Recreating the Country blog
Indigenous Australians deserve much more from Landcare.
Two experiences at the Landcare conference left me feeling very disappointed.
An excursion out to Coranderrk settlement which is owned by the Wurundjeri Council on the Wednesday and a conversation with an indigenous elder from Geelong on the Thursday, left me thinking that we still treat the indigenous community with disregard. We did in the 1830’s and we continue to do it in 2016. I thought the National Landcare Conference would set an example for the Australian community but I was sadly mistaken.
The story of William Barak and Coranderrk is a story of the great courage and resilience of the first Australians and it is also a story of the pathetic bloody mindedness of the first white settlers.
John Batman’s fiasco of a treaty in 1835 with eight aboriginal elders on the banks of the Merri Creek lead to 360,000 hectares of land being exchanged for blankets, beads, knives and mirrors. The repercussions of this misunderstanding, the indigenous elders were offering a permit to enter their land not the sale of their heritage, resulted in the Kulin peoples being forced from their traditional grounds by farmers and their very rapid decline which was hastened by starvation and disease.
Out of this monumental disaster for the indigenous peoples of the Melbourne region, a black statesman and visionary emerged, William Barak. Like Moses leading the Israelites, Barak, his uncle Billibellary and cousin Simon Wonga hoped to save his people and find them some land that they could call their own and settle-on in peace.
The search for their own land started in 1843 when Barak’s uncle Billibellary approached the Aboriginal Protector, explaining that dispossession and rapid change had left his people with a sense of having no future. Billibellary’s proposal was that the government give them a block of land in their country on the Yarra so they could live and plant crops like white men. It was not until 1863 that the dream was realised and Coranderrk, a 930 hectare block, was set aside at the confluence of Badgers Creek and the Yarra River in Healesville, 60 Km east of Melbourne
Soon after Coranderrk was gazetted, Barak and his cousin lead 40 men, women and children on the long walk to reach their new home. Their friend Pastor John Green, who was appointed to manage the reserve lived with them. He became their adviser and together they built a thriving village that included a school, dairy, church, bakery, butchery, hop kilns and orphan dormitories. The farm was so successful that three years later the government doubled the size of the reserve. Its population was now over 150 people.
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.