The beliefs and stories of the Gunditjmara people are passed on through the work of Budj Bim. The stories tell of creation of our landscape through to the dramatic changes that European settlement brought. Below is a small portion of the fascinating regional history through the eyes of Gunditjmara. Budj Bim offers tours allowing first hand experience of some of the areas touched on below.
Four Creator Beings were sent by the Great Creator to form the Gunditjmara landscape. They first arrived at a secret location to the south west of present day Lake Condah. The Creator Beings were the first of the lawman with special spiritual, ceremonial powers and responsibilities. Three of the Creator Beings went to other parts of the land, moving north, south and east.
The fourth, Budj Bim stayed in the area and created the landscape features that we see today, the peaks of Tappoc (Mt. Napier), Kolorer (Mt. Rouse), and Budj Bim.
Budj Bim gave the Gunditjmara the volcano (Mt. Eccles), causing it to erupt and changing the landscape to what we have today.
The waterways, wetlands, flora and fauna gave the Gunditjmara the rich resources to live a semi-sedentary lifestyle.
Budj Bim provided well for the Gunditjmara, so well I fact that people can now survive and live a full life on country.
Budj Bim is the resting in our landscape. Mt Eccles is part of his forehead, the scoria remnants of his teeth and the lave flow is his blood.
It is said that Budj Bim left the guardians behind to ensure that the people are caring for the country. These guardians are the Gneering, (weeping she oaks). If you listen when the wind blows you can hear the guardians whispering to you.
Kurtonitj means where the water crosses the stones and is part of Gilgar Gunditj country. Kurtonitj is part of the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape.
The Kurtonitj Indigenous Protected Area contains 353 hectares of Marsh land sitting on the Budj Bim lava flow.
The Natural landscape is formed the deep fresh water marshes. The property’s western boundary is bordered by Killara. Many cultural sites important to the Gunditjmara are found here. Ancient stone kooyang (eel) traps, and stone fish channels, stone house sites and kooyang smoking trees are scattered across the landscape.
As more management tasks are undertaken more cultural sites are rediscovered and recorded. The wetlands have shown to have significant pollen based record of human induced landscape change. The manipulation and engineering of the waterways and wetlands have helped build this country.
Plants and animals classified as endangered at a national level find a home at Kurtonitj, including the spotted quoll. Other species include the growling grass frog, southern toadlet and the brolga. The chain of wetlands is in the central section of Kurtonitj and is a haven for bird watchers.
Declared as an Indigenous Protected Area, IPA, on 25th November 2009, Kurtonitj is owned by the traditional Owners and managed by Budj Bim Rangers.
Kurtonitj IPA is managed in line with the World Conservation Category V1- managed resource protected area: managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystem.
Lake Condah Mission.
Lake Condah Mission was established in 1867 on 817 acres of land. A further 750 hectares was added to safeguard the Kerrup Jmara hunting grounds.
The plan for Lake Condah Mission reflected an English Village Green, in a formal quadrangle, with regularly spaced houses on three sides and the Mission Managers house and store on the fourth side.
Traditional mia mias were the first homes on the mission. These were later replaced with limestone, timber and basalt homes.
Life on the mission took on a totally European style, from its beginnings in 1867; the most traditional activities were discouraged, though some were still permitted to provide sales to make revenue for the upkeep of the mission. This included boomerangs, possum and kangaroo skin rugs, woven baskets and mats were sold. Gunditjmara were allowed to hunt and fish occasionally to supplement the rations.
Men were responsible for the general building upkeep of the mission, and worked on the farm. Cattle, horses, pigs and later sheep were farmed, while acres of wheat, potatoes, arrowroot and hops required attention.
Women were instructed in sewing and needlework and made clothes for the family in addition to looking after the children and preparing the meals. Some of the women and young girls were sent from the mission to work as domestics in the squatters homes.
Services were held at St Mary’s, a church built of bluestone that was carried across Killara (Darlots Creek). Funds were raised to build the church by the Gunditjmara Choir who travelled around the district singing.
Under the 1886 Act, all Gunditjmara who were considered part-Aborigine were forced to leave the mission and fend for themselves and their families.
