4. Monash Region Contact History

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


Knowledge of the specific Contact history of the City of Monash is limited, as very little documentation survives from the early European squatters and settlers in this area. Some references in recent literature note that good relations occurred with some of the early squatters such as Reverend James Clow (see below) and Alexander McMillan, son of John McMillan of Scotchman's Creek Run, who often visited the Aboriginal camps listening to their songs and learning some of their language (Priestly 1979: 18).

The nearest documentation is known to be from James Clow, a Scottish Presbyterian pastor turned squatter, who in 1838 took up a run he named 'Corhanwarrabul' [1] on the east side of Dandenong Creek. The run extended from Dandenong Creek to the Dandenong Ranges incorporating the present day Lysterfield and Rowville (Bride 1969: 104-106). Clow's home station, named 'Tirhatuan', was situated near the junction of Narrewong (Narre Warren) and Dandenong Creeks facing the present day Wellington Road (Clow in Bride 1969: 106, Bride 1969: 113). Clow, writing about himself in the third person had this to sayabout the local Aboriginal people:

'Throughout the period of Mr. Clow's residence at Tirhatuan, his family was very frequently visited by the aborigines belonging to the Yarra Yarra [Woi wurrung] and Western Port [Boon wurrung] tribes. They often camped near his house; they were uniformly treated with kindness, and in return they always conducted themselves peaceably and honestly" (Clow in Bride 1969: 107).

This description indicates two things, that the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung camped along the Dandenong Creek, possibly choosing the junction with another creek as a meeting place, and that the land and its resources were likely shared between the two language groups along the Dandenong Creek. When Bunce returned from a field expedition into the Dandenong Ranges in the 1840s he camped with an Aboriginal group at the junction of Corhanwarrabul and Dandenong Creeks near Clow's homestead (Snoek 1987: 19, 24).

It seems Clow had very good relations with the local clans as evidenced by two of his anecdotes. In the first, Clow (in Bride 1969: 107-110) recounts his encounter with a member of a hunting party, an old man who had been left behind after injuring himself in a fall from a tree. Aborigines when camped on the western side of Dandenong Creek the day before the encounter had visited Clow. When he crossed the creek the next day he found the man "alone, beside a crab-hole in which was a little water, but he was without food and shelter" (Clow in Bride 1969: 108). The old man had been unable to accompany the hunting party to the Dandenong Ranges due to his leg injury and Clow took him to his camp to be looked after for nearly one week until the party returned. Clow thought the man was the oldest of his tribe and with his injury, lack of food and shelter, did not believe he would have survived the week. Clow (in Bride 1969: 108) noted that:

"the man "[f]or the kindness shown him ... was very grateful ... and often referred to the occurrence which first bought him to Mr Clow's acquaintance, but never did so without the most evident satisfaction and thankfulness".

A similar situation occurred in September 1839 when a young Aboriginal man, Wonga, had been left by his hunting party in the Dandenong Ranges after taking ill. Wonga's father and another member of the tribe upon finding out from the hunting group of his situation went into the mountains and brought him to Mr Clow's son's hut. He had been there for four days and was almost dead. Clow tended Wonga and sent for Assistant Protector William Thomas to collect him. Thomas travelled 21 miles on foot to reach Clow's Station, stayed overnight then returned on foot with Wonga in a cart. When Thomas arrived at Clow's on 12 September he noted that 15 Aboriginal people were camped at the station. Thomas tended Wonga's illness and injured foot for several weeks, bathing the wound and changing dressings until he improved (Thomas in Cannon 1983: 542-543, 547-548, 585, 596, 618). Simon Wonga is considered as being the last man to have been put through traditional law ceremonies at Arthur's Seat (Wonga is the traditional name for Arthur's Seat) (Stephen Compton pers comm.). Wonga's parents were from Bunurong and Wurundjeri clans, and as such this hunting party were traditional owners of the mountains to the north of Clow.

