“Crime Scene, First Degree”(1)
By Steven & Evan Strong
Special Thanks to Uncle Lewis Walker
I was standing beside the Bruxner Highway, just in front of the old wooden condemned Tabulam Bridge and to the right its concrete, metal and bitumen modern-day counterpart. Camera in hand and on the acceptable side of a metal fence with countless signs denying further entry, I caught the eye of one of the many workmen still there who were primarily focussed upon the construction and destruction still to come. Close to my age, he was smiling and certainly not concerned about my presence as he walked closer. I had intentionally kept outside the politics and anguish surrounding this place, all I knew was that Uncle Lewis Walker was on the local news and all I caught was the last sentence, where he expressed grave concern. But over what? I had no idea, but I did know he asked me to come and meet beside the bridges. Despite my lack of background knowledge and inability to apportion blame, once the workman spoke it soon became obvious something was seriously amiss.
I was the only person without work clothes, camera in hand and I am sure everyone there knew the controversy surrounding these bridges was on the local news the previous night, and being senior in his years and most likely in a supervising position, he understandably inquired as to what I was doing. I had no issue with the question and was quite open in explaining I was here for the archaeology and at the request of Uncle Lewis. His response was a touch puzzling as I certainly hadn’t adopted a confrontational attitude, nor challenged him. He immediately claimed a sizeable degree of separation and an implicit admission of looking the other way. He said all he knew about was building bridges, all the other stuff was not on his radar. What struck me was what he wasn’t saying is what filled in the lines. Why say it wasn’t me unless it was someone else? I never said anything about anything illegal or underhand. If ‘I’ didn’t do it, and I suspect he actually did not directly take or dispose, then that means the deeds were done, but not by me. He could have said nothing and got in his car as he was standing beside it, maybe changed the subject, but instead his conscience stepped in and nearly spoke up.
I still had no idea of any specifics, I knew Uncle Lewis was visibly distressed in the interview, but why the bridge, what was there and what I could do was still a mystery, the only certainty I now had is that this place reeked of something seriously culturally offensive and this gentleman knew it wasn’t him, but it was them. It may well be he did not approve, but when has looking the other way ever been morally justifiable or turned out well?
Twenty minutes later I was sitting with Uncle Lewis and not long after everything got so much clearer, yet very murky, and ever so devious. Both Original and local non-Original townspeople are opposed to the destruction of the bridge, and not just for Original reasons as it also has immense historical importance to the town itself. The landscaping, destruction and plans to drastically rearrange is a directive from above and never sanctioned by the locals.
My interest is solely related to the artefacts found, sacred and profound sites under threat and the complete lack of any meaningful Original involvement. Within an hour after returning from Tabulam, Evan spoke of rumours spreading the area of artefacts being found there and intentionally removed and not reported, but rumours mean nothing, on their own. The difference is that what I heard from Evan, was after I had returned and instantly knew this was one of very few rumours that is 100% absolutely true. And it is for the reasons and truths Uncle Lewis shared with me, I decided to use a phrase he coined as the opening heading when describing what happened and is still occurring at two bridges down by the Clarence River. Knowing what I now know, it is indeed “a crime scene, first degree.”(2)
A Re-zone Here and a Deregistration There
First up, from my take on what Uncle Lewis and Ruth Forsythe said, along with the photos and documents shown, there are three issues yet to be resolved that create very significant cultural concerns verging on being no less than outright offensive.
Human bones are still there, so too a variety of stone tools, implements and some of high spiritual standing, are being dug up or damaged and smashed+, and there is no due diligence in this process. Underpinning this flagrant desecration, is a legal reversal that none of those Original tribal people can understand. The site was recently de-registered, they cannot get any explanation whatsoever. Because of this legal exile from recent yesterdays, that means today no Original person can enter to inspect, protect or even give a smoking ceremony. If they did, they would be arrested. So, with common decency thrown out the window and no legal right to enter and try to save any surviving artefacts, the same tired old legal truth comes back and rules yet again. They blew up Yuukan Gorge, and it was legal, now it is beneath and beside a bridge and the side of the bank , all of which is sacred ground, that is under immediate threat of extermination.
