Unit 5: Melbourne Dreaming

Level 3 VELS, Years 3 and 4


groupworkThis unit is about the history and development of Melbourne. During this unit students investigate the people who make up the Kulin Nation, in particular the Wurundjeri and the Boon Wurrung and their role as traditional landowners of the area we now know as Melbourne. They will find out about significant people and events that have contributed to Melbourne’s continuing story. They will identify changes that have occurred, and the effects of these changes on the people and the land. They will begin to consider why it is important to remember and preserve stories and artefacts from the past.


  • The people of the Kulin Nation have lived in the area we now call Melbourne for more than 40,000 years.  The Kulin covered what is now central Victoria with the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung peoples belonging to their respective parts of the area now known as Melbourne.
  • The landscape of Melbourne has changed dramatically over time, and especially since the arrival of Europeans.
  • Life for Victoria’s Aboriginal people changed dramatically with the arrival of Europeans.
  • People and events of the past have influenced the development of Melbourne as a city.

Rich Question

How have changes in Melbourne affected the lives of people?

Contributing Questions

  • group workWho were the original inhabitants of Melbourne?
  • What was life like for them before the arrival of the early settlers?
  • What did Melbourne look like before the arrival of the early settlers?
  • How has Melbourne changed?
  • How did these changes affect the local Aboriginal people?
  • Who are the people who were involved in the development of early Melbourne?
  • What are the events that led to the development of the city of Melbourne?
  • Why is it important to remember and value the past?

Background Notes

From the Yarra Healing website: essential learnings.

About the Kulin Nation
When Europeans first settled the Port Phillip region it was already occupied by five Aboriginal language groups. These groups spoke a related language and were part of the KULIN (Koolin) nation of peoples. The people are:

  • Woiwurrung (Woy-wur-rung) - The Wurundjeri People
  • Boon Wurrung (Boon-wur-rung) - The Boon Wurrung People
  • Wathaurung (Wath-er-rung) - The Wathaurung People
  • Taungurung (Tung-ger-rung) - The Taungurung People
  • Dja Dja Wrung (Jar-Jar wrung) - The Jaara People

Each of these groups consisted of up to six or more land-owning units called clans that spoke a related language and were connected through cultural and mutual interests, totems, trading initiatives and marriