Brimbank Aboriginal Culture and History

The Wurundjeri and Bunurong people are the custodians of the land in the Port Phillip Bay region, including parts of our current City of Brimbank, for over 65,000 years before European settlement.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council determined the northern part of Brimbank as Wurundjeri Land and the southern part as Bunurong Land.

The north of Brimbank lies within the area occupied by the Kurung-Jang-Balluk and Marin-Balluk clans of the Wurundjeri people also known as the Woiwurrung language group, who form part of the larger Kulin Nation. Other groups who occupied the land in the area include the Yalukit-Willam and Marpeang-Bulluk clans.

Who are the Kulin Nation?

The Kulin Nation refers to an alliance of five Aboriginal tribes in south central Victoria. 

The collective traditional territory for the tribes of the Kulin Nation extends around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys.

The Kulin Nation tribes and their language groups are:

  • Woiwurrung (Woy-wur- rung) – The Wurundjeri People
  • Bunurong (Bun-er- rung) – The Bunurong People
  • Wathaurrung (Wath-er- rung) – The Wathaurong People
  • Daungwurrung (Tung-ger- rung) – The Taungurong People
  • Dja Dja Wrung (Jar-Jar wrung) – The Dja Dja Wurrung or Jaara People

The Wurundjeri people

The Wurundjeri People take their name from the Woiwurrung language word ‘Wurun’ meaning the Manna Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) which is common along ‘Birrarung’ (Yarra River), and ‘djeri‘, the grub which is found in or near the tree.

Wurundjeri are the ‘Witchetty Grub People’ and their Ancestors have lived on this land for millennia.

Find out more about the Wurundjeri Tribe Council, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation or the education resource directory A guide to resources on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history; culture and people in Melbourne’s western region.

The Bunurong people

The Bunurong people also known as the Boonwurrung language group, who form part of the larger Kulin Nation. Find out more about the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation

Aboriginal people’s lifestyle before colonisation

The way Aboriginal People lived before colonisation is very different to the way they lived after colonisation.

Aboriginal groups chose campsites close to rivers and creeks, traditionally used as travelling routes and sources of food.

Canoes were made from bark, carefully removed from trees with a tomahawk and pole. Bark was also used to build shields, containers and temporary shelters. A number of trees in the area still bear marks from bark removal by Aboriginal People.

Fish and eels were a large component of the Aboriginal diet, caught with spears and sophisticated traps made from woven plant fibres and stones. Other commonly hunted animals include kangaroos, possums, bandicoots, wombats, koalas and birds.

The tuber of the yam daisy was a staple for Aboriginal People. This plant was found in abundance on grassy plains and the banks of creeks and rivers.

Aboriginal landowners would have regularly burnt the surrounding grasslands. This increased availability of food and maintained the open nature of the countryside.

Ceremonies were an important part of Aboriginal life, the most common being the Corroboree. Ceremonial sites in the region include a series of earth rings at Sunbury: shallow, circular hollows set into the hillside.

Aboriginal people’s lifestyle after colonisation

With the onset of European settlement in the 1830s, the clans caring for the land in this area quickly disintegrated.

While the pre-contact population of the Kurung-Jang-Balluk and Marin-Balluk clans is unknown, estimates by Europeans indicate that the population of Aboriginal People in the region declined by 50 per cent in the first four years of European settlement, 1835–1839.

This decline was largely due to:

  • Aboriginal People’s alienation from traditional hunting grounds
  • The degradation of the area’s natural resources
  • Diseases such as small pox, measles and influenza brought in by Europeans
  • Violent conflict with the region’s new settlers - Europeans.

As a result of this dramatic decline in the area’s Indigenous population, few Aboriginal accounts of the region’s past exist.

Also, little is known about the specific history of the clans who occupied the area before European settlement.

Therefore, most information about Brimbank’s Indigenous landowners is derived from the accounts of the Europeans who first settled in the area.Contact with Europeans

There are few recorded incidents between Aboriginal and European people in this area.

Some are from the accounts Joseph Solomon’s son. Joseph Solomon was a squatter whose run extended along the Maribyrnong River, what is now North Sunshine. Joseph’s son recalled seeing Aboriginal People visiting the homestead to receive food and presents. He also recalled witnessing a corroboree and other customary events.

Most European accounts suggest that relations between Aboriginal People and European settlers in this area were relatively peaceful. This may be due to the small numbers of Aboriginal People remaining in the area following European settlement.

A rare recorded violent incident involved the murder of Charles Franks at Mount Cottrell, and heavy retaliation by local settlers. Charles Franks arrived in 1836 on the Champion. He brought 500 sheep, a partner named George Smith and a shepherd often referred to as Flinders. The bodies of Franks and Flinders were found near their stores at Mount Cottrell “inflicted with a particular type of long-handled hatchet” [1].

Subsequently a party of 23 European settlers followed a trail of flour and discarded stores to a group of Wathaurong people. According to the Wathaurong, over 35 of their people were killed by the Europeans.

Later in the nineteenth century Aboriginal People were forcibly moved onto government mission stations. Here Christianity and western education and values were imposed on them, and restrictions placed on their traditional cultural practices.

Peoples from the Kulin Nation were moved onto Coranderrk Mission in Healesville in the 1860s.

[1] Edward Wedge, cited in Pascoe, Bruce. Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2007, p6.

An Indigenous Perspective

The SBS TV documentary series First Australians tells the "history of Australia from an Indigenous peoples' perspective." 

Episode 3 entitled Freedom For Our Lifetime explores how Aboriginal reserves were created but not welcomed and with the threat of extinction hovering over the First Australians of Victoria, Wurundjeri clan leader Simon Wonga claimed land on the banks of the Yarra River to farm.

Archaeological findings

A total of 440 registered Aboriginal archaeological sites exist within this area with the oldest artefacts found to be over 30,000 years old.

Discovered artefacts include bone remnants, ochre, charcoal and hearth stones. A small number of formal tools were also found, including blades and scrapers. Skeletal remains over 6,500 years old from a gravesite were found in Green Gully.

In addition to numerous stone and bone artefacts, scarred trees and silcrete quarry sites have been found along the Maribyrnong River, Taylors Creek and Steele Creek.

The large number of artefacts and significant sites found within this municipality highlights the area’s long and extensive occupation by Aboriginal People before Europeans arrived.

A number of Aboriginal archaeological places are located in Brimbank Park. The park’s Information Centre includes an Aboriginal cultural display. It also provides maps of walking trails to help you discover the park's natural and cultural heritage.