The Wadawurrung People are the traditional owners of the Ballarat region.
The Ballarat area has been the home of the Wadawurrung People for tens of thousands of years. Long before Europeans arrived, firstly with sheep and then in search of gold, the Wadawurrung People lived in strictly-defined boundaries between Ballarat and Geelong and enjoyed lives rich in culture and ritual.
As they could comfortably feed, clothe and shelter themselves by working approximately four hours per day, they had a lot of time for ceremonies, family, and teaching their children the Dreaming (the history of their people, knowledge of country, and each individual’s responsibility to their totem animals).
Learning how to use resources from the land in sustainable ways was crucial to their lives in both a practical and spiritual sense. Taking a section of bark to use as a bowl, coolamon (baby cradle), or even canoe, while leaving the tree alive is part of this worldview.
Despite the effects of colonisation, Wadawurrung culture and language is still alive and practised today.
“There was no sign of anyone, only a few huts belonging to the natives.”
John Dunlop, answering the 1853 Select Committee questions about his arrival in Ballarat in August 1851. He was one of the first miners on the Ballarat goldfields.
“This was Poverty Flat, about three quarters of a mile from the spot now occupied by Ballarat; and the hut erected by [John] Dunlop may therefore be considered as the first miner’s residence in Ballarat. But, solitary at the place was, they soon found on examination that theirs were not the only habitations erected in this region. Several natives’ huts were visible in various places.” Early Ballarat miner George Sutherland, 1880.
“On one occasion, when a black fellow had taken a square of bark from a tree in front of our hut, I remonstrated with him for mutilating the tree; he very quietly asked me if it was my tree, which l thought at the time was a little rough on the usurper.” Settler Alfred Joyce, living near Newstead, c.1850.
“No work can be more manifestly or more imperatively the duty of the colonists of an entirely new country like this than that of providing for its aboriginal inhabitants… The food of the aborigines retreats as the European advances… In the very names of places where the native word has been retained, it often recorded the deprivation of the black by white man. Ballarat was a favourite camping place; the word signifies to recline on the elbow, or balla…” The fifth report published by the Central Board Appointed to Watch over the Interests of the Aborigines in the Colony of Victoria, 1866.
“…the rapid occupation of the entire country by settlers, and the consequent attempts made to deprive the aborigines of the natural products of the country and even to exclude them from their native soil. The entire country of … (the local groups) … is now sold or occupied by squatters. … The very spots most valuable to the aborigines for their productiveness – the creeks, the water-courses and rivers – are the first to be occupied. It is the common opinion among the settlers that the possession of a squatting licence entitles them to the exclusion of aborigines from their runs.” Assistant Protector to the Aborigines, Edward Stone Parker, Loddon District, 1840.
“There was no sign of anyone, only a few huts belonging to the natives.” John Dunlop, answering the 1853 Select Committee questions about his arrival in Ballarat in August 1851. He was one of the first miners on the Ballarat goldfields.
You can find out more about Wadawurrung language and clan names here: Clark, I.D. (1990) Aboriginal Languages and Clans: An Historical Atlas of Western and Central Victoria, 1800-1900, Monash Publications in Geography, No. 37, March, 460pp.