National Heritage Places - Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps (Baiame's Ngunnhu)
New South Wales
Long before Europeans came to Australia, Aboriginal communities were applying advanced knowledge of engineering, physics, water ecology and animal migration to catch large numbers of fish in traps.
The Ngunnhu was, and continues to be, a significant meeting place to Aboriginal people with connections to the area. The Brewarrina fish traps continue to be visible in the Darling River today and were included in the National Heritage List on 3 June 2005.
The Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps is tangible evidence of the sophisticated understanding of Aboriginal people of engineering, physics, the land and its natural resources.
The story of the Ngunnhu
The story of the Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps, known as the Ngunnhu to the local Ngemba people, tells how an ancestral creation being designed and created an important fishing venture that supported many Aboriginal communities in the Brewarrina region in north-west New South Wales.
According to Aboriginal history, the Ngemba people were facing famine after a major drought had dried the river. Baiame designed a gift for them - an intricate series of fish traps in the dry riverbed - and then cast his net over the river. Baiame then showed the old men of the Ngemba how to call the rain using dance and song. Days of rain followed and the river flooded, bringing with it thousands of fish. The old men rushed to block the entry of the stone traps, herding fish through the pens.
Accessing and managing the traps
Over time, the Ngemba people studied fish migration in relation to season and river flows to apply innovative new methods of working the fish traps more efficiently and to ensure that the river was not overfished.
Baiame decreed that, while the Ngemba people were to be custodians of the fishery, maintenance and use of the traps should be shared with other tribes in the area, including the Morowari, Paarkinji, Weilwan, Barabinja, Ualarai and Kamilaroi.
He allocated particular traps to each family group and made them responsible under Aboriginal law for their use and maintenance. Neighbouring tribes were invited to the fish traps to join corroborees, initiation ceremonies, and meetings for trade and barter.
The Ngunnhu was, and continues to be, a significant meeting place to Aboriginal people with connections to the area.