Wonnarua People

Wonnarua people have inhabited this area since the Dreamtime, their name means “the hills and plains people”.  Baiami, also known as Koin is their creation spirit, creator of all things and the Keeper of the Valley.   Their tribal lands border Darkinung, Worimi and Awabakal tribes, to whom they are related, they also had ceremonial and trade links with the Kamilaroi people.


 Wonnarua people have been wonderful artists down to most recent times, this is something they are justly proud of.  There are hundreds of known caves and the lands they are located have been under unbroken guardianship of these people to the present time.


Maitland or Boe-oon (a species of waterfowl) as it was known to Aboriginals, was occupied by the Gringgai clan of the Wonnarua.


Jackey Jackey (Jacky Jacky)


Jackey Jackey, who was guide for the explorer Edmund Kennedy belonged to the Wonnarua people. He came from the Merton district.  His skills as a negotiator must have been considerable as Kennedy’s journeys covered great distances and many tribal lands.  There was considerable rapport and respect between Jackey Jackey and Kennedy. He was known being a hard worker and his sagacity and superb bushcraft.  As privation and disaster gradually overcame the party he steadily emerged as one of its strongest members. The worse conditions became the more it seemed that he could be relied on.  With Jackey Jackey, Kennedy continued towards Cape York.  They were trapped in the mangroves and swamps of the Escape River and Kennedy was killed, ignoring his own danger Jackey Jackey buried Kennedy.  He kept going and reached the supply ship a week later.  In May 1849, he accompanied Captain T. Beckford Simpson as a guide, hoping to trace any survivors and recover Kennedy’s body, the trip was unsuccessful.  Simpson had only praise for Jackey Jackey’s skill, modesty, respectful manner and touching devotion to Kennedy’s memory.  He died in 1854 and is buried locally. 

King Tom

Aboriginal Elder, King Tom who belonged to the Wonnarua people, was a proud man who involved himself in community life.  He donated a pair of wild ducks valued at five shillings to a Patriotic Fund for widows and orphans of the men killed in the Crimean War.  He also took part in the funeral cortege of a local farmer, David Dickinson, who died as a result of being crushed between the wheel of a dray and a wall.  It was the longest funeral procession that ever passed through Maitland. He died in 1875.


The Colonists

Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson of the NSW Corps explored the Hunter in 1801, naming it ‘Schanck’s Forest’. Cedar getters were probably the first colonists to live in the Maitland area, calling it ‘The Camp’. Escaped convicts also resided there intermittently.  During this period, there are reports of flood debris being found 24.4 metres (80 feet) above the river level in 1806.

Permanent colonial settlement began between 1818 to 1821 when Governor Macquarie opened the Lower Hunter up to settlement.  Eleven emancipated convicts were granted plots of land and free settlers soon arrived at what was then known as ‘Wallis Plains’.  One of our best known convicts of this time was Molly Morgan, who settled at West Maitland, owned the Angel Inn, acquired land and was well known for good deeds.  This area developed into the central business district and became known as West Maitland. 

The government town of Maitland was drawn up in 1829 and Maitland was proclaimed a town in 1833.  The area now known as William Street, East Maitland, was to be the town, hence the wide street with a  central row of fig trees.  The John Street end featured the Court House and the Brisbane Street end St. Peters’ Anglican Church. The church  was built to the magnificence of a cathedral, as the main town centre in the lower Hunter was to be here and not Newcastle as eventually happened.  Across from the church is a reserve
that was known as Stockade Hill, now bisected by Brisbane Street. The southern section is a park known since the Bi-Centenary as Cook’s Square Park.   Maitland Gaol was built in 1846 near the Court House. In its time it was a high security gaol, now it is a tourist attraction with an office in the Governor’s Wing.  This is a venue for events and has its own museum. AMCAT is located in the Lt. Governor’s wing which comprised private housing attached to the gaol.  Maitland and East Maitland, along with Morpeth were important for river trading and
Morpeth was the trading post for the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company.

In 1842 Caroline Chisholm founded a Female Emigrants’ Home where single females could live safely until work was found for them.  This cottage was given for her use by ‘Gentleman’ John Smith, a convict who had been given a parcel of land by Governor Macquarie. The cottage still stands, as do others built by him.  By 1843 this cottage was not in full use due to the decline in immigrants and was being used partly as a hospital - it was to become the first home of the Maitland Hospital.  Later, a building in Durham Street, Maitland, then a brick house in Hannan Street, Maitland, was used.  The foundation stone for a new hospital was laid on 26 January 1846 by Edward Denny Day and the hospital was officially opened on 8 November 1849.  Also

noticeable is the early Jewish influence in Maitland as evidenced by names on building facades in High Street, Maitland. These families were also instrumental in the building of Maitland Hospital and other facilities and benevolent institutions in the city.  Maitland is fortunate in that it has buildings remaining from the early days of settlement. In fact, one street, Bourke Street, Maitland, is one of only two streets in Australia with its architecture intact from these times.  Incidentally, the emancipated convict and colonial architect, Francis Greenway, is buried in the old Glebe cemetery at East Maitland.

The Maitland Mercury was established in 1843, making it one of the oldest surviving Australian newspapers. The Mercury featured colonial news from all areas as well as overseas news. Reading the old copies gives an excellent insight into the lives of all who lived in the area, whether it be news articles or advertising. It was often the main means of communication. 

The first two high schools outside the Sydney area were in Maitland. They were originally known as Maitland Boys High School (or as it was morewere originally known as Maitland Boys High School (or as it was moreproperly known – Maitland High, A School for Boys) and Maitland Girls High School.  Today they are co-educational and are known as Maitland High School and Maitland Grossmann High School.  Many ex-pupils are well known state wide, nationally or worldwide.

Cultural activities included Friendly Societies which were a source of social contact and self- improvement, and provided medical and dental schemes.  The Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows was the first, established in 1844 at Paterson and 1846 in Maitland.  The Masonic Lodge also began here in 1846.  Temperance Societies and church groups were active as were groups such as the Mutual Improvement Society. The School of Arts in many centres also provided interesting speakers.  Theatre, choir and band groups were also on the cultural scene such as the West Maitland Choral Union Concert, not forgetting to mention the Y Worry Dance Club!  Dorothea Mackellar was staying at Torryburn and wrote ‘My Country’ as a drought broke and she watched the green grass spring up from the dry brown earth. Sir Henry Parkes delivered his first policy speech from the steps of the Maitland Town Hall.  Maitland was also on the short list for becoming the capital city of Australia.

The Lower Hunter, including the Maitland area, was based on a very strong trading and farming tradition. In fact, the Hunter Valley was once the food bowl of the colony. Today it is still a strong commercial centre, although agriculture has been somewhat displaced by mining.

Time does not stand still, areas and interests change, Maitland is still a vibrant centre, where modern cultural activities mingle with the old as will be seen on our ‘Links’ page.  It has much to offer the visitor.