Vicki Couzens - Yams and Eels [detail] etching on paper

Journey of the eel

The months of February and March were known to the Boon Wurrung as Wygabil-ny-ewin or “old-man sun”. Wygabil-ny-ewin was also known as the eel season.

The female eels began their long journey down Birrarung (known today as the Yarra) and the small creeks and rivers that ran into Nerm – now known as Port Phillip Bay.

With the arrival of Pareip (spring) the eels began returning from their long journey. The return of the eels was celebrated through the dances and Nargee held during Pareip.

The eels that returned were salty but plump. Some were roasted over hot coals, the fat causing the coals to flare. Some were preserved to be eaten at a later time.

The migration of the eels provided certainty for the Boon Wurrung. The old people had always told them that, as surely as the sun would rise every day, the eels would always return in Pareip.

The numbers of eels leaving and returning each year was a sign of prosperity. In good years, when the land had been cared for, the eels would breed in large numbers and return in Pareip in larger numbers. They would grow fat on the tubers and insects in the swamp and provide the Boon Wurrung with a steady supply of food.

Artwork: Yams and Eeels, etching on paper, by Vicki Couzens, Bayside City Council Art and Heritage Collection.

Page last updated: 10 Dec 2010