THE YARRA FLATS AROUND HEIDELBERG - FIRST
The Eastern Kulin nation of aborigines are thought
to have lived in the Melbourne, Port Phillip and Central Victoria
areas for around 40,000 years prior to European contact. The
Kulin clans were connected via significant commonalities in their
languages, common spiritual / Dreaming figures, frequent
intermarriage and trading. The Kulin word 'wurrung' means
'mouth / lips', that is - language.
The First Australians who lived in the Yarra Flats
area around what is now Heidelberg, were the Wurundjeri balluk
clan. The Wurundjeri balluk were one of the Woi Wurrung clan
group - which were part of the broader Eastern Kulin
Clans identified with and lived in particular areas
of land - which was their "country". The Wurundjeri balluk
clan country extended along the Yarra river from about Heidelberg,
upto the source of the Yarra. (Shown as 4a on the Eastern Kulin
Language groups map.)
Picture Credit: This map is copied from the book
First People (1) page 14. The caption in First People for this map
is 'Eastern Kulin language areas and clans. The historical record
contains many alternative renderings of language group names. These
maps, along with the names, come from the work of Ian
Clark.' The Picture Credit in First
People is given as: 'Map showing Eastern Kulin language area
and clans. Reproduced from Aboriginal languages and clans '(3) by
Ian D Clark.'
In 1835, when ongoing European contact was made with
the aboriginal clans of Port Phillip Bay and surrounding areas,
Billibellary and Bebejan were the clan-heads for the
Wurundjeri-balluk who were present at the time of Batman's 'treaty'
being made. Barak - Bebejan's 11 year-old son was also
present that day. Billibellary and Bebejan were
Billibellary's clan occupied the area north of the
Yarra from the Maribyrnong River to Darebin Creek. Bebejan's clan
occupied the area about Heidelberg and to the source of the
On a number of occasions Billibellary offered timely
advice to William Thomas, Assistant Protector of
In 1863 an Aboriginal settlement, involving a number
of different clans, was established at Coranderrk near Healesville.
This followed the effective removal of most Aboriginal people from
the Melbourne area. Billibellary's son, Simon Wonga, assumed
leadership of the community after the death of his father in 1846.
He was dedicated and effective and was recognised as a great orator
in his own language. He died in 1875 and his cousin, William Barak,
became leader at Coranderrk. Barak was a great leader of his people
and also a gifted storyteller, singer and artist. He died in his
early eighties in 1903. Eventually in 1924, Coranderrk was closed
and all remaining Aboriginals moved to the Lake Tyers Aboriginal
Text Credit: The above text is largely taken
from Still Glides the Stream (4) Pages 21 to 25 Chapter 3 'The
Picture Credit: This image is copied
from the book First People (1) The Picture
Credit in First People for Billibellary is given as: 'Billibellary.
Pencil Drawing on card by William Thomas. Brough Smyth Papers,
State Library of Victoria'
Picture Credit: This image is copied
from the book First People (1) ThePicture
Credit in First People for Barak is given as: 'William
Barak, aged 33. Photograph by Carl Walter. Pictures Collection.
State Library of Victoria'
Connections between Kulin clans were maintained and
strengthened by regular meetings (as frequently as twice per year)
- where disputes were settled, trading done and celebrations
held - including nightly corroborees. Corroborees were public
performances which told stories, where the males danced and the
females provided rhythm with clapping hands and sticks and
One of the significant places along the Yarra for
the Woi Wurrung was the large wetland complex they called Bolin -
which is the the Bolin Bolin billabong in Bulleen.
The Woi Wurrung clans moved annually from the lower
reaches of the Yarra, where they spent the warmer months; to
the Dandenongs area, where they spent the cooler months as there
was more shelter available. At the time they were moving upstream,
they knew that mature eels were moving downstream - to breed in
salt water. This abundant source of food would support large
multi-clan gatherings and for hundreds of generations as many as
200 people spent upto four weeks at a time at the Bolin
(Main source for the above text is First People (1) -
The Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip & Central
Picture Credit: This image is copied from the book
The Place for a Village (2) p 209. The caption in the source
book for this image is 'A photograph by Antoine Fauchery of
'Blackfellow painted for corroboree', taken in 1858. The white body
markings were applied by using kaolin clay.' Picture
Credit in The Place for a Village is 'Aboriginal man ornamented for
a corroboroee, 1858, photograph by R. Daintree. Pictures
Collection, State Library of Victoria. )
The text below is taken directly from the First
People (1)- pages 67 & 68.
'Eels were caught in various ways at Bolin and in
many other swamps and lagoons around the land of the Eastern Kulin.
Sometimes they were speared, using a wooden spear tipped with the
peduncle or stalk of the grass tree. ….(some) hunters held
two spears in their hands while they sought out the eels with their
feet. The eel was jabbed and removed from the water with one spear
and then killed with the other. They also could simply be captured
by hand. The best way to locate the eels in the wetland was to wade
into the water, where they could be felt with the feet or seen. At
this time of year eels were plentiful; two men could catch as much
as twenty kilograms in a short time without having to go
Picture Credit: This image
is copied from the book First People (1) page 56. The caption
in First People for this map is 'Freshwater crayfish were one of
the many resources gathered by Koories in the appropriate season,
using a variety of means. In this case the method involves men
wading up to their necks in water, sensing the presence of their
prey with feet. One man holds a bag in his mouth, to free his hands
for capturing the crayfish '
Picture Credit in First People given as: 'Natives
catching crayfish, c. 1865. Wood engraving from a sketch by W. A.
Cawthorne. Pictures Collection. State Library of
Sources / References:
Copyright © 2008 - 2017 Friends of Banyule. All rights reserved.