Paul West, whose ancestors lived alongside the megafauna found in Wellington Caves, has finished his last day as a guide at the ancient site - but he might be back some day.
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Mr West, also known as 'Westy', is a former corrective services worker who was born and bred in Wellington and has been guiding at Wellington Caves on and off since the 1980s.
"All my immediate family, all my siblings and I were brought up at Nanima mission ... Nanima in our language means something lost, or lost people," Mr West told the Daily Liberal.
Mr West's clan is the Bingjang clan of the Wiradjuri nation.
"Bingjang in our language means beautiful valley, so we're the people of the valley," Mr West said.
Wellington Caves is well-known for the megafauna fossils found there, and in his role as caves guide, Mr West has been sharing the history of his people and helping other guides pass it on during their own tours.
"There were bone fragments of the megafauna and it was the first place in Australia where they were actually discovered. They were talking about the history of the caves and animals, but nothing about the Aboriginal people or my mob being in this area," Mr West said.
"All the elders out at Nanima knew about the cave system and told us young fellas and our uncles and aunties in the past not to go near them because of the evil spirits living in the caves - and we're not to go near them because ... they'd come out and grab us and we'd never be seen again."
Mr West heeded his elders' advice and never went to the caves until he started working there as an adult in the eighties.
"At first I was a little bit hesitant about it, but then as the confidence grew ... now when I think about it, it's just the fear factor - they tell us not to go near the caves for our own safety. And so that sort of creates a song or a storyline about the Boogiin, the evil spirit in the cave," he said.
Recently, the Wellington Local Aboriginal Land Council repatriated the remains of some of Mr West's people which had been found in the caves, from museums in Sydney and London.
Mr West said the remains were 18-feet long, proving that people were taller during the times of megafauna, around 40,000 years ago.
When Mr West's people brought their ancestors' remains "back on country", they held a ceremony for them. to welcome them back on Country. They cut bark off a tree, laid the bones out in the bark and laid it in the sun for a couple of days. The sun dried out the and the bark folded over and embraced the bones.
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"Then we put mud and clay and dirt and grass in the ends of [the canisters] and then we lay them to rest [in the ground]. We do a smoking [ceremony] and we do a Welcome to Country to welcome them back on Country again," Mr West said.
He said, despite the Boogiin deterring his people from going into the caves, his ancestors were found there because they used to hunt megafauna, and the megafauna hunted humans.
"They ate us and we ate them. And that's how we ended up in the cave together," Mr West said.
Mr West will be moving onto another role in the community, which he will announce in due course.
He said he would miss the staff at Wellington Caves and would consider coming back to help out on weekends if needed.
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