Lost Bora Rings of the South East
South East Queensland has plenty of artefacts of 60,000+ years of human history, but they are subtle and often hidden in the rural scenery or lost under suburban development. Bora rings were particularly important as social and ceremonial focal points, and they came in a variety of configurations depending on location and specific use. I’m not qualified to explain the details of their design or cultural significance, so let’s settle with this definition by the Aboriginal Heritage Office:
“A bora ground most commonly consists of two circles marked by raised earth banks and connected by a pathway. One of the rings would have been for everyone — uninitiated men, women and children. The second ring would have been for initiated men and the young men about to be initiated. Occasionally, one ring can be found that would have been used for corroborees and for the rare fight.”
For a lover of heritage and history it is always very sad to contemplate that which has been lost, and particularly so when it comes to the delicate relics left behind by the first people of the land. The below map, adapted from Satterthwait and Heather (1987)(1), shows the location of 62 rings in the south-east corner, described in various historical records. It is by no means comprehensive. Every one of these locations constituted a vital ceremonial hub for their surrounding communities. Please pause for a minute and ponder this.
Some rings remain in a good state of repair - for example in Samford, the Glasshouse Mountains, Nudgee, Camira and Toorbul. But many have been lost and are largely forgotten by the people that now live on the land. And some appear to be in a declining state – partially cared for, or not at all, and slowly fading into the surrounding landscape. Without active maintenance, these earthen rings will be erased by vegetation, grazing and erosion.
So I decided to dig into the archives and aerial photos, to see if I could find some of these apparently lost rings. In the process, I received a fascinating lesson in cultural geography and the wealth of aboriginal history that surrounds us.
Before continuing this story, I acknowledge the traditional custodians of these lands, and pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging.
The most famous Bora ring in the Brisbane region also gave name to the Kippa Ring suburb in Redcliffe. The name “Kippa” indicates that this ring, or set of rings, were used to initiate young men.
For this site I relied on descriptions produced by J. G. Steele in his essential “Aboriginal pathways on South East Queensland and the Richmond River” (1984) (2). Steele wrote:
“There was a ring at Kippa Ring, about 30 metres north of Klinger Road West, and about 400 metres east of the junction of that road with Anzac Avenue. Outer and inner dimensions measured in 1948 suggest that the diameter across the top was about 24 metres north-south and 22.5 metres east-west.”
This was a double-ring complex, with the connecting pathway extending south-west and finishing in a smaller ring in an unknown location, possibly close to Anzac Avenue. Using Google Earth with a current aerial photo and Steele’s measurements, we can identify the location of the ring quite precisely (click the image to enlarge).
The earliest good aerial photo of this location is from 1956. When overlaid on a modern view we see that the land had been cultivated by that time, but looking closely there appears to be the remnants of a ring. Today, the original bora is gone but the location is appropriately used by aboriginal community groups.
A brief record of a bora ring at Kipper Creek in Dundas was confirmed by a report in a newspaper article from 1948(3):
“..there is another one (circle) on the property of my father… at Kipper Creek, Dundas, opposite the school. It is also on the top slope of a hill, with a large ring, and an open trench leading to a smaller one in the same direction as the one described at Esk.”
The site referred to at Esk had a connecting path running in a rough north/south direction, as did many of the double rings. Bora sites often occupied high ground with the paths running along the crests of hills.
The little school at Dundas is long gone, but a quick look at old maps confirmed its location. In the below aerial photo from 1967 we can see the school and the original path of the road which has since been realigned. And across the road, we see a large earthen ring of about 23m diameter, on the hillside.
In the next image we have overlaid the 1967 photo on Google Earth, showing the topography of the site, and the path running along the top of the ridge in a south-westerly direction.
And when we remove the old aerial, we can clearly see the ring and the old path along the ridge. This is an incredible view of the site in its original configuration. The path has been severed by the re-alignment of the road but is clearly visible for at least 230 meters. There is no sign of the smaller ring.
In this research I quickly learned that the rings are not necessarily more visible in older aerials. Far more important are the ground conditions at the time of the photo. Winter pictures are generally better, particularly after a dry spell when the surface vegetation has wilted away, making the compressed and slightly raised soil around the rings and paths stand out in different shades.
A few examples of different years and dates from Kipper Creek are shown below. The clearest picture (top left) was taken in the winter months during the long drought of the late 2000s. At other times, the ring was barely discernible at all.
I haven’t found anything on the origin of the name “Kipper Creek”, but it seems highly plausible that it refers to the bora ground and the initiation ceremonies that once took place in this very location.
Lets’ continue with the next likely derivation of the word “Kippa” – namely Keperra in Brisbane’s north-east. This bora ground was well known and reported (4), particularly in the 1940s when the golf club started to encroach on the site (5). The large ring was located close to the clubhouse, and despite an apparent commitment to the Historical Society to protect it, we find that the ring has been destroyed together with the path and the smaller ring which was close to Samford Road. This is truly a “lost” bora ground.
