Our Indigenous past

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Eleven Indigenous history markers are located within the City of Stonnington.

History markers can be found in Kooyong, Prahran, South Yarra and Windsor. The Yarra River is central to our indigenous heritage with four of the markers situated along the Yarra Trail.

The Indigenous history markers tell the story of local clans and their lifestyle, significant people, key locations, important events, and images depicting historic sites. 

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Learn more about the important Indigenous sites or download the Indigenous History Markers Guide(PDF, 703KB) for a brief history and map of the marker locations. Please note the document may contain images of deceased persons.

1: Hunting grounds of Chapel Street

Hunting grounds of Chapel Street

Location: Chapel Street, Windsor, near Green Street

The traditional owners of this land, the Yalukit-willam people, one of six Boonwurrung clans, were hunters and gatherers who moved around within the limits of their country to take advantage of seasonal resources. The hunting was left to the men while the women concentrated on gathering plant foods.

Prior to white settlement Prahran’s terrain was a combination of large trees, wattle scrub and many reed-filled swamps, habitat conducive to abundant wildlife.

According to Archaeologist, Gary Presland, the Aboriginal people adapted to their environment in a number of ways:

'Their hunting equipment and techniques had been developed over a long period and were suited to the purpose. They had an intimate and detailed knowledge of their landscape. This knowledge was passed from one generationto the next. So well did they know their territory, and so efficient were they at getting all they needed, they had to work only about five hours a day.' (Presland 1997:7)

The establishment of European settlements in the country of the Yalukit-willam people engineered the dispossession from their lands and the loss of access to their hunting grounds. Squatters commonly selected places for their homesteads that were favoured locations for local clans. The sites selected for European settlements were equally important to local clans, but with them came the introduction of policing to safeguard European property and people.

In the 1830s, at least forty Yalukit-willam people lived in this area. Records from the early 1840s show those remaining around the area included five leading men of the Yalukit-willam people, including two clan-heads, Derrimut and Ningerranaro as well as Ningerranaro’s three sons, Bullourd, Pardeweerap and Mingarerer. Clan leader Derrimut lived in the neighbourhoods of Prahran and St Kilda for many years prior to his death in 1864. He was well known to the European residents of Prahran. 

2: Meeting place for corroborees

Meeting place for corroborees

Location: Chapel Street, Prahran, near Prahran Town Hall

At least three corroborees were staged in Melbourne during March 1839. ‘Squint’, a commentator whose identity is unknown, wrote of early Prahran in the South Metropolitan on 5 May 1906:

'It was generally in Chapel Road, between Commercial Road and Gardener’s [sic] Creek Road, that the numerous body of aboriginals – men, women, and children – headed by poor Jimmy Mann, used to meet to hold their corroborees and throw their boomerangs. Their performances at times were unique, interesting, and very exciting – their weird and discordant song and dance of “Whar-ah-gar-we”, and “Whar-ah-gar-wan”, and their strange and fantastic movements, especially around the camp fires, with their bodies all bare, and their arms in the air, and with the constant accompaniment of their tribes’ shouts and yells, were such as one can scarcely forget, and many times were witnessed by hundreds. Sometimes foolish people supplied them with rum (fire water), and then matters were fairly lively, but still nothing serious happened, generally speaking. They were much more peaceful than many of their white brethren…'

‘Prahran’, where the corroborees were often held, is a corruption of ‘Pur-ra-ran’, a native name given to this area by George Langhorne, who was in charge of the Aboriginal Mission. Langhorne described it as a compound of two Aboriginal words signifying ‘land partially surrounded by water’. Hoddle, the surveyor, when obtaining the name from Langhorne, wrote it as it now stands. JB Cooper, in his History of Prahran, notes that due to the many swamps in Prahran, Melbourne residents referred to the place as ‘swampy poor ann’ a play on the native name of ‘Pur-ra-ran’.

3: Helen Baillie

Helen Baillie

Location: 462 Punt Road, South Yarra

Pro-Indigenous activist, Helen Baillie, opened her house in Punt Road as a hostel to Aboriginal people from the 1930s until the late 1950s.

