The Origins of the Term “Stoney Creek Tribe”

While the term ‘tribe’ was used by Europeans to describe Aboriginal groups is misleading. Tasmanian Aboriginal groups were loose associations of family or hearth groups (up to about 30) that identified with particular country, but these are not the ‘tribes’ of North American experience, which influenced the language, with their large villages and strong hierarchical ‘chiefs’. “Clan” or “Band” are more accurate terms though the simple term “Mob” favoured by Aboriginal people today is probably just as appropriate.

The names of Aboriginal groups were bestowed by the British with fairly careless disregard for their own self reference, so some caution needs apply to these names.

“Stoney Creek Tribe” was a term used by George Augustus Robinson to include the Northern Midlands and Tamar Valley. Ling Roth however confines the reference to those around Campbell Town and Ross and suggests the name derived from a small tributary of the South Esk to the north of Campbell Town. Aboriginal Elder Aunty Patsy Cameron favours the term Stoney Creek and Professor Lyndall Ryan also used it however it is a fairly loose application with which other writers such as Barry Brimfield strongly disagree with its application.

The use of the term on this website defers to Aboriginal Elder Patsy Cameron but recognises the conjecture that arises in the use.

The Origins of the Term “Stoney Creek Tribe”

an edited form of the contribution by Barry Brimfield 

As white pastoral intruders ventured inland, they applied names to the Indigenous population, not knowing nor caring how they referred to themselves and not knowing the boundaries of the country they occupied. That means we have to approach these terms and usages with caution.

The term ‘Stoney Creek Tribe’ occurs in the work of Ling Roth[1] who he describes as occupying the ‘centre of the island, roving about Campbell-town, Ross and Saltpan Plains.’ The boundaries of his nine “tribal” groups, however, does not suggest the Stoney Creek ‘tribe’ extended down the Tamar, which, on his map, is shown as part of territory of the North Eastern and Port Dalrymple people.

The name, Ling Roth suggests, derives from a ‘small tributary of the South Esk, near Llewellan to the north of Campbell-town’, so an entirely white construction and imposed name.[2]

In 1966 archaeologist Rhys Jones[3] did include the Tamar region in his ‘Northern Midland Tribe’, so merging the area of the Tamar people with Ling Roth’s area occupied by the ‘Stoney Creek Tribe’.

Stoney Creek Tribe Map

Aboriginal Elder Aunty Patsy Cameron in her Grease and Ochre[4] favours the term Stoney Creek Nation and in an accompanying map shows the Tamar and Northern Midlands area as the Stoney Creek Nation. In this she follows Lyndall Ryan[5] and there is a suggestion that George Augustus Robinson used the term. Robinson does mention the term in passing, in particular to Eumarrah who Plomley suggests was “chief of the Stoney Creek Tribe”.[6] But then there are other references to Eumarrah (and variations on the spelling of his name) being from Port Dalrymple[7] and also Oyster Bay.[8]

The problem, as is frequently the case, references are often loose, imprecise and based on European usage so to some degree a consensus often emerges to favour a description though that certainly does not mean vigorous disagreement is avoided.

[1] It should be noted Ling Roth rarely left Britain and never visited Tasmania but relied on information supplied by many others to write his ‘definitive’ work so his assumed ‘expertise’ on the Tasmanians is about as considerable as his ‘expertise’ on the Dayaks of Borneo about whom he also produced ‘definitive’ work.

[2] H. Ling Roth The Aborigines of Tasmania (London:1899), 169-170.

[3] Rhys Jones appendix in Norman Tindale Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (Canberra: 1974) 327-8.

[4] Patsy Cameron Grease and Ochre: the blending of two cultures at the colonial sea frontier (Hobart: 2011), 126.

[5] Lyndall Ryan The Aboriginal Tasmanians (St Lucia, 1996) 29-32.

[6] NJB Plomley The Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of George Augustus Robinson (Hobart: 1966) 107, Note65.

[7] Plomley Friendly Mission 470, Note265.

[8] Plomley 441 Note 65.

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