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The Gamilaraay, also called the Kamilaroi are an Indigenous Australian people whose lands extended from New South Wales to southern Queensland. They form one of the four largest indigenous nations in Australia. The Kamilaroi Highway, Sydney Ferries Limited's vehicular ferry "Kamilaroi" (1901–1933), and a cultivar of Durum wheat have all been named after the Kamilaroi people.[1]

Gamilaraay people
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Total population
approx. 13,000
Regions with significant populations
Gamilaroi language, English and Aboriginal English
Christianity, Traditional
Related ethnic groups
Indigenous Australians
Traditional lands of Gamilaraay-Yuwaalaraay, and Yuwaalayaay speakers around southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales.[a]



The ethnonym Gamilaraay is formed from gamil, meaning 'no', and the suffix -(b)araay, bearing the sense of 'having'. It is a common practice among Australian tribes to have themselves identified according to their respective words for 'no'.[citation needed]


Kamilaroi language is classified as one of the Pama–Nyungan languages. The language is no longer spoken, the last fluent speakers dying out in the 1950s. However some parts have been reconstructed by late field work, which includes substantial recordings of the related language, Yuwaalaraay, which continued to be spoken down to the 1980s. Analysing these materials has permitted a good deal of reconstructive work. Robert M. W. Dixon and his student Peter Austin recorded some around Moree, while Corinne Williams wrote a thesis on the Yuwaaliyaay dialect spoken at Walgett and Lightning Ridge.[2]


According to Norman Tindale's estimation, the Gamilaraay's tribal domains encompassed some 29,000 square miles (75,000 km2),[3] from around Singleton in the Hunter Valley through to the Warrumbungle Mountains in the west and up through the present-day centres of Quirindi, Gunnedah, Tamworth, Narrabri, Walgett, Moree, Lightning Ridge and Mungindi in New South Wales, to Nindigully in south west Queensland.


The Gamilaroi were hunters and gatherers with a band-level social organization. Important vegetable foods were yams and other roots, as well as a sterculia grain, which was made into a bread. Insect larvae, frogs, and eggs of several different animals were also gathered. Various birds, kangaroos, emus, possums, echidnas, and bandicoots were among the important animals hunted. Dingo pups were regarded as a delicacy. Fish were also consumed, as were crayfish, mussels, and shrimp. Men typically hunted, cleaned, and prepared the game for cooking. Women did the actual cooking, in addition to fishing and gathering. Individual Kamilaroi did not eat animals that were their totems.

The nation was made up of many smaller family groups who had their own parcels of land to sustain them. One of the great Kings of this tribe was 'Red Chief', who is buried near Gunnedah. The Kamilaroi were regarded as fierce warriors and there is ample evidence of intertribal warfare. The Northern Gamilaroi people have a strong cultural connection with the Bigambul people, and the tribes met regularly for joint ceremonies at Boobera Lagoon near the present-day town of Goondiwindi.


Kamilaroi tradition includes Baiame, the ancestor or patron god. The Baiame story tells how Baiame came down from the sky to the land, and created rivers, mountains, and forests. He then gave the people their laws of life, traditions, songs, and culture. He also created the first initiation site. This is known as a bora; a place where boys were initiated into manhood. When he had finished, he returned to the sky, and people called him the Sky Hero or All Father or Sky Father. He is said to be married to Birrahgnooloo (Birran-gnulu), who is often identified as an emu, and with whom he has a son Daramulum (Dharramalan). In other stories Daramulum is said to be brother to Baiame. It was forbidden to mention or talk about the name of Baiame publicly. Women were not allowed to see drawings of Baiame nor approach Baiame sites, which are often male initiation sites (boras). In rock paintings Baiame is often depicted as a human figure with a large head-dress or hairstyle, with lines of footsteps nearby. He is always painted in front view; Daramulum is drawn in profile. Baiame is often shown with internal decorations such as waistbands, vertical lines running down the body, bands and dots.

