18, 2012 at 2:34 am

    A very interesting article Ian. This is a place I wouldn’t mind visiting one day.

    • The Emu

      March 18, 2012 at 5:09 am

      A place I want to visit too Alex, so far my brother has seen it and documented it
      but we both love exploring and adventures so one day soon I hope to see it also
      Wishing you much love and happiness and great health
      Emu aka Ian

  9. Deb

    March 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    • The Emu

      March 18, 2012 at 5:07 am

      Hope all was great for you on St Paddys day too Deb
      Emu aka Ian

  10. suemacarthur

    March 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    we are luck in this country to have people like you, who keep alive what so many forget,
    so many work to find out things, but then it push to one side,
    Thank you for telling us all about this
    Hope all is well with you my friend

    • The Emu

      March 18, 2012 at 3:29 am

      Thanks Sue for your great comment , I think my brother is the other side of me
      He is 10 years younger and now does the groundwork for me with explorations and adventures
      I am getting a bit long in the tooth but still like to go bush and look for things out of the norm
      Typical wandering Emu.
      Regards to Ross from us both here and wishing you well Sue

  11. rosemarymonteith

    March 16, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Emu a lot of native and Ancient culture show a level of knowledge that we are only now reacquiring today.

    • The Emu

      March 16, 2012 at 12:15 am

      Hi Rosemary , lovely to hear from you , yes you are right a lot of ancient cultures are now surfacing and showing great wisdom from peoples of ancient times.
      Hope all is well with you Rosemary and wishing you a great weekend.
      Aussie Emu aka Ian

  12. Sue Dreamwalker

    March 15, 2012 at 10:36 am

    This is just another such account Emu/Ian, of how our ancient ancestors connected with the Stars and knew things that only in recent times our Modern day scientist and astronomers have discovered. Showing that in those ancient times there was a much higher intelligence to the Universe and its workings as they were able to follow the procession of the stars.. Such information I have just been posting about with the Dogon Tribes in Africa in my Post “ Man is the Dream of the Dolphin.” Showing how they were able not only to know of a Moon in orbit around Sirius but they also knew how long it took to orbit around it.. 50yrs. And they knew it was made of heavy matter, more sense than that of the Earth..
    All around our world there are things which Science and History turn a blind eye too, for to think beyond what they have been taught within text books opens up a whole new paradigm of thought. Which points to knowledge far in advance of what we know today.
    I am just doing research into the Nazca Lines again in Peru. These lines depicting Hummingbirds, Spiders and Monkeys can only been seen if flying from above, and were only discovered in 1920 due to aircraft flying over them.. One has to ask yourself about the stars and Again our Native American Indian brothers who within their own legends told of coming from the Star People..
    I think Ian that within this year, more Knowledge will be unearthed and you will find also that it will be no surprise to those who hold the power of the lands to learn this.. For this knowledge and lots more have been withheld from society for reasons they know of..
    A great post and apologies for the lengthy reply.. but this subject is near to my own heart.. ~Sue

    • The Emu

      March 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      Thank you Sue for your great comment , when I posted it I actually had you in mind as I knew you would appreciate it and understand its relevance to the world we live in today, and that these discoveries show an intellect and understanding of the heavens that date back long before man evolved
      to that which we know now, thank you again Sue, glad you appreciated it, wishing you a great weekend

  13. prenin

    March 15, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Such a shame that so much has been lost Ian! 😦

    We have lots of such structures here in the UK – Usually stone circles – whose use has been forgotten, but they remind us of our lost past…

    God Bless!


    • The Emu

      March 15, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Lots of ancient mysteries still around mate , my brother and I keep finding them
      and researching and recording them , they give a great insight into our Aboriginal world
      Hope you are doing okay mate

  14. magsx2

    March 15, 2012 at 1:33 am

    I remember reading about this, very interesting. I have my doubts actually if this mystery will ever be solved, but who knows they may work it all out.

    • The Emu

      March 15, 2012 at 8:44 am

      My brother lives down that way in Shepparton and we both follow the Aboriginal legends and beliefs
      We have documented many Canoe or scar trees along the Murray and other interesting aspects of Aboriginal life
      At the moment he has found an Aboriginal cave with much artwork that no white man has seen
      He is working with the elders of the tribe to allow us both to be the first white men to see it
      We can photograph it but are not permitted to disclose the location , so will see what happens
      Cheers mate
      Emu aka Ian


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