A ‘Christian Communist’, according to her ASIO file, Helen acknowledged Aboriginal people as the original inhabitants of our land and argued that settler Australians had a duty towards them. She travelled widely to learn more about Aboriginal matters. In 1932, she formed the Victorian Aboriginal Fellowship Group, an association for Christians interested in Aboriginal welfare. She was a life member of the Australian Aborigines’ League, formed in 1936 to secure equal rights for Aboriginal people and she liaised with the Association for the Protection of Native Races in Sydney and the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society in London. An associate recalled that Helen was ‘driven by a feeling of guilt that her ancestors had taken the land’. After 1951, Helen became a member of additional activist groups including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Council for Aboriginal Rights.

Elder Jim Berg was a boarder at Helen Baillie’s home during the 1950s. He described Baillie as ‘a giver’… she gave what she had to everybody who came looking for assistance; she gave them a roof over their head or money.

Elder Henry (Banjo) Clarke also lived at Helen Baillie’s home. He came with his family from Framlingham Aboriginal mission, near Warrnambool, during the depression to look for work. When Helen Baillie died in 1970, Banjo Clarke asked for a memorial to be built to remember all the good she had done. He recalled his impression of Baillie:

'She could be strict with the blackfellahs living with her too. She would remind everyone of their Aboriginal principles and duties to each other, and once, when one of the blackfellahs was in hospital, she made all the blackfellahs that was staying with her go and sit on the lawn outside the hospital, the Aboriginal way, so that the sick person could feel their spirit. … Miss Baillie did more than anyone I knew of at that time for Aboriginal people, never stopping to think about herself. And yet she has been so much forgotten.'

4: The Aboriginal Mission

The Aboriginal Mission

Location: Corner of Chapel Street and Toorak Road

When visiting the Port Phillip settlement in 1837, Governor Bourke officially approved the use of an 895-acre site south of the Yarra River, just to the east of present-day Anderson Street, as the site of a Government Mission. Wattle and daub huts were erected by convicts to serve as mission buildings. Half an acre of land was planted with vegetables and another half with potatoes.

A report by mission supervisor, George Langhorne, in November 1837 confirmed that sixty to eighty Aboriginal people resided at the mission. About twenty residents were children and fourteen of these were under daily instruction. A large hut served as a schoolroom and dormitory for the children. Residents received food rations and clothes, which they were responsible for mending. Non-resident parents visited the children regularly to check on their wellbeing. Parents were usually prepared to leave their boys at the mission to attend instruction, but Langhorne reported experiencing difficulty engaging the girls in mission activity as their parents forbade interaction between the girls and boys.

In November 1837, two Quakers, George W. Walker and James Backhouse, spent a week visiting Melbourne and the mission. Backhouse explained:

‘The parents of the children come to see them at pleasure, and when they wish it, take them out to hunt; but for this the children do not seem much inclined, preferring to be fed on easier terms at the Institution. The parents are not encouraged to make long visits; they are furnished with but a few meals gratuitously, and if they choose to make longer stops, they have to earn their victuals at the rate of two hours’ work for eight ounces of meat and twelve ounces of flour.’

During 1838, Woiwurrung people frequently removed their children from the mission to participate in cultural activities. When the pupils, who were mostly from Woiwurrung clans, were present, the schoolmaster was engaged daily. By April 1838, the mission was almost exclusively a domain of the Woiwurrung, with only a few Boonwurrung and Wathawurrung people present.

5: Aboriginal campsite

Aboriginal campsite

Location: Corner of Chapel Street and Toorak Road

During the 1830s this area was surrounded by tea-tree scrub and favoured as a frequent camping place for Aboriginal people from the local clans and those visiting from the Gippsland area. However, at that time, when European settlers were first arriving in Melbourne, there was long-standing enmity between the local Boonwurrung people and the Ganai peoples of Gippsland. The Ganai people called the Boonwurrung ‘thurung’ meaning tiger snakes ‘because they came sneaking around to kill us’. The Boonwurrung referred to the Ganai and other non-Kulin people as ‘mainmait’ or ‘berbira’ meaning ‘no good’, ‘foreign’ or ‘wild men’.

