1. Ethnohistory

  1. Ethnohistory
  2. Resources Available to Aboriginal People
  3. Melbourne Region Contact History
  4. Monash Region Contact History

The information used to establish pre-settlement Aboriginal spatial organisation is mostly based on observations made by Europeans during the initial period of Contact and subsequent settlement of the study area region. Early historical accounts of Aboriginal land use within and surrounding the study area are scant, with most information provided by Assistant Protector William Thomas, the Police Magistrate of the Port Philip District, Captain William Lonsdale and Christian de Villiers. A detailed study of the ethnography and historical literature has been presented in Fels (1990a, 1990b) and summarised by Snoek (1987) and Rhodes (1989, 1990, 1993). In this section, only a summary of relevant ethnographic Aboriginal occupation of the Dandenong Valley area is presented.

The two main Aboriginal language groups of the Port Phillip region of Victoria were theBoon wurrung and the Woi wurrung. The Bunurong (Western Port) and Woiworung(Yarra) tribes belonged to the inter-marriage network and language ties group known as theKulin, which inhabited areas around Melbourne. At the time of Contact the Kulin nation was made up of the BunurongWoiworungJajowrongTaunguong and Wathaurung [1] (Presland 2001: 40).

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Woi wurrung occupied an area which extended from inland of the Werribee River in the south west, Mount Macedon in the north west, Mount William in the Great Divide to the north and across to Mount Baw Baw in the east (Clark 1990). Their southern boundary was the watershed of the Great Divide and Bunurong clans. This group of people had common language and social practices, and at the time of contact, was thought to have comprised seven clans, each with their own clan estate. At the time of European settlement, Dandenong Creek north of Dandenong appears to have been the approximate boundary between Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung [2].

The territory of the Boon wurrung is thought to have extended to Werribee River in the west, Dandenong Ranges to the north and Tarwin River east of Wilson's Promontory (Clark 1990, G.A. Robinson Journal 1844 in Clark 1998). Early estimates of Aboriginal population numbers relied on observation by Europeans. An 1839 census of the Boon wurrung by Thomas suggested that at the time of colonisation, this tribe comprised of approximately 500 persons or 'six square miles per person' (Thomas ML 9: 47). Robert Jamieson wrote in 1853 that there were about 300 Aborigines on his Cape Schank Run in 1838.

Intermarriage and exchange of goods between the Kulin tribes is known to have occurred (McBryde 1978; Sullivan 1981:36). Kulin people often met for interclan gatherings, such as that recorded in 1844 when groups of Woi wurrung people were camped on the site of the future M.C.G., and a group of Boon wurrung was camped on the site of the future Government House (Presland 2001: 47; Cotter 2001: 4). The Bunurong held meetingsevery three months and corroborees were held at full and new moons (Thomas ML 21: 97). Notices of planned gatherings were distributed to neighbors via message sticks, and during these inter-tribal gatherings marriages were arranged, and disputes settled. Howitt (1904) also claimed that clans/tribes would always camp according to the direction of their country at these large gatherings. Greenstone from the Mt William quarries in the Woi wurrung territory appears to have been transported or traded into the Boon wurrung territory (McBryde 1984). Within the Kulin, some tribes were more likely to exchange wives or hold corroborees with certain other tribes. The Boon wurrung had ceremonial links with, and most often married, members ofTaungurong and Wathaurung tribes (Gaughwin 1981:59). However, these alliances did not prevent warfare or reprisals between the tribes (Thomas ML 1, 23 March 1839).

Assistant Aboriginal Protector Thomas, and early settlers in the Western Port region have recorded aspects of the seasonal movements by the Boon wurrung through their territory. Gaughwin (1981) considers that the Boon wurrung continued their seasonal exploitation in a circular pattern from Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula for a short period after European settlement. One of these seasonal routes passes through Dandenong and along a similar alignment to the South Gippsland Highway (Gaughwin 1981: 75). This trip was thought to take about one month with an average stay of one to two nights at each campsite while the resources within a 10 kilometre radius were exploited (Sullivan 1981:37). During these travels Thomas observed that 'Blacks seldom travel more than 8 or 9 miles per day' (Thomas PRO Letter 3 July 1840). It must be noted that ethnohistorical information of movements made by Aboriginals during this time, apart from reflecting an already disrupted population, would also be dependent on the seasonal exploitation and availability of resources.

The study area is likely to have been an area where territorial rights existed for at least two clans, one Boon wurrung and the other Woi wurrung. It is important to remember when looking at clan boundaries identified through historical records and subsequent mapping that this documentation was done at a specific period in time, and one of great upheaval, and usually by European observers. The recorded boundaries therefore, may not accurately reflect the accumulated knowledge of specific rights and obligations that each clan had over territories nor does it account for the fluidity these boundaries may have had through time. Presland (2001: 39) notes that because boundaries were often social in context they:

"cannot accurately be rendered on paper [and when drawn on a map] become fossilized".

