Whibay-gamba Nobbys Headland 1818 – Joseph Lycett – University of Newcastle Archives Cultural Collections
‘Whibay-gamba’ (Nobbys Headland) has always been a prominent focal point of Mulubinba (place of the Sea Ferns) and its significance has always been understood by the First Nations People who lived in this area.
This important site is home to the Dreaming story of the Giant Kangaroo who is said to inhabit the rocky outcrop of Nobbys after hiding here to escape judgement for a crime committed to a female Wallaby. To escape punishment for this crime he was forever unable to leave. Frustrated with his self-imposed isolation, he would crash his great tail against the earth causing the whole area to shake.
This Dreaming story recognises both local Indigenous social control and importantly shows us cultural understanding by revealing a significant environmental hazard – one that Indigenous knowledges have known for thousands of years – that Newcastle has always been prone to earth tremors.
Nobbys was first seen by Europeans when Captain James Cook saw the outcrop in 1770 and was also seen by Captain Shortland in 1797 when he came into the river to search for escaped convicts and recognised coal deposits. Originally called Coal Island by Europeans, the island was connected to the mainland by the Macquarie Pier completed in 1848, 38 years after commencement. The Pier connected Nobbys with the mainland in order to make way for shipping and stop the sailing ships loosing their wind as they rounded Nobbys to come into port. Originally 43 mtrs high, it was reduced and quarried throughout the late 1840s and 1850s to construct the lighthouse in 1854.
Throughout Newcastle’s history, Nobbys has also been the centre of Environmental actions. Although largely forgotten, the 1850s saw Novocastrians rally against the proposition made by the NSW Government to greatly reduce its height. This campaign against the destruction was successful as Nobbys survived albeit with a significant reduction in height.
Nobbys Headland has resisted complete destruction over the course of its lifetime. Excavated chambers are representative of the push to change its shape and purpose and although it has undergone structural changes, it has endured. To this day Nobbys has retained its significance to the people of Newcastle and the First Nations inhabitants. It continues to be the gatekeeper to this city and river and its natural beauty, resilience and strength.
Written by Joel Grogan with acknowledgments to the Newcastle City Guraki Aborignal Advisory Committee and Mr Raymond D Kelly