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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lynch, William (Billy) (1839–1913)

by Jim Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

William (Billy) Lynch (c.1839-1913), Aboriginal community elder, was born near Bannaby (Bonamby) station, south of Wombeyan Caves, New South Wales, reputedly the son of Maurice Lynch (c.1819-1888), an Irish-born, convict shoemaker and bagpipe-repairer, and a Gundungurra mother whose name was not recorded. In his boyhood, Billy moved with his family to the Hartley district, where his attendance at a blanket distribution at the courthouse is recorded on 3 May 1841, his Aboriginal name given as Mawiack.

For some years he worked as a guide and police tracker in western New South Wales and near the Lachlan River, later as a shepherd on Dalziel's Rosevale property in the Kanimbla Valley. Between 1862 and 1875 he and his wife Rose Anna Fisher—who was also known as Fanny Page and had been born about 1850 at Hartley—had six children: William, Emily, Fanny, Joseph, Rosie and James. The youngsters were also given Gundungurra names.

In 1887 Joseph applied for a conditional purchase of a 40-acre (16 ha) lot on the Cox River, where the family lived for the next ten years. Peter and Jane O'Reilly, early settlers of the Megalong and Kanimbla valleys, knew them well. The O'Reillys' son Bernard included a number of reminiscences of Billy's family in his memoir, Cullenbenbong (Brisbane, 1944).

The Lynchs participated in the community life of the Megalong Valley and the developing town of Katoomba. Billy tracked down lost tourists and sold bush honey, rabbits and possum-skin rugs in the town. In 1889 it was reported, probably sarcastically, that he planned to open a delicatessan for travellers on the Six Foot Track. He and his sons played in the all-Aboriginal cricket team, Coxs River, against the valley's settlers' team. In 1896 a journalist from the Sydney Mail described Lynch as 'an active clear headed intelligent veteran of Parkesian appearance'. The published interview was a poignant record of environmental and social changes in the Blue Mountains.

As settlement of the Blue Mountains valleys intensified, the Gundungurra people found access to traditional food sources difficult and they became more reliant on the settler economy. From 1893 a fringe encampment had developed around the Nellies Glen shale mine, where there was casual work. The mine's closure in 1897 led to a migration of Aboriginal families to Katoomba, where they settled in an unoccupied gully in the upper part of Kedumba Falls Creek. Lynch, then the oldest and most respected Aboriginal person in the region, probably played an important role in helping to establish a viable Aboriginal community in the gully, relatively independent of control by the Aborigines Protection Board. Fanny died in 1900.

The Katoomba gully settlement was accepted and respected by the non-Aboriginal people of the town. William Lynch died there of 'senile decay' on 13 November 1913. After a Catholic service, his body was transported by bullock cart to an ancient, Aboriginal burial area in the Megalong Valley. Here he was buried upright in the traditional Gundungurra manner, on a spur overlooking Megalong Creek. This acceptance by Lynch of the burial rites of two cultures symbolized his life of reconciliation and adaptation in a world that changed dramatically in his lifetime. Survived by two sons and two daughters, he also had twenty-two surviving grandchildren and by 2005 there were hundreds of proud descendants.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith, ‘The Gundungorra Aboriginals’ in M. Shaw, Historic Megalong Valley (Syd, 1988)
  • J. Smith, ‘Katoomba’s Fringe Dwellers’ in E. Stockton (ed), Blue Mountains Dreaming (Syd, 1993)
  • Sydney Mail, 12 Dec 1896, p 1250
  • Blue Mountains Echo, 21 Nov 1913, p 3
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Jim Smith, 'Lynch, William (Billy) (1839–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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