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Fernyhurst, Victoria

Dja Dja Wurrung country

On behalf of our ancestors

All natural places within Dja Dja Wurrung country were well known, had a name and song and were celebrated as a part of country and culture.

Statement recognising the traditional ownership of Dja Dja Wurrung people over their country, 15 November 2013

A photo of a rural landscape with a small dam in the foreground dotted with eucalyptus trees. There are trees in the horizon and a field of yellow pasture closer in.
Dja Dja Wurrung country, Fernyhurst, Victoria. Photo: Dean Golja.

When settlers arrived in Victoria, the world of Dja Dja Wurrung people was fractured. In 1849, Scottish-born John Hunter Kerr and his business partner established the Fernyhurst property on a lease of about 36,000 hectares in Dja Dja Wurrung country. Kerr was sympathetic to Dja Dja Wurrung people, who continued to live and hunt on their land and camped close to Kerr’s station hut. Kerr photographed them and their ceremonies, and collected a number of their objects.

Bark etching
Bark etching, Dja Dja Wurrung people, collected from Fernyhurst by John Hunter Kerr before 1855, 67 x 31 x 13 cm. British Museum Oc.1827.

These objects have since become the subject of legal action over where they belong. In 2004, when they were on loan to Museum Victoria, Dja Dja Wurrung representatives unsuccessfully sought to stop some of them, including this bark etching (opposite), from being returned to London.

I’d like the rest of the world to know that Dja Dja Wurrung still exist. We are still here as a people. We are proud and value our culture. We honour our ancestors, and everything that we do, we are doing on behalf of our ancestors, who didn’t have the voice that we have today.

Aunty Fay Carter, Dja Dja Wurrung Elder, 2014

Old objects

John Hunter Kerr collected this bark etching at Fernyhurst, near Boort, in Victoria. It was among Dja Dja Wurrung material that Kerr entered in a sequence of local and colonial exhibitions, leading up to its display at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

A bark etching supported between two pieces of split wooden restraints. The etching features three skulls and six bones, an emu, two fishnets, a coil shaped pattern to the left lower side and three irregular round shapes represented as lakes.
Back in Country, 2015, bark etching by Jida Gulpilil, Dja Dja Wurrung people, Boort, 76 x 57.5 cm. National Museum of Australia.

In 1857 some of these objects were given to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens Museum of Economic Botany. From here, the bark entered the Christy collection, before it was formally transferred to the British Museum.

In 2004 it was included in Museum Victoria’s Etched on Bark 1854: Kulin Barks from Northern Victoria exhibition. It returned to London after unsuccessful legal attempts to keep it in Australia.

New objects

Back in Country 2015

Doing this bark is not just about making an etching and having something physical to show.

It’s a lot more than that … [It’s] to send a message.

To show people who we are, how we’re connected to country – our spiritual and physical connection.

Jida Gulpilil, Dja Dja Wurrung, 2015

Jida Gulipilil
Jida Gulipilil, Dja Dja Wurrung, making a bark etching on country at Boort, Victoria. National Museum of Australia.
Wendy Berick
Wendy Berick (centre), Dja Dja Wurrung, at Tanderrum, 2014. Tanderrum is the annual coming together of the five tribes of the Kulin Nation. Courtesy the Berick family.

Barramul (emu-feather dance skirt) 2014

We are still practising culture and it is important we make a strong visual impression on the wider Australian communities.

They like to think we [are] not here.

They like to think that history is disconnected from people today. It’s not. It’s right here, ’cos we’re right here.

Wendy Berick, Dja Dja Wurrung, 2015

A skirt with a woven fibre belt that is pigmented with a red ochre colour. Every couple of centimetres along the belt hangs a group of emu feathers held in place by woven fibre. There are 34 groups of feathers with some of the woven fibre belt at either end of the skirt so it can be tied on.
Barramul (emu-feather dance skirt), 2014, made and worn by Wendy Berick, Dja Dja Wurrung people, Melbourne, Victoria, 137 x 22 cm. National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.
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