Local author and archaelogist, Gary Presland, reconstructed how he imagined the landscape of Stonnington would have looked in the 1830s. It is possible to envisage the Aboriginal campsite from his description:

'South of the Yarra River the countryside is flatter but there is a greater variety of plant life in a number of different environments. As we move south, away from the future settlement site, there is a range of different vegetation. In the South Yarra area, stretching as far as what will be the site of Hawksburn station, there are swampy lagoons covered in close growing ti-tree scrub. Much of the area between the river and the future location of Dandenong Road is swampy and prone to flooding, and in winter there is often water on the ground. In the area where Chapel Street and St Kilda Road will be, there is a thick wattle forest interspersed with mature gums. Parts of this forest will remain up to the 1860s, to be lost in the rapid growth of Melbourne until the last remnant is the Corroboree Tree in St Kilda junction' (Presland 1985: 18-19).

6: George Langhorne

George Langhorne

Location: Corner of Toorak Road and Rockley Road, South Yarra

The Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, decided to establish a Government Mission for Aboriginal people at the Port Phillip settlement. In 1837, Governor Bourke placed George Langhorne, an Episcopal missionary from Sydney and a nephew of Port Phillip Police Magistrate Captain William Lonsdale, in charge of the mission. Langhorne seemed a wise choice for the role given his experience with Aboriginal prisoners on Goat Island in Sydney Harbour.

Toward the end of 1838 food shortages led to trouble between Aboriginal people and settlers. Episodes involving the theft of potatoes and destruction of stock and the subsequent brutality of Police Magistrate Lonsdale’s men lead to friction between Langhorne and Lonsdale. This tension became a major impediment to the operations of the mission.

Langhorne’s assessment of the mission was that the ultimate goal of the plan he was given was ‘the intermixture by marriage of the Aborigines among the lower order of our countrymen as the only likely means of raising the former from their present degraded and benighted state’. Langhorne acknowledged the objective of the mission had failed with regard to the employment of the Aborigines and the education of their children. Later assessment of the failure concluded that Aboriginal people did not settle permanently, and the attendance of the children was sporadic and dependent on tribal movements. The land allocated to the reserve became increasingly valuable and pressure grew to move the mission and have the land put up for sale or given over to a purpose more beneficial to the white community.

The mission closed in August 1839. Lonsdale recommended that the reserve land of 895 acres be laid out in suburban allotments and sold. On 21 December 1839, Assistant Protector William Thomas wrote to Governor Gipps requesting that the proceeds from the sale of the land be used to establish an agricultural settlement for the Aboriginal people of his protectorate district. This petition came to nothing.

Langhorne pursued pastoral pursuits near Dandenong until his death in 1897. 

7: Derrimut

Derrimut

Location: Yarra Trail, Alexandra Avenue, South Yarra, west of Chapel Street

Derrimut was a leader of the Yalukit-willam, traditional owners of the land and one of six Boonwurrung language clans. His name is believed to mean ‘to pursue’ or ‘to hunt’. Derrimut’s tribe was also known as Buddy-barre, meaning ‘salt water ‘or ‘sea’, because his country was near the sea. In the early years of the Aboriginal Protectorate, Derrimut and his family moved freely around Boonwurrung country and often camped along the south bank of the Yarra River from the punt at South Yarra to Yarra Wharf, near the Yarra Falls and at Tromgin (Botanic Gardens).

The Yalukit-willam clan developed a positive relationship with Europeans. Derrimut, for example, befriended convict, William Buckley, and John Pascoe Fawkner who arrived at Sorrento in 1803. Derrimut hunted and fished with Fawkner and accompanied him to Van Diemen’s land in his boat, The Enterprise, whereupon Derrimut was presented to Governor Arthur. Derrimut even warned Fawkner on two occasions during 1835 of an impending Aboriginal attack on his party.