And that brings us to the third insult to culture and any notion of fair play or respect. To top off this travesty, the planners and bulldozers intend to destroy the tribal birthing place that runs up from the river. It is possible some may say, well yes that is sad, but this stuff happened so long ago and no-one from then is alive today. That is a shallow short-sighted critique, which doesn’t apply here, twice. As we sat under the verandah Uncle Lewis pointed inside, as he said, “My older brother in there, he was born at the birthing place. How do think he feels?”(3) Uncle Lewis assured us that others who are alive today were also born at the same birthing place above the river and “everyone here is hurting.”(4) The only recurring truth is that this is not ancient history, it is today’s history, and it is still wrong.
As Uncle Lewis described exactly where the birthing site was, it soon dawned on me I was standing twenty metres from it when in conversation with the man with a heavy heart trying to justify abetting this theft. I remember at the time noticing how the backyard sloped all the way down to the river, but that was secondary to the most unusual aspect. The house on the block was brick veneer and clearly the most recent residence on this side of the bridge by at least twenty years, in good condition and not vandalised. What was very odd was with newspaper stuck on each window and no garden, car or sign of human comforts or humans as such, it was vacant and had been so for some time. Now I knew why, that is the birthing site and the land plus this building were destined to be leveled to create a park and viewing platform of the river below. A neat little tourist stop-over for the tired drivers that may attract a few extra dollars was the highest priority here, as for those recently born or long-departed with Original genes and darker skin, once again they are to be evicted and moved on to somewhere out of sight and out of this place down by the bridges. And it is all legal as the site is not a site, as it was de-registered and no longer requires paperwork needing approval. It is just a matter of help yourself and do as you please.
A familiar pattern was beginning to ferment and form, whether newly born and still standing or long ago fallen, along with all the associated stone goods and icons, all things Original are no longer welcome here, simply because if they came to light and got in the way, the welfare of profits and jobs could be compromised.
There’s not Just the Stones, What About the Bones?
It seems to us once the birthing site was de-registered that was the green light to develop. Ruth did tell me that she had “been made aware that the law around the certification of sacred sites may have changed and the onus is up the Elders and Keepers of a sacred site to reapply for certification every five years, and if they didn’t the status lapses. I am not sure if that is the case, but since it appears legal to blow up the oldest inland site in Australia, why not?”(5)
What cannot be disputed is that in the late eighties, Uncle Lewis and other tribal members repatriated some ancient Original human bones from a position very close to the pylons, to a site further up-river near the golf course. Some of the human Original bones were moved, but not all. So too, all the other accompanying relics whether stone or wood were not the principal focus then, but now with explosions and steel dozer tracks at the door and all over the dirt floor, they are under direct threat. As we stated before, it is rumoured that nearly all of the stone artefacts have been hidden or removed, nevertheless a few snuck under the radar through means I will not expand upon, and they are temporarily with me right now to inspect and comment upon.
At first glance this seems to be a rather large stone axe-head, most probably used for some time that was perhaps washed down stream or could be the product of a stone workshop down by the river. On the most prominent face there are fifteen percussion bulbs of differing width from seven centimetres to less than one, and all slope down to create two very sharp continuous edges of thirteen and eleven centimetres, that have clearly never been used. These side edges are extremely sharp and totally unused and unchipped, so much so they can easily cut skin. Both edges meet at a point that is both sharp and small, but the point being (pardon the pun) as small as it is, it is still very sharp. That must mean that no impact or force has been used anywhere on this rock.
As for being wedged onto a wooden shaft that could never happen, simply because the base is the thickest point, and it is not wedged, but has a flat smooth base (8 cms x 2.8 cms) that seems to have been cut. That flat oval shape means it cannot be a spear point or axe, moreover, being in a pristine state it was never designed to negotiate daily use in the field.