Of the Mission’s peak population of 118 in 1889 more than a third were forced to leave. Productivity dwindles and as a result land was sold.
The Lake Condah Mission officially closed in 1919 and much of the land was taken away from the Mission station. The last part of the Mission was sold in the 1950’s. The church was demolished in 1957.
Lake Condah (Tae Rak)
Tae Rak is a very shallow basin measuring 4kms x 1 km and measures some 277 hectares.
Europeans first encountered it in 1841. They named it Lake Condah and the first pastoral lease was issued in 1843. A later lessee renamed it calling it Lake Condah, mistakenly believing that Condah was the Dhauwurd Wurrung language name for swan.
The Kerrup Jmara lived on the shores of Tae Rak, as it was a reliable source of water and food. They built houses of basalt and wood with roofs of turf and branches and engineered an extensive aquiculture system. Other Gunditjmara clans/families along the Budj Bim landscape worked together to establish kooyang trapping and farming systems, developing smoking techniques to preserve their harvests; one of the first cultures in the world to do so.
Evidence of the stone fish runs and trap systems used by the Gunditjmara for thousands of years remain on the property today. An archaeological dig on one of the fish runs and trapping systems on the southern end of the lake has been dated to about 6800 years old. The ones at the other end of the lake the ones that fill quicker have not been dated.
Tae Rak is the home to nationally significant species including the tiger quoll, intermediate egret, great egret, powerful owl, barking owl and common bent wing bat.
Tae Rak, like Kurtonitj and Tyrendarra is an Indigenous Protected Area which together make up 1,700 hectares of noteworthy wetlands and stony rises which were declared in April 2010 and are managed under the international Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Category VI, as a protected with sustainable use of natural resources.
The area is part of the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape listed in 2004. It was included in the listing because of its outstanding cultural heritage value for all Australians.
Bessiebelle was known earlier as Killumbooth and is the home to the Nillan Gunditj people. The Nillan Gunditj lived their lives on the resource rich land; on the eastern side of the Budj Bim lave flow. They built elaborate fish traps and fish races and they also built their homes of scoria and basalt that Budj Bim provided.
With the coming of squatters the Nillan Gunditj were decimated by massacres and the result of arsenic in the flour that was fed to them. Squattlesmere a station that was owned by T.A. Browne lead many excursions into the heart of the Nillan Gunditj people, leaving very few alive to tell their story. Survivors went to Lake Condah Mission and were noted on the 1875 list as being William and Mary Gorrie and James and Bessie Lancaster.
The Bessiebelle sheep wash and yards are the largest and most sophisticated surviving examples of traditional pastoral sheep washes in Victoria, built by pastoralist Samuel Gorrie around 1846-1864. The two sheep washes are an extensive network of skilfully constructed dry stone walls and holding yards, and were constructed of field stone utilizing and modifying the natural terrain along with large natural depressions and water holes.
The Bessiebelle sheep washes and yard sites were included in the Victorian Heritage Register (H2033) in 2003 for its historical archaeological and landscape significance. The property is now owned by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation.
The home and country of the Kerrup Jmara. (People of Lake Condah).
Within the lave flows from Mt. Eccles the Kerrup Jmara built their villages. In one area alone there were about 186 houses, with more outlying houses surrounding the main village, as in a suburb. Only the foundations and remnant walls remain today.
The Kerrup Jmara felt safe building on the lave flow, it meant that enemies or squatters on horseback would not be able to surprise them.
The infrastructure of the village was very similar to towns of today. The Kerrup Jmara had a legal system, as did all the clans/families of the Gunditjmara Nation. These clans/family groups had health and medical workers, midwives, teachers and a council. Pastimes were varied and done on a regular basis, e.g.: Craft days, food gathering, games, the men would be constantly making new materials for hunting and gathering of recourses.
Allambie is an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) made up of 1700 hectares of noteworthy wetland and stony rises and was declared in April 2010 and is managed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (INCN) Category VI, as a protected area with sustainable use of natural resources.
The area is part of the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape listed in 2004. It was included in the listing because of its outstanding cultural Heritage value for all Australians.
Allambie in size is 470 hectares.
