Constellation Sculpture

Boon Wurrung Country

The indigenous population would migrate depending on the resources available in the different seasons of the year, which were known not by a calendar but by the movement of the stars. Along with these movements the resources would appear or change. By spring the snapper would return to the bay, and for summer billabongs and rivers would dry moving the clans towards the coast. Then the people would move along the coast towards the swamps for eels.

When the hot weather would finish the rain would come and the new season would arrive. During this season the Boonwurrung would burn the areas where the grass would grow thick, this burning allowed the new tubers to grow for the seasons to come, starting a new permaculture cycle for the Boonwurrung.

Come with a purpose to my beautiful home. The lands of the two great bays, Port Phillip Bay, Western Port Bay.
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Indigenous edible vegetation

The land surrounding the bay provided the Boonwurrung with a rich source of food and materials. Some native plants were essential to the Boonwurrung, such as the Murnong, also known as ‘yam daisy’ which was a staple food for the communities, and which later was destroyed by the graziers in colonial times, affecting the indigenous population in the 1800’s. Other important food sources were the tree fern and the silver wattle. Other plants provided medicine such as the bark of the muyang which was boiled in water to treat rheumatism. Plants provided also the raw materials to use in everyday utensils, the fibre from the inner bark of the silver wattle was used to make strings for fishing spear throwers. Trees would provide hardwoods for shields.

Melbourne contains different ecological zones that produced food and material sources for the Boonwurrung and visiting groups year-long. However, water was the most important factor for prosperity.

Image title. Image Credit: Image credits.
Come with a purpose to my beautiful home. The lands of the two great bays, Port Phillip Bay, Western Port Bay.
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Map of Melbourne swamps by Cox, 1856. Image Credit: Ana Lara Heyns.

Indigenous food resources

Long before the city that we know as Melbourne was built, Port Phillip Bay was a large flat grassy plain, the Yarra river would floor out across this flat plain into the sea. The river was known to the Boonwurrung as the Birrarrung, the river of mists (Briggs, 2008). The land was covered by grass and woodland, and the people would hunt emus and kangaroos. The women would cultivate the yams and harvest the eels from the rivers and swamps.

Waterways delimited important spaces for the Indigenous populations, “Boon Wurrung lands were mainly those with streams that flowed to the sea. The Woiwurrung or Wurundjeri occupied the lands drained by the tributaries of the Yarra and Maribyrong Rivers” (Eidelson 2014, p.8). The Boonwurrung, would trade and welcome other groups from other parts of the Kulin Nation.

Aunty Carolyn Briggs (2008) shares with us in her book The Boonwurrung Journey Cycles: Stories with Boonwurrung Language that the land was covered with swamps, rockwells and pools, rivers and creeks on an open grassy country thinly timbered. Wildlife proliferated, you would see kangaroos, native dogs, possums, flying squirrels, and field rats. Aquatic birds would proliferate in the swamps, such as black swans, pelicans, ducks, parrots, black cockatoo, eagles, teal, black and pied shags, red-hills, herons, curlows, sand larks, and emus. Some of these animals were hunted for food as well as for the manufacture of clothing and implements.

Shellfish was also an important part of the diet, fish such as flathead, snapper, whiting and gurnard. Middens can be found throughout the coastal areas which tell us about the settlement sites of the Boonwurrung people. During the months of autumn, the communities would capture eels that would do their annual journey downstream towards the bay, providing an important food resource.

Blackfellows Spearing Eels, Gipps Land. Image Credit: State Library of Vistoria.

Sound is a useful and revealing companion to a world made familiar through vision. Rippon Lea is visually stunning. It is hard to take a bad picture of its colourful gardens and ornamental lake setting. It is a picturesque environment for visits and especially for the framing of special occasions.

Birds appear to love Rippon Lea as much as humans do. The garden is peppered with the varied calls of many species – some regionally quite rare – that have made Rippon Lea a home, one that offers protection from larger aggressive birds.

If we listen carefully, we hear their activity layered across the gardens. Thornbills and scrubwrens flit about the dense exotic understory. Grey teal ducks and swampy moorhens call and splash on the lake. Silvereyes, pardalotes and even golden whistlers chatter as they hunt for insects in the fernery. Overhead, ravens, currawongs and magpies call from the canopy while rainbow lorikeets, wattlebirds and cockatoos dart noisily across the sky.