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Community & Business

27 October, 2022

Vale Doongbung

As the first ever Aboriginal person to travel to the Antarctic Circle, the late Doongbung Towney brought great pride to his family.

By Emily Middleton

Graeme ‘Doongbung’ Towney passed away suddenly last week. But despite no longer physically here, Doongbung’s stories and legacy will remain as strong as ever.

Family have gathered over the past few days to share and exchange stories of Doongbung. He was the cultural knowledge holder of the Towney family, and was a proud Wiradjuri man.

Doongbung spent the first few years of his life down by the river, with his family, in a tin shack made of flattened cans. This was until the floods of 1955. From there, his family and other Aboriginal families were moved to tents at the Gilgandra showgrounds.

His father, Jack Towney, advocated for a lot of families after the flood, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to move to the area where ‘The Pines’ now is. After that, Doongbung grew up on the Gullingbland Mission at Balladoran, surrounded by his family. At 14, Doongbung left school and became an apiarist.

Family have said that Doongbung always had extensive knowledge on all thing’s wildlife, and when he started work in the 1970s for the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service, that knowledge only grew. Doongbung was appointed warden under the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service Aboriginal Act soon after starting. This Act gave him the power to enforce the laws associated with the protection of the sites when necessary.

Later in his career with National Parks, Doongbung spent 14-months on Macquarie Island in sub-Antarctica. He became one of the ‘Australian Antartic Winterers’, receiving an Australian Antartic Medallion, which recognises those who wintered in the Antarctic Circle. Being the first Aboriginal person to do so, he couldn’t have been prouder. There he carried out research into sea birds, seals, eradicating feral cats and rabbits, penguins, albatross, two species of Giant Petrels, and many more smaller birds.

Doongbung often thought about how proud his own mother and father would be of him, as the first Aboriginal person to receive the Antartic medallion. Resigning from the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Doongbung returned home to Gilgandra where he worked for NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

He went on to work for them as a ranger for a further 14-years, making up 30-years total working for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. During this time, Doongbung was very active in the setting up of the Goobang National Park, and was appointed the first ranger in charge of the area.

He was extremely proud of this achievement, as this was on the Country of his great grandfather, Billy Wandong, who was a Spirit Man.

Doongbung was proud of his entire family. He was the son of Jack and Madeline Towney (nee Naden). He was a loved brother of Eleanor (dec), Joy (dec), John (dec), Fay (dec), Cynthia (dec), Peter (dec), Phillip, Rhonda, Wayne, John, Anthony, and Kylie. He was a cherished father of Sonja, Feiona, Billy, Luana, and Donna.

Doongbung was the keeper of many stories, some that will be carried with him, and others that will live on through his family.

Penelope Towney, Doongbung’s grand-daughter, described her Pop as Gwarngi, meaning silly, and said she felt Dyiramadilinya, very proud of him.

Doongbung loved reading The Gilgandra Weekly and Koori Mail, and always said how important it was to him to come home to Gilgandra during his final years.

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