An "axehead" is a general name for a large stone tool
Axeheads were an essential economic resource to the Aboriginal people of
150 years ago, just as copper or iron or gold are today.
Axeheads are highly specialised and require a sophisticated
knowledge of geology, physics and chemistry in their production as this
website will show.
The higher the level of craftsmanship / specialisation, the more useful
and more highly regarded they are. Axeheads also provide an opportunity
for trade and interaction with other groups of people.
The Rainforest People create some exceptionally large stone tools and some
unique "T-shaped" stone tools part of a huge array of stone and wooden
The Yidinji Lands and Seasons
The Yidinji are an Aboriginal tribe whose traditional lands extend from
the Cairns area along the coastal plain to around the mouth of the
Mulgrave River and areas of the Atherton Tableland. The Mullunburra -
people of the stony river bed - (‘Mullun’ meaning stony river and creek
bed and ‘burra’ meaning to belong to) are a clan of the Yidinji Tribe.
Each year they traveled back and forth along a traditional route between
camps in the Goldsborough Valley and the bora grounds (warrama) behind
Lake Eacham on Fullers Road. The camps were connected by tributaries of
the river that gave its name to the Mullunburra. The Mullunburra-Yidinji
enjoyed a lifestyle based on hunting, gathering and fishing. Uniquely
suited to their environment, their lives were governed by the seasonal
changes and the consequent effect on the availability of food. Distinctive
aspects of rainforest culture included the holding of intertribal fighting
corroborees using huge swords and shields, the regular use, after complex
processing, of poisonous plants as a food source and horned shaped lawyer
cane baskets made only in the Cairns to Cardwell region. Tribal movement
and ceremonial activities were of necessity keyed into the seasonal cycle,
the unity between the people and the land provided the basis for all
aspects of life. The Mullunburra were very sensitive and alert to the
flowering and fruiting of trees, the nesting of birds and the habits of
animals. They knew what they fed on, where they rested, the paths they
used. The arrival of gunyal (the cicada) in the clan’s traditional area
heralds the start of the wet season, and the availability of the food
sources of blackpine, yellow walnut and eggs of the scrub turkey. When
gunyal changes his tune in song this told the aborigines the food was
ready to eat, and their trek up to the Tablelands followed. The appearance
of animals, the flowering of plants, many of the forests natural cycles,
told the people what foods were ready to gather. The judaloo (Brown
pigeon) calling told the women that the jumbun grub was ready to eat; the
falling fruit of garangal vine meant the scrub turkey eggs were available.
The Migration Food Cycle - The Yidinji Seasons
NYANBIRR...WET SEASON January through May Head up the valley - Scrub
turkey's nest for eggs White-tailed rat camps in hollow logs; easy to find
and kill Flying fox - hit with a stick. Men hunt for tree kangaroo,
possum, wallaby, cassowary and birds. Women and children collect yellow
and black walnut and black pine. Excess is wrapped in ginger leaves and
placed in a cool stream
YIWAI...WINTER June and July Start back to the coast - Scrub python eaten
mainly in Winter; grubs and brown and black frogs - part of winter diet -
Eat yams and cycads. When the cicada's call changes the blackpine and
walnut are ready to eat. When the wattle starts flowering go down the
trail to the coast. The Python is then out from hibernation and ready to
NAMBARR...SPRING August, September, October Start back to the coast -
Echidna, turtles, eels and fish were easier to catch as the water dropped.
Davidsonian Plum from July through to September
TJUKALAWARR...SUMMER November and December Goanna and Snakes were hunted
either side of winter. Eat white apple straight off the tree; gather Badil
(Cycad); collect yellow and black walnut in lowlands.
Smoothing interior surface of cane handle to maximise contact area with
Resin (dried sap) from the Grass Tree ( Xanthorrhoea spp. ) used as
part of a two part glue
The Grass Tree is found in drier open, often sloping country that
experiences periodic fires.
Although not specifically a plant for fibre it was very useful in crafting
of aboriginal tools. The light straight flower stalk served as a
butt-piece for spears.
A tip section of tea tree would then be attached to the end of the spear
and hardened in the fire before used for hunting. fire with a drilling
The leaves produce a hard waterproof resin, which could be collected from
the base of the trunk.
This resin melts when warmed, but sets hard when cold. It had a number of
Forming glue by mixing it with charcoal, beeswax or fine sand and
Gluing the cement stone heads to wooden handles and spears to shafts
Waterproofing bark canoes and water carrying vessels.
The versatility of this resin in the every day lives of the aborigines,
made it a valuable trading item and was traded amongst tribes for other
Making the two part glue
Part 1 - Grass Tree resin is powdered and and mixed into a thick paste
with warm water
Part 2 - buried charcoal (activated carbon) from a root fire of the Kauri
Pine is powdered and added to the resin
The Kauri Pine (Agathis spp.) is an emergent rainforest tree, found on
level ground with deep soil and is liable to be struck by lightning.
Presumably, the activated carbon draws metallic ions from the resin
causing it to thicken and solidify.
The rate of this reaction is increased by pre-heating the stone axes.( see
Once dry, the glue will not remelt.
Stone axeheads are pre-heated before the addition of the glue.
The hot stone assists in getting the glue to flow into all crevices and
keeps the cane pliable while it is fitted to the axe.
Spreading the glue on the inside of the axe handle.
Note the two part contact glue is spread on both the stone axe and
the handle surfaces.
Glue on axehead is left to cool until very sticky.
The main handle is shaped to accept the axehead.
The glued halves of the base of the main handle are glued together and
Axehead is inserted and clamped.
A two person operation.
Multi-step adjusting and tight fitting of axehead.
Handle is wrapped and glued inside and out.
Critical to the wrapping are the special knots to hold tie off and hold
the wrapping in place.
Completed axe will take some time to dry and for the green Lawyer Cane to
dry and shrink.
This must take place before first use.
Completed Axes - side view with scale
Completed axes edge on view
Note how straight cutting edge of axe lines up perfectly with line of axe
Note how glue makes perfectly seamless seal.
rivers around the Gulf would be avoided because of the need to
swim, brackish water difficult swampy terrain and large crocodiles
some shade most leaves yet to drop
game starting to concentrate aroud drainage basins as outlying
terrain begins to dry)
it would then be possible to follow major drainages with all
crossings between watersheds at daily travel distances of less than
We expected when we tried to meet these criteria that there would be no
defined patterns and that numerous routes could be possible. Sixteen
volunteers worked individualy using topographic / drainage maps. Much to
our surprise only two routes appeared feasible.
One route through the middle of the Gregory Range following the
and another southerly route, crossing the Great Dividing Range and
following the coastal rivers south and skirting the southern end of
the Gregory Range
it is interesting to note that both routes follow a common path for
only a short distance but that the two points where they meet are the
sites of present day aboriginal communities
although the axeheads were collected in June-July they were
probably not traded until just before the wet season when people would
naturally gather around the few remaining water holes and would
therefore be easier to find
the Kalkadoon axehead from the Mt. Isa area would probably be
traded for particular rainforest timbers with unique properties ,
rainforest coloured feathers in shades and textures not found in the
drier interior and seashells which were in turn traded up from the