The Aboriginal History of Yarra

Billibellary

Billibellary, portrait by William Thomas (Protectorate), picture collection, State Library of Victoria ID mu000371

5. Billibellary

Billibellary was Ngurungaeta or clan headman of the Wurundjeri-willam when Europeans began arriving in this area, and led his people for the next ten years through a difficult period of change. Billibellary had a close and mutually beneficial relationship with the Assistant Protector and later Guardian of the Aborigines, William Thomas. His relationship with Thomas was important for his ability to improve the conditions of his people after the arrival of the Europeans. Billibellary died on 10 August, 1846, and was buried near the confluence of the Yarra River and Merri Creek – the exact site of his grave is unknown.

Billibellary was Ngurungaeta or clan headman for one of the three sections that comprised the Wurundjeri-willam patriline of the Wurundjeri-balluk clan. Billibellary’s section lived in an area north of the Yarra River that includes the area now known as the City of Yarra.[i] He held this position when the Europeans began arriving in this area, and led his people for the next ten years through a difficult period of change. As Ngurungaeta, he was highly respected among the Wurundjeri, and at the time of European settlements, ‘he was considered the pre-eminent Kulin clan-head, whose voice carried extra weight.’[ii]

Billibellary had a close and mutually beneficial relationship with the Assistant Protector and later Guardian of the Aborigines, William Thomas. For Billibellary, who has been described by some historians as ‘a wily politician’, Thomas was important for his ability to improve the conditions of his people after the arrival of the Europeans. When he saw that the Europeans were staying and taking the land, he negotiated through Thomas for what he could gain for his people, such as blankets, food and guns.[iii] However, this was not a one-sided relationship. Thomas also needed Billibellary to support the European programs and institutions he was implementing to work. For example, the establishment of a school for Aboriginal children at the confluence of the Merri Creek and Yarra River.

In August 1846, Billibellary developed a serious chest infection and, as with so many of his people, this inflammation of his lungs killed him. Billibellary died on 10 August, 1846, and was subsequently buried at the confluence of the Yarra River and Merri Creek. As a compromise between the Wurundjeri and Thomas, all of whom wanted to show the highest level of respect to Billibellary and his burial place, a picket fence was placed around the grave. This accommodated Thomas’ desire for a headstone and the Wurundjeri desire for the area to remain swept bare. The fence was later washed away, and the site of the grave is unknown.[iv]



[i] Presland, First People, 25

[ii] Ibid, 18

[iii] Ellender and Christianson, People of the Merri Merri, 10

[iv] Ibid, 107

Billibellary was Ngurungaeta or clan headman for one of the three sections that comprised the Wurundjeri-willam patriline of the Wurundjeri-balluk clan. Billibellary’s section lived in an area north of the Yarra River that includes the area now known as the City of Yarra.[i] He held this position when the Europeans began arriving in this area, and led his people for the next ten years through a difficult period of change. As Ngurungaeta, he was highly respected among the Wurundjeri, and at the time of European settlements, ‘he was considered the pre-eminent Kulin clan-head, whose voice carried extra weight.’[ii]

Billibellary had a close and mutually beneficial relationship with the Assistant Protector and later Guardian of the Aborigines, William Thomas. For Billibellary, who has been described by some historians as ‘a wily politician’, Thomas was important for his ability to improve the conditions of his people after the arrival of the Europeans. When he saw that the Europeans were staying and taking the land, he negotiated through Thomas for what he could gain for his people, such as blankets, food and guns.[iii] However, this was not a one-sided relationship. Thomas also needed Billibellary to support the European programs and institutions he was implementing to work. For example, the establishment of a school for Aboriginal children at the confluence of the Merri Creek and Yarra River.

In August 1846, Billibellary developed a serious chest infection and, as with so many of his people, this inflammation of his lungs killed him. Billibellary died on 10 August, 1846, and was subsequently buried at the confluence of the Yarra River and Merri Creek. As a compromise between the Wurundjeri and Thomas, all of whom wanted to show the highest level of respect to Billibellary and his burial place, a picket fence was placed around the grave. This accommodated Thomas’ desire for a headstone and the Wurundjeri desire for the area to remain swept bare. The fence was later washed away, and the site of the grave is unknown.[iv]



[i] Presland, First People, 25

[ii] Ibid, 18

[iii] Ellender and Christianson, People of the Merri Merri, 10

[iv] Ibid, 107

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Billibellary

Billibellary

Billibellary, portrait by William Thomas (Protectorate), picture collection, State Library of Victoria ID mu000371