Stelle’s site sketch overlaid on a modern aerial photo gives a clue to the locations.
In the below 1936 aerial, we can see (if you enlarge the picture), the 21-meter diameter ring on the hillside, as well as the group of granite boulders indicated by Steele, which also belonged to this ceremonial complex.
By switching back to today’s aerial, we can confirm that the ring, path and boulders were obliterated by the golf club driveway. Judging by the aerials this disaster took place sometime in the late 1970s.
The smaller circle has fared no better, and its location given by Steele is now under a corner block on Satinay Street. One can’t help wondering if the people living in that house know of the significance of their block of land, and the events that took place there.
There were at least two rings in the Cleveland district. Steele wrote about one of them:
“The … bora ring is on private property at the end of Como Street, Ormiston. Half of the ring was destroyed in 1969 when a house was built there, but the remaining part has been preserved by the owner. The ring was originally about sixteen meters in diameter, with an opening towards the south, and it occupies a splendid site on the edge of a cliff overlooking Moreton Bay.”
To find this ring, we use the site sketch produced by Steele, overlaid on Google Earth with a 1981 aerial photo. We can see the large ring close to a smaller house which was present at the site at that time.
An as we remove the old overlays, we are left with today’s view of the property and the location of the lost ring, on the edge of the cliff overlooking the bay.
There is also a surviving and maintained ring at Cleveland’s Hillard’s Creek. It appears to be gradually encircled by industrial development, but let’s hope that the site continues to receive protection into the future.
There is a bora ring at Glenore Grove, about two kilometers from the junction of Laidley and Lockyer Creeks. It is oval, with diameters of twenty-four meters and twenty-one metres, and a stump about two meters west of the ring was once a large tree with many marks on it. A path extends for several hundred meters in a south-easterly direction.
In this case there is no need to consult old aerials. Using Steele’s sitemap and a contemporary view, we can spot the ring and path beside the main street. The path is visible for about 450 meters before it disappears.
I’ve found no other information on this Bora, which has survived remarkably well in the village setting.
Here’s another ring that is invisible most of the time and requires very specific ground conditions to “pop out” on the aerials. Steele described it as follows:
"There is a well-preserved bora ring at Palen Creek; about twenty meters in diameter, it stands on flat ground …. There is no obvious opening in the circular mound and this suggests that perhaps the ring was used only for corroborees."
Again, I have found no other information on this ring.
Samsonvale has a double-ring complex which appears to be well preserved and protected behind fencing.
The main ring is 21 meters in diameter and is connected to the smaller ring on a hillside through a winding path nearly 550 meters long. The path is not visible on the aerial photos and has been retraced here based on Steele’s sketch. The Samsonvale bora ground was reportedly last used in 1878.
Lost and not (yet) found
This article covers only a small sample of what may still be out there, and I did search for many other rings that could theoretically still be visible, but without success. Any information on these grounds would be gratefully received. Examples include:
The Alberton Bora, at the junction of Albert and Logan Rivers. This was reportedly a spectacular complex, with a smaller ring flanked by stones and with an unusual stone structure in the centre. The ring was reportedly destroyed in 1957 and should be visible on aerial photos of that time.
A very large group of three interconnected rings by the Albert River, investigated and recorded in 1910 (6). The path connecting the rings stretched in the usual north/south direction for more than 700 meters. The complex was located on the eastern bank of the Albert at Tamborine Village, on Mr Henderson’s farm and about 400 meters from his house. I believe that the Hendersons lived about 2 clicks east of the Waterford Tambourine road. After all my efforts – no ring sighted.
At Fairney View, by a waterhole about 300 meters behind the (now demolished) railway station.
The ring close to Waldron Road at Tamborine, which is on a site hidden by trees. My fear is that this ring was destroyed during construction of a road.
As Australians, we must cherish these precious sites. Please beware of the indigenous heritage that surrounds you and leave it untouched. And of you find anything that may be undocumented, report it to the relevant authorities.
1. Satterthwait L., Heather, A. Determinants of Earth Circle Location in the Moreton Region, Southeast Queensland. Queensland Archaeological Research. Vol 4 (1987).
2. Steele, J. G 1984, Aboriginal pathways on South East Queensland and the Richmond River.
3. Queensland Times, 4 Aug 1948
4. The Queensland Naturalist, May 1938
5. Several newspaper reports in the 1940s.including: The Telegraph, 8 April 1941; The Telegraph, 9 Dec 1943; Brisbane Telegraph, 10 Sept 1949.
6. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland, Vol XXII, Part 1, 1909
Aerial photography by Google Earth and Image Queensland.