Photograph by Pauline Reynolds

The time of change

The Boon Wurrung people passed on their history from one generation on to the next through story and drawings. They had survived many natural catastrophes including the great flood, earthquakes and ferocious fires.

There came a time in the late 1700s when the Boon Wurrung made their first sightings of new visitors – strange white people in ships that looked liked birds. It was about this time that a great sickness spread among their people. The Boon Wurrung, like other indigenous peoples, had little or no immunity to new diseases that came with European settlement.

During this time the population of the Boon Wurrung began to decline from disease. They also lost some of their women, who were kidnapped by the sealers who began their trade in seal furs during the late 1790s.

In 1803 the Boon Wurrung observed the first settlement of the white men, who arrived in their country in ships at what is now known as Sorrento. Among these visitors was a young boy named John Pascoe Faulkner, who in 1836 was part of the first settlement of Melbourne.

When the people saw the arrival of the white men they were frightened. They came in strange ships, there were only men and no women. They wore strange clothes and carried strange weapons. The Boon Wurrung had heard stories about these people, through the stories told by other indigenous groups and nations with whom they traded. The people were frightened and went to the old wise men and women of their clan to seek advice. The old men and women retired away from the group to discuss the crisis that confronted them.
When they returned to their people they told them that they had seen a vision of the future.

In this vision, they had seen a time of great crisis. They had seen that these visitors had come, but not left. They saw that these visitors would break many laws of Bunjil: killing animals but not eating the meat; destroying the murrnong crops; damming the creeks and stopping the eels from breeding. The rivers would turn from blue to brown and fires would rain down on their country. They saw death and pain for their people.

The people became even more frightened and became angry.

Then the old wise people told them that there was a second part of their vision. They foresaw a time, many years later, when the white men who stayed began to understand the laws of Bunjil and the Boon Wurrung people. They saw a time when the spirit of the Boon Wurrung would be reborn, a time when rivers would run clean again, and trees and forests would regrow. The old wise people saw a time when the strong spirit of the traditional owners, their culture and their enjoyment of this wonderful landscape would be reflected again in this land.

Story commissioned for the Bayside Indigenous trail. Permission to reproduce this story is provided by Carolyn Briggs, Boon wurrung Elder. Text edited by John O’Meara

Photograph: Pauline Reynolds

Page last updated: 10 Dec 2010