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The Bundjalung nation occupies land from north-east NSW to south-east Queensland; i.e. from Grafton in the south, to Tenterfield in the west, and to Beaudesert and Beenleigh in the north. The Bundjalung nation is a large federation of clans. The clan associated with Ballina is the Nyangbul people.

According to  oral traditions this area was first settled by the Three Brothers and their descendants. They arrived by sea and landed at Goanna Headland (about 45km south of Ballina, just south of Evans Head) which is one of the most easterly points on mainland Australia. Goanna Headland has been the mythological place of origin of the Bundjalung Nation, for thousands of years. It is believed that Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal people have lived on and visited Goanna Headland for at least 12,000 years.

The Headland is believed to be the body of the mythical 'Dirawong'. An aerial view shows the headland has a rough outline showing the shape of a goanna, within which the spirit creature is believed to exist even today. 

Mythology  says the 'Dirawong', an unseen spiritual creature also known as the goanna spirit, is one of the Creator Beings of the Bundjalung, that protects, guards, battles the Rainbow Snake, and helps the people.

In 1985 a 16 hectare  of the southern part of Goanna Headland became the first aboriginal land grant in New South Wales. The major part of Goanna Headland is now a reserve with objectives to conserve aboriginal culture and heritage, preserve the native flora and fauna and provide recreational activities to the public. It is managed for the wider community by the Dirawong Trust. A number of archeological sites are located on Goanna Headland and within the Broadwater National Park (north of Evans Head). 



The Rainbow Snake is a creature from Aboriginal mythology. This mythology says that in the beginning the earth was flat, featureless and grey. Then came the Dreamtime when giant creatures rose up from the plains. They looked like animals or plants or insects but behaved just like humans.
The greatest of all these beings took the form of the Rainbow Snake. The movement of his huge multicolored body across the land formed the mountains and the rivers that flow to the ocean. By lifting his tail he makes rainbows.

The Bundjalung people tell us that Rainbow Snake and Goanna worked together to create this area. Douglas Cook, a Bundjalung man, told the following story about Rainbow Snake to Jolanda Nayutah before he died.
Jolanda worked in the Aboriginal Institute in Lismore.


Rainbow Snake had been very bad. What he did is a secret, and cannot be told here, but it was so bad that a local clever man called on Goanna to chase Rainbow Snake away. Only Goanna was powerful enough to deal with Rainbow Snake.

Goanna chased Rainbow Snake down towards the coast and as they went they formed parts of the Richmond River. At Woodburn they left the Richmond River and kept on going. Half-way down the Evans River, Goanna caught Rainbow Snake. Snake turned around and bit him. Goanna then stopped to eat some herbs to heal himself.
When he felt better he resumed his chase.
Meanwhile, Snake had reached Evans Head. He looked around. Goanna was nowhere to be seen, so he decided to go back. As he turned his body made a small island in the river, now known as Pelican Island.
When he spotted Goanna heading towards him, he quickly turned, and this time he kept going until he reached the ocean, and made himself into an island so Goanna wouldn't recognise him.

Goanna reached the coast. He lay down facing the sea, waiting for Rainbow Snake to come back. And you can still hear Rainbow Snake and see Goanna today at Evans Head.


There are a number of stories telling of the Three Brothers.

Bundjalung nation - Unknown tribe - 'The Three Brothers' Story 1

A Bundjalung nation Aboriginal dream time legend tells of three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, their mother and wives who landed at Gummingarr (which is now called Chinamens Beach at Evans Head, New South Wales, Australia) in canoes (made from the bark of a Moreton Bay Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii)). While the three brothers repaired one of their canoes, their mother went to look for food. When it was time to leave the three brothers could not find their mother so left without her. On her return she found her three sons had left without her, enraged at being left behind, she called out to the three brothers and in her anger struck the sea with a stick. This caused the first big waves on the sea and caused the three brothers canoe to sink on a reef at the mouth of the Richmond River, and the three brothers then swam ashore at the historical geographical location known as 'Shelley Beach', located at Ballina, New South Wales, Australia (the area was called in Bundjalung language 'Bullinah', meaning place of many oysters in Njangbal language). The three brothers returned overland to find their mother and stayed to settle this country. One brother went south, another west and the third brother north. In doing so the three brothers founded the tribal groups of the Bundjalung Nation.

