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

Panel 1 – Still Here

“This exhibition gives a brief history of the early struggles of the Aborigines in this area but grows to Include Aborigines from other areas as we move to present times. Because now Aborigines from all over the country live in these western suburbs of Melbourne and all of them have a story of survival. Until recently the several hundred Aborigines in the western suburbs have been virtually ‘invisible’, even to other Aboriginal people and Aboriginal organisations. However we were always here and we are still here…”

Produced by The Koorie Cultural Program of Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West
Story by Larry Walsh

Since the coming of the Europeans, the Aboriginal communities in the western suburbs of Melbourne have had to operate differently. Today they are perceived as different from other Aboriginal communities in this country and state. At times they have also been thought not to exist any more.

One of the greatest weapons used as a method of control by the Europeans was the control of history. Aboriginal people without their history were denied a culture.

In today’s society we are trying to reclaim our history. If we don’t, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people will start to believe that we don’t exist or that we don’t have a culture (just as if they are not careful to reclaim and/or preserve their own histories this could also happen to them).

Aboriginal people from all over Australia have come to this area and have become a part of its communities. They have made and are still making significant contributions to the solidarity of the Aboriginal and Islander communities in this area.

Some of these people have tried to change the conditions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities both here and nationally. They have created charges for. And on behalf of, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of yesterday, today and tomorrow. These people and their contributions are not yet recognised within this region and the rest of this country.

An example of this is that not many people within this region, and the rest of Australia, know anything about William Cooper, who lived in Footscray and who is considered the father of the Aboriginal Movement from which we inherited citizens rights in 1967.

Because an Aboriginal ‘corporation’ or something of the kind has never been formed in this area, the ‘government acts’ have not yet recognised the communities that operate in this region.
The main focus of this exhibition is to point out that this area has its own unique Aboriginal and Islander communities that continue to operate in this area.

Another purpose of this exhibition is to say, hey look! we are still here, even if you do not know or recognise us we are still here. It is not just the white people but Aboriginal people themselves who have to recognise that we have a culture here.

However, now we are starting to be recognised as a community by most of the Aboriginal legislation of both federal and state governments.

Larry Walsh – Still Here 1996

The location of boundaries between tribes and clans is difficult to represent on paper but were precisely known by Aboriginal people, and  rarely crossed without permission.

‘Each of the two tribes in the Melbourne area was made up of a number of clans who identified with particular parts of the tribal territory. Within the western region, there were three such clans. One of these clans was the Marin-balluk and their estate was all the area between Kororoit Creek and the Maribyrnong River and stretching up to Sunbury. The area to the west of Kororoit Creek as far as the Werribee River was the estate of the Kurung-jang-balluk. Both of these clans were a part of the Woiworung linguistic group (or tribe) whose territory was all the area drained by the Yarra River and its tributaries, down to where the Yarra and Maribyrnong joined, and west as far as the Werribee River.

The other tribe in the Port Phillip region was the Bunurong who lived on the Mornington Peninsula and around Western Port Bay. The Bunurong also claimed a strip of land which stretched around the top of Port Phillip Bay to the Werribee River. This narrow strip, perhaps a few kilometres wide, was the estate of a clan called 

The First Residents of Melbourne’s Western Region’, byGary Presland, published for Footscray City Council and Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West, 1987.

The Word “KOORIE”

“The original inhabitants of the central east coast first felt the full impact of white settlement. By 1845 for instance, the Eora people of the Sydney Cove area had been eliminated, just 57 years after the British arrived in 1788. It is out of respect for the memories of the Eora, my ancestors and other surrounding tribes that I continue to use the word Koori and to identify fully as a Koori, I would also like to see this word become a term of natural identification for all Kooris living in Victoria today.”

As Aboriginal languages are still changing and evolving the word Koorie (Koori) is being added to the Victorian Aboriginal languages.

Sally Russell

Sally Russell ran a boarding house for Aboriginal people in Ballarat Road Footscray from World War Two until the early 1970’s. Sally Russell was William Cooper’s daughter.

The Koorie Gardening Team

The Koorie Gardening Team was set up in 1992 to provide employment for Koorie youth. Local Koorie resident, educationist and artist Melissa Brickel approached Pat O’Connell of the State Training Board in 1991 with the idea of employing and involving young Koorie people in the process of revegetating Pipemakers Park with indigenous plants. The establishment of the Koorie Gardening Team has involved the co-operation, support, hard work and dedication of many individuals and organisations since that time.
Funding was initially provided by the Victorian Education Foundation, the Department of Labour (Workstart Victoria), the office of the State Training Board, the Department of Employment, Education and Training through Western Region Group Training Ltd. and Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West with support from Melbourne Water.

Starting with six apprentices the project now has ten apprentices working full time. The team works very much with indigenous plants so the project has a cultural relevance for the participants’ own heritage. Recently the Koorie Gardening Team won a three year contract for $240,000.00 a year from Maribymong City Council part of the team’s plan to work towards economic self sufficiency.