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Aboriginal signs refreshed

(l-r) Lester Mercy, Ron Herron and Deidre Randall. Image: Geoff Helisma
Geoff Helisma The launch of the Lower Clarence Aboriginal Tourist Site Drive at the Maclean lookout was more than just refreshing signs and reprinting brochures about significant Yaegl sites – it was also a gathering of representatives from the Yaegl community, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Maclean Landcare Group and Clarence Valley Council (CVC). All of these entities worked together to refresh the project, which began in 1992; since then the 13 signs had fallen victim to years of weathering or been vandalised or stolen. Ten of the signs are located on CVC-managed land, three on NPWS-managed land. Uncle Ron Herring, an archaeologist who has been integral in identifying the sites, explained that some important Yaegl sites are not sign-posted because “some sites we don’t talk about, it is sort of forbidden”. He recalled living at the Ulugundahi Island mission site – where the Aboriginal Protection Board housed the Goorie people it had “collected from the surrounding Clarence Valley area”. “When it got dark I could see a light up here,” he said. Mr Herring recalled how he had given a similar speech when the signage was first launched and how the signs inform the wider community about Yaegl culture. “At that time I was just beginning to understand how important this area [the lookout] is,” he said. Completing the Welcome to Country, he called for a minute’s silence for those elders who have passed away. The project’s coordinator, Deidre Randall, thanked Lester Mercy for “being there from the beginning” and also acknowledged the work her mother, Brenda Smith, who “had an idea and spoke with the elders” 25 years ago, had done. Wendy Plater, from the Maclean Landcare Group, said her group was “proud to work with the Yaegl People” and appreciated the access provided to “traditional culture at the place we call home”. The Giant Serpent’s story, as told, in part, on the sign at the Maclean lookout, relates to the creation of the local Aboriginal people. In the dreamtime, before there were people, there was a Giant Serpent that came from the sea. It came through the mouth of the Clarence River and started to make its way up river. Every now and then it would shake off some of the small barnacle like creatures that were attached to its body, the further it went up river the smaller it became as it shook those barnacles off. These barnacle creatures became the different tribal groups: The Yaegl people at the lower reaches of the Clarence –being Yamba and Maclean – the Gumbaynggir people in Grafton, and the Bundjalung people at Baryulgil and Tabulam. By the time the Serpent reached Tabulum it was too small to go any further. (Story by the late Mr Desmond Ferguson – Yamba) A brochure for the 13 signs, designed as a self-drive tour, is available at, where it can be downloaded. Clarence Valley’s mayor, Jim Simmons, said: “These signs will play a role in helping people understand and appreciate the history of the first people of this area. “They also have an important role in promoting cultural tourism on the Lower Clarence.”