‘The Valley was always there in the Dreaming, though mountains, trees, animals and people were not yet formed.
Everything was sleeping. Until the Great Sky Spirit Baiame opened his eyes’.
*Wonnarua Dreamtime Legend
A dreamtime story from the Wonnarua explains how the hills and rivers in the Hunter Valley were created by a spirit called Baiame. Neighbouring nations to Wonnarua include Geawegal, Worimi, Awabakal, Gamilaroi, Wiradjuri, Darkinjung and Birpai. These nations would travel through the area and were often invited to participate in local ceremonies.
The Great Spirit Baiame opened his eyes that were steeped in chasms of eternity and he and his creation spirits began creating the hills, valleys, forests and all living things, in, and around, Maitland.
Wonnarua people told how the Hunter Valley came to be, but in those star lit times, Baiame noticed something was missing from the valley floor, something to sustain the life that was already created. The valley floor parted and a mighty river was created. What was to be the keeper of life now flowed and the land was ready.
He then gave the people their laws of life, traditions, songs and culture. Some traditions were so sacred they were never to be spoken of to the uninitiated. Baiame also created the first initiation sites called boras (places where young boys were made into men).
Once all these acts were completed Baiame returned from where he came. His time on the land earnt him the name Sky Hero or Sky Father. This and other laws that were made in the Dreaming were then passed on to man by the spirits and then they were passed down through the generations. The biggest lesson for man was that he did not own the land, but the land owned him.
Today, many Wonnarua people living in the Maitland area are members of the Mindaribba Local Aboriginal Land Council (Mindaribba LALC) that covers more than 2,000ha of Wonnarua traditional lands and encompasses parts of the local government areas of Maitland, Cessnock, Singleton, Dungog and Port Stephens.
There is a strong connection to the four main rivers (the Allyn, Hunter, Williams and Paterson) that flow through and around Maitland as this is where the spirit Baiame is strongest. The Mindaribba LALC area is part of a long and diverse Aboriginal history with a vast number of historic Aboriginal sites having been found in the region along with rock engravings, sharpening grooves, hand stencils, tribal markings and other images in caves and outcrops.
Adapted by James Wilson Miller Wonnarua Elder/Historian.