First Inhabitants

We will open this section by offering our respects to the people of the Kulin nation, and by stating that our knowledge of their history and culture is by no means definitive or complete. What is presented here has been gleaned from books and from talking to a few of the Elders. If you wish to know more, please contact the Wurundjeri Council.

There are a few sites in Australia that give some clues to the antiquity of Human occupation. The Lake Mungo lunette and associated burials indicate occupation going back some 35.000 years. Another important site is at the junction of Dry Creek and the Maribyrnong River in Keilor. A quarry worker dug up the Keilor Cranium in 1940, which has been dated to around 15.000 years old, and other finds at nearby Green Gully confirm considerable age for occupation of the area. Artefact finds in sediments along the Maribyrnong River indicate occupation much older than the bone finds. Attempts at dating some of the layers have offered a somewhat contentious date of 45.000 years. Nonetheless,from these finds and others, the generally accepted horizon for Humans in Australia is somewhere between 40.000 and 60.000 years; slap-bang in the middle of the last glacial period.

There are several Aboriginal legends relating to the Ice-age environment. The Elders they will tell you that there was once no Port Phillip Bay, no Yarra River and no Bass Strait. The land bridge that connected Tasmania to the mainland was a wide grassy plain – a continuation of the one we live on.The Yarra River came out into Westernport Bay and the Maribyrnong flowed through the plain and entered the sea near where the Tamar is today in Tasmania. There is a legend about boys upsetting a magic water vessel, the end result being the sea crashing through into the Bay from the Heads. Curiously,there is another legend about Port Phillip Bay filling up from the other direction too: from a lake high up the Yarra River. Its quite possible both stories are true and relate to the end of the last glacial period. From Geological study we know that the Bay was inundated around 5000 years ago, and that Tasmania had been cut off some time before this, around 10.000 years ago.

The People who lived around Melbourne were the Woiwurrung,one large linguistic group made up of many smaller groups, like the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, Yakulit Willam, and Marin-Bulluk amongst others. The Melbourne tribes identify with other groups to the West and North (the Kulin Nation), but not to the East. The Kurnai of Gippsland are of a different nation and there was a long-standing enmity between the groups.

The Woiwurrung language is part of the great language familly called Pama-Nyungan, which includes most Aboriginal languages outside the Top End.

Pre-colonial life was one of hunter-gathering, with movement around the territory to take advantage of seasonal food supplies. They hunted kangaroo, possum and emu, and gathered a wide variety of vegetable foodstuffs.There is some evidence though of semi-permanent habitation – (the oldest stone houses in the world are to be found in the Western District), and of nascent agriculture. At Lake Condah to the west there is and elaborate system of channels and traps to farm and capture eels. There was also the Murnong, or yam-daisy, harvest, which, at the very least, involved “encouraging” the crop. It is also believed that there was a similar “encouragement” of some species of grass for grain.

It is unknown what the pre-colonial population of the Volcanic Plain was but some estimates put at 300,000 people. To feed such a population would have taken considerable expertise and social organization. Within very few years of European settlement the population had fallen to the hundreds, which is one of the great tragedies of Australian History.

Maribyrnong River Valley - Keilor

Maribyrnong River Valley – Keilor

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