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Warrnambool region, Victoria

Encounters

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Warrnambool region, Victoria

Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong country

Keeping our land strong

We are doing the stuff that we were doing hundreds and thousands of years ago. Keeping our land strong.

Norman Bell, Gunditjmara, 2014

A colour photo of a green leafy landscape with a stream running through it at Warrnambool region, Victoria
Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong country, Warrnambool region, Victoria. Photo: Dean Golja.

Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong peoples of south-west Victoria keep connections to their countries alive. Significant places such as the Framlingham Forest and the 6800-year-old network of eel channels will be there for the future because Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong peoples have fought for them. Old objects, like those in museum collections, are also valued for the history they hold.

When I see these old artefacts ... I get a glimpse of something – of the past.

Thomas Day, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta, 2014

Augustus Strong, who took up land at St Marys, collected these hunting and ceremonial objects, such as the feather skirt below, in the early 1840s. He left no records of his relationship with the local Aboriginal people. People today link these objects to the conflict with colonists west of St Marys, known as the Eumarella War.

These artefacts show it was hard in invasion times for [the British] to come here without our people putting up a fight ... That fight still continues ... for that recognition of who we are and where we come from.

Geoffrey ‘Possum’ Clark-Ugle, Peek Whurrong/Kirrae Whurrong/Thap Whurrong, 2014

Old objects

A short apron made from brown emu feathers and fibre. One hundred and twenty nine small bunches of feathers are held together at their quill ends with fibre and then wrapped around a fibre suspension cord. The bunches are placed centrally - the outer ends of the cord form ties.
Burranditj (feather skirt), Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong peoples, collected by Augustus Strong, probably from St Marys, Warrnambool, in 1842–44, 27 x 95 cm. British Museum Oc1847,0413.2.

Augustus Strong gave 14 Aboriginal objects from Victoria, including this feather skirt, to the British Museum in 1847, when he returned to England to train for the priesthood. He probably collected them between 1842 and 1844, while he was based at the ‘St Marys’ cattle station on the Hopkins River, near Warrnambool. These mementos of his time as a settler in the region are among the earliest Aboriginal material from Victoria acquired by the British Museum. After three years back in England, Strong returned to Australia and worked for many years as a cleric in Melbourne.

New objects

Two eel spears. The pole at the top of the photo is metal and the other one is wooden. Both have 5 metal prongs.
Top to bottom: Metal eel spear, used by Geoffrey ‘Possum’ Clark-Ugle, Peek Whurrong/Kirrae Whurrong/Thap Whurrong peoples, 207.5 x 0.4 x 0.4 cm. National Museum of Australia. Wooden eel spear, 2014, by Geoffrey ‘Possum’ Clark-Ugle, Peek Whurrong/Kirrae Whurrong/Thap Whurrong peoples, 216.5 x 6.5 x 6 cm. National Museum of Australia. Photos: George Serras.

We're making the [eel] spears, maybe not in the exact same way as they were traditionally, but we're doing it – trial and error, you know. We're tapping into our traditional knowledge.

Ben Church, Gunditjmara, 2014


A woven eel trap consisting of a long tube attached to a disc shape with a central opening
Woven eel trap, 2010s, by Eileen Alberts, Gunditjmara people, Heywood, 120.7 cm long. On loan from the maker.

Gunditjmara are working today to restore some of the landscape engineered by their ancestors for the management and harvesting of kooyang (eels). This trap has been used in recent times for catching eels. You can see the areas where the trap has been repaired after being damaged during use.

Framlingham rangers
Framlingham rangers clearing traditional Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong eel traps in the Hopkins River, Victoria. National Museum of Australia.