Boon Wurrung Story

This story was told by Ms Carolyn Briggs, a Boon Wurrung Elder, at a special Reconciliation Assembly of the Parliament of Victoria, 31 May 2000, during National Reconciliation Week.

The story is reproduced here with the author's permission.

Many years ago this land that we now call Melbourne extended right out to the ocean. Port Phillip Bay was then a large flat plain where Boon Wurrung hunted kangaroos and cultivated their yam daisy.

But one day there came a time of chaos and crises. The Boon Wurrung and the other Kulin nations were in conflict. They argued and fought. They neglected their children. They neglected their land. The native yam was neglected. The animals were killed but not always eaten. The fish were caught during their spawning season. As this chaos grew the sea became angry and began to rise until it covered their plain and threatened to flood the whole of their country.

The people went to Bunjil, their creator and spiritual leader. They asked Bunjil to stop the sea from rising. Bunjil told his people that they would have to change their ways if they wanted to save their land. The people thought about what they had been doing and made a promise to follow Bunjil. Bunjil walked out to the sea, raised his spear and directed the sea to stop rising. Bunjil then made the Boon Wurrung promise that they would respect the laws.

The place the Kulin then chose to meet as a means of resolving these differences is where this Parliament [of Victoria] is now located. The Kulin nations met here regularly for many thousands of years. They debated issues of great importance to the nation; they celebrated, they danced.

For my great grandmother it was the strength of these beliefs and the belief that people could work together that helped her survive the crises our people faced when Europeans invaded her country over 160 years ago. My great grandmother was known by her European name, Louisa Briggs. When Louisa was a young girl she went on a journey with her mother, aunt and grandmother to what is now called Point Nepean. This is a special place with a special significance for the Boon Wurrung women. While they were there they were kidnapped by sealers and taken to an isolated island in Bass Strait. There they were put to work for the sealers. But at the age of 18 she took a husband and returned to her country in a small open boat.

When she returned to her country she searched for her people, but they were no longer there. Louisa eventually found some of her people at the Coranderrk reserve and she settled down to live there. She worked at the reserve as a matron. She became a strong political activist and her family were again forced to move because of their strong stand on land rights. They were banned from the reserve. She died in the 1920s at a very old age, but in bridging the time between the invasion of her country and the dispossession of her people she provided the cultural link, ensuring that her heritage continued to live. She continued to dream and talk about her country.

Louisa fought oppression, racism and political inequality. Today, as we consider the act of Reconciliation, I hope that her story will inspire not only her descendants but that in the spirit of Reconciliation it will provide a model of strength that can inspire all Australians.

Today Melbourne is the great multicultural city of the world and this special place continues to carry forward the spirit of our tradition. This land will always be protected by the creator, Bunjil, who travels as an eagle, and by Waarn, who protects the waterways and travels as a crow. Bunjil taught the Boon Wurrung to always welcome guests, but he always required the Boon Wurrung to ask all visitors to make two promises: to obey the laws of Bunjil and not to harm the children or the land of Bunjil.

As the spirit of my ancestors lives, let the wisdom and the spirit of generosity which Bunjil taught us influence the decisions made in this meeting place.

Womin Jeka mirambeek beek. Boon Wurrung Nairm derp Bordupren uther willam.