The Port of Yamba Historical Society is committed to enhancing the knowledge and understanding of all Yamba residents and visitors about the history, heritage and culture of the Yaegl people. We respectfully acknowledge the Yaegl people past and present, the traditional custodians of the land on which the Yamba Museum stands, and pay our respects to the leaders of the traditional custodians of this land.
The Yaegl People are the traditional custodians of the coastal areas around Yamba, Iluka and Maclean, having lived here for 60,000 years. Yaegl country covers a relatively small area due to plentiful resources both from the ocean and the Clarence River that could support a larger population. For the same reason, the Yaegl people were also less nomadic, moving less frequently between a few main camps. Other groups did visit and they travelled great distances to other regions, including southern Queensland, for ceremonial and other special events.
The first white person to visit this area, Matthew Flinders (1799), described large bark huts with rounded passageway entrances which protected dwellers from wind and rain. Similarly Captain Perry (1839) described canoes of a superior construction. The Yaegl people continued to practise their traditional way of life until white settlers arrived. The Yaegl people initially co-existed with the early settlers but decreased markedly in numbers after the selectors took up the land for maize and later cane growing. The locking up of land in small farms and the displacing of the original owners, the Yaegl people, was not a deliberate policy of dispossession but certainly had that effect. Their traditional way of life began to disappear as Yaegl people took work, cutting timber and later sugar cane, and other seasonal labouring jobs.
In 1904 the Aboriginal Protection Board set up an Aboriginal Reserve on Ulgundahi Island near Maclean, formalising the segregation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal settlement. Whilst Aboriginal people still visited Yamba for holidays, revisiting their traditional lands, it was only after 1945 when one particular Yaegl elder left Ulgundahi Island that Yaegl people returned permanently to Yamba.
In 1945 Rocky and Bella Laurie permanently moved their family off the island to Reedy Creek (near current Blue Dolphin resort) and then into Yamba (setting up camp at current Story Park) where the community continued to grow. However in the 1950s they were forced to move to Angourie Road, to a camp near the then racecourse (now occupied by the Raymond Laurie Sports Centre). In 1966 the community moved again to Pippi Beach Reserve, now known as Ngaru Village; however, many individuals now live and work among the non-Aboriginal community in Yamba.
Despite the loss of their country – much of which is now encompassed within the Yuraygir National Park (proclaimed 1980) – the reef that sits at the mouth of the Clarence river remains under Native Title so cannot be removed. Other important Yaegl sites are now referenced on a unique map created by Charlene Williams, a Yaegl woman, on display in the Yamba Museum. Another useful reference for visitors, the Lower Clarence Aboriginal Tourist Drive can be downloaded or is also available at the Yamba Museum.
Today there are two Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALC): Yaegl LALC at Hillcrest, Maclean and Birrigan Gargle LALC at Ngaru Village, Yamba. They strive to preserve their heritage and culture as witnessed by the publication in 2012 of the Yaygirr Dictionary and Grammar book.
The Port of Yamba Historical Society takes pride in their collaborative partnership with the Yaegl community that has produced improved permanent displays that integrate Yaegl and non-Aboriginal history as well as an award winning Aboriginal art exhibition, Vision4Change, in 2013 and our “Friendship Trees” in 2014.