Amongst the leaders of the guerrilla warfare, which used unexpected methods of attack to surprise the usurpers of their land were:
Partpoaermin, alias Cold Morning a member of the Carte Gunditj (Mt Clay Jupiter a member of the
Nillan Gunditj Jupiter a member of the Nillan Gunditj
Cocknose a member of the Nillan Gunditj
Koort Kirrup a Palapne man from the Stokes River
According to T.A. Browne at Squattlesmere, Jupiter and Cocknose were killed in 1885 by a detachment of the Native Police Corps. Conflicting evidence says that Jupiter was caught in April 1847.
Cold Morning was arrested at the Convincing Ground Whaling Station in May 1842. The Convincing Ground is 2 miles towards Portland from the mouth of the Surry River. Cold Morning was jailed, and then because the court was unable to find an interpreter he was released. Cold Morning was later wounded and died.
In 1885 eight Port Fairy blacks joined the Native Police Corps to help stop the Eumeralla War. Barracks were established at Mt Eccles, Mt Eckersley and near Squattlesmere.
The Eumeralla War began in 1834 and continued through till about 1849.
The lave flow was used as a hide out for the Gunditjmara who would steal sheep and hide them well into the stones. Settlers and Squatters could not ride their horses after them and so frustrated they called upon the soldiers and police to assist in resolving their problem.
There were approximately 57 Gunditjmara clans/family groups prior to settlement. In 1881 according to Dawson there were some 7,080 Gunditjmara. This number is questionable. Post settlement in Lourandos 1977 he quotes the Gunditjmara population at 2,360-3,540.
At the time of the Native Title Settlement research had found that of the 57 clans/family groups only 8 remain.
The Convincing Ground
Along the Dutton Way about 2.5 miles from the mouth of the Surry River. A dispute arose between the Whalers and the Kilcarer. The Kilcarer’s country was that land between Mt Clay and the coast.
A whale had washed ashore; some say it was originally tied up to the jetty and broke loose. The Kilcarer Gunditj were determined to assert their rights to the whale as traditional food and when challenged by the whalers were aggressive in return.
George Augustus Robinson, the Protector of Aborigines in 1841, described how the whalers withdrew to the head station, only to return with their firearms. Robinson’s journal entry says; “and the whalers let fly,” to use his expression “…right and left upon the natives”. He said that “…the natives did not go away but got behind trees and threw spears and stones. They however did not molest them much after that”.
Later reports arising from a meeting in 1842 that Robinson had with other Gunditjmara people, said that only two members of the Kilcarer Gunditj survived.
Pollikeunnuc and Yarereryarerer left their country and joined with the Cart Gunditj of Mt Clay. The Cart Gunditj prohibited their people to go into the town of Portland.
In May 1042 the Cart Gunditj resistance Partoaermin (Cold Morning) was captured at the Convincing Ground after a violent struggle. Cold Morning was taken to Melbourne, jailed and eventually released because no interpreter could be found. He was injured in a later conflict and died in his home surrounded by his family.
In 2007, a developer was granted the right to build homes on the massacre site. This caused a dispute between the Glenelg Council, The Gunditjmara and the developer on whether the site should be developed.
As a result of a VCAT decision and some consideration and mediation between the owner, council and the Gunditjmara some development would occur, but a portion of the land would become a public reserve of which the Gunditjmara, Council, DEPE and Parks Victoria have yet to finalize the details.
Deen Maar is also known as Din Maar and Lady Julia Percy Island, is a very important spirit place to the Gunditjmara. The best way to describe it is that it is the final resting place for our spirits when we leave this earth. Our spirits would then be guided to a new life.
All Gunditjmara warriors were interred with their heard pointing towards Deen Maar so that their spirits would pass through Tarn Wirring, the road of the spirits, which is a cave that forms the spiritual passage between Deen Maar and the mainland.
There are several stories relating to Deen Maar, and here are briefly, two such stories.
Deen Maar is the place where after creating the landscapes, Budj Bim and one of his three brothers, Pallian, departed in sheets of flames.
A nasty Elder who stole children was tricked and killed by the parents. His wives wanted to bury him but no clan/family group would allow them to bury him on the land that they belonged too. The wives carried the nasty elder out to Deen Maar and placed him there