The bottom side is far less visually impressive and somewhat subdued, but still has at least half of what was originally there missing through the impact of no less than seven solid strikes with a hammerstone. As with the top side, the variation in the size of the percussion bulbs is dramatic, ranging from 6 cms x 4 cms down to 1 cm x 4 cms. What this has created, which is in stark contrast to the kinks, recesses and corners of the other side, is a raised semi-level flat smooth ridge of 6 cms by 5 cms at its widest margins.
There are possible hints of deeper hues and colours that could be ochre, or maybe a form of patina, and is an avenue yet to pursue, but at the very least this rock is absolutely the end product of Original hands and sophisticated stone tools. Past that there are hints of ceremonies and presence of spiritual complexions, the fact that there is no sign of wear suggests that the lack of impact or application definitely adds to our suspicions this object is quite special.
A Step out of the Ordinary and Into the Extra-ordinary
This was a massive unexpected surprise, as would be well known our interest is primarily focused on artefacts that show clear evidence of technology that exceeds the capacity of any stick, stone and bone tool-kit in Australia, and anywhere else. What I assumed was collected was seven normal but unmistakable stone tools of Original intent and descent, not this one! With the exception of another rock we are already tending, there is no other rock known or kept displaying this level of precision and calibre of exactitude in the execution of marking lines of the same width, depth of incision or consistency in arc or linear path.
My best count is ten very fine decidedly faded and worn lines can be seen on what is patently the topside. Seven are perfectly straight from start to finish, and that of itself is nothing unusual, but the complete opposite. That means this is rock (12 cms x 6.5 cms x 2.8 cms) is the same in the quality of geometry and symmetry as at least fifty of our star rocks. What that does confirm is that this rock’s content and disposition will have some connection to the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades, that is a hard and set rule in rock language and inscription.
Where this rock, and the rock we have, stand out is in the curves, of which this rock has three. Although originating from different locations all three arcs intersect in the top right-hand corner then continue on in orbital paths as they curve around corners and travel further on, never deviating one millimetre from the correct track. This geometry and mathematics is of a level supposedly absent in Australia before the British Invasion Force of eleven fully armed boats set anchor in Sydney. There is no text or expert that would be aware of pre-Cook Original markings of this calibre that seems, when examining the three curved lines, to be too precise to be made by any human hand. Remember this is not a sheet of paper, but a very hard rock.
Equally, what blade made from stick, stone or bone could cut into such a hard surface so easily, it looks as if a knife of the hardest metal imaginable replete with a delicate edge is the only feasible ‘culprit.’ Maybe not, but seriously conventional explanations for what remains on this rock of a script and interplay of lines like these is just not supposed to be part of Original pre-Cook Australia. That may be one truth, but another truth could be that down by the Clarence River right next to the Tabulam wooden bridge there are other rocks like this one, because I am looking at one right now that was saved from being stolen and lost.
This rock means everything must stop, what if there are more, because this is a sacred rock, a holding rock, used in sacred ‘as on top business.’ There has to be an immediate cessation in ‘hostilities,’ that much is definite.
The way the rock is to be held is clear and so comfortable. So much so, it was clearly shaped before coating and cutting, so that it rests at the back fleshy part of the hand, as all holding rocks and cylcons must. In complementing where the back of the hand contacts, there are three finger ridges on the opposite side to the thumb rest which has been extensively used. The thin black coat of resin and chert/silica, of which some still remains above and below where the thumb must be positioned, has been completely rubbed off through continual thumb-skin contact. What only reinforces my selection as the correct grip, is that once the fingers and thumbs are in the proper setting the top of thumb sits above a rough, crude and much deeper cut. That must mean the inner rock can transmit information, energy or magic to the human host if it decides to.
