Still Here – A brief History of Aboriginal People in Melbourne’s West

The exhibition Still Here was produced in 1996 and is comprised of 14 portable hand-painted panels designed to fit in the back of a station wagon and to be set up in a variety of locations, including people’s houses, to tell the story of how Aboriginal people have always lived and worked in Melbourne’s West and are Still Here.

This website reproduces many of the photographs and the text of each of the panels and also includes the exhibition catalogue as a pdf publication that can be downloaded (pdf 7.6 MB).

The acknowledgements, foreword and introduction (below) are from the exhibition catalogue Still Here.


Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West gratefully acknowledges the support of Visions Australia which provided funding to produce the exhibition ‘Still Here’ and the continual support of Arts Victoria which provided
additional funding to produce this exhibition catalogue.

Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West also wishes to thank the many organisations and individuals that have
provided images for this project including: Museum of Victoria; La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria;
State Library of New South Wales; Gould League of Victoria and National Parks and Wildlife.

Kylie Freeman, who lives in Sunshine, was the Living Museum’s trainee secretary and won the State Training Board’s Koorie Trainee of the Year Award in 1993. Kylie produced the application for funding submitted to Visions Australia to develop the exhibition ‘Still Here’. Thank-you Kylie. At the time this exhibition was launched Kylie was the Aboriginal Liason Officer with the firm International Public Relations.

Larry Walsh (Living Museum Aboriginai Cultural Officer) – Wrote the story. Researched and provided most of the exhibition content, directed the research, and its editing. Larry also directed the design of the exhibition format and the use of images and use of symbols.

Kerrie Poliness (Artist and Living Museum Exhibitions & Displays) – Worked on and organised the overall design and production of the exhibition and the catalogue and presentation.

Marco Cavallaro (Living Museum Media. Officer) – Co-ordinated the photography, the reproductions and the bromides. Researched and kept track of the information, copyrights and many other things.

Peter Haffenden (Living Museum Projects Co-ordinator) – Edited and proof-read the text, co-ordinated the project and added knowledge, advice and support to the project

Olwen Ford (Living Museum Director) – Wrote the Introduction, proof-read the catalogue and added knowledge and advice to the project

Paul Richardson (Koorie Education Co-ordination Unit) – Gave advice on and helped edit the texts on ‘Education’ and the ‘Koorie
Working Group Meeting’. Paul wrote the Foreword to this catalogue.

Elizabeth McKinnon (Living Museum Community Artist) – Photographed people.

Nigel Fewkes (Living Museum Media Team] – Wrote the media release and helped proof-read the text

Christine Carley (Living Museum Musician) – Photographed people and places and also researched information.

Natasha Zinken (Living Museum Dutch Student Placement) – Assisted in assembling the display and undertaking research.

Joe Guario (Graphic design) – Organised catalogue printing and computer graphics of the cover.

Fiona Brown (Living Museum Volunteer) – Photographed people.


Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West, at Maribyrnong, has recently produced an exhibition of Aboriginal heritage in the region, displaying a variety of subjects of historical and contemporary issues on a number of display boards. These display boards, that could become posters, describe life as we know it in the western suburbs of Melbourne from early traditional tribal life to contemporary times. The subjects range from Local Ancestors, Heritage to Racism, Referendum and Education. The effects of White Society are described in detail, though in a limited way, purposely for an exhibition.

This display of traditional and contemporary life in the Western Suburbs is well presented in accordance with the history and knowledge of the area. This exhibition is not exhaustive and could be extended in greater detail.

As to why this exhibition was developed, it is due to the fact that this type of project has not been done in this area before. Koorie families who are linked to the western suburbs need to know their tribal roots and the historical and changing events that have shaped their lives in this area. Furthermore, the history of the Aboriginal families in the western suburbs has not been told before, least of all published. It is important that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families in the area know what has occurred in their own areas in relation to their ancestors and the past as well as the present.

It should be noted that this exhibition will serve as a model for all Koorie Communities in Victoria and Aboriginal Communities beyond.

Paul Richardson 1996.
Koorie Cross Sectoral Coordinator,
Koorie Education Co-ordination Unit.


Aboriginal people have been in the area which is now Melbourne’s western region for thousands and thousands of years, and they are still here. ‘Still Here’ is the strong and powerful message of this publication and the exhibition it documents. It relates to a certain region but the same message can be applied to the Aboriginal story and presence in many other parts of Australia.

The telling of the story of Aboriginal people from their perspective is part of a worldwide movement of black history-making, and of presenting or re-presenting the history of indigenous peoples. This process is also part of the Australian search for identity and a contribution to the reconciliation process between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Until we all know more of the Aboriginal story and experience we have only a limited understanding of our country and ourselves.

There are still huge gaps, but this exhibition breaks new ground by asking new questions and seeking for some answers. We are slowly building up a picture. It is especially difficult to develop the picture because of the sudden and drastic impact of the European invasion. This western region was one of the first in Victoria to be taken over by the British settlers. The lush grasslands of the basalt plains attracted the pastoralists, and they quickly swarmed in with their thousands of sheep. So this region was one of the first places of encounter – the scene of the first reported rape of an Aboriginal woman by white shepherds; the first reported killing of white men by Aboriginal people; the first systematic killing of Aboriginal people. For a brief time, corroborees, tribal fights and traditional fishing continued and co-existed with new and different lifestyles, but sickness, forced removal and death very quickly took their toll, and Aboriginal numbers fell dramatically.

White people, in their ignorance, have assumed that there was no Aboriginal history since that far-off time of early contact. And yet Aboriginal people are here today in this region, at least 1300 counted in the last census of 1991 and many possibly not counted. Through the exhibition ‘Still Here’, and this catalogue, we gain a sense of Aboriginal activism at work in this region. We meet some of the heroes and heroines of the Aboriginal rights movement of the 1930s and ’40s, living and working in Melbourne’s western suburbs. We become aware of the great resurgence of Aboriginal cultural activity happening in this region as well as across the country, through Aboriginal storytellers, musicians, dancers, artists, horticulturalists.

Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West has been part of this resurgence and is honoured to be part of this exhibition project, which has involved many Aboriginal people. Kylie Freeman, Koorie Trainee of the Year in 1993, initiated the project while working with the Living Museum. Larry Walsh, the Living Museum’s Aboriginal Cultural/Information Officer, has been the main voice in the exhibition. Hopefully, the ‘Still Here’ exhibition will travel far and wide, proclaiming that Aboriginal heritage is a living heritage, and encouraging people in other areas to develop their own ‘Still Here’ projects.

Olwen Ford
Museum Director  1996