Kalkadoon History

Kalkadoon History and Culture

The Kalkadoon people also known as the Kalkatungu, kalkatunga and the Kalkadungu ruled what is called the emu foot province and have been living on these lands for over 40 thousand years and quite possibly over 60 thousand years. They owned vast tracts of land extending from McKinley’s Gap in the east where they joined the Goa tribe of the Winton district to Gunpowder Creek which was the territory of the Waggaboongas. On the southern side of their territory the Kalkadoons were touched upon by the Pitta-Pitta tribe of the Boulia district, and on the northern side by the Mittakoodi of the Fort Constantine country.

The kalkadoons would mark their territory boundaries with an emu or cranes foot that was either painted onto rocks and trees or carved into the hard granite rock, this was also a warning for other aboriginal clans not to pass these boundaries.

Kalkadoon people have always been an independent and proud people roving their hilly surrounds normally in groups of 20 adults. They would camp for a few weeks at a time and live off the land until resources thinned out then they would move to another campsite and not return for 2 or 3 years so the wildlife and vegetation could replenish and survive.

The Kalkadoon people were extremely territorial and would rarely leave their country, they protected their land ferociously and were known to surrounding tribes as fearsome warriors. The kalkadoons acknowledged a leader and they always knew precisely where he was located. Once or twice a year delegates from the wandering bands of Kalkadoon people would assemble at the leader’s camp and be instructed on raids or attacks on neighbours and at times two or more of these wandering bands would join forces.

  On 12 December 2011, Justice Dowsett of the Federal Court formally

recognised the Kalkadoon people as the native title holders of nearly 40,000 square kilometres of land.


Kalkadoon Food

The Kalkadoons were extremely tall and muscular which was a result from the mountainous country they walked and climbed and also the diet they had. They were one of the healthiest aboriginal clans which was attributed to their diet of wild game, fruits, vegetables and fish. There was an abundance of grass seeds, edible roots, vegetables, vines, caper, pea’s and berries and also mineralised water from the rivers and streams. They would eat fruits such as the conkerberry, bloodwood apple, wild orange, wild-currant and emu apple and also sucked the blossoms of the blood-wood and Bauhinia tree’s for their sugar and honey. Certain types of ant’s, caterpillar’s, grubs and crayfish were a delicacy and a wide variety of meat was obtained from kangaroo, bustard turkey, opossums, porcupines, pelicans, bandicoots, diver birds, galahs, cockatoo’s, cranes, ducks, pigeons, budgerigars, frogs, lizards, snakes and eggs from birds.

The Kalkadoon diet had one basic deficiency it was not suitable to a child when it had been weaned off its mother’s milk which is why most children were not fully weaned until 5 or 6 years of age.

  Conkerberries turn a blue/black colour when ripe and ready to eat.

  Bloodwood apples are obtained from the bloodwood tree.

  The bustard turkey was used as a source of food for the Kalkadoon people.


The Ancient Kalkadoon Miners

The Kalkadoon people have been extracting hard black basalt rocks and making spearheads and axes from the hills of Kalkadoon country for thousands of years in Australia. One Kalkadoon mining quarry is estimated at being over 6,000 years old which makes the Kalkadoon miners the very first miners in Australia.

 The spearheads and axes were not only used for themselves, the Kalkadoon people had extensive trade systems that went for hundreds of kilometres around kalkadoon territory.  They would tell neighbouring tribes by way of a message stick of a market that would be held to barter and trade their prized axe and spearheads. The Kalkadoon people would trade for shields, red ochre, boomerangs and pituri. Pituri was a stimulant made from the dried leaves and twigs of the Duboisia Hopwoodi tree.

The hard black basalt weapons were easy to shape by the miners but very, very strong when chopping and Kalkadoon axes from Mt.Isa have been found as far away as Southern and Western Australia. The Kalkadoon people had a production line factory system in place where each group of people specialised in a certain area of the operation. The miners would lever large basalt rocks out of the ground using long wooden poles, the rock was then broken into smaller pieces by another group. The rocks were then moved to another place where they were shaped into spear and axe heads before they went to the final group who were women who sharpened the weapons on grinding stones down by the river. The same job specialties apply to the miners of today with each miner specialising in their own field.

  Black bassalt Kalkadoon mining quarry estimated at over 6,000 years old.

  Black bassalt blank kalkadoon axe head.

  Black bassalt blank Kalkadoon axe head. The black bassalt

rocks were napped to create blanks which were then taken to another site for more shaping

or napping.

  Quartz Kalkadoon mining site.

  Quartz kalkadoon mining site. Quartz was used for spear

tips and was very hard to nap or shape as it had a tendancy to shatter. Blanks were again moved

to another site to shape or nap.

  Quartz napping site. This is where a skilled Kalkadoon man

would sit in the open flat ground and nap the piece of quartz and shape it into a spearhead.

