The Aboriginal History of Yarra

Melbourne

View of Melbourne, Port Phillip, 1843 - Joseph Lowry - National Library of Australia, Accession Number NLA.Pic-an7674742-v

10. Violence

Reports of Wurundjeri-willam violence against Europeans are limited, despite intense provocation and a number of confrontations.[i] In part, the resistance was limited because the European population soon grew to outnumber the Wurundjeri – and also because the Europeans had firearms. While the police were quick to enforce laws against Aboriginal people in the town, they often refused to take action in response to crimes committed against Aboriginal people, referring them to the protectorate. Sexual violence against Aboriginal women was common throughout the Victorian frontier, and William Thomas recorded a number of instances of rape in his reports. There were also ongoing feuds between different clans within the Kulin, and established enmity between members of the Kulin and those outside, such as the Gunai/Kurnai from the Gippsland area. These conflicts were exacerbated by the sprawl of European settlement pushing Aboriginal groups outside their traditional boundaries.



[i] Ellender and Christiansen, People of the Merri Merri, 22-3

Violence was a common issue in frontier history across Australia, and Victoria was no exception. While many British colonists and officials ‘were benign if sanctimonious… a large proportion of colonists moved from a sense of superiority to a feeling of contempt… Contempt, combined with greed for the land, fear and insecurity, led to violence.’[i]

In the Yarra area of Melbourne, reports of Wurundjeri-willam violence against Europeans are limited, despite intense provocation and a number of confrontations.[ii] In part, this was because the rapid increase of the European population in and around Melbourne limited the ability of the local Aboriginal population to form a resistance. It would be wrong, however, to state that there was no violence in the Melbourne region. Relations between the Wurundjeri and Europeans were influenced by the guerrilla warfare that was occurring in outlying areas. Word of this conflict accentuated fears in the city area, and influenced the attitudes of many colonialists.

While the official British policy towards the Aboriginal population was one of protection, instances of institutional violence still occurred, particularly as a result of police inaction. There were many who did not like the Aboriginal camps being close to the town, and in April 1840, when there was a gathering of six or seven hundred Kulin, their mia mias (bark huts) were burnt and the camp dismantled.[iii] Other acts of violence, harassment and indignities frequently occurred on the streets of Melbourne. Such acts included beatings and horse whippings, often in response to acts that the European population ‘perceived as begging’.[iv] Such acts of violence were perpetrated by Europeans of all classes. Violence against the Aboriginal people served only to increase the number of infractions against British law committed by them. While the police were quick to enforce laws against Aboriginal people in the town, they often refused to take action in response to crimes committed against Aboriginal people, referring them to the protectorate as their responsibility.

Official violence also came in the form of criminal executions, with the first executions in the district being two Aboriginal men, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. These men were among the group of Aboriginal men and women who were brought over from Van Diemen’s Land by Robinson, but broke away and engaged in a campaign of resistance against the Europeans.

Sexual violence against Aboriginal women was common throughout the Victorian frontier. One of the first acts of the Port Phillip Association, following the creation of Batman’s treaty, was assisting with the return of Aboriginal women abducted from Victorian coastline areas by sealers and whalers. William Thomas also recorded a number of instances of rape in his reports. Such instances would often occur at the Aboriginal camps on the borders of the growing town of Melbourne. These were seen by the European population as a place of curiosity; ‘a place of entertainment, drunkenness, gunfire, violence, and interracial sex.’[v]

Not all violence was inter-racial. There were ongoing feuds between different clans within the Kulin, and established enmity between members of the Kulin and those outside, such as the Gunai/Kurnai from the Gippsland area. These conflicts were exacerbated by the sprawl of European settlement pushing Aboriginal groups outside their traditional boundaries. The introduction of alcohol into Aboriginal society also fuelled domestic violence. When asked about murder among the Aboriginal people, by the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Aborigines in 1859, William Thomas stated that the only murder that occurred within the Wurundjeri while he was with him was brought about by intoxication.

