The Bunya Gathering

Bunya tree cones

The bonyi (Gubbi Gubbi word for the bunya pine) is a distinctive tree, native to Queensland, that once only grew in the Bunya Mountains and the Blackall Ranges.

The Bunya (Araucaria bidwillii) tree grows to a height of 50 metres or more with the trunk often reaching one and a half metres across in width. The trees produce large cones (about the size of a football) which contain about 60 or more nuts. These flavoursome and nutritious nuts, rich in oils and carbohydrates, could be eaten raw or roasted and ground into flour.

The nuts were harvested by climbing the trees using a strong vine that was looped around the tree and the climber’s waist. Cones could also be found on the ground after having broken off and fallen from the very top of the tree.

Once every three years between December and March a bumper harvest of nuts is produced. It was during this time that the Bunya Gatherings occurred, with invited Aboriginal groups travelling from all over Southeast Queensland.

At these gatherings groups conducted business:

  • items, food, information and new knowledge were traded and shared;
  • cultural, social and kinship obligations were observed and arranged;
  • disputes and complaints were resolved;
  • ceremonies were conducted and future events organised; and
  • songs, stories and dances were swapped between groups to be taken home to their own people.

Trade routes existed across Australia through this trading and exchange of information, songs, stories and material culture as groups attended other events with different groups and continued the cycle.
The last Bunya Gathering was believed to have been held in 1902 – the displacement of Aboriginal populations caused by the introduction of government settlements put a stop to the event.

Although the Bunya Gathering has ceased, Aboriginal people continue the cycles of trade today in various other ways.