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History of the Wurundjeri People

The first people that occupied the Melbourne area prior to European colonisation were the Woiwurrung language group, specifically the Wurundjeri people.
The following is a list of the clans within the Wurundjeri area:

  • Wurundjeri-balluk & Wurundjeri-willam (Yarra Valley Yarra River catchment area to Heidelberg)
  • Balluk-willam (south of the Yarra Valley extending down to Dandenong, Cranbourne, Koo-wee-rup Swamp)
  • Gunnung-willam-balluk (east of the Great Dividing Ranges and north to Lancefield)
  • Kurung-jang-balluk (Werribee River to Sunbury)
  • Marin-balluk (Boi-berrit) (land west of the Maribyrnong River and Sunbury)
  • Kurnaje-berreing (the land between the Maribyrnong and Yarra Rivers)

Boundaries

The territory of the Wurundjeri lies within the inner city of Melbourne and extends north of the Great Dividing Ranges, east to Mt Baw Baw, south to Mordialloc Creek and west to Werribee River.

Map of the Kulin Nation which the Wurundjeri boundaries are part of:

 

kulin map

 

Map was made by Dr Ian Clarke and redsigned by Mandy Mandy Nichols

Language/terminology

Some key terms of Woiwurrung language (and their English equivalent) are noted here:

  • Bulluk / balluk - swamp
  • Nira - cave
  • Willam / wilam / Illam / yilam - hut, camp, bark
  • Gunung / Gunnung - river

Totems

The two moeity totems of the Wurundjeri people are Bunjil the Eaglehawk and Waang the Crow.

Places of Significance

The Wurundjeri are the traditional owners of a large part of the land of inner and outer Melbourne.
The Yarra River was central to the Wurundjeri people as it provided a variety of foods such as eels and fish. Along its fertile banks the numerous variety of native animals and plants would be found.
There are a number of identified significant sites, in particular those found near the Yarra & Maribyrnong Rivers and the Merri Creek. A place of great gathering occurred at the Bolin Bolin Billabong in Bulleen where sacred and social interaction between the clans would take place. The Wurundjeri would also gather with other members of the Kulin Nation on the land where the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MGC) now stands. Other places of significance for the Wurundjeri people are:

  • Coranderrk Mission Station (Healesville)
  • Pound Bend (Templestowe / Doncaster)
  • Mt William Aboriginal Stone Axe Quarry
  • Dights Falls area (Collingwood)
  • Heide Scarred Tree (Templestowe)
  • The Sunbury Rings (Sunbury)

Featuring prominently in Wurundjeri story is William Barak, the last traditional great Ngurungaeta or leader of the clan, who witnessed the signing of the 'treaty' between Woiwurrung and Boonerwrung Elders and John Batman. The Ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri clan at that time was his father Bebejern, from whom Barak inherited the title.

Wurundjeri creation story

Once the water of the Yarra was locked in the mountains. This great expanse of water was called Moorool, or Great Water. It was so large that the Woiwurong had little hunting ground. This was in contrast with the Wothowurungs and the Bunurongs, whose hunting ground was the lovely flat which is now Port Phillip Bay.
Mo-yarra, slow-and-fast-running, was the headman of the Woiwurong. He decided to free the country of the water. So he cut a channel through the hills, in a southerly direction, and reached Western Port. However only a little water followed him and the path cut for it gradually closed up and the water again covered the land of the Woiwurrung.
At a later time the headman of the tribe was Bar-wool. He remembered Mo-yarra's attempt to free the land. He knew that Mo-yarra still lived on the swamps beside Western Port (Koo-wee-rup). Each winter he saw the hill tops covered with the feather down which Mo-yarra plucked from the water birds sheltering on the swamps.
Bar-wool resolved to free the land. He cut a channel up the valley with his stone axe. But he was stopped by Baw-baw, the Mountain. He decided to go northwards, but was stopped by Donna Buang and his brothers. Then he went westwards and cut through the hills to Warr-an-dyte. There he met Yan-yan, another Woiwurong, who was busily engaged in cutting a channel for the Plenty River in order to drain Morang, the place where he lived. They joined forces, and the waters of Moorool and Morang became Moo-rool-bark, the Place-where-the-wide-waters-were. They continued their work and reached the Heidelberg-Templestowe Flats, or Warringal, Dingo-jump-up, and there they rested while the waters formed another Moorool.
Bar-wool and Yan-yan again set to work, but this time they had to go much slower because the ground was much harder. They were also using up too many stone axes. Between the Darebin and the Merri Creeks they cut a narrow, twisting track, looking for softer ground. At last they reached Port Phillip and the waters of Moorool and Morang rushed out. The country of the Woiwurrong was freed from water but Port Phillip was inundated.
Massola, A. Bunjil’s Cave: Myths, Legends and Superstitions of the Aborines of South-East Australia , Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1968, p. 58.

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