A brief summary…
In the first fifteen years after Coranderrk Station was founded, the 2,300 acre farm became self-sufficient. The community grew crops, a school was established and people’s health improved. But attitudes toward Coranderrk changed, the land was deemed ‘too good’ for the Aborigines and so began the campaign to transfer them to Lake Tyers and other more distant places. Coranderrk eventually closed in 1924.
In the 1990s, 200 acres on which stood the only surviving building – the original manager’s residence – was purchased by the Indigenous Lands Corporation. The property is now managed by the Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation.
30 short years after Europeans arrived in Victoria, the Indigenous population was decimated. Only 2000 remained. Conversely, in the first 15 years of permanent white settlement in Victoria (1836-1851) the white population grew to 100,000 (www.dtpli.vic.gov.au).
From 1835 to the 1860s Melbourne grew at a phenomenal rate and colonisation had a ‘flow- on’ effect to other groups near and far. Favourite traditional hunting grounds were swallowed up by the ever-expanding white settlement. Since water is crucial to all people, the settlement progressed up the rivers and tributaries, causing huge disruption to the way of life the Kulin people had known until then.
Tradition required family members and individuals to be responsible for keeping country healthy but their traditional way of life was shattered. It became almost impossible to carry out laws which had been passed down to them by respected Elders. Many Indigenous people died and the spirit of many of those who remained was broken. Why would Indigenous people want to bring children into a new foreign and confusing world?
Thousands of lives were lost due to massacres and introduction of diseases. The Kulin and other Aboriginal people throughout Australia had no immunity to foreign diseases and diseases such as smallpox and influenza had a catastrophic effect on the Indigenous population.
John Batman made his famous 1835 treaty to ‘acquire’ the land around Port Phillip with eight Kulin elders. But they had no common language, so the Kulin believed they had taken part in a friendship ceremony that would allow Batman temporary rights to cross through their country. It is possible that the Kulin men may have interpreted the treaty as something similar to a tanderrum ceremony. Because the strangers’ skin was white, the Kulin initially thought them be returned spirits and did not want to upset the spirit world.
The Board for the Protection of Aborigines was established in the 1860s to address the plight of the Aboriginal peoples. An interesting title since not a whole lot of protecting went on! This idea of ‘protecting’ was paternalistic ― since it was expected that the Aboriginal people were destined for extinction.
Some Indigenous people however, were demanding their own land. Billibellary was the first to try to salvage a tiny parcel of land. After his death it became the responsibility of Simon Wonga to find a place of refuge for his people. There were various failed attempts to give the remnant Indigenous population a piece of land to call their own. On a number of occasions the Indigenous people believed a site had been set aside for them. But when it became inconvenient for the growing white, land-grabbing population the Indigenous people were forcibly moved on.
Land was set aside for an Aboriginal reserve at Woori Yallock in 1862 as Aborigines often camped in this area. The reserve consisted of 1200 acres from near the junction of Hoddles Creek and the Yarra to the Woori Yallock Creek. But it was closed within 12 months because it was thought to be too close to the gold fields in the Upper Yarra and too close to the busy tracks that led to the diggings.
These short-lived glimpses of hope were precursors for the establishment of Coranderrk.
In 1863, The Coranderrk Aboriginal Station, at the junction of the Yarra River and Badger Creek, was founded, when Simon Wonga and his cousin William Barak led their people over the ‘Black Spur’ from the Acheron to the new reserve.