Bundjalung Nation - Unknown tribe - 'The Three Brothers' Story 2

This Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal dream-time legend tells of three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, who are said to have come from the sea. The brothers, along with their grandmother, arrived in a canoe made from the bark of a hoop pine. As they followed the coastline, they found a rich land sparsely populated, so they landed at the mouth of the Clarence river, where the towns of Iluka and Yamba now stand, and stayed there for a long time, then, leaving their grandmother behind they continued on in their canoe heading up the east coast. At one place they landed and created a spring of fresh water. They stopped along the coast at various places and populated the land. 'The Three Brothers' also made the laws for the Bundjalung Nation people and also the ceremonies of the Bora rings. The Bora Ring was the meeting place where stories were handed down. That's where the laws came from for all the tribes. The Elders got together and passed down the laws to the younger men of the tribes.

Bundjalung Nation - Unknown tribe - 'The Three Brothers' Story 3

According to Bundjalung Nation Aboriginal dream-time, three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, settled on what is now known as Seven Mile beach (between Lennox Head and Broken Head) and one of them, Yarbirri, produced a flow of fresh water by thrusting his spear into the sand. At low tide there is said to be a stain marking the spot from where the water flowed.

Bundjalung Nation - Yaegle tribe - 'The Three Brothers' Story 4

In the very beginning, three brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, together with their wives and mother traveled from far across the sea, arriving on the Australian coast at the mouth of the Clarence River. Their boat, however, was blown out to sea in a storm, so 'The Three Brothers' decided to build canoes in order to return to their homeland far across the sea.

They completed building the canoes but could find no sign of their mother anywhere so they set off without her. On returning to find she had been left behind, the mother climbed to the top of a hill and cursed them for abandoning her. She called the ocean to anger and the wild seas forced 'The Three Brothers' back to land at Chinamans Beach, near Evans Head. Once the seas had abated one of 'The Three Brothers' returned south to find their mother. The others settled near Evans Head, developed families and a thriving community.

One of the families moved north, another west and the third to the south, forming the three branches of the Bundjalung people.

Bundjalung Nation - Yaegle tribe - 'The Three Brothers' Story 5

According to Bundjalung Legend, The Founding Three Brothers, Mamoonh, Yarbirri (also known as 'yar Birrain') and Birrung, made one of their famous landings at what is now Lennox Head said to be near today a group of black rocks on the beach. When the eldest of 'The Three Brothers' Yarbirri, thrust a spear into the sand, fresh water ran (Lake Ainsworth) and it is said when the tide is low you can still see a rusty stain. After their landing at Lennox Head, the Three Brothers moved north towards Brunswick Heads, where they created the first Bora ground. Thousands of years later, a bora ground remains at Lennox Head, protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and is open to the public.

Bundjalung Nation - Ngybul tribe - 'The Three Brothers' Story 6

"The coastal areas of New South Wales and southern Queensland were associated with the legend of the THREE BROTHERS the ancestors of the Aboriginal people who came from the sea and landed on the east coast. The details of the legend vary from one part of the coast to another, each Aboriginal language area claiming that the brothers landed in their territory.

In the Northern Rivers area the legend states that the three brothers made their first landing at Yamba or illuka, and after three subsequent landings further north, one at Evans Head, then Ballina and the last at the Lennox boat channel area at Lennox Head, two of the brothers then occupied the coast, while the third moved inland and occupied the Lismore district.

Evans Head was known as Gummingarr, a name derived from gummi, meaning father's mother. This recalls an incident in the legend where the grandmother of the three brothers went into the bush to gather fern roots; she could not be found when the three brothers prepared to paddle northward, and was therefore was left behind. Arriving back at the beach the grandmother grew very angry at being left behind and used her magic to summon up a storm making the first waves on what up till that point had been a waveless ocean. This forced the brothers ashore at Ballina and they went overland back to retrieve the grandmother.

The next landing was at Lennox Head in the boat channel area (bream hole/moat) of the beach. One of the brothers, named Yarbirri (his beard was a dark red colour), thrust his hunting spear into the sand, and fresh water gushed out. Before the swampy area in the southern corner was filled and drained a ti-tree coloured stain was often seen that resembled a red beard.

After Lennox the brothers continued north to their final landing at Brunswick Heads, where they are said to have made the first wandaral or bora ring. Be that as it may, there is a well preserved bora ring in Lennox. It is situated ninety metres west of Gibbon Street and is also adjacent to the Megan Crescent cricket field. It is fenced and maintained by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW and is open to visitors. The Bora Ring was used mainly for male initiation ceremonies.

After the first Wandaral ceremony at Brunswick, The eldest brother, Yarbirri, made the laws. The brothers decided to separate and to populate the earth, Yarbirri went north, Mamoon to the west and Birrung to the south. The name Birin (Birrung) was widely used to mean "southerners"; the people north of the Brisbane River regarded all of the Bunjalung people as Birin: to the people of the Byron Bay area Birin referred to the people of the Clarence."


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