There are many levels to this rock, and it should carefully tended and given ceremony. And then go back to where it was found, down by the bridge that is currently being pulled apart. That is the worst possible plan of action, as this stone was deliberately put here. No bulldozer or mischievous charlatan has the right to remove or unearth this sacred star rock.
Nothing Special Here?
My first glance of a few seconds relegated this apparently unremarkable stone candidate to seventh in a class of seven. It seems to be the least imposing, of a somewhat rounded rectangular shape and light grey in colour it does appear to be completely natural and unworked, until realising the bottom side is totally flat and level, which is so at odds with the curves and slope elsewhere.
The thumb position is a perfect fit for me and the result one solid strike with a hammerstone that left behind what looks like a human thumb print, the length and width couldn’t be any tighter in alignment. Once held with the right-thumb correctly positioned, the curved section rests snugly and tight inside the hand. Beside and spanning further to the left for six centimetres there is a spread of close to one hundred co-joined pecks, that was made to accommodate the next three fingers. In every other sacred rock-case, while a thumb rest is mandatory and often indentations of channels are provided for the fingers, but never before has the top surface been so broken and exposed. Normally it is a strong thumb contact with the base rock with the fingers acting as support, but this time one thumb and three fingers are in congress below the surface. That is for us, a first.
Again, this is another holding rock used in ceremony and introspectively inclined, that would explain why when held correctly there are three percussion points and another cluster of heavy pecking that will act as an energy release point that when sung properly will return to the sender/holder of the rock.
There seems to be residual traces of both a reddish brown and a darker ochre, but what is even more revealing are the seven small patches of a dark black resin and chert that may have completely coated the whole surface some time ago. All the markings, shaping and pecking is within the capacities of any rock, stick and bone technology, but when it comes to last contribution, which is of such a fine cut on a perfectly straight trajectory five times, this is too hard, something metallic or laser-like is compulsory. Six of thinnest lines imaginable spanning up to seven centimetres, that cannot be seen a metre away, have been cut into this rock with a tool that is no less than advanced by today’s standards.
This is yet another very special spiritually endowed rock that was most likely left very close to the ceremonial grounds. What has been reclaimed is way past common debris left over after tool making, or an occasional camping and fishing site, this is something of a higher order. We are walking on hallowed ground here.
Satisfying our Expectations
This is what we hoped would turn up, well to be honest this rock alone which is instantly recognisable, is much more than we hoped for. A stone axe-head, not a reject, discard or half-done then abandoned to the scrap heap, this one is a very fine working model that is exceptionally well made. It measures 9.7 cms x 12.2 cms x 2 cms and is an excellent example of stone on stone technology at its very best. It is well balanced, has smooth top and bottom faces and the edging is a combination of many very small bulbs, along with others up three times larger, in total there is close to fifty that run around a continuous rim of nearly twenty-five centimetres.
The difference here is that this axe was used, and more than likely re-sharpened through the deft use of smaller hammerstones when re-chipping. Clearly not a spiritual or ceremonial icon, it is very symmetrical in shape and make, with its mid-central point in the exact centre. No-one would ever throw it away, but if being buried with a few goods and tools deemed to be an essential part of the deceased person’s life, then yes it makes sense to find this artefact here. Especially since human bones were removed from this location thirty years earlier.
A Second Serving of Familiarity
Just as it is with the stone axe-head, this is another impressive Original relic constructed with stone, bone and stick technology, nothing extra this time. It is so obviously a spear-point there is no real point in comparing and justifying here, as it is what it is. The only secondary path worth pursuing relates to whether it was tied onto, or most likely wedged into, a wooden shaft as a leading point or as part of a series of barbs running down both sides of the wood thus creating a death-spear.
The smallest and most fragile of the seven artefacts (4 cms x 2.8 cms x 0.5 cms), what is beginning to become as obvious as it is intriguing, is the variety of rock types used here. We did expect a degree of geological conformity in the relics salvaged, but the opposite is occurring. This light brown rock is different in make and location to the four that proceeded it.
