Rediscovering Ginninderra: A database:
Born: c. 1804; Died: c. 1849; Married: Two unknown spouses and Ju Nin Mingo
Onyong was a respected Aboriginal warrior and leader who did his best to defend his land and people against the British invasion. He was sometimes called (erroneously) Hong Gong and even Hong Kong. He was born about 1804. Onyong is a larger-than-life figure about whom many remarkable stories have been told.
In 1834 Onyong is recorded as receiving a blanket issue at Janevale station, near Wanniassa. He is described in the documentation as being the chief of the ‘Namwitch’ Aborigines (i.e. the Namadgi), aged 30 with two wives and three children. This document described his territory as follows.
Mountains beyond the Murrumbidgee, opp[osite] Limestone Plains; sometimes resides about this part of the country. The probable numbers of this tribe: about 60 or 70 men, women, children; most part of them wild blacks, and seldom go near the haunts of white men.
In the early 1830s Onyong was caught spearing a bullock in Ginninderra by Henry Hall of Charnwood, who shot and wounded him. According to Shumack, Hall had a reputation for cruel treatment of Indigenous people. Onyong carried the bullet in his thigh throughout the rest of his life.
A few years later, Onyong was known to have worn a ‘king plate’, inscribed:
Chief of the Namidge Tribe
Presented by Mr Campbell, 17th Jan. 1837
It is also known that Onyong became an early benefactor and friend of ‘banished’ convict, Garrett Cotter. The family preserves a story in which it is said that Onyong restored stolen property from Cotter’s hut, including the severed hand of the culprit. Another story told by another early Canberra settler, John Blundell, claims that Onyong consorted with a group of loyal warriors of about eight or ten men and that he presided over corroborees at Black Mountain.
In February 1841, Onyong was travelling with a group of Indigenous people from the Queanbeyan area to meet up with the owner of Yarralumla station, Terence Murray. He must have been expecting trouble, as he slept separately from the group and thereby avoided a nocturnal ambush by a group of Goulburn men led by Mangamore, who fell upon them and killed a number of the party as they slept, including a friend of Murray’s named Bondaroon.
It was also reported that Onyong could be violent with his family. When demanding that one of his wives carry his spears when they were moving from one camp to another, he is reported as harming the baby she was carrying in order to make her comply.
According to Samuel Shumack, Noolup (also known as Jimmy the Rover) was the leader of another local Indigenous group. He says that Noolup killed a rival in a battle near Queanbeyan showground. Shortly after, he disappeared and didn’t return for some years. In his absence, it is thought that Onyong took over the leadership of Noolup’s tribe, but he was ousted by Noolup when he returned a few years later. There are other stories recorded by Europeans which attest the strong rivalry of these two Indigenous leaders.
Onyong died at Cuppacumbalong in the late 1840s. Shumack claims that this was not long after his fight with Noolup. When he died, he was interred on a ridge that bore his name, near Tharwa. It is said that a man named Smithwick, who was visiting from England, desecrated his grave and was said to be using Onyong’s skull as an ink well, much to the disgust of local settlers who had known and admired this proud Namadgi warrior.
- Flood, J., Moth Hunters of the Australian Capital territory: Aboriginal Traditional Life in the Canberra Region, Downer, 1996
- Gillespie, L. L., Aborigines of the Canberra Region, Campbell, 1984
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992
- Jackson-Nakano, A., The Kamberri: a History from the Records of Aboriginal Families in the Canberra-Queanbeyan District and Surrounds, 1820-1927, and Historical Overview, 1928-2001, Canberra, 2001
- Kabaila, P. R., Belconnen’s Aboriginal Past: a Glimpse into the Archaeology of the Australian Capital Territory, Jamison, 1997
- Meyers D. (ed. K. Frawley), Lairds, Lags and Larrikins: an Early History of the Limestone Plains, Pearce, 2010
- Moore, B., Cotter Country, Canberra, 1999
- Procter, P., ‘Onyong and His Battle with Sources’, Quinbean, vol. 9, no. 2 (September, 2016), pp. 23-31
- Shumack, S. An Autobiography, or, Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers (ed. J. E. and S. Shumack), Canberra, 1967
- Various editions of the Queanbeyan Age, Goulburn Evening Penny Post and Queanbeyan Observer and Mining Record