I lived in the central west of New South Wales for over 10 years. During this time I travelled the highway more times than I care to remember, and the focus was usually on getting from point A to B as quickly as possible. There were many signposts and points of interest along the way, but most of these were merely noted as something that could be returned to at a later point when more time would be available to explore.
Recently I travelled this road again with my Mum, who has a wide range of knowledge on many topics. When we passed the signpost to Yuranigh’s grave, Mum mentioned that Yuranigh had travelled with Major Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell has appeared in some of my posts recently as I have wandered up and down the mountains, including his encounter with David Lennox, and his work on improving the descent from Mount Victoria. Mitchell’s exacting and pernickety nature had been referred to in True Girt by David Hunt. We found the time to take the dirt road up to see Yuranigh’s grave near Molong.
Yuranigh had joined Mitchell’s third exploration of tropical Australia. He was one of a group of about 30 men including 23 ‘prisoners of the Crown’ who accompanied Mitchell on this expedition. It was noted that Yuranigh appeared to have been added to the camp at Boree, near Orange, and remained for the entire journey. The esteem in which Mitchell held Yuranigh is apparent from this extract from the official journal:
(Yuranigh) has been my guide, companion, councillor and friend on the most eventful occasions during the last journey of discovery. Yuranigh was small and slender in person, but he was of most determined courage and resolution. His intelligence and judgement rendered him so necessary to me that he was ever at my elbow, whether on foot or horseback. Confidence in him was never misplaced. He well knew the character of all the white men of our party. Nothing escaped his penetrating eye and quick ear.
Following the expedition, Yuranigh went to Sydney with Mitchell, and a request was made to the Governor that he receive a gratuity for his services. He later returned to the Molong area but he passed away soon after. Yuranigh is buried in one of the Gamboola paddocks with marked trees. Mitchell ensured that Yuranigh’s grave was fenced at government expense, and he paid for an inscribed headstone.
Mitchell had been accompanied by Aboriginal guides on his three major expeditions ‘to assist with finding water and to express his peaceful intentions’. But the relationship with Yuranigh was something special, recorded not only in the official journal of the expedition but displayed in Yuranigh’s burial. This is how it was described in a newspaper article in 1943:
In the sheep pastures surrounding Gamboola homestead, near Molong, there is a lonely grave in an area at whose four corners are to be seen four trees marked in Aboriginal fashion. It is the grave of Yuranigh. He was buried there according to the customs of his tribe. The marked trees are a tribute of his countrymen. Over the grave is set a tombstone bearing the following inscription, the tribute of the white man:
To native courage, honesty and fidelity, Yuranigh, who accompanied the expedition of Tropical Australia in 1846, lies buried here according to the rites of his countrymen, and this spot was dedicated and enclosed by the Governor-General’s authority in 1861.
An additional headstone was erected in 1900 and the inscription was repeated. According to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, the grave site is the only known site in Australia where Aboriginal and European burial practices coexist.
Yuranigh is remembered not only at this site, but there is a lagoon, a county in Queensland and a creek near Molong named after him.
Sources: Molong Express and Western District Advertiser, Sat 17 Apr 1937; The Longreach Leader, Wed 15 Dec 1943; Australian Dictionary of Biography.
[Photo: view of Yuranigh’s grave with one of the carved trees under shelter]