2020Kulin Nation – the first people

9 June 2020

I grew up in Melbourne. Sadly, there was zero recognition for the first people. Growing up in Brighton I guess I took it to heart the legal fiction of terra nullius. There were scarcely any other cultures but white Anglos. Our community had erased everything leaving not a scintilla of even remnant forest or vegetation or memories of Aboriginal society and those that inhabited the area, the Wurundjeri tribal nation^.

Black Lives Matter has raised everyone’s awareness and sharpened my own interest in our overlooked history and tortured racism. Not having to face the issue directly, I have delved into the history books and one comment made by the greatest explorer of them all, Mitchell (NSW Surveyor-General Thomas L Mitchell), when he noted in 1848 how little the English understood the character and condition of the Aborigines. They were not unintelligent.

           They have been described as the lowest in the scale of humanity, yet I found those who accompanied me superior in penetration and judgement to the white men composing my party. Their means of subsistence and their habits are both extremely simple; but they are adjusted with admirable fitness to the few resources afforded by such a country.

Unfortunately, Aboriginal society after surviving for thousands of years in the area to be known as Victoria but probably weakened by earlier disease (small pox), was to be almost destroyed in a single generation after 1835, leaving only a handful of people to preserve their identity and values. Though in 1800 the Aborigines did not know what the future held in store, it seems they had good cause to be fearful of the white sails passing the coast and the “white ghosts” who from time-to-time landed from these ships on parts of the shore of Bass Strait.

And from Hovell’s Journal

William Hovell’s journal (Hume and Hovell 1824-1825)

William Hovell’s journal of his 1824 expedition with Hamilton Hume (Expedition maps) was kept in a small field notebook. He describes the landscape and the tough conditions under which the men and beasts had to travel. These included navigating through rough, mountainous country, swollen rivers, impenetrable bush and dealing with plagues of mosquitoes, sandflies and the irregular supply of fresh game, such as kangaroos and waterbirds. The bullocks, which struggled up and down uncleared hills with heavy loads, and the dogs which were essential in killing kangaroos to feed the expedition. Hovell documents the kills made by the dogs, the many injuries inflicted on them by the kangaroos, and their emaciated condition during periods of low food supply when the dogs could only be fed on boiled flour. William Hovell regularly recorded encounters with the Indigenous peoples of the region, commenting on their methods of food gathering, tools used and land management techniques, such as grass burning and damming of rivers to catch fish. He seems to have been respectful and perhaps a little envious of the ability of the local people to live in a landscape he found hostile. 

One journal entry states:

        ‘Those are the people we generally call “miserable wretches,” but in my opinion the word is misapplied, for I cannot for a moment consider them so. They have neither house-rent nor taxes to provide, for nearly every tree will furnish them with a house, and perhaps the same tree will supply them with food (the opposum). Their only employment is providing their food. They are happy within themselves; they have their amusements and but little cares; and above all they have their free liberty.’ 

Sadly, I have yet to find the history or legacy of the Wurundjeri people around Brighton and the area known as Dendy’s survey.

The Wurundjeri have lived in the area for up to 40,000 years