Aboriginal Beliefs and Coal

Coal featured in several Aboriginal legends concerning Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. In the Dreamtime the great eagle hawk Biraban "created in the sky stones of great ceremonial significance and dropped them in a circular fashion on the tops of mountains around Lake Macquarie" (Maynard 13). Nobby's Head in Newcastle is the "abode of an immensely large kangaroo which resides in the centre of the high rock" he occasionally shakes himself "which causes the island to tremble and large pieces fall down" (Gunson 65). This has been considered a reference to the seismic activity in the region.

Another Awabakal legend describes how coal was made. Long ago when the world was plunged into darkness, the people came together to see what could be done. The darkness was coming from a hole in the mountain and blocked out the sun. People came from all around to cover the ground with rocks and sand. "The people feared that the ever-burning fires from deep in the ground would release the darkness again. After the darkness was covered over, generations passed in which people walked on the ground pressing the darkness and the flames together under the earth to become nikkin, or coal. Now, whenever coal is burned, the spirit of the ancient earth fire is again released" (Ray n.pag.).

Amongst the Darginung people of Wyong and the Central Coast Ghindaring is "a malevolent being whose body is red and resembles burning coals," he had "his abode in the rocky places on the tops of mountains. Fathers used to warn their sons to keep away from such spots" (Attenbrow 130). Another myth from eastern Australia (Aboriginal group not specified) tells the story of the crow-man, Wakala, who stole fire from the Karak-karak women who owned the secret of fire, which they carried in the end of their digging sticks. He made friends with them to find out their secret. He tricked them by burying snakes in a termites mound and told them he had found a large nest of termites, when the women went to the mound the snakes attacked them. They protected themselves with their digging sticks but the fire fell out and Wakala stole it between two pieces of bark. The women became the constellation of the Seven Sisters. Wakala kept the fire for himself and refused to share it with anyone. He quarrelled with everyone and mocked them calling out "Wah wah" until losing his temper one day he threw some coals at one of the men and started a fire. He was burnt to death but transformed into a crow and flew up into the top branches of a tree still crying out at the others in mockery (Mountford 74).

See also: The use of coal by Aboriginal Peoples


"Aboriginal Interpretations." Newcastle: Newcastle City Council. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.


Attenbrow, Val. Sydney's Aboriginal Past. Sydney: University of NSW Press, 2010. Print.

"Coal River Precinct Walk." Coal River Working Party, The University of Newcastle and New South Wales Heritage Office. Web. 25 Mar. 2013. http://uoncc.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/coalriverprecinctwalk.pdf

Eklund, Dr. Eric. "Nobbys Coal River Precinct Newcastle." Coal River Working Party, The University of Newcastle. Web. 25 Mar. 2013. http://www.newcastle.edu.au/Resources/Divisions/Academic/Library/Cultural%20Collections/pdf/coalriverbrochure.pdf

Gunson, Niel. Ed. Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L. E. Threlkeld, Vol. 1. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. 1974: 64-65. Print.

Mathew, John. Eaglehawk and Crow, A study of the Australian Aborigines. Melbourne: Melvin, Mullen and Slade. 1899. Print.

Maynard, John. Whose Traditional Land? The University of Newcastle, Callaghan. Web. 25 Mar. 2013. http://www.newcastle.edu.au/Resources/Institutes/Wollotuka/whose-land.pdf

Mountford, Charles P. The First Sunrise. Sydney: Rigby. 1974. Print.

Text © M. Sherwin, 2013.

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