Wurundjeri people: Merri-bek's original inhabitants
The area we know today as Merri-bek was, for tens of thousands of years, a sparsely wooded forest with native grasslands that was governed by the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung people. The Merri Creek, also known as the “Merri Merri” Creek, means “very rocky” in Woi wurrung, the traditional language of this Country.
The creek wound its way through a fertile flood plain, or terrace about 300 metres wide. Fertile soils in the area grew gum and paperbark trees, bottlebrush and tea-trees. The Moonee Ponds Creek, named after Wurundjeri Woi wurrung Ancestor, Moonee Monee, is older than the Merri Creek, originally cut as deep as 10 metres into the sandstone. This was the original landscape which provided the basis for the cultural, spiritual, economic and social lives of the Traditional Owners of Country.
Contact between the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung and Europeans occurred in 1835. The subsequent experience of colonisation and dispossession had devastating and ongoing consequences for the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung people and other Aboriginal Victorians. In 1863, Ngurungaeta (“Leader”) Wonga and his maternal cousin William Barak, lead their surviving people across the Black Spur to the Upper Yarra and established Coranderrk Mission Station near Healesville on 2300 acres of land. Access to the land was granted, though importantly not as freehold.
Many other Aboriginal Victorians also settled at Coranderrk Station. The history of Coranderrk (1863 – 1924) is nothing less than extraordinary. Remarkably, descendants of the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung people survived the very difficult decades immediately associated with colonisation and dispossession. The Wurundjeri Woi wurrung people continue to live and work on Country including in the municipality of Merri-bek which remains part of their unceded territory.
Australia is the only country in the Commonwealth that does not currently have a Treaty with its First People. In 2018 the State of Victoria passed legislation to progress Treaty with Aboriginal Victorians.
The above content approved by the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation.
Aboriginal sites in Merri-bek
The Merri-bek Pre-Contact Aboriginal Heritage Study includes historical information on the Woi wurrung. It also lists and describes archaeological surveys carried out in and around Merri-bek and looks at the effect of urban development on Merri-bek's Aboriginal archaeological sites.
Moreland Post-Contact Aboriginal Heritage Study lists and describes important Aboriginal sites - places, landscapes and buildings - in Merri-bek. These sites are not the usual archaeological 'finds' but are places of significance to Aboriginal people since contact with Europeans.
- Moreland Pre-Contact Aboriginal Heritage Study (PDF 7Mb)
- Moreland Pre-Contact Aboriginal Heritage Study (DOC 16Mb)
- Moreland Post-Contact Aboriginal Heritage Study (PDF 4Mb)
Read more about early Aboriginal life in Merri-bek
- Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy
- Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton; A wonderful introduction for families and adults of non-Indigenous Australians into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
- People of the Merri Merri: the Wurundjeri in colonial days by Isabel Ellender and Peter Christiansen
- When the Wattles Bloom Again: The Life and Times of William Barak Last Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe by S. W. Wiencke, published by Globe Press P/L in 1984.
- Brunswick: One History Many Voices, City of Brunswick, edited by Helen Penrose, published by Victoria Press in 1994.
- Indigenous history of Merri-bek.
For these books and many more visit your local Merri-bek Library in Brunswick, Coburg, Fawkner and Glenroy