First Nations People
First Nations Yaegl People are the traditional custodians of the coastal areas around Yamba, Iluka and Maclean. Yaegl country covers a relatively small area due to the plentiful resources from the ocean and the Clarence River that could support a large population. For the same reason, Yaegl people were also less nomadic, moving less frequently between a few main camps. They travelled great distances to other regions including southern Queensland, for ceremonial and 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. Yaegl people initially co-existed with the early settlers but their numbers decreased markedly after selectors took up the land for maize and later cane growing. The locking up of land in small farms and displacing the original owners was not a deliberate policy of dispossession but certainly had that effect. Their traditional way of life began to disappear as they 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 Yaegl people returned permanently to Yamba.
In 1945 Rocky and Bella Laurie permanently moved their family off Ulgundahi Island to Reedy Creek (near the current Blue Dolphin resort) and then into Yamba, setting up camp at the current Story Park, the site of Yamba Museum. However, in the 1950s they were forced to move to Angourie Road, to a camp near the then racecourse (now the Raymond Laurie Sports Centre). In 1966 the community moved again to Pippi Beach Reserve, now known as Ngaru Village; many individuals now live and work among the community in Yamba.
Important Yaegl sites are referenced on a map created by Yaegl woman Charlene Williams, on display in Yamba Museum. Another useful reference for visitors, is the the Lower Clarence Aboriginal Tourist Drive which can be downloaded or is also available at Yamba Museum.
The Port of Yamba Historical Society takes pride in collaborative projects with the Yaegl community. This has produced permanent museum displays, the 2013 award winning Aboriginal art exhibition Vision4Change, our “Friendship Trees” in 2014, and the 2020 Imagine award from the NSW Government for the Yaegl Cultural Garden.
Yaegl Cultural Garden 2020 Opening
Created in close collaboration with the local Yaegl community, the Yaegl Cultural Garden has transformed the entrance to Yamba Museum into a welcoming introduction to local Yaegl stories and culture.
The garden incorporates a mosaic featuring the two local totems of the dolphin (“wayway”) and dingo (“waanji”); stepping stones imprinted with leaf designs; six Language Poles with laser-etched motifs from traditional stories; three Yarning Circles formed by sandstone blocks, and bush tucker plants. These features immerse visitors in the icons and stories of Yaegl traditional owners, in particular the story of Dirrangan - how the Clarence River was formed by an old spirit woman.