The traditional owners of the land were the Aborigines who had lived here for over 40,000 years.
The Aborigines who lived in this area were made up of three groups:
Marpeang bulluk – Lived on the western margin of the river through Wyndham and spoke the Wathawurrung language. Clan – Head at the time of European settlement was Worope (Mr. Malcolm)
Kurung jang balluk - Lived on the eastern side of the river within the city of Wyndham and spoke the Woiwurrung language. Clan – Head at the time of European settlement was Bet Benjee.
Yalukit william- Lived on the eastern side of the river around the bay as far as St Kilda. and spoke the Boonwurrung language. Clan – Head at the time of European settlement was Derrimut and Benbow (Clan Head did not mean Chief as thought by the Europeans – Aboriginal clans were independent and decisions were made collectively. The role of the clan head- approved by his people – was to put the clan’s position at the council meetings of the clan heads.)
People of these three clans and other clans belonged to the Kulin Nation which stretched from the Murray River at Echuca to the Bass Strait. Their languages were closely related and people were connected by spiritual beliefs and alliances forged through marriages.
The Kulin view of the world and the Aboriginal people was that it was created by two main spirits – Bunjil and Waa and lesser ancestral spirits in the Dreamtime. Everyone and thing was either Bunjil or Waa. (Moities)
The custom was for men to choose a wife from a clan as far from his as practical thus forging ties with her people. Their children belonged to his Moiety as the wife moved to his clan on marriage. When people married they chose their partner from the other moiety from their own.
“On a religious level, Aboriginal society in much of Australia is divided into two moieties. These moieties may be based on Ancestral Beings from the Creation Period. Within each moiety are significant animals, plants, or places, which are of a highly religious nature. Each person, as well as belonging to one or the other moiety, is also connected to one or more of these subjects, called "totems". Sometimes moieties are further divided into sections or subsections.” http://www.aboriginalculture.com.au/socialorganisation.shtml
The traditional way of life of the Aborigines was based on ancestral Lore from the Dreamtime – they had to take care of their country. This meant moving around their land, preserving it and using it wisely – not exhausting resources. It also meant fulfilling social and spiritual obligations and rituals.
Clans on a daily basis lived in bands of between 15 to 20 people as this was practical. A band might be one or two families and any visitors. They were hunter-gatherers – hunting, foraging and fishing. It was a very efficient system as people in general only worked about 5 hours a day to acquire their needs. Roles were distinct – women and small children mainly foraged for food and men and older boys hunted. Both fished. The men mended tools and the women gathered water and prepared food. Both groups made artifacts and personal adornment and carried out spiritual obligations and cultural activities such as art, dance and storytelling.
Camps were located close to water and family groups moved according to the seasons – near the Bay for fishing in warmer weather, One example being a large Aboriginal campsite at Point Cook. More than ten sites have been found between the Werribee River and Skeleton Creek. In the cooler months clans moved from more open areas to more sheltered areas in higher country.
For further information read: “ Wyndham’s Aboriginal Past” by Dr Gary Presland. This work was Privately Commissioned by Wyndham Libraries and is the source of the information above. Wyndham City Libraries hold copies of Dr Presland's books. Check out the library catalogue.
Student Activity 1
1. Research the “Dreamtime”, “Bunjil” and “Waa”
Present your findings in the format of your choice.
Include illustrations and biography.
2. Bearing in mind the Aboriginal way of life you have just read about -
How do o you think the Aborigines and the European settlers would have got on? Why?
3. Research and find out about Derrimut who was one of the most influential Aborigines of the time.
The Coming of British Settlement and its impact on the Aboriginal people.
“ The continued presence of Europeans and their stock across the Kulin Estates had devastating impacts on the Indigenous population” Wyndham’s Aboriginal Past, Dr Gary Presland.
The arrival of settlers to Wyndham with their totally different cultures and way of life to the Aborigines changed their lives. Where the Aborigines saw the land as a spiritual home and connection to the Ancestors, the Europeans saw it as wealth and power.
Where the Aborigines view of Land was not simply for food and shelter but the spiritual connections, the Europeans brought sheep, who destroyed the vegetation , fenced the land and shot the native animals. This deprived the Aborigines of their role to care for the land.
