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Researchers uncover hidden history of Wiradjuri carved trees

Rhiannon Clarke -

The Wiradjuri community, NSW state government and archaeologists have collaborated to uncover a hidden history of Wiradjuri carved trees and burials in South-east Australia.

The groundbreaking research has uncovered a history of Wiradjuri carved trees (marara) and burials (dhabuganha).

The project was spearheaded by a collaborative effort involving Central Tablelands Local Land Services, Gaanha-bula Action Group, Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council, Yarrawula Ngullubul Men's Corporation, La Trobe University, and the University of Denver.

By combining traditional Wiradjuri cultural knowledge with cutting-edge archaeological techniques such as ground-penetrating radar and 3D modelling, the project has shed light on these sacred sites.

The findings, which were first published in the journal Australian Archaeology, have provided a fresh perspective on the whereabouts of marara and dhabuganha.

The newfound, or rediscovered, knowledge will play a crucial role in safeguarding and managing these sites for the long term. Additionally, it has greatly contributed to the repatriation and reburial efforts of the Ancestors who were forcibly taken from these areas without consent.

Unfortunately, the number of marara that remain today is quite limited, and erosion and modern land-use practices have made most dhabuganha invisible.

However, by utilising ground-penetrating radar at a specific location, the teams were able to conduct a non-invasive analysis and create a detailed map of soil changes. This has significantly enhanced the understanding of the final resting place of a highly esteemed Wiradjuri man.

Photographs of TSR carved tree, TSR carved tree detail

(Image: Australian Archaeology)

Central tablelands local land services Aboriginal communities officer Greg Ingram welcomed the discovery.

"This has been an exciting opportunity and partnership for an Aboriginal led science project with the Wiradjuri Elders directing western science," he said.

"To support their existing cultural knowledge of the landscape and funeral practices where the cultural indicators were not obvious due to patterns of land management since colonisation."

Wiradjuri Elder, Uncle Neil Ingram, said the Wiradjuri philosophy of Yindyamarra (cultural respect) has been an important part of this project.

"We were able to share our knowledge together on Country, and that was very respectful and important," he said.

"It was a good demonstration that Western methodology, and traditional methodology and culture, and values, and land, and connection to Country can go together."

Dr Caroline Spry, a prominent researcher at La Trobe University, emphasised the importance of integrating indigenous cultural knowledge with western scientific research to enhance comprehension of marara and dhabuganha

"Wiradjuri marara are enigmatic and unique in Australia and worldwide, but many are also nearing the end of their natural life cycle," she said.

"When you Google these trees, you will only find information written by non-Wiradjuri people that doesn't paint an accurate picture of what they represent.

"Our research reveals a hidden history of Australia and encourages people to reconsider their own views of these trees in relation to Wiradjuri perspectives.

"For Wiradjuri people they are sacred locations that tell a story about Wiradjuri Lore, beliefs, traditional cultural practices and Country, and pathways between the earth and sky world."

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