The Bundian Way
Connecting the highest part of the Australian continent and the south-eastern coast is a 365km long ancient Aboriginal trail known as the Bundian Way. Situated in southern New South Wales, it runs from the snowy peaks of Targangal (now known as Mount Kosciuszko) to the turquoise waters of Bilgalera (Fisheries beach) in Twofold Bay, near the coastal town of Eden. In doing so, it traverses some of Australia’s wildest terrain through a remarkable variety of bush landscapes, across plains and mountain ranges.
Older than both the Silk Road and the Roman Empire’s Road Network, the path is believed to date back more than 40,000 years. Historically, it brought together the Aboriginal people of the greater region for practical and ceremonial purposes and was later used as a cattle stock route by white settlers. The track then fell into disuse for decades, almost vanishing from popular imagination, until it was surveyed for modern use in 2010 and then heritage listed in 2013. Now it is in a process of once again being opened as a connected walking trail.
In our international tours, Odyssey Traveller has drawn upon ancient exploration and pilgrimage routes as a point of entry to understand our location, whether that’s tracing medieval European pilgrimage routes such as the Camino and the Via de la Plata in Spain; or following the ancient Silk Road through China and Uzbekistan. Now, we have drawn from ancient Aboriginal routes to build our Australia tours, enabling us to understand the history and significance of the landscape that surrounds us. This article explores the features, history, and modern significance of the Bundian Way to assist you on our tours.
On its way from the alps to the coast, the Bundian Way passes through some of the wildest, most rugged, and yet beautiful country in Australia. Passing through an amazing variety of landscapes, the scenery constantly changes. From snow peaked mountains to waves crashing on the shores of the coast, from gushing rivers to scorched dry country and more, no day’s walk is quite like the next.
Along the path is a large variety of plant species carpeting the landscape in a patchwork of colour, as well as a plethora of animals. Kangaroos, emus, snakes, and a beautiful little animal that lives close to the coast called the long-nosed potoroo can all be regularly spotted. Don’t worry about the snakes through – they’ll leave you alone as long as you don’t hassle them!
The route generally follows fire trails, tracks, and forestry roads, passing through forest, national park, rural areas, and coastal areas. About half of this is through proclaimed wilderness, while a section also follows Crowns and Council owned roads through rural areas.
In all the route has six stages:
- Stage 1: Targangal (Kosciuszko) to Moyangul (Pinch)
- Stage 2: Moyangul (Pinch) to Merambego
- Stage 3: Merambego to Delegate
- Stage 4: Delegate to Bondi Springs
- Stage 5: Bundian Pass to Towamba
- Stage 6: Towamba to Turemulerrer (Twofold Bay)
More information about the different stages can be found on the Bundian Way official website here.
The tradition of travel is a distinct and important aspect of Aboriginal culture, a central part of life for the traditional owners of Australia prior to European settlement. The scholar Dale Kerwin (2010: 84) has written: “It is a response to the need to renew relationships with the country of ancestral birth and the ritual journey to renew relationships with people across the landscape.”
The ancient Bundian Way was used as a travelling path by a number of Indigenous nations, including the Yuin, Ngarigo, Bidhawal, and Jaitmathang, peoples. Still today, the path is dotted with scarred trees and Aboriginal artefacts such as worked bits of stone, axe heads and middens.
The path acted as a safe passage between the coast and high country, bringing together the Aboriginal people of the greater region, most notably for ceremonies associated with whaling in springtime at Twofold Bay and moth hunting in the high-country near Mount Kosciuszko during summer.
People would travel east to attend the whale ceremonies, where they traded and met up with friends and relatives. These gatherings would include big feasts of whale meat, as well as fish, lobster, and abalone. One of these gatherings was recorded in August 1844 in the journal of G. A. Robinson. The account tells of a corroboree with whales harvested to feed about 70 people present, half of whom are described as “Maneroo” having walked from as far afield as places around Delegate and Cooma.
During summer, Aboriginal people would make the long journey west, ascending into the high peaks for the Bogong moth season. Each year as the weather warms up in southeast Australia, Bogong moths migrate to the high country of the Snowy Mountains in southern New South Wales and the Victorian Alps.
Aboriginal people would travel as far as the east coast to attend these gatherings, which were an essential part of cultural life. They would travel to the areas where the moths were most prolific, usually in rock shelters. Here, the moths lined the granite walls two or three inches thick.
After being netted, the moths were thrown on to a charcoal bed to burn the legs and wings off. Some of these cooked moths were then pounded into dough and mixed with grain to make a type of cake. With a very high fat content, the moths were highly sought after for their nourishment.
Apart from attending gatherings and accessing food supplies, Aboriginal people also walked the ancient pathway for practical, ceremonial, and educational purposes. These included maintaining kinship ties, conducting business and trade, sharing knowledge and resources, and making alliances and settling disputes.
Then, when European pioneers arrived, the Aboriginal clans of the region showed them their ancient pathways and acted as guides through the wild countryside. In the following decades, this assistance helped settlers to find places to establish homesteads and stockmen to move stock to fresh pasture. Today along the Bundian Way, there are still trees marked by colonial explorers, stockmen’s trails, huts and homestead ruins.
With the advent of cars and bitumen roads, the ancient Aboriginal route fell out of popularity and was eventually forgotten amongst white people. The cultural knowledge associated with the pathway, however, persisted into modern times and continues to be highly significant to Aboriginal people in southeast New South Wales and the Monaro.
Since 2003, the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Culture and the local Indigenous community have been working tirelessly to map and gather information on the Bundian Way from various geographical, historical and Indigenous sources.
Using this information, in 2010 a team of five Aboriginal people finished walking the track’s entire length and surveyed it for modern use. Three years later, it became the first Aboriginal pathway to be given heritage status.
The track is now being developed for public use; once complete it will be a valuable opportunity for visitors to learn about Aboriginal Australia. Along the path will be signage, complemented by a guidebook, an app, and even an art gallery.
Although the Bundian Way project is yet to be opened as a connected walking track, one can already experience a part of the pathway along the Whale Dreaming Trail and Bundian Way Story Trail in Eden, as well as the Bundian Way Gallery in Delegate. All are proudly presented by the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council.