When the Europeans moved in, they took the land and the Aborigines suffered the devastating impact of losing the land and all it meant to them.
Additionally the impact was rapid. European Settlement of Port Phillip began 1835/6 and by 1851 the population was 77,000 settlers and one million sheep. On the other hand population of the Aborigines had fallen from an estimated 11,500 in the Port Phillip area to under 1000 by 1850. The two largest tribes of the Melbourne area whose number was around three hundred at the beginning of settlement had fallen to 33 by 1850.
“ The number of Aboriginal people in the Wyndham area, as in all parts of Victoria dropped dramatically in the decades following European arrival.” Wyndham’s Aboriginal Past” Dr Gary Presland.
Reasons for the dramatic fall?
1. Disease – the Aborigines had no resistance to the diseases introduced – such as smallpox, chickenpox, measles, influenza and STD’s.
2. Violence – a combination of quarrels with other tribes as the pattern of land ownership broke down and conflict with the settlers. The Aboriginals did not willingly give up their land but fought back against the Settlers. When they did fight back, they were accused of being savage and retaliation took place.
“Big” Clarke who settled at Little River in 1837 commented that his shepherds would not go out alone for fear of the Aborigines, and he needed to employ two shepherds instead of one as the Aborigines were stealing and killing his sheep.
The Settlers felt justified in retaliation – “ When my people found it necessary to defend themselves, a number of the blacks, I am sorry to say were shot” Clarke
Many of the settlers also saw the Aborigines as a “nuisance” who were in the way of expansion. Settlers often poisoned the Aborigines to get rid of the “nuisance.”
Such was the prejudice and ill will existing amongst many settlers towards the blacks... many of the aborigines had been destroyed by them with 'sweet damper' (James Dredge Diary, 1 June 1839, p.52).
These views clearly demonstrate a society often in conflict.
3. A declining birth rate and rise in infant mortality. Birth rates declined with the introduction of STD’s into Aboriginal society as the STD's could lead to infertility.
Changes to their way of life caused illness and death. Previously an active people whose diet was rich in greens, lean meat and fish, they were no longer able to move around their land. The loss of this mobility and the destruction of vegetation and native wildlife meant their diet increasingly became the European diet of bread and mutton.
As well as this there was a growing sense of hopelessness – why have children?
‘You see...all this mine. All along here Derrimut’s once. No matter now, me soon tumble down...Why me have no lubra? Why me have no piccaninny? You have all this place. No good have children, no good have lubra. Me tumble down and die very soon now.’ (From: First People: The Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip and Central Victoria. Dr Gary Presland –p.91)
Why did the Europeans assume they could take the land and justify poor treatment of the Aborigines?
They believed they were a superior civilization and the Aborigines were at best “ Noble Savages”(J.J.Rousseau). They also sssumed the Aborigines did nothing productive with the land and therefore it belonged to no one. Thus they were entitled to take it. (Terra Nullius)
These assumptions were based on the belief that the European way of life was the correct one. In these circumstances the Aborigines were left with just a few choices - Fight Back / Adjust/ Give up hope.
The fact that Aboriginal Civilization did not disappear is to the credit of those Aboriginal people who continued and handed down the culture, history, traditions and languages of their people.
Student Activitiy 2
Study the engraving and answer the following:
1. Describe the scene as depicted in the engraving.
2. How much of an impact had European Settlement on the landscape by 1851?
3. Compare how the Aborigines and Europeans might have viewed this impact.
4. Can you explain how this painting might be used to demonstrate symbolically the relationship between the Two Groups? Consider everything in the painting in composing your answer.
Student Activity 3
Read, “ The Killing of Franks and Flinders” and “ Taking Revenge massacre at Mount Cottrell” in Wyndham: Our Story, G. Hocking, p.43-45.
1. Who were Franks and Flinders? What happened to them and what assumption did the settlers make?
2. What did the 2nd search party discover which made them feel the assumption was correct? According to their story what happened when they encountered a large group of Aborigines?
3. Why was an enquiry held and what were it’s findings?
4. What did James Bonwick and many others at the time believed had happened?
5. What view of the event did “ The Colonial Times” take? Quote from the article to support your answer.
6. Why do these accounts make it difficult to understand events in the past?