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Ngumundi (c. 1780–c. 1845)

by Ray Kerkhove

This article was published:

Ngumundi (c. 1780—c. 1845), Kabi Kabi (Gubbi Gubbi) headman, was born around 1780 in south-east Queensland. He lived mostly around the Noosa headland and adjacent areas of what is now the Sunshine Coast. His influence extended from Cooloola south to Redcliffe, thus over all Kabi Kabi Country, and he was known and respected even further afield. He had various names, including Jaun-Munday, Huon Mundy, and Eumundi. The last was the name most often used in settler accounts. Sometimes mistakenly translated as ‘black snake,’ Eumundi is more likely a corruption of Ngumundi, possibly originally Yu’me’dje’mee (male cousin). Ngumundi may also have been the origin of Undanbi, the name of a coastal Kabi Kabi clan.

Initially Ngumundi and his people were hostile towards the Europeans encroaching on their lands, but from the late 1820s they provided shelter to convicts fleeing Moreton Bay penal settlement and Captain Patrick Logan’s tyrannical rule. In the 1830s at least a dozen escaped convicts lived within twenty-five miles (40 km) of each other (between Maroochydore, Kenilworth, and Cooloola), almost all with Ngumundi or Pamby-Pamby, a neighbouring Kabi Kabi headman. Absconder George Mitchell described Ngumundi as ‘a friendly man’ who ‘treated the runaways kindly’ (cited in Steele 1975, 356n43); James Davies likewise described being ‘kindly received’ (Western Star and Roma Advertiser 1889, 4). Less fondly, others recalled being forced to partake in tribal battles and to carry the remains of deceased warriors; however, these tasks were regarded as an honour in Kabi Kabi society. Most of the absconders were incorporated into the local community and underwent initiation, obtained ceremonial scars, married Kabi Kabi women, and adopted local dress. Mitchell recalled that Ngumundi ‘induced [the runaways] to remain with [his people], until their conduct (burning the huts of the natives etc.) caused a rupture’ (cited in Steele 1975, 356n43).

One of Ngumundi’s main camps was located at Huon Mundy’s creek (later Huon Mundy Creek, near the present-day town of Eumundi). It was here that the escaped convict John Graham mostly lived with Ngumundi’s people in the early 1830s. In August 1836 Graham helped to engineer the shipwreck survivor Eliza Fraser’s return to European society, possibly with another absconder, David Bracewell. Fraser had spent several months living with Aboriginal people on K’gari (Fraser Island) following the wreck of the Stirling Castle in May. Ngumundi negotiated with the Butchulla people of K’gari for Fraser to reside with his people. She later claimed to have been poorly treated by her various Indigenous hosts, yet the duties she complained of generally aligned with the work of Indigenous women. While Ngumundi was away at a tournament, Graham and Bracewell conducted her ‘rescue from the blacks’ (Sydney Monitor 1836, 3). Ngumundi was greatly angered by this action, but he eventually forgave the men. Bracewell returned to live with Ngumundi in 1839, staying until 1842 when the colonist Andrew Petrie found him and persuaded him to return to Brisbane.

Ngumundi was one of the first Kabi Kabi leaders to try to develop relations with German missionaries from Zion Hill mission, established in 1838 at Nundah. They recorded meeting the ‘king of Jaun-Munday’ (Gossner Mission Journal, 64) for the first time in August 1841. The meeting occurred at Toorbul Point at a ceremony for young warriors at which over two thousand First Nations men, women, and children were assembled. As Ngumundi ‘appeared to be very shy,’ the missionaries incorrectly assumed that he had ‘never seen a white man’ (Gossner Mission Journal, 64). They told him:

through another who could understand us better, that we had come to make the Kahan-being [‘great Father in heaven’] better known to all the Blacks and when they had the desire to work, to stand by them in word and deed. (Gossner Mission Journal, 64)

Ngumundi apparently ‘showed a great pleasure at this’ (Gossner Mission Journal, 64). The missionaries shared their bread and potatoes with him and later he gave them some fish. A large-built man, he was called ‘gourmandiser’ by some Europeans for his appetite and love of food.

Ngumundi is not mentioned in colonial records after 1844 and it seems likely that he died sometime between then and 1850. Despite his formidable reputation as a warrior and leader, he chose to offer hospitality, tolerance, and forgiveness in his effort to negotiate a workable future for his people during the conflicted early settlement of Queensland. He may also have sought status and knowledge through patronising and adopting Europeans. As early as 1914 newspapers reported that the town of Eumundi, established in the 1880s, was named after ‘Eumundi the man’ (Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser 1914, 5). Huon Mundy Bridge and Huon Mundy Creek, near the town of Eumundi, are also named for him. The story of his involvement with Eliza Fraser became the theme of many twentieth-century cultural works, including a series of paintings by Sidney Nolan in the 1940s; A Fringe of Leaves by the novelist Patrick White in 1976; and a film, Eliza Fraser, by Tim Burstall in the same year.

 

Ray Kerkhove is a European man. He was living on Turrbal, Yagara (Jagera), and Nalbo (Kabi Kabi) land when he wrote this article, for which he sought guidance from the Kabi Kabi Peoples Aboriginal Corporation.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Australian (Sydney). ‘Moreton Bay.’ 26 January 1839, 2
  • Gossner Mission Journal. ‘The Bee on the Mission Field.’ Zion Hill Extracts, 1838–44, translated by Colin Shehan. Harry Gentle Research Centre, Griffiths University. Accessed 10 July 2023. https://harrygentle.griffith.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Gossner-Mission-Journal-Zion-Hill-Extracts.pdf. Copy held on ADB file
  • Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Qld). ‘Railway Names.’ 13 March 1914, 5
  • Colonial Times (Hobart). ‘Romance of Real Life in Australia.’ 24 May 1850, 4
  • Ryan, John Sprott. ‘The Several Fates of Eliza Fraser.’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 11, no. 4 (1981): 88–112
  • Steele, John. Aboriginal Pathways (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland, 1983)
  • Steele, John. Brisbane Town in Convict Days, 1824–1842 (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland, 1975)
  • Sydney Monitor (NSW). ‘Wreck of the “Stirling Castle.”’ 19 October 1836, 3
  • Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Qld). ‘Close of a Remarkable Career.’ 18 May 1889, 4

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ray Kerkhove, 'Ngumundi (c. 1780–c. 1845)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ngumundi-33367/text41689, published online 2024, accessed online 23 April 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Eumundi
  • Juan-Monday
  • Huon Mundy
  • Cundy Mungy
Birth

c. 1780
Queensland, Australia

Death

c. 1845 (aged ~ 65)
Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Occupation
Legacies