Clow's (in Bride 1969: 108) second recollection is of the proven honesty of an Aboriginal man named Jack Weatherly (Mayune bullock clan member - Stephen Compton pers. Comm.), " the finest looking and most intelligent of the natives" and another young tribe member. With some skepticism, Clow's wife had entrusted Weatherly to bring four dozen biscuits from Melbourne to her son at Tirhatuan, providing him with half a dozen for the task to avoid any theft of those intended for James Clow Jr. Weatherly undertook the journey but met along the way a hunting party. As "one of the most athletic and expert of his tribe, he could not resist the temptation to join in the chase", and he passed note and biscuits to a young tribe member with strict delivery instructions. Clow (in Bride 1969: 108-109) read much into the fulfillment of his task, particularly because of the partialness to biscuits and bread by the Aborigines. He believed that the "trustworthiness of the two aborigines, reflects favourably on the whole tribe" and noted that the people camped at Tirhatuan showed similar honesty by seeking permission when wishing to search through a recently dug potato field for their favoured introduced root vegetable (Clow in Bride 1969:109).

Other reminiscences of the Contact period in the area are scant and vaguely, if at all, referenced. For example, in her environmental history of the City of Monash, Wilde (1996: 12) briefly alludes to local Boon wurrung corroborees at the junction of the present day Ferntree Gully and Dandenong Roads but provides no source for this evidence. Similarly, when a newspaper article in 1949's Mercury put forward the question of Glen Waverley's original name, Black or Black's Flat and how it originated, several respondents believed it was to do with soil colour in this area (Hattwell 1990: 9-10). One reader, however, responded that:

"the place was called Black's Flat long before bullockies came through. The earliest settlers called it Black's Flat because of the large concentration of blacks" (Hattwell 1990: 10).

The reader and his source for this information are not identified, but the position of Black (or Black's) Flat on hills between Scotchman's and Dandenong Creeks may have made this a good location for the Boon wurrung and Woi wurrung clans to meet for social and ceremonial purposes.

The scarred tree (AAV 7922/614) now situated in the Valley Reserve water feature (see Previous Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Investigations) was the cause of controversy when local paper Waverly Gazette, won a prize for their front page photo of the tree on 24 February, 1965. The tree had at this time still been alive and was situated on the east side of Springvale near Fairhills Parade.

Mr Russell Forster wrote to the gazette to inform them of their mistake about the tree, which he claimed could not have been scarred by Aboriginal people. He claimed that Mrs Richardson, his uncle's grandmother, had purchased a property on Springvale Road in 1855. The tree was originally situated on her property before the road was widened. Mrs Richardson had moved to the area from Devonport, Tasmania and brought with her three redgum saplings to her new home. These were planted and his uncle had played under the trees as a child, the tree in question was the only remaining of the original three. Jim Hattwell wrote the original article and in his reply to Forster noted that if planted in 1855 the tree would have been 110 years old. He also guessed that Aboriginal people would not have removed bark from a tree until it was at least 25-30 years old and this would put the date of the scar at too far into the post Contact period for Aboriginal people to still be living in this area or practicing bark removal.

Mr Hattwell stood by his original identification of the scar as Aboriginal and presumed the scar had been made at least 100 years previous (to 1965) (Hattwell 1990: 255-256; Wilde 1996: 98-99). It is interesting to note that while Mr Forster provided a great deal of detail about the tree's history, he had never put forth an explanation of how a scar of these proportions, shape and position came to be on the tree. From the scar's position on the tree when standing it looks approximately one metre from the ground and over a metre in length with a typical asymmetrical shape often found on Aboriginal scarred trees (see Hattwell 1990: 255-256). The mid section of the tree, that is, the scarred section, was relocated to Valley Reserve in the belief that it is of Aboriginal origin. The girth measurement of the tree was 2.7 metres (AAV site card), which indicates the age of the tree was well over 100 years old when it was cut down. The current condition of the scar is deteriorated and while the scar's overgrowth and shape are indicative of an Aboriginal scarred tree, the heartwood has been subject to some grubbing and it is no longer possible to determine the scars origin.

Endnote:

  1. Clow (in Bride 1969: 106) named his 'Corhanwarrabul' run "after the mountain that formed its north-eastern boundary". In his map of Western Port, Thomas (in Cannon 1983: 578-579; Presland 2001: 74) has the name KoranWarrabin Range written along the Dandenong Ranges north east of Clow's homestead. In a letter to Chief Protector GA Robinson regarding his trip to Clow's station to retrieve Wonga, Thomas (in Cannon 1983: 585) refers to the station being "at the foot of the Coran-Warabin Mountain.

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Last updated: 19 February 2015