ABORIGINAL pride was high in Gunnedah on Sunday with the re-enactment of a well-known story about the legendary Gunn-e-darr warrior Cumbo Gunerah – the Red Kangaroo.
The story of the Cumbo Gunerah run was recounted in Stan Ewing’s diaries as told to him and his father, Police Sergeant John Ewing, by King Bungaree (the last of the pre-European contact) tribe.
As a young boy, Stan Ewing, watched as a keen collector of Aboriginal artefacts, Dr Edward Hayne, and his companion Jim Ashby proceeded to unearth the bones of the great Aboriginal warrior, The Red Kangaroo.
Old Bungaree ran away, wailing loudly and the rest of the Aborigines on the river moved quickly downstream to Boggabri – such was their fear of the dead man’s spirit being called back from the burial ground.
Years later when old Bungaree, the tribe’s keeper of stories, Stan Ewing sat with his elderly father and listened to the exploits of the Red Kangaroo.
The historical event was recorded in Chapter 30 of Ion Idriess’ best-selling novel, The Red Chief, published in 1953.
Six Aboriginal boys took part in the Cumbo Gunerah Run from Breeza to Gunnedah, which commemorates the legendary Red Chief saving his tribe from virtual destruction when two youngsters backtracking in search of a lost dilly bag spotted members of the fierce Cassilis tribe approaching their camp.
With the hunting parties far away across the plains, the remaining women and children were herded to the Secret Camp and a smoke signal from Porcupine Hill (Bindea) summoned the warriors to return.
The cunning Red Chief devised a trap for his enemies which made use of the tribe’s wallaby trap under the Bindea Ranges where the warriors held great hunts each year and herded wallabies into the inescapable curve of the Porcupine Ridge.
With a mock camp set up in the curve and the women, children and elderly men hidden in the Secret Camp, the Gunn-e-darr warriors watched and waited as the Cassilis tribesmen took their bait and were trapped like the wallabies.
Very few Cassilis men escaped and according to King Bungaree, any survivors who made it back to their own country would never again believe that the Gunn-e-darr lands were not alive with warriors.
According to legend, the Red Chief never suffered a defeat and while in peace his tribe prospered.
With emotions running high, the group of Aboriginal boys ran in relay from Breeza after a smoke signal from female Aboriginal elders and girls on top of Porcupine Hill.
A good-sized crowd gathered at the Red Chief Memorial, in Abbott Street, to welcome the runners who then led a march along Conadilly Street to Wolseley Park where the Aboriginal Flag was raised and a family fun day was enjoyed by the community.
Cumbo Gunerah was a member of the Gunn-e-darr tribe and according to dating of the carved tree near his burial place, he would have died around 1745, well before the arrival of Europeans.
Cumbo Gunerah lived to be a very old man and was buried under an old box-tree near his beloved Mullibah Lagoon camp.
The tree was known by European settlers as the Blackfellow’s Tree and was a landmark in the town. The box-tree stump was 12-feet high, carved from the base to the top with intricate totemic designs. It stood opposite the old Wesleyan Parsonage in Poe Street (now Abbott Street).
His bones rested there for more than a century until the township of Gunnedah grew up around it and a curious white man unearthed the skeleton with perfect teeth – except for the front one knocked out in the Bora – and a broken arm, perfectly healed.
A section of the Blackfellow’s Tree along with the sacred remains of the Red Chief were sent to the Sydney Museum before the turn of the 20th century and when Ion Idriess inquired about them in the 1950s, they appeared to have been lost forever.
The Red Chief Memorial erected on the Abbott Street burial site in 1984, is believed to be the first memorial erected in honour of an Aboriginal historical figure.
In 1992 the skeletal remains of two members of the Kamilaroi tribe were laid to rest in the Cumbo Gunerah Gallery, in Gunnedah, and a bound copy of the historical notes of the late Russell McDonagh on the Kamilaroi tribes was presented to the Red Chief Lands Council.
The inaugural Cumbo Gunerah re-enactment was held in 2003 and every year the indigenous community is reminded of its proud heritage as the story is repeated to younger generations.