Derrimut’s family included his mother Dindu, and brother Tallar, also known as Tom. In October 1845, Maywerer who was also known as Maria, a Wathawurrung woman from Geelong, became Derrimut’s wife. Derrimut’s first wife, Nan.der.goroke, had been abducted by sealers at Point Nepean in 1833 and taken to permanent sealing camps on one of the Bass Strait islands.

Derrimut suffered many ailments. He was treated for partial blindness and a paralysed arm at Melbourne Hospital in 1863 and 1864. Records show his health deteriorated quickly and his lungs were very weak. He was moved to the Benevolent Asylum in North Melbourne in March 1864. Fawkner came to the asylum to visit him the day before he died. Derrimut died in the afternoon of 26 April 1864, aged 54 years, although his tombstone notes the date of death as 28 May 1864.

8: The Chief Protector

The Chief Protector

Location: Yarra Trail, Alexandra Avenue, South Yarra, east of Chapel Street

In 1838, the Secretary of State, Lord Glenelg, appointed George Augustus Robinson, the Commandant of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Settlement, to the position of Chief Protector of Port Phillip district. Robinson (1788-1866) lived in what is now known as the City of Stonnington from 1839 until his return to England in 1852.

In late July 1840, Robinson purchased at auction, for £744, eight hectares on the south bank of the Yarra, on the hill at the bottom of Chapel Street, a 15 minute ride from Melbourne. Robinson noted that the name ‘South Bank of Yarra’ was the ‘name of suburban section No. 8 on Yarra Yarra, south side’. Local Aboriginal people told Robinson the locality was known to them as ‘Terneet’.

Robinson established a grand residence at Terneet and moved in on 14 October 1843. He was known to use several names for his residence including ‘Terneet’, ‘Claremont’, and ‘Rivolia’, sometimes written as ‘Tivolia’ or ‘Tivoli’. The Terneet estate was highly regarded in Melbourne society. Many Aboriginal people visited his home and on occasions camped near his private residence. Protectorate officials and other public officers also visited Robinson’s home to transact official business.

From 1839 until 1842, Robinson was responsible for the welfare of about fifteen Aboriginal people of Van Diemen’s Land and Charlotte, a South Australian woman who was living with sealers in Bass Strait and came to Port Phillip from Flinders Island. Robinson’s charges included: Walter George Arthur (Friday), Mary Ann Arthur, Lalla Rookh (Truganini), Matilda (Maria Matilda Natapolina / Maytepueminner), VDL Jack (Napoleon / Pevay / Jack Napoleon Tarraparrura / Tunnerminnerwait), Wooreddy (Doctor / Mutteellee), Fanny (Fanny Waterfordia / Planobeena), Timmy (Robert / Maulboyheener), Thomas Thompson, Isaac (Probelattener / Lackley), Johnny Franklin, Rebecca (Meeterlatteenner), Thomas Brune, David Brune (Myyungge / Dowwringgi / Leati) and Peter Brune (Droleluni). Some of these people lived at Terneet.

9: Como Park and Lake Como

Como Park and Lake Como

Location: Yarra Trail, Alexandra Avenue, South Yarra

Lake Como, at the foot of Mt Verdant near Williams Road, was a favourite resort of Aboriginal people from many different clans and language groups. In 1835, the Melbourne metropolitan area belonged to Aboriginal clans who spoke dialects known as Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung. The clan was the land-owning group and the group with which individuals would primarily identify. Collectively the clans associated with the Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung language groups were known as the East Kulin nation. Kulin means man in both dialects.

The Boonwurrung were amongst the first of Victoria’s indigenous peoples to have contact with Europeans. The first known European visit to what is now the City of Stonnington was in February 1803. A survey party led by Charles Grimes was sent from Sydney in January 1803 to report on the country around Port Phillip. On 7 February the party travelled up the Yarra to a creek, believed to be Gardiners Creek, where they met some Indigenous people.

