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It’s no secret that the bushland reserve at Songbird Oxley is teeming with native wildlife – from kookaburras and frogs to possums and fireflies. But did you know that in Oxley’s past, these same woodlands were tended by Indigenous people and relied on for sustenance and as a location for many cultural practices?
Songbird Oxley’s conservation area at the west of the site is an environmental corridor that links to Rocks Riverside Park and the Brisbane River. This same woodland was once part of the Gondwana Rainforest: an area of lush rainforest, dense scrub and wetlands that had spiritual significance for the Indigenous groups who cared for this site for over 100,000 years.
Songbird Oxley’s woodlands provided a habitat for many forest animals important to the Indigenous diet – from pigeons and parrots to frogs and possums and even wallabies and kangaroos. Nectar from banksias, bottlebrush and ti-trees – as well as honey from the native bees who visited these plants – was used to make sweet drinks. Many of the lush, flowering rainforest trees also flourished with edible fruits, including quandong and figs, Lilly Pilly and black beans (Moreton Bay Chestnuts). And conjevoi – a taro-like root that grew in the shaded gullies – provided a starchy staple for the local Indigenous peoples as well.
Many traditional Indigenous land management and hunting techniques were used in the area. One example is firestick farming: the practice of regularly burning vegetation to encourage the growth of different plants and to reduce the risk of destructive bush fires. Indigenous fishing cultural practices used in the area included weaving and setting fish traps in waterways and using chemical stunning.
Indigenous craft and medicine
Nature provided local Indigenous people with the raw materials they needed to manufacture tools and objects for their daily life. Wood from many local trees – including white gums, she-oaks and bloodwoods – was used to carve weaponry and canoes. Various vines and macaranga plants were used to craft rope, fibre and baskets, and the resin from hoop pine trees was used to make glue. The crushed leaves of the Red Ash tree were used as a soap and some trees were even used for medicines: including corkwood for treating stomach disorders and the scrambling caper for cough medicine.
Songlines, dance and ceremony
Songlines, also known as navigational tracks, were Indigenous people’s maps. Indigenous elders (or other trained individuals) learned to “sing the landscape”, allowing them to travel great distances without getting lost. This special knowledge was carefully passed on to future generations to allow them to navigate through different locations. Each melodic path linked multiple sacred sites, and part of each songline’s content was the knowledge of which rituals to perform at each site.
Land surrounding the Songbird Oxley estate was host to many camps and corroborees, providing a place for different groups to come together, collaborate and celebrate, uniting their languages in a shared song. The richness and diversity of the flora and fauna on the present-day Songbird Oxley site and surrounds was so abundant it could feed large groups at corroborees on the local bora grounds.
Rain making and other rituals
The Oxley region was a site of significance for Indigenous rain-making. Indigenous medicine men, known as “rain makers”, would dive deep into the local waterholes to summon rain and control the rainbow. In Oxley’s history, there was a seasonal lagoon where the Songbird Oxley estate now stands, and it’s likely this lagoon was a place of significance for rain-making and other rituals to do with health.
Even the local train tracks tie back to Indigenous trails
One of the main tracks of the old walking trails of the area’s Indigenous peoples is today the same path taken by the train tracks into Oxley.
Did you know that the striking Indigenous artwork at
the entry to Songbird Oxley – Birrena Umphie
(meaning “arrival”) – celebrates the abundant native
wildlife and serves to welcome all to the estate? The
artists wove colour, motifs and meaning throughout the
artwork to tell the location’s story.
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