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

Panel 9 – Home and Work

Aboriginal people continued to live and work in the Western Suburbs…

Although Aboriginal people were not thought to live in the western suburbs of Melbourne, from the 1930’s until the present day many people both known and unknown worked in a variety of industries in the region.
Aboriginal people worked at the munitions factories, at Kinnears’ rope factory, Angliss’ meatworks, the railways, and they taught at local schools.

Aboriginal activist Marge Tucker worked at the munitions factory during the Second World War. Other Aboriginal women who worked at the munitions and the ropeworks were Sally Russell, Connie Alberts, Eileen Watson and Mary King. Many Aboriginal people worked in the meat industry in this region in the fifties, sixties and seventies. These include Jim Berg, Terry Garwood and Larry Walsh.

Aboriginal people still work in the region in a variety of jobs. They are working as teachers, cultural officers, gardeners, social workers, administrators. They are raising their families and are working in many other occupations.

‘Whenever I go to a school these days one of the questions I inevitably get asked is – where do we the Aboriginal people of the western suburbs live? I always reply, in a house…just like them.’ Larry Walsh

From the 1940’s up until the 1970’s some Aboriginal people also ran boarding houses within this region and still lived in extended family situations.

When the second World War started many Aboriginal people moved to this area to work and needed places to stay. Many people came to stay with Sally Russell, William Cooper’s daughter, who lived in Footscray. ‘Auntie Sally’s House’ continued as a boarding house for Aboriginal people in this area through to the 1970’s. Whilst Sally Russell’s House was a well known home for Aboriginal people, there were many Aboriginal people who had people boarding at their homes, including Marg Tucker.

Many of those living and working in this region in the 1930’s and 1940’s made a significant contribution to the establishment of the constitution of the Aboriginal Advancement league. Many of those working then and at other times in this region have also contributed to political activism on a range of Aboriginal issues.

The Koori Gardening Team was set up in April, 1992 at Pipemakers park, Maribyrnong. Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West was the host employer to eleven of Western Region Group Training’s Koori apprentices. The team coordinator, Neil Wherrett, and a team leader, Daren Braybon, were both qualified Horticulturalists who were employees of Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West.

The Koori Gardening Team had undertaken a broad range of projects principally in the Western Region of Melbourne. Some of the principal maintenance work had been with Melbourne Parks and Waterways at Pipemakers Park and Brimbank Park, involving general maintenance and revegetation projects. The team performed similar work for the Department of Defence and maintained a number of army depots in the Western Region.

The team’s principal maintenance contract began in October 1995. This was a three year contract with the City of Maribyrnong for the maintenance of the northern area parks system of the municipality. The team was maintaining in excess of 70 hectares of open space parkland both irrigated and including roadside verges, sporting grounds, child care centres and a library.