This photo shows the chips of quartz left behind.

  Very rare white quartz spear tips.


Kalkadoon Art

The Kalkadoon people were not only known as fierce warriors they were also known to neighbouring clans  as being very artistic in their songs, dances, dreamtime stories, rock art and corroborees.  In some corroborees men, women and children all participated and in others only a small few participated due to the sacred nature of the dance. Not all corroborees were sacred and members of the dance would paint themselves in signs and designs to indicate the dance that was being performed.  Songs and dances performed during these ceremonies passed on information about the dreamtime to all that watched.

In some corroborees they would wear several large emu feathers on the top of their heads which increased their already tall broad 6 foot stature and be covered in white paint. They would have a dingo tail glued to the back of their hair with dried kangaroo blood and their faces were covered in white feathers again stuck on with dried kangaroo blood so only their eyes were visible.  The male dancers looked like a most formidable sight to anybody watching.

Australian Aboriginal art is the oldest living art tradition in the world and Kalkadoon rock art has been studied around the world and known for its artistic qualities. The Kalkadoon artists were one of only a few aboriginal races that used dots in their rock art as well as lines and symbols. Kalkadoon rock art has stood the test of time with some rock art sites in Kalkadoon country being carbon dated at over 17,500 years old.


Kalkadoon Weapons

The Kalkadoon people lived on and around what is known as the Cloncurry belt and it is now regarded by scientists as one of the most remarkable tracts of country on the earth's surface as the Cloncurry belt of ranges represents one of the very rare surfaces of the earth that has never been inundated by the sea, not since the world began. The earth’s history was put back an extra 50 million years once “the Cloncurry series” of rocks was shown to an international conference, parts of kalkadoon country were once an island in a large freshwater sea. The ranges of today after millions of years of erosion are merely stumps in comparison to the sky reaching mountains that once were.

The Kalkadoon people were one of a few if any that had such a wide variety of granite and rock to work with. There were at least nine different forms of rocks one of which is now called the Kalkadoon and because of this variety Kalkadoon weapons were sought after by many tribes.

The Kalkadoon people had many different stone weapons which included varying sized knives and stone spearheads, stone axes, scrapers, chisels and choppers. They made many different boomerangs from the gidyea tree which included hunting and fighting boomerangs, the ornate and fluted boomerang and the hooked and plain boomerang. They manufactured nulla nulla’s or throwing sticks again from the gidyea tree and these were either used as a club or for throwing short distances. Fighting poles were also manufactured from the gidyea, mulga and box tree and were four to four and a half feet in length and sharpened on both ends which were used for close quarter fighting. Another weapon that was unusual even in its concept was a two- handed sword that was blackened with charcoal and made from the gidyea tree.

The kalkadoon people also made a variety of utensils which included coolamons, fish nets, emu nets, dilly bags, sharpening stones, waterbags, baking ovens, firesticks, yam sticks and even cementing substances. All of these technologies suggest that the Kalkadoon people did have a diverse education in the crafting of many materials at their disposal.

To the Kalkadoon people fighting for their precious and sacred land was a way of life one that had been passed down from generation to generation.


Black basalt Kalkadoon axe head.                            Kangaroo scraper.  


 White quartz spear tip (unwashed front and back).         Gidyea or gidgee tree.


Grinding stone.                                             Pot for mixing and crushing ochre.


Front and back of a black bassalt kalkadoon knife or cutter with serrated edge.


Shaping pot used to round and dull the tips of wood for clap sticks ect.




Assorted sized Kalkadoon axe heads used for different purposes.


         Spear tip and grinding ball.                                Grinding stone.


     Assorted Kalkadoon artifacts.                                  Didgeridoo.


              Spear.                                Different sized axe heads.

Kalkadoon knives used as weapons in close combat fighting.

Spinnifex resin was used for the handles to attach the knife tips and once set is like concrete.



The First European Contact

The first Europeans to cross through kalkadoon tribal country were explorers Burke and Wills who crossed the Cloncurry River in 1861 on the Victoria expedition heading for Cape York Peninsula. They were seen by the kalkadoons following the Corella River into the gulf and on their return journey through kalkadoon country again. Years later a few of the kalkadoons who had seen the expedition were astonished to find that apart from John King the whole party including camels and horses had perished on Coopers creek, they were astonished because kalkadoon country had such an abundance of food.

With the establishment of Burketown in 1865 large numbers of settlers flooded south to kalkadoon territory where traditional and sacred limited water and food supplies were threatened by the large numbers of whites.