Finding focus areas for clans is often subject to these problematic issues as well as thediffering recording methods of recorders of the information. For example, several local historians refer to the Boon wurrung as the tribe that lived in the Parish of Mulgrave (Priestly 1979: 18-19; Early Waverly Pamphlet nd; Waverley Historical Society 1988) even while others reported that James Clow's homestead on the eastern side of Dandenong Creek was being camped at by both Yarra and Westernport tribes (City of Waverley 1993: 5; Clow in Bride 1969: 107). As Clow was the first European squatters on this side of Dandenong Creek this may indicate that both tribes were sharing resources along the Dandenong Creek. In addition to this Sullivan records that groups of Boon wurrung people hunted lyrebirds in the ranges to the northeast of their clan territory (Sullivan 1981: 24). These examples indicate that reciprocal hunting and gathering rights probably operated in this area where Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung boundaries converged.1839).

The specific clans likely to have traditional rights and obligations in the City of Monash area are the Ngaruk willam of the Boon wurrung and the Bulug willam patriline of theWurundjeri-Balluk clan (Woi wurrung) (Clark 1990: 367, 384; Presland 2001: 37). William Barak, last headman of the Woi wurrung, identified the land from Gardiner's Creek to Dandenong, south of the Dandenong Ranges 'half bad country' (Barwick 1984: 117), which is a term sometimes used for a shared area.

At the time of contact the approximate locations of the Ngaruk willam at "Brighton, Mordialloc, Dandenong and between Mounts Eliza and Martha" and the Wurundjeri-Ballukgenerally occupied the Yarra River catchment, with the Bulug willam patriline territory extended "south [from the Upper Yarra River] to Dandenong, Cranbourne and the swamps at the head of Westernport Bay" adjoining Boon wurrung territory in the Cranbourne/Dandenong area (Clark 1990: 384, 386).

The Bulug willam clan belonged to the Waa (or crow) moiety (Barwick 1984: 120) and the moiety of the Ngaruk willam was Bunjil (or eaglehawk) (Clark 1990: 368). The meaning ofBulug willam is given as "Swamp dwellers" and Ngaruk meant stones or rocky (Clark 1990: 386; Barwick 1984: 117). The Bulug willam clan head at the time of European contact was Mooney Mooney/Old Murray (ca 1773-1840) who is claimed to have guided Batman's June 1835 party to a winter camp where the "Treaty" was negotiated. Mooney's son, Bolete (ca 1819-1845) was a member of the Native Police Corps (Clark 1990: 386). Tukulneen or Old George the King, was retired due to old age as head of the Ngaruk willam when Europeans arrived in this area, but was recognised as second in command to Billibellary (Jika Jika) (Barwick 1984: 117).1839).

De Villiers identified the Native Police Reserve at Narre Narre Warren as being within the territory of the Bulug willam clan (Barwick 1984: 120). Members of Woi wurrung who first chose the site for the Aboriginal Protectorate Station, described the area as 'Nerre Nerre Warren where all black fellows sit down'; (Thomas Journals, 1840-1843). Thomas stated that 'the Western Port tribe's (Boon wurrung) visits to Narre Narre Warren are but transient ... they feel no way satisfied with the location' (Fels 1990a: 4), which was within Woi wurrungland.

One of the first Europeans to investigate Dandenong Creek and the Dandenong Rangesduring the initial period of contact was Botanist Daniel Bunce (1859). In approximately 1840 (date uncertain) when the first squatting runs such as James Clows' were already established, Bunce made a journey to Mount Dandenong. Accompanying Bunce on this short journey was Derrimut (from Werribee District), Yammabook and Benbow. These Aboriginals were from different clans than those who traditionally occupied the Dandenongs, however they still had strong cultural links to the area. During this journey, [the principal aim of which was to collect botanical specimens], a number of local Aboriginals were encountered. In a detailed account of the journey Bunce described the construction of campshunting and gathering methods, game preparation and consumption, social practices, including the differing roles of men and women and various types of bark removal. Bunce's short journey serves to highlight the wealth of resources available to Aboriginal people in the Dandenong Ranges, and the exceptional knowledge they had of the landform and its resources.


  1. The spelling of Aboriginal language groups and clans varies according to the source used. For example Presland (1994) uses the spelling Woiworung and Clark (1990: 379) chooses to use Woiwurrung but identifies approximately 70 variants used in historical texts, including names such as Port Phillip Aborigines and Yarra Yarra Tribe frequently used by early Colonists.
  2. Clark (1990: 363) notes 66 variants on the spelling of Bun wurrung, he began to use Boon wurrung (1996c) after Blake (1991) noted that Boon was closer to the correct pronunciation.

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Last updated: 19 February 2015