Rite of InitiationEdit

The rite of passage whereby Gamilaraay youths are inducted by initiation into full membership of the tribe were conducted at a Bora ceremony on a bora site especially prepared for the occasion. Tribes ready to participate in such rituals are contacted, and the ceremonies lasted several days.

The major bora, called Baiame's ground, was cleared on loamy umah soil, roughly 75 feet in diameter, with the scraped earth used to created an embanked ring about 8-9 inches high to fence off the sacred space,[4] apart from one opening which led into a thunburran or narrows pathway that ran some 270 yards off to a smaller circle, some 47 feet in diameter, called a goonaba, constructed in a similar fashion,[5] Inside this ring two stumps (warrengahlee) formed from uprooted trees, one a coolabah the other a belar, trimmed and turned upside down so that the roots, decorated with twists of bark, flared out.

The pathway leading novices from the larger to the smaller circle was adorned with yammunyamun, figures cut into the exposed sapwood of trees along the route, or drawn on the ground. On the occasion observed by Mathews, on the right hand side, 90 yards down the track, was a mocked up bowerbird's nest, and 3 yards further on a scarecrow figure with trousers and jacket stuffed with grass, representing a whiteman. As the youths passed along this track, the significance of the symbols and their relevance to tribal beliefs was explained.[6][7] Further down the path, a yammunyamun image of a bullock was formed from bark, dirt and the animal's skull. At 143 yards, a 9 foot long representation of Baiame and his spouse Gooberangal lay, moulded from the earth, respectively on the right and left of the track.[8] Further on, still on the left, was a carved figure of the Emu,[b] apparently crouching, its head pointed towards the large bora. To its right, a further three yards on, was Goomee, Baiame's fire, a foot high mound with a lit fire on top. A further 18 yards on, parallel to the track and on Goomee's side, a codfish was depicted, and after it the Currea, a serpentine creature, and, 15 yards on the other side of the path, two death adders, followed then by a turkey's nest, an earth-stuffed porcupine's skin, and a kangaroo rat's nest. At last, there was a carving of a full tribal man on one side of the track, and an aboriginal woman on the other.[10]

Notable Gamilaroi peopleEdit

Traditional leadersEdit

Modern GamilaraayEdit

Alternative spellingsEdit

  • Kamilarai, Kamilari, Kamilroi, Kamilarai, Kamularoi, Kaamee'larrai, Kamileroi. * Koomilroi, Komleroy.
  • Gamilaroi, Gamilroi.
  • Kahmilaharoy, Kamilary.
  • Gumilroi, Gummilroi, Gummilray, Ghummilarai.
  • Kimilari, Karmil, Kamil, Kahml.
  • Comleroy.
  • Ghummilarai, Cammealroy, Kahmilari.
  • Cumilri, Camelleri, Cummilroy, Comleroy, Cummeroy.
  • Gunnilaroi.
  • Cammealroy.
  • Duhai.
  • Yauan.
  • Tjake, Tyake.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ This map is not authoritative.
  2. ^ According to a recent study of Kamilaroi cosmological lore, for them 'the appearance of the Emu began at the Coalsack under the star α Crucis, which formed the Emu's head, then β and α Centauri, which form the start of the neck, down the dust lanes of the Milky Way to η Lupus and γ2 Norma, at which point the dust lanes expand with the body of the Emu, reaching the maximum thickness with ε Scorpii and λ Scorpii, and tapering towards 36-Ophiuchi and 3-Sagittarii, eventually ending near μ Sagittarii.'[9]


  1. ^ Bellata Gold.
  2. ^ Dixon 2011, p. 218.
  3. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 194.
  4. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 142.
  5. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 143.
  6. ^ Purcell 2011, p. 4.
  7. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 138.
  8. ^ Mathews 1897, p. 144.
  9. ^ Fuller et al. 2014, pp. 174–175.
  10. ^ Mathews 1897, pp. 145–146.
  11. ^ Lowitja Institute ?