As it was with the axe-head, this is a working functioning part of a weapon, it is not a discard, flake or off-cut. In fact, all seven rocks are completed, so on the scarce evidence available, there are no less than four roles performed or satisfied, and it would appear at the current stage of furtive investigations, tool-making is not one of them.
A Pair of Polished Holding Rocks
We are dealing with these two rocks as a pair, we are bound to do so as they share seven features/qualities, outside the supposedly co-incidental fact both were found. These two rocks share the same black veneer overcoats which are heavily polished. The cuts and pecks on both rocks reveal the same grey colouration beneath and both thumb rests are quite jagged and the only untreated rough section on each smooth rock. Neither rock has a discharge point, and what only adds some extra weight to our belief they are a pair, one rock has a right-hand thumb rest, while the other has the much rarer left-hand thumb rest. They are a duet and when used they must be both held, one in each hand.
We do have quite a few polished rocks, but these two do rank quite highly. I noticed that on a rainy day when the cloud cover was 100%, both rocks still reflected the image of a white ball. Even now in the night, the electric light bulb can clearly be seen on both rocks, but when it comes to the other five, day or night, there is no glow or flicker, just the rock in a solo appearance.
Within a general conformity and repetition, each rock does have the scope for minor deviations and alternative paths. The right-hand rock while slightly smaller by 0.8 cms, is 0.8 cms wider to reset the balance, which is only bolstered by the fact that both rocks are 2.1 cms in depth/thickness. All we can add in closing our mathematical comparison, is to ask that knowing how they do look so alike, surely the mathematical repetition of 17.5 cms, which is the sum total of three measurements for the first rock (8.3 cms + 7.1 cms + 2.1 cms= 17.5 cms) and the second rock (9.1 cms + 6.3 cms + 2.1 cms= 17.5 cms), is one numerical step too far for any who may harbour doubt.
In Adding up the Sum Total
Of the seven rocks rescued, four are ceremonial holding rocks, one is a star rock containing phenomenal geometry and the other two are most likely funeral items buried with human bones already known to be there. All we can add to this tally is that there is so much more, if allowed to look and count, but that would be illegal and in doing so a court appearance and a penalising fine is the only guaranteed outcome.
The people of Tabulam, irrespective of colour, income or political preferences stand united in protesting and demanding the right to have a say in how their town develops. Sadly, their chances of getting the authorities to consult and listen are very slim, but that should not deter them as they are right, so they have to continue fighting peacefully against this sacrilege. The global problem they face is that colour, gender or political allegiances is not the underlying issue here, the systems that supposedly serve the people are imploding and are incapable of serving any interest unless the words jobs and profits are spruiked. Nothing else matters anymore.
When it comes down to what the people want, the leaders and the bureaucrats will give the impression they are genuinely listening when a token first community consultation is convened. But the reality almost invariably is that before the first local speaks, minds are already made up, plans are in the wind and the outcomes are already pre-determined. Once the legal window dressing and obligatory charade is completed, the dozers move in and the locals are legally prohibited from doing any more than looking from outside metal fences and padlocks.
It comes down to one recurring impasse, the locals want the old bridge to stand tall, the officials are adamant the bridge must fall. And the only truth remaining right now is that this is wrong, it is a serious offense to Original culture and they just don’t care. Whether it is Juukan Gorge, the Tabulam wooden bridge, the Kariong glyphs, the Standing Stones site or a thousand and one other sacred sites, they just don’t care and unless people stand united and refuse to waver the bridge will be destroyed, sacred sites will be desecrated and another part of our history is trashed. And this is how it is now and will only get worse until we stand together and refuse to accept the lies, deception and arrogance wrapped around the two bridges that cross the Clarence River.
General Research: Ruth Forsythe (Researcher)
(1)-(4): Uncle Lewis Walker, 2020. Personal Communication To Steven Strong, (27th Oct.).
(5): Ruth Forsythe (Researcher), 2020. Email to Steven Strong, (1st Oct.).