Yi-ran-na-li: A Cliff face at South Newcastle Beach, Newcastle, Australia.

Yi-ran-na-li: A Cliff face at South Newcastle Beach, Newcastle, Australia.

A number of places along the Newcastle coastal environment are important to the Awabakal people and were recorded as such by Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, a ‘Missionary to the Lake Macquarie Aborigines’ between 1824 and 1859. Reverend Threlkeld was coached in his interpretations by M’Gill, an Awabakal chief, also known as Biraban meaning ‘eaglehawk’.

One of the places described by Reverend Threlkeld is the cliff at South Newcastle Beach, named Yi-ran-na-li.

“There is a sort of sacred place near Newcastle on the sea-beach, beneath a high cliff, named Yi-ran-na-li, where, it is said, that if any person speak, the stones will fall down upon them, from the high arched rocks above, the crumbling state of which is such as to render it extremely probable, that the mere concussion of air from the voice would cause the effect to take place.

I was walking beneath the projecting rock and called loudly to McGill, who with other Aborigines, were with me, he instantly beckoned me to be silent, at which I wondered, a few small stones fell down from the crumbling overshadowing cliff at that moment, and they urged me on.

When we had passed out of the precincts of the fearful place, I asked what they meant by commanding my silence, and pushing on so quickly, without speaking? This elicited the tradition of the place as a fearful one, for if any one speak whilst passing beneath the overhanging rocks, stones would invariably fall as we had just witnessed.” (Threlkeld in Gunson 1974:65)

The very large rock that fell in 2004 perhaps marked Yi-ran-na-li’s final stand. It was a rock so large that we could not ignore it. That rock was a statement about our failure to live within the constraints and sensitivities of place. Despite the removal of the rock and the total reshaping (destruction) of the cliff face to make it ‘safer’ we should not forget the cultural belief of the local Aboriginal people that this place was to be feared and respected.

We can still learn from Yi-ran-na-li’. The cliff speaks to us with a wisdom that is thousands of years old. M’Gill knew this stone wisdom, but we have failed to listen, and today we still have so much to learn about so many other aspects of an endemic sense of place and about the environment that we live in.

It is not too late to show the respect that Yi-ran-na-li deserves. Just as M’Gill instructed Reverend Threlkeld to move on, we should also move quickly and quietly from the vicinity of Yi-ran-na-li, and resume our conversations and activities at a safer distance.


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