The Aboriginal History of Yarra

Wurundjeri Camp

Aboriginal Australians camped on the Yarra, circa 1859, Antoine Fauchery, State Library of Victoria Accession number H92.101/101

1. Introduction

All Wurundjeri clan members knew their land in great detail, including the best times to visit each area according to weather and availability of food. Land boundaries for each clan were clearly defined, with strict protocols governing access to the land of other clans. While each clan or family group travelled on its own, they still maintained relationships with others within their language group. Marriage played an important role in this, as people would not marry within their own clan. Instead, partners were chosen from different clans within the Kulin nation.[i] Visiting the land of other clans was therefore an important and necessary right.



 

[i] Presland, First People, 15

The Wurundjeri-willam people of the Kulin Nation are the Traditional Owners of the land that is now known as the City of Yarra. Their relationship with the land extends back tens of thousands of years to when their creator spirit ‘Bunjil’ formed their people, the land and all living things.

The Wurundjeri’s connection to land is underpinned by cultural and spiritual values vastly different to those of the Europeans. The Wurundjeri did not ‘own’ the land in the European sense of the word, but belonged to, or were ‘owned by’ the land. They did not live in permanent settlements but, rather, camped for periods within defined clan boundaries where food was plentiful, and moved on when the land needed to rejuvenate. The land provided all the Wurundjeri needed – food, water, medicine, shelter – and they treated it with the respect due to such a provider.

The moment Europeans arrived in the area, they began changing the land to suit the European way of life. Relationships with the Wurundjeri and other Aboriginal people in the area varied, but for the majority of settlers, the driving force was land ownership. For at least some of these settlers, underlying this drive was an imperial belief in British superiority combined with a desire to ‘civilise’.

The settlement and development of Melbourne impacted heavily on the Wurundjeri. Dispossession of land, dislocation, frontier clashes and introduced diseases led to a dramatic decline in the population. Despite the effects of colonisation, Aboriginal people and culture survived and the strong bonds between families and clans could not be broken.

This website explores the relationships between the Traditional Owners and Settlers through the early years of Melbourne’s establishment. It is not an easy history, but one that is essential in understanding where we have come from and where we are going.

The Wurundjeri-willam people of the Kulin Nation are the Traditional Owners of the land that is now known as the City of Yarra. Their relationship with the land extends back tens of thousands of years to when their creator spirit ‘Bunjil’ formed their people, the land and all living things.

The Wurundjeri’s connection to land is underpinned by cultural and spiritual values vastly different to those of the Europeans. The Wurundjeri did not ‘own’ the land in the European sense of the word, but belonged to, or were ‘owned by’ the land. They did not live in permanent settlements but, rather, camped for periods within defined clan boundaries where food was plentiful, and moved on when the land needed to rejuvenate. The land provided all the Wurundjeri needed – food, water, medicine, shelter – and they treated it with the respect due to such a provider.

The moment Europeans arrived in the area, they began changing the land to suit the European way of life. Relationships with the Wurundjeri and other Aboriginal people in the area varied, but for the majority of settlers, the driving force was land ownership. For at least some of these settlers, underlying this drive was an imperial belief in British superiority combined with a desire to ‘civilise’.

The settlement and development of Melbourne impacted heavily on the Wurundjeri. Dispossession of land, dislocation, frontier clashes and introduced diseases led to a dramatic decline in the population. Despite the effects of colonisation, Aboriginal people and culture survived and the strong bonds between families and clans could not be broken.

This website explores the relationships between the Traditional Owners and Settlers through the early years of Melbourne’s establishment. It is not an easy history, but one that is essential in understanding where we have come from and where we are going.

Back

Wurundjeri Camp

Wurundjeri Camp

Aboriginal Australians camped on the Yarra, circa 1859, Antoine Fauchery, State Library of Victoria Accession number H92.101/101