Sacred Places Battle on Mount Biamanga Captured in Rare Book by Yuin Tribal Elder, Photographer

Lynne Thomas opens a full-size book to a photo of two mountains touching each other, following her hand along their spines.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images and names of people who have died.

The book she is holding paved the way for one of the first land rights victories in NSW.

“If you look along the coast, you see Gulaga and you see Biamanga lying next to her,” said Ms. Thomas, a cultural acquaintance from Yuin-Biripi.

The two mountains, between Bega and Bermagui on the extreme south coast of NSW, are sacred to the Yuin people.

“If one mountain is destroyed, the other is also affected, because we no longer have that visual view of our songlines,” she said.

Lynne’s father, Yuin tribal elder Ted Thomas, was known as Guboo or ‘close friend’. He was an activist at the forefront of the Aboriginal land rights movement in NSW.

Mrs. Thomas has given permission to use the image of her deceased father in this story.

Black and white photo of felled forest with a sawn stump in the foreground
Wesley Stacey’s photos documented the desecration of Biamanga Mountain by logging.Supplied: Wesley Stacey

In 1978, the Wallaga Lake Aboriginal community registered a claim for the title deeds of the Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Reserve.

The land rights campaign took on new urgency when intensive logging in 1979 threatened sacred sites on nearby Biamanga Mountain.

“It was clear that wood chips, with a system of roads, stream crossings and waste dumps, influenced the Aboriginal sites,” said archaeologist and anthropologist Brian Egloff.

dr. Egloff was given four months to prepare a report to the state government on the cultural significance of Mount Biamanga, record interviews with the Aboriginal community and settler families, visit sites and search historical documents for evidence.

“The community told us it was a very important place,” said Dr. Egloff.

‘It was Jack Mumbulla’s dream place, his tribal name was Biamanga. And we were told that’s where the dedication ceremonies were held.’

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Guboo Ted Thomas and Percy Mumbulla address the NSW Parliamentary Select Committee at Wallaga LakeABC News, 1979

In 1979, a NSW Parliamentary Select Committee visited Lake Wallaga for what was in effect the first land rights hearing.

Meanwhile, an advisory committee set up by the Wran government urgently investigated the impact of wood chips on the five state forests between Bega and Bermagui.

“The opposition to reining in the Forestry Commission in Bega has been very, very strong,” said Jack Miller, who represented conservation interests on the Ashton Commission.

Senior Aboriginal man and younger white man stand together in open ground on a drizzly day.
Guboo Ted Thomas and Jack Miller on a bora (ceremonial) ground in Budawang National Park in 1979.Delivered: Jack Miller

Guboo Ted Thomas, Percy Mumbulla and other elders did not only face hostility and fierce resistance from the local community and the forestry industry. They were against the more conservative members of the state government.

“A minister said he wouldn’t take notice of a black guy who just slammed a couple of sticks together,” said Terry Fox, who worked closely with Guboo Ted Thomas on the campaign.

“Some ministers completely denied that there were any sites on Mount Biamanga.”

Photos help the battle to win hearts and minds

Wesley Stacey was a respected photographer when he bought a piece of land with some friends on the far south coast in the mid-1970s.

“I’ve been trying to settle here on the coast, right next to where the Forestry Commission was logging,” Mr. Stacey said.

Black and white photograph of a bearded man in dappled light in coastal forest with an intense expression.
Wesley Stacey’s photographs played a vital role in protecting Aboriginal sites on Mount Biamanga.Delivered: Narelle Perroux

Stacey and Eleanor Williams joined forces with Mr Thomas to capture cultural sites on Biamanga in a series of images evoking the site’s spiritual power and its desecration through logging.

Mr. Thomas chose the locations for Mr. Stacey to photograph, often without discussing their significance, and introduced Mr. Stacey to a new way of seeing the landscape.

“Ted taught me how to better photograph the bush,” said Mr. Stacey.

“I really had to try and tune in to what he was talking about, the character and mystery of the bush.

Black and white photo of an Aboriginal elder sitting cross-legged on a large rock in the forest
Guboo Ted Thomas led the fight to protect Biamanga Mountain from logging.Supplied: Wesley Stacey

One of the lasting legacies of Mr. Stacey’s and Mr. Thomas’s collaboration is the book Mumbulla Spritual Contact, which Mr. Stacey describes as a “propaganda adget,” a large-format photo essay to “make it available to politicians.” cram it in and it would take up most of their display, so they should look into it”.

In 1980, parts of Biamanga Mountain were declared an Aboriginal Place and Protected Archeological Area. But the struggle to protect the coastal forests between Biamanga and Gulaga lasted for decades.

Biamanga and Gulaga National Parks were proclaimed in 1994 and 2001 respectively.

In 2016, the five state forests surrounding the two mountains were reclassified as flora reserves, in recognition of a resident population of koalas – considered a protector of the Gulaga-Biamanga cultural area.

Guboo Ted Thomas died in 2002, four years before Biamanga and Gulaga National Parks were returned to their traditional owners in an emotional ceremony.

Worn black and white close up photo of a tribal elder with a serious expression.
Tribal Elder Jack Mumbulla, whose traditional name was Biamanga, on the cover of Mumbulla Spiritual Contact.Delivered

“That vision they had continued,” Lynne Thomas said.

“It’s like a continuation, like everything we see in this landscape, it just keeps going.

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