Between 1836 and 1844, an estimated 40 European and 113 Aboriginal people were officially recorded as killed in conflicts in the Port Phillip area. It is worth noting, however, that ‘officials routinely tried to obscure the high rate of Aboriginal deaths.’[vi]

 


[i] Garden, Victoria, 53-4

[ii] Ellender and Christiansen, People of the Merri Merri, 22-3

[iii] Ibid, 129

[iv] Ibid, 127;  Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria, 50-1

[v] Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers, 142

[vi] Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers, 123

Violence was a common issue in frontier history across Australia, and Victoria was no exception. While many British colonists and officials ‘were benign if sanctimonious… a large proportion of colonists moved from a sense of superiority to a feeling of contempt… Contempt, combined with greed for the land, fear and insecurity, led to violence.’[i]

In the Yarra area of Melbourne, reports of Wurundjeri-willam violence against Europeans are limited, despite intense provocation and a number of confrontations.[ii] In part, this was because the rapid increase of the European population in and around Melbourne limited the ability of the local Aboriginal population to form a resistance. It would be wrong, however, to state that there was no violence in the Melbourne region. Relations between the Wurundjeri and Europeans were influenced by the guerrilla warfare that was occurring in outlying areas. Word of this conflict accentuated fears in the city area, and influenced the attitudes of many colonialists.

While the official British policy towards the Aboriginal population was one of protection, instances of institutional violence still occurred, particularly as a result of police inaction. There were many who did not like the Aboriginal camps being close to the town, and in April 1840, when there was a gathering of six or seven hundred Kulin, their mia mias (bark huts) were burnt and the camp dismantled.[iii] Other acts of violence, harassment and indignities frequently occurred on the streets of Melbourne. Such acts included beatings and horse whippings, often in response to acts that the European population ‘perceived as begging’.[iv] Such acts of violence were perpetrated by Europeans of all classes. Violence against the Aboriginal people served only to increase the number of infractions against British law committed by them. While the police were quick to enforce laws against Aboriginal people in the town, they often refused to take action in response to crimes committed against Aboriginal people, referring them to the protectorate as their responsibility.

Official violence also came in the form of criminal executions, with the first executions in the district being two Aboriginal men, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. These men were among the group of Aboriginal men and women who were brought over from Van Diemen’s Land by Robinson, but broke away and engaged in a campaign of resistance against the Europeans.

Sexual violence against Aboriginal women was common throughout the Victorian frontier. One of the first acts of the Port Phillip Association, following the creation of Batman’s treaty, was assisting with the return of Aboriginal women abducted from Victorian coastline areas by sealers and whalers. William Thomas also recorded a number of instances of rape in his reports. Such instances would often occur at the Aboriginal camps on the borders of the growing town of Melbourne. These were seen by the European population as a place of curiosity; ‘a place of entertainment, drunkenness, gunfire, violence, and interracial sex.’[v]

Not all violence was inter-racial. There were ongoing feuds between different clans within the Kulin, and established enmity between members of the Kulin and those outside, such as the Gunai/Kurnai from the Gippsland area. These conflicts were exacerbated by the sprawl of European settlement pushing Aboriginal groups outside their traditional boundaries. The introduction of alcohol into Aboriginal society also fuelled domestic violence. When asked about murder among the Aboriginal people, by the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Aborigines in 1859, William Thomas stated that the only murder that occurred within the Wurundjeri while he was with him was brought about by intoxication.

Between 1836 and 1844, an estimated 40 European and 113 Aboriginal people were officially recorded as killed in conflicts in the Port Phillip area. It is worth noting, however, that ‘officials routinely tried to obscure the high rate of Aboriginal deaths.’[vi]

 


[i] Garden, Victoria, 53-4

[ii] Ellender and Christiansen, People of the Merri Merri, 22-3

[iii] Ibid, 129

[iv] Ibid, 127;  Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria, 50-1

[v] Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers, 142

[vi] Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers, 123

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View of Melbourne, Port Phillip, 1843 - Joseph Lowry - National Library of Australia, Accession Number NLA.Pic-an7674742-v