The Nyangbal of Ballina

The Nyganbal people were a Bundjalung clan who lived around present day Ballina in New South Wales, near Byron Bay. The Nyganbal people of Bullinaa were friendly, peaceful and cheerful.

They had an abundant and varied food supply. Their ‘supermarkets’ were the coast, rivers, rainforests, wetlands, and swamps.

The Richmond River and North Creek were particularly important food sources. Oysters, pipis, mullet, salmon, whiting, flathead, bass, eels, sea turtles, prawns, lobsters, mud crabs and mussels were some of the Nyangbal people’s favourite foods.

Ballina was the centre for large gatherings of the Bundjalung Nation because of the richness of seafood in the rivers and creeks.

The Oyster Festival used to be held there every five years and would last a number of weeks. The local mob could not eat the oysters and fish in the creek for two years leading up to the big event to ensure there was enough food to feed all the people attending.

Trade was conducted, marriages arranged, dancing and singing shared and events were held including exhibition fights, tree climbing events and frog tracking events for children.

At the gatherings, each mob had a designated campsite by the creek.

Oyster shells and fish bones were tossed into rubbish heaps at the back of the camps. These heaps were called middens.

The Ballina Middens

The middens were made up of 98% oyster shells. Over hundreds, and thousands, of years huge numbers of shells were dumped on the heaps and these middens grew in height and length. In fact, they were so big, that early reports by the settlers documented that they were 500 metres long and 4 metres high, or about as long as 42 buses!

Unfortunately, little remains of the enormous middens of Ballina. Over about 60 years, the new Australians quarried the middens extensively, using the oyster shells for road base, lime burning and soil drainage.

Thankfully, due to hard work by the local mob, small patches of the midden still exist today. The local custodians can arrange tours of them.

And, if you dig in a backyard on Ballina island today, you will more than likely strike oyster shells taken from the Ballina midden.

Want to Learn More?

‘The Magpie and the Snake’ is a historical fiction novel recreating what life may have been like before the British arrived. Learn about the middens, the festivals and the sustainable lifestyle of Australia’s First Nations People, through their eyes. 

‘Like Dark Emu, it paints the strength and grace of Aboriginal people.’

Walk on Country

How about a tour? If you want to learn about a deeper time history of Ballina, why not arrange a tour of the Nyangbal people’s country? Eli Cook, and the other Nyangbal custodians, will guide you through their country, share their culture with you and tell you about their history, in person. 

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *