Passing forested hills, tattered barns and parched wheat fields, I headed into Githabal Aboriginal country, towards a place allegedly frequented by lice and evil spirits. The closer I got, the stranger were the names of the towns I passed through. Woodenbong, then the old gold rush town of Urbenville. Finally, I rolled through a gate at the end of a dusty road into the significant Aboriginal site known as Tooloom Falls, in the Tenterfield Shire, NSW.
Located roughly two-and-a-half hours west of Byron Bay, Tooloom Falls tumbles nearly 10 metres into a large pool which is part of Tooloom Creek. The pool is surrounded by forest and a rock face that arcs around the far side of the falls. Above Tooloom Falls lies a sedate river that’s painted with pretty reflections of trees that stretch across the shallows.
I didn’t swim here, but I hear the top of the falls is good for a dip, while the bottom can get muddy and unpredictable following heavy rain. The local Githabal Aboriginal people, to which Tooloom Falls is a significant cultural site, call the falls ‘Dooloomi’, meaning head lice. The Githabal told their children not to swim below the falls as they believed the pool was lice infested.
The Githabal creation story
Long ago, a woman fought with her daughters and their husband, Balugan. The woman became angry and hid the only fresh water available. Balugan’s dog found the water, gave it to Balugan and in anger he split it with a supernatural echidna. The water then gushed out and carried the woman and the fig tree under which she was camped towards Grafton. The Clarence River formed, as did the waterfall when the woman tried to stop the torrent.
The Githabal also discouraged their children from swimming here as they believe the woman, Dirrangun, is an evil witch that haunts the falls.
For my part, I felt the urge to explore. I leapt down the cliff face on the far side into the forest, and on my way back up, I got stuck. Suddenly, the ‘word’ ‘minjilapa’ flew into my head. I said it and regained my agility, reaching the top. Curious that it might mean something, that it might be a Githabal spirit, I later looked up this ‘word’. Of course I found nothing and was almost certainly getting carried away. Let me know otherwise!
Heading back towards the entrance, I wandered below the falls along a forest trail. Tooloom Falls is readily accessible, even though it was declared an Aboriginal place in 1977. Today the Githabal Aboriginal people co-manage the park with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. And as I found out, people are certainly not shy of camping below the falls. Continuing through the forest, I saw smoke from a fire and cows grazing.
Someone was camping with cows. I’m not kidding. Here’s my sneaky investigative shot.
Dooloomi, or Tooloom Falls, is a revitalising little escape. It’s the perfect spot to flee from the phone and computer, at least for a few hours.
- There’s no mobile reception at Tooloom Falls.
- A campground is located at the top of the falls for public use. Picnic, BBQ and toilet facilities are available. However you must bring your own drinking water.
- The closest township is Urbenville, located about 15 minutes away by car.
- You can walk across the top of the falls but there is no vehicle access across, not since the last major flood.