Aboriginal History of The Yarra

Dan Stewart who is the education manager at Koorie Heritage Trust tells the story of the Yarra. Adapted from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkMhehS-iqo

This is one of the places I really love. But at the start and again it really sets the tone for trying to get people a sense of where they are and what’s been here before them and what they’re walking across as well because if we were sitting here where we are right now but two centuries ago and we’re looking out in in that direction out there this is what we’d be looking at right here. This was a image drawn in 1841 by a European colonist and you can see all the eucalyptus trees all lining the banks here. They’re the bullrushes everywhere but here you’ve got a waterfall a reef of rock that completely dissected this this river into two and four. For the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people, the ancestral custodians of this place you know this waterfall was incredibly important because it was like an umbilical cord that connected to the two pieces of country together and was used as a way to physically move across from one side to the other. And this was the only point four kilometers above and below stream that you’d be able to walk across without having to make a canoe or anything like that and when the first European people came here they mentioned this place just around here near the aquarium here is being a meeting place for the local community as well because of this reef of rock. But it was also incredibly important as well because you could go a meter below the waterfall and the water would be salty and brackish, but you would go on meter of that waterfall and the water was completely fresh water that you’d be able to bend down and drink. So the waterfall mark the demarcation between water that was undrinkable and and water that kept you alive. So for the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung that would have had a profound significance in their in their lives and and not only that but that the waterfall would have had a song and a story and a dance associated with them. And you know and if we were standing right where we are right now it wouldn’t have been the conic strains would be listening to you know it would be the just the constant tumble of this water cascading over this roof of rock and you know with this bit of wind that’s blowing between us maybe though the rustle of the paper barks around here. And after thousands and thousands of years of the water tumbling over these waterfalls they created a perfectly round very very deep Basin here that would have been absolutely stunning as well. It was full of bream and flounder and herring in this area through here because we’re fresh water and salt water mix it’s always a named place for you know nursery of fish and even the early Colonial people mentioned this place being where pods of dolphins would come in and out of the water feeding on all those nursery of fish just here as well. So we said you know we call it biodiversity today but it would have been a stunning stunning place as well. And it was a very very important place for the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people as well. Unfortunately in the in the 1880s the European people blew up the waterfalls and to allow ships further upstream and not only did it allow the saltwater to travel further upstream but but it also destroyed the song and and the creation story that went with this as well, that have been handed down for you know for hundreds and hundreds of years.

But in October 1835 just out here this happened, just here a whaling boat came up just they out here and got to the waterfalls and it was a whaling boat that was commissioned by Tasmanians who were looking at colonizing this this new come true just here part of the Port Phillip Association with John Batman. And the whaling boat came up here almost where that boat is coming right now. Came up to the the waterfalls just here and that was in an August of 1835 and the white Explorer got to the waterfalls and I couldn’t get the boat over the waterfalls and he had two Wathaurong Aboriginal people in the boat and his name was John Wedge he he goes well look I can’t go any further and he’s turned to the Aboriginal guys and him broken English he goes, “Well we can’t go any further what’s the what’s the name of this place?”  and the two Wathaurong boys go “Yarra Yarra” and so in August of 1835 John Wedge wrote down in his diary the name of this place ‘The Yarra” and because because the boat couldn’t get any further they they turn it around right in the middle here and rode all the way back down to what we now call the Maribyrnong River and then rode all the way up the Maribyrnong River to what we now call Highpoint shopping centre. And they got to another set of waterfalls and and the whaling boat was too big again and so John wedge again turned away around in broken English to the Wathaurong boys and goes “Well we can’t go any further here either, what’s the name of this place?” and the two aboriginal fellows went “Yarra Yarra” and it was at that point in 1835 that john wedge wrote down in his diary and those diaries are in the State Library of Victoria area you wrote down that “I understand I’ve made a mistake in the naming of this place and like I asked all my groups that come on this walk with me today what do what do four and a half million Melbournians call this place? And they say ‘The Yarra’ and I say, “that’s that’s right but that’s based on a total misunderstanding because the original name for this place was ‘Birrarung’ the river of mists Gary error means the water falls as well. So the name was based totally on a misunderstanding as well and again that’s what the walk that we do walk and be wrong is all about it’s trying to break down some of those misunderstandings, not only about the culture and the people but break down some of those misunderstandings about the place as well and it’s very important you.


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