The Yalukit-willam people were closely associated with John Batman when he founded the Melbourne settlement in June 1835. The Batman ‘treaties’ are an example of how permission for temporary access was granted in a ritual exchange of gifts and formal presentation of tokens (soil, plants, water, food) symbolising the owners’ hospitality. The boundaries indicated in the Batman ‘treaties’ approximate the country of the Yalukit-willam people and the Wurundjeri-baluk people.

Initial relationships between the Yalukit-willam and the European settlers were mostly positive, however, there was some conflict over the occupation of land particularly along the Yarra River. 

10: Turruk

Turruk

Location: Yarra Trail, Alexandra Avenue, South Yarra

During the 1840s William Thomas, Assistant Protector, recorded the existence of an Aboriginal campsite known as Turruk, situated by the Yarra River and covering the present day areas of Como Park and Thomas Oval. The people camping on this site were members of the Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung and Daungwurrung language groups. Turruk is a Kulin word, meaning ‘reedy grass’ or ‘weed in lagoon’. Toorak is a variation of Turruk.

Most of the land we now know as the City of Stonnington belonged to the Yalukit-willam clan, one of six Boonwurrung language clans. Yalukit-willam is believed to mean ‘river camp’ or ‘river dwellers’. A small portion of the municipality east of Gardiners Creek belonged to one of the Woiwurrung language clans, the Wurundjeri-balug, a name that means ‘white gum tree people’. The northern boundary of Stonnington, the Yarra River and Gardiners Creek, approximates the original boundary between the Boonwurrung peoples and their northern neighbour, the Woiwurrung.

The Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people camped regularly along the banks of the Yarra River and Gardiners Creek, where they could access the rich resource of aquatic foods and a diverse range of fauna and flora such as murnang or yam daisies, eels, fish, mussels and waterfowl.

Gatherings for social, ceremonial and trading purposes occurred regularly between the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people, while marriages were arranged between these two groups and the Daungwurrung, Wathawurrung and Djadjawurrung people.

The settlement of disputes was also a very important part of inter-clan relations. In April 1842 the Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung clans, along with the Wathawurrung balug, Warring-illum balug and fellow Daungwurrung clans gathered at Turruk. The purpose of the gathering was to resolve inter-clan grievances, but the intervention of the Native Police and Assistant Protector Thomas disrupted and cut short the proceedings and a resolution was not reached.

11: Artefacts in Kooyong Park

Artefacts in Kooyong Park

Kooyong Park, Glenferrie Road, Kooyong

The traditional owners of the land, the Yalukit-willam, were hunter-gatherers. They spent a few days or a few weeks in the one place, depending on the availability of fresh water and food resources. Major camps were usually set up close to permanent streams of fresh water. Surface scatters, shell middens, isolated artefacts and burials generally indicate the places where Aboriginal people lived.

The most common archaeological site is a scatter of stone tools and many small stone pieces called waste flakes. After a day’s hunting, men might spend time in camp repairing their tool kit of spears and knives. This would involve flaking new stone spear points or sharpening knife-edges.

Sometimes, an isolated stone tool is found at a camp. Finds may include stone slabs used as a base for grinding seeds and other parts of plants or large blocks of stone called cores, from which smaller flakes have been removed.

Aboriginal burial sites are commonly found near watercourses or in dunes surrounding old lakebeds; some are found on dune ridges within surrounding flat plains.

On 19 May 1983, the Malvern edition of Southern Cross newspaper reported that about 1,500 Aboriginal artefacts were found in Kooyong Park by Malvern resident, Dennis Mayor:

'Archaeologist Mr Presland … said the find was valuable because of the little information known about Melbourne’s aborigines. The pieces of work tools and flints for cooking, engraving and hunting are said to date between 5000 and 50,000 years. Mr Mayor stumbled on his first piece in Malvern in 1975. Three years later, work started on the redevelopment of Kooyong Park, and, as each trench was dug, Mr Mayor made his own small excavations on the land. He worked six mornings a week collecting and recording his finds before presenting the much-prized booty to the Victoria Archaeological Survey for verification.'