A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville
Source: State Library Victoria [H141267]
Deputation to Victorian Parliament from Coranderrk Station, September 1886.
This image shows the sixteen Kulin men who comprised the 1886 Coranderrk deputation to Victorian Parliament in Melbourne, to farewell Chief Secretary Graham Berry upon his retirement from public office. The deputation was lead by William Barak, the Kulin ngurungaeta (clan leader). The diplomacy, political strategy and negotiation skills of successive Kulin ngurungaeta were vital in the acquisition of land, and the establishment, success and maintenance of Coranderrk Station.
Coranderrk is located at the confluence of Coranderrk (Badger) Creek and the Yarra River, on Woiwurrung country near the Victorian town of Healesville. In 1863, the Victorian colonial government gazetted 2300 acres for the Station as an Aboriginal reserve (extended to 4850 acres by 1866.) The reservation followed years of Kulin lobbying for land on which they might live and work, unmolested by settler claims, threats and competitors. Ngurungaeta Simon Wonga led members of the Taungerung and Woiwurrung language groups in early negotiations with the government to access and secure acreage on Kulin country. Scottish Presbyterian lay preacher John Green and his wife Mary supported the clans, and in 1863 the station at Coranderrk opened.
Despite colonial expansion and damage to Kulin ways of life, Coranderrk was a strong, positive community. Within fifteen years, the station was thriving; Coranderrk grew hops, vegetable crops, and fruit trees, and ran cattle, dairy cows and other livestock. By the 1870s the community had established a dormitory school, and small business and industry in the Coranderrk village. 'Disputes on Coranderrk were resolved in an informal, consensus-based court. John Green filled the roles of Coranderrk manager and Inspector; to an extent, he was able to stand between the community and the protectionist policies of the colonial governments. Coranderrk Station became a productive and valuable piece of land.
The Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 disrupted Coranderrk’s autonomy, as interference by the Aborigines Protection Board increased. Between 1874 and 1875, despite Kulin campaigns for his reinstatement, John Green was removed from management of the Station. There was a series of managers appointed and a series of resignations and dismissals; Green’s replacements damaged the community and its morale. Between 1880 and 1883 there were strikes at Coranderrk and an extended government Inquiry into its management. Following the Inquiry, Barak leveraged his relationship with Chief Secretary Berry for the permanent reservation of Coranderrk in 1884. Despite this commitment, very shortly after the diplomatic deputation pictured, in December 1886 the explicitly assimilationist Aboriginal Protection Law Amendment Act 1886 passed through the Victorian Parliament. Aboriginal people of mixed descent under the age of 35 were no longer to be considered ‘Aboriginal’ and were therefore deprived of the right to live on Aboriginal reserves. The amendment Act split families, broke communities and decimated Coranderrk.
Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve was officially closed in 1924. In 1948 the remaining reserved land was revoked for soldier resettlement. The resettlement scheme was not open to Aboriginal ex-servicemen, who were considered ineligible. In 1998 descendants of the Coranderrk community were able to buy back part of the Coranderrk land for farming and rejuvenation, with support from the Wurundjeri Tribe Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council. Today gatherings and the Coranderrk festival are held at the site, and the Coranderrk Bushland Reserve accommodates the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary. The area remains an important place, a site of connection to community and one of significant histories of political contest and diplomatic engagement between the Kulin nation and the early Victorian colony.
- ‘The Protection Bill and the Coranderrk Blacks’ in the Melbourne Herald, 21 September 1886
- Minutes of Evidence Project
- Giordano Nanni & Andrea James, Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country (Aboriginal Studies Press 2013)
- Coranderrk website (Last accessed 9 April 2017)
Location of MLS Classroom Photo Murals
In seminar rooms 223 and 224 two murals significant to Kulin nation and the land in which the Law school stands have been installed. In room 224 the image titled A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville shows the sixteen Kulin men (In Alphabetical order: Thomas Avoca; Thomas Bamfield; William Barak; Charles Cable; Mooney Clark; John Cogie; Thomas Gilman; Lanky Gilmore; John Logan; Benjamin ‘Lanky’ Manton; Edward McLennon; Thomas McLennon; Samuel Rowan; Frederick Stewart; John Terrick; Richard Werdurum) who comprised the 1886 Coranderrk deputation to Victorian Parliament in Melbourne, to farewell Chief Secretary Graham Berry upon his retirement from public office. The deputation was led by William Barak, the Kulin ngurungaeta (clan leader). The diplomacy, political strategy and negotiation skills of successive Kulin ngurungaeta were vital in the acquisition of land, and the establishment, success and maintenance of Coranderrk Station. In room 223 the image installed captures the first time Wurundjeri elders addressed Victorian Legislative Assembly as the traditional owners of the land on which Parliament stands. On Thursday, 22 June 2017, six Wurrundjeri elders—Aunty Alice Kolasa, Aunty Gail Smith, Ron Jones, Allan Wandin, Uncle Colin Hunter, Jr, and Jacqui Wandin—supported the introduction of the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017 (Vic) in Victorian Parliament. Image courtesy of Jim McFarlane/Wurundjeri Tribe Council
The First Australians, Episode 3 – Freedom of our Lifetime
The threat of extinction hovers over the first Australians of Victoria at the time Wurundjeri clan leader Simon Wonga seeks land from the authorities. He soon gives up and leads his people to the banks of the Yarra River, claiming a parcel of land Coranderrk. With the help of a Scottish preacher, and inspired by the farming practices of the settlers, the community prospers until the authorities step in and resist self determination.
Watch high quality version online at SBS
Content warning: This website may contain images or names of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased.