Aboriginal History: “Dream Time”

Warramurrunggundji; her dreaming was first recorded for Europeans in 1881 by Paul Foelsche, an Inspector of Police. In this version she had travelled down from the North across dry land, as there was no water upon the earth. Finding good country at what is now Port Essington on the Coburg Peninsular she made a large fire and when this burnt down the sea rose up to its present level, while inland fresh water filled all the springs and waterholes. She left there the first people, whom she gave them language, laws and instructed them about plant medicines. She travelled inland carrying her babies in dilly bags and leaving many more people also with instructions about language, law and where to find foods and plant medicines and their uses. She was later to become the Rainbow Serpent. Baldwin Spencer recorded in 1912; that to the Gagadu people she was Imbromebera and her consort’s name was transcribed as Wuraka. She wore a head ring, from which hung dilly bags full of yams, and in her hand carried a large digging stick. She had emerged from the sea, heavily pregnant. She was to meet her consort, who came walking through the sea from the west. He was so big that his head was well above sea level and as he emerged from the sea,  mountains were formed. They left spirit children where they met. She instructed them on the Law which included there pharmacopeia and gave them their language. They continued to travel inland.

To the Aboriginal people of the Kimberly region of Western Australia their mythology (theology) also includes a large Spirit man emerging from the sea and pushing up mountains and hills where he stepped ashore from the sea, his name is Wanjana. Wanjana Man is responsible for the original people and he too was to instruct them on law and their pharmacopeia.

The aboriginal people of Arnhem Land and Kakadu believe that the Mimi Spirits, who are the spirits of their ancestors (not all people are to become Mimi Spirits) continue to teach this knowledge.

Parts of Plant Used: Bark
Therapeutics: Minor skin lesions, diarrhoea
Preparations and uses:

Wash: A handful of the red, sticky, inner bark, (Cambium) freshly collected, is pounded and boiled in 500-700ml water. To relieve the abdominal pain of diarrhoea, the liquid is used over the whole body and a long strand of the inner bark is wrapped around the abdomen.

The wash is applied once a day to heal sores and cuts.


When carefully removed in sections from the tree, the bark retains its cylindrical shape. Rigid tubes of various sizes can be obtained from either trunk or branches, and tied around fractured limbs.

Bark and Wood:

As an analgesic the ashes of the wood are mixed with water and smeared over the affected part of the body, and are claimed to relieve minor aches and pains.


To soothe sore eyes.

The bark, wood and needle are used to repel insects.

It is a Myth that aboriginal people of the Australian deserts (Anagu), used Australian Blue Cypress to moisten there skin.

History: Macassan

From the port of Macassar (now Ujung Pandang in Sulawesi) Indonesia, annual voyages were made to the Northern Territory Arnhem Land coast from approximately 1650-1750 till 1906 to gather and process trepang (bech-de-mer or sea cucumber) as a commercial enterprise. Northern Cypress Pine was undoubtedly shipped back when there was room; there are extant houses in Ujung Pandang incorporating Northern Cypress pine timber.


History: European and Chinese in the Northern Territory.

The Dutch had sailed past the Top End of the Northern Territory of Australia and explored the Gulf of Carpentaria as early as 1603 and the French had begun to collect plants as early as 1802. The British had established Fort Dundas on Melville Island, from (1824-28), Fort Wellington at Raffles Bay (1827-29), and Port Essington (1838-49).

Ludwig Leichhardt recorded in his Journal of an overland expedition in Australia. (1845 September 10) “During the night, we heard the well-known note of what we called the “Glucking bird,” when we first met with it in the Cypress pine country……… ”

Ludwig Leichhardt was to descend the Escarpment of what is now the World Heritage Kakadu National Park, escarpment, between Jim Jim and Twin Falls, and meet Aboriginal people, at what is Garnamarr. (Black Cockatoo Dreaming) It was to his excitement they knew some English. He asked where he was, and was informed, “Land of the Gagadu” people.

He wrote in his Journal “Kakadu” (His native Tongue was German and Kakadu translates to Cockatoo.)

