A Brief History of the Boonwurrung People
The traditional owners of land in the ICACC region are the Bunurong / Boonwurrung people. The extent of Bunurong / Boonwurrung land varies between maps constructed by non-indigenous historians. Ian Clark (1990) describes the Bunruong / Boonwurrung country as extending from the Werribee River to the Tarwin River and probably Wilsons Promontory. Indigenous people believe that all things live in unity and interdependence.
The Bunurong / Boonwurrung are one of 30 tribes which occupied Victoria. The language they spoke was Bun Wurrung and their territory stretched from Werribee Creek in Werribee, expanding north, as well as continuing east and south along the Mornington Peninsula. It is estimated that this area was inhabited as far back as 40,000 years ago.
History of the Bunurong / Boonwurrung People and Land
The Bunurong / Boonwurrung were hunter-gatherers, living on the natural produce existing in the area. Men hunted while women gathered plants. People ate local animals, plants, fish and shellfish. They did not use boats, but fished from shallow waters using nets.
Life depended on the seasonal availability of different plants and animals. The foreshores and creeks provided ideal places to fish and hunt for seafood and salt water plants as well as fresh water fish and eels. Creeks also provided drinking water, encouraged animals to the area and nourished other plants and trees. Ingredients for medicine and painting, materials for clothing and implements for activities such as hunting and aids for carrying babies were found locally or traded with neighbouring tribes.
The ancestral spirit of the Bunurong / Boonwurrung was, and still is, Bunjil (the eaglehawk). Marriages were not permitted between people of the same moiety. As people married, the men accepted the responsibility of assisting the tribe of the women they married as part of the custom of reciprocity.
Family kinship is still a vital part of the social structure of many Indigenous communities and one of the major reasons why Indigenous culture has survived the European occupation of Australia.
In 1839 a major settlement point was established at Arthur’s Seat, signifying the magnitude and intended permanence of European settlement.
Occupation of the Port Phillip region in the early 19th century had a profound effect on Aboriginal people in the area. By then, the population of the Bunurong / Boonwurrung in this location had fallen from 500 people to 83 people. Diseases brought in by Europeans accounted for 65% of the demise of the Indigenous locals. Frontier violence (the conflict between the Aboriginal owners and the new settlers) was another major cause of death. Distruption of food sources by people and stock and the destruction of camping and meeting places all severely disrupted Aboriginal lifestyles and caused a disastrous decline in birth-rate. Many Boonwurrung women were kidnapped by European sealers and taken to Tasmania because of their ability to ‘call in’ seals — singing out to them, clapping their hands and diving in to attract them to the shore. The women usually stayed in Tasmania where they had children and continued to live in the Boonwurrung way. Eventually, some managed to return. Children and grandchildren of these stolen women have also returned to the mainland, seeking recognition as Boonwurrung.
By 1863, there were only eleven known Bunurong / Boonwurrung people surviving. Jimmy Dunbar, who died in 1877, is thought to have been the last full blood Bunurong / Boonwurrung.
The Kulin Nation
The Bunurong / Boonwurrung are members of a larger grouping of Aboriginal tribes called the Kulin Nation. The Kulin Nation is a federation of five Victorian Indigenous dialect groups. These dialect groups, the Woiworund/Woiworung, Boonwurrung, Wathaurung, Kurung and Taungurong, shared adjoining land from Port Phillip Bay and as far inland as Euroa. 'Kulin’ is an Aboriginal word for man.