The Kalkadoons patience was at an end by 1875 with more and more white people flooding to the area and sacred sites and water supplies being violated so the Kalkadoon resistance started, mostly ambushing stock and horse pulled carts to start with then in 1878 three stockman were speared and killed along with their herd of cattle while they were camping at a waterhole that was a sacred Kalkadoon site. From this point onwards the Kalkadoon waged war against the whites using battle techniques not seen before that have now been studied by armies around the world. The Kalkadoon warriors would attack several different outposts at once ensuring that no reinforcements could be sent, they also used their bush skills and would attack a party with spears then disappear back into the bush before the first spear had struck its target. For the next few years the Kalkadoon people used guerrilla warfare to win a series of decisive victories over the whites.

Early in 1883 the officer in charge of the Cloncurry native police Marcus Beresford was attacked with 4 of his troopers while tracking Kalkadoon warriors in the McKinley ranges. Beresford and 3 of his troopers were killed with the fourth trooper walking 20 miles with a spear still in his thigh to raise the alarm. For the next year the hills and surrounding area was Kalkadoon country once more with the white people not venturing too far from the safety of Cloncurry.

Late in 1883 Frederick Charles Urquhart was appointed the new sub inspector of the Native Police in Cloncurry and set about restocking horses and native troopers moving their camp 20 miles out of town to maintain discipline.

In the middle of 1884 James Powell was speared to death while mustering cattle, he was the co owner of Calton Hills Station with Alexander Kennedy. When Kennedy heard the news of his partner’s death he rode eighty kilometres with his men to meet up with sub inspector Urquhart and his troopers and join forces. They then tracked the Kalkadoon warriors and trapped them in a gorge killing all the war party as well as women and children. Over the next months private posses and the new Native Police took a heavy toll on the Kalkadoon people and when a Chinese shepherd was killed in September the stations owner gathered a large number of men to join forces with Urquhart’s Native Police creating the first paramilitary force in Australia.


         Burke & Wills crossed the Cloncurry river in 1861 using camels.


Battle Mountain

The Kalkadoon were tracked 60 miles north of Cloncurry to a place now known as Battle Mountain where over 900 Kalkadoon lay in wait. The Kalkadoon had chosen this place for the battle to take place, they had stockpiled spears, boomerangs and rocks and the view from the mountain overlooked the plain below giving the tactical advantage to the Kalkadoon.

Sub inspector Urquhart started the battle by ordering the Kalkadoon to stand in the queen’s name, they replied with a battle cry and hundreds of rocks thrown down the mountain. Urquhart then ordered a cavalry charge of 200 men on horseback up the mountain, their bullets bouncing off the rocks the Kalkadoon were using as cover and after 30 metres the horses could no longer climb the steep mountain and the men had to dismount and run for cover under a hail of spears. From high above the warriors shouted in defiance and continued their assault with rocks thrown down the mountain and while Urquhart was trying to regain control of his men and the battle he was hit in the head by a rock thrown by a large Kalkadoon warrior and fell unconscious to the ground. The native police temporarily abandoned other dead and dying and rushed to save their leader under a wall of covering rifle fire and with their leader saved but unconscious for hours the white army could offer no fight to the Kalkadoon warriors that were still raining rocks down the mountain.

When Sub Inspector Urquhart regained consciousness he immediately halved his army and flanked the mountain ready for an assault on two sides, it looked like the Kalkadoon warriors had little choice but to leave the cover of the boulders and prepare to defend in the open on two fronts. Upon seeing the flanking movement by Urquhart the Kalkadoon warriors left their cover and quickly formed ranks then without warning the warriors charged down the mountain with spears raised. The Kalkadoon lines with the pride and history of over 40,000 years of culture held for a brief moment as they charged their attackers and then as if history itself was being erased from the earth the Kalkadoon warriors were cut down by round after round after round of rifle fire. The brave remaining Kalkadoon warriors waivered but not able to accept defeat, this was their land they had no choice so they reformed their lines and again charged their attackers. Again the mountain rang with rifle fire that mowed down the charging warriors, after a while the rifle fire stopped and so too had the Kalkadoon resistance. Urquhart was not satisfied with the slaughter that had taken place and for several days with his native troopers commenced a cleaning up operation where any Kalkadoon survivors found were also killed.

The Kalkadoon people were the only aboriginal people to stand up to an organised force of white men in open combat and fight to the very end but their stone age weapons of the past were no match for the white man’s firepower of the future.

A lone reminder of Australia’s fiercest battle is a memorial obelisk near Battle Mountain which reads:

This obelisk is in memorial to the Kalkatunga tribe, who during September 1884 fought one of Australia`s historical battles of resistance against a Para-military force of European settlers and the Queensland Native Mounted Police at a place known to-day as Battle Mountain - 20 klms south west of Kajabbi. The spirit of the Kalkatunga tribe never died at battle, but remains intact and alive today within the Kalkadoon Tribal Council. "Kalkatunga heritage is not the name behind the person, but the person behind the name”.


        Battle ranges near Kajabbi.                              Battle mountain.