He travelled on, reaching Victoria Settlement at Port Essington on 17 December 1845. His Journal of that day states “The stringy-bark and the drooping tea-tree were the only useful timber near the settlement. The Cypress-pine (Callitris) could, however, be obtained without any great difficulty from Mount Morris Bay, or Van Diemen’s Gulf. On the Vollir, we came on a cart road which wound round the foot of a high hill; and, having passed the garden, with its fine Cocoa-nut palms, the white houses, and a row of snug thatched cottages burst suddenly upon us; the house of the Commandant being to the right and separate from the rest. We were most kindly received by Captain Macarthur, the Commandant of Port Essington, and by the other officers, who, with the greatest kindness and attention, supplied us with everything we wanted…………..After a month’s stay at Port Essington, the schooner Heroine, Captain Mackenzie, arrived from Bally, on her voyage to Sydney, via Torres Strait and the Inner Barrier, a route only once before attempted with success. We embarked in this vessel, and arrived safely in Sydney, on the 29th of March.” Ludwig Leichhardt was last seen on the 3 April 1848 attempting to cross Australia from the Condamine River in Queensland to the Swan River in Western Australia. It is assumed he perished in the Great Sandy Desert.

It was in 1855 that the great botanist Ferdinand von Mueller who was on an expedition with A.C. Gregory to try and find Ludwig Leichardt, when the Holotype of Callitris intratropica was taken, near the Township of Timber Creek in the Victoria River district of the Northern Territory.

On 6th July 1863 Letters patent were issued from Britain, revocable at will, annexing the Northern Territory. The construction of a Government house in 1865 by Captain Bloomfield Douglas in what was to be a failed settlement was made from Northern Cypress. In the 1870’s a successful attempt to establish a settlement in what we now no as Darwin was undertaken. The Government residence, also built by Captain Bloomfield which still stands today, incorporated stone and a Northern Cypress pine.

letter dated 8th March 1878 to a South Australian parliament Minister states:

“The Flying Cloud is still profitably employed in bringing Cypress Pine from Indian Island, and the quantity she can bring during a (?voyage?) will be fully equal to the expense of her maintenance. It is now on up cheaply at Manders and Barlows Steam Saw Mill.”

Indian Island was a designated forest reserve in 1889 for Northern Cypress pine, the first forestry reserve in the Northern Territory. It was not until 1908 that propagation trials began of Northern Cypress pine by the curator Nicolas Holtze began in what is today’s Northern Territory’s capital city (Darwin) botanical gardens.

In 1910 the Technological Museum, New South Wales published Baker and Smith, Pines of Australia.

In 1911 Nicolas Holtze was sent to Indian Island and reported on the 31st of May 1911, on the growth and regeneration of the remaining Cypress pine. He concluded that:

“….the species is a very slow growing tree and that any steps in afforestation must be taken well ahead of the exhaustion of natural supplies.”

Northern Cypress pine was also used extensively where available on the construction of the overland telegraph line, which began in 1870. Northern Cypress pine poles have been known to stand for as long as 120 year’s.

Railway construction started in 1886/7; Northern Cypress pine was to be used on bridges and level crossings.

Licences were issued to Chinese to cut timber on the Alligator Rivers from 1889 in what is now the World Heritage Kakadu National Park.

Joe Cooper originally a buffalo shooter in approximately 1914 began to ship logs to Darwin sawmills and was eventually to establish his own sawmills on Melville Island. His son in 1939-41 was cutting 10,000 super feet per week, sourced from the Cobourg Peninsular, from what is now a flora and fauna nature reserve to supply the Australian Army.

The historic mining town of Pine Creek, referred to in the Australian literary classic “We of the Never, Never” by Jeanie Gunn (originally Playford) was named after Northern Cypress pine, which grew along the creek.

The demand for Northern Cypress pine was strong and its supply useful.

In the late 1950’s classical Cypress pine plantations were being planned, and trials established, on the mainland of Australia, by the then government of the Northern Territory who were the Commonwealth Government of Australia, near Darwin and on Melville Island.

In May 1978 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Reported on the Northern Territory Forestry Program.