The Aboriginal History of Yarra

Group of Aborigines

‘Group of Aborigines, sitting and standing, whole-length, full face, wearing animal skins, some holding weapons’ Richard Daintree and Antoine Fauchery, circa 1858, State Library of Victoria, Accession no H84.167/48

6. Attitudes and Perceptions between the Wurundjeri & The British

There is, unfortunately, very little information on Aboriginal attitudes to European people at the time of settlement. Amongst the people of the Kulin nation, the Europeans were generally known as Ngamajet. Historian Gary Presland explains that ‘The word also means the bright red colours at sunset; the place where the sun sets is Ngamat and the coloured sky is the place where the departed spirits go. Because the strangers’ skin was white, they were initially thought to be returned spirits.’[i] A story is told that Batman resembled a Wurundjeri man who had died, and consequently the man’s younger brother had a great deal of affection for him, believing Batman to be the spirit of his brother.[ii] That said, the Europeans who arrived around the time of Batman (1835) were curiosities, but not unheard of. The Wurundjeri and other Aboriginal people in the area had been exposed to whalers and sealers living on the southern coastline for many years.



[i] Presland, First People, 83

[ii] Finn, The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, 9-10

There is, unfortunately, very little information on Aboriginal attitudes to European people at the time of settlement. Amongst the people of the Kulin nation, the Europeans were generally known as Ngamajet. Historian Gary Presland explains that ‘The word also means the bright red colours at sunset; the place where the sun sets is Ngamat and the coloured sky is the place where the departed spirits go. Because the strangers’ skin was white, they were initially thought to be returned spirits.'[i] A story is told that Batman resembled a Wurundjeri man who had died, and consequently the man’s younger brother had a great deal of affection for him, believing Batman to be the spirit of his brother.[ii] That said, the Europeans who arrived around the time of Batman (1835) were curiosities, but not unheard of. The Wurundjeri and other Aboriginal people in the area had been exposed to whalers and sealers living on the southern coastline for many years. There had also been previous attempts at settlement by Europeans in the area as well as European explorers travelling through the land. As historian James Boyce has stated, ‘Misunderstanding and conflict might have been rife, but the 1835 encounter would not be a “dancing with strangers”, as at Port Jackson fifty years before.’ [iii] This refers to a corroboree in 1791 in what was to become Sydney, when English gentlemen and convicts danced with the local Aboriginal people.

European settlers who arrived in the Port Phillip area from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and other parts of Australia often had highly prejudiced views of Aboriginal people. Van Diemen’s Land had been the site of extended guerrilla warfare, culminating in the ‘black line’, a colony wide search where all Aboriginal people were killed or captured and removed from the colony. This manifested itself both as a fear or expectation of violence from the Aboriginal people of Port Phillip, and a negative view of the Aboriginal population generally, and also increased the influence of the idea of “civilizing” the Aboriginal population, in order to avoid such violence occurring again.[iv]  At an official level, an important influence on policy makers and political leaders was Enlightenment thought and what was known as the ‘Exeter Hall movement’ in Britain.[v] This humanitarian influence, well-intentioned but imperialistic, is evident in such things as the establishment of the Aboriginal protectorate.

 


[i] Presland, First People, 83

[ii] Finn, The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, 9-10

[iii] Boyce, 1835, 15

[iv] Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers, 85

[v] Boyce, 1835, 37-38

There is, unfortunately, very little information on Aboriginal attitudes to European people at the time of settlement. Amongst the people of the Kulin nation, the Europeans were generally known as Ngamajet. Historian Gary Presland explains that ‘The word also means the bright red colours at sunset; the place where the sun sets is Ngamat and the coloured sky is the place where the departed spirits go. Because the strangers’ skin was white, they were initially thought to be returned spirits.'[i] A story is told that Batman resembled a Wurundjeri man who had died, and consequently the man’s younger brother had a great deal of affection for him, believing Batman to be the spirit of his brother.[ii] That said, the Europeans who arrived around the time of Batman (1835) were curiosities, but not unheard of. The Wurundjeri and other Aboriginal people in the area had been exposed to whalers and sealers living on the southern coastline for many years. There had also been previous attempts at settlement by Europeans in the area as well as European explorers travelling through the land. As historian James Boyce has stated, ‘Misunderstanding and conflict might have been rife, but the 1835 encounter would not be a “dancing with strangers”, as at Port Jackson fifty years before.’ [iii] This refers to a corroboree in 1791 in what was to become Sydney, when English gentlemen and convicts danced with the local Aboriginal people.

European settlers who arrived in the Port Phillip area from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and other parts of Australia often had highly prejudiced views of Aboriginal people. Van Diemen’s Land had been the site of extended guerrilla warfare, culminating in the ‘black line’, a colony wide search where all Aboriginal people were killed or captured and removed from the colony. This manifested itself both as a fear or expectation of violence from the Aboriginal people of Port Phillip, and a negative view of the Aboriginal population generally, and also increased the influence of the idea of “civilizing” the Aboriginal population, in order to avoid such violence occurring again.[iv]  At an official level, an important influence on policy makers and political leaders was Enlightenment thought and what was known as the ‘Exeter Hall movement’ in Britain.[v] This humanitarian influence, well-intentioned but imperialistic, is evident in such things as the establishment of the Aboriginal protectorate.

 


[i] Presland, First People, 83

[ii] Finn, The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, 9-10

[iii] Boyce, 1835, 15

[iv] Edmonds, Urbanizing Frontiers, 85

[v] Boyce, 1835, 37-38

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Group of Aborigines

Group of Aborigines

‘Group of Aborigines, sitting and standing, whole-length, full face, wearing animal skins, some holding weapons’ Richard Daintree and Antoine Fauchery, circa 1858, State Library of Victoria, Accession no H84.167/48