Wyndham History

Aborigines and the Wyndham story

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)

View of Melbourne

View of Melbourne

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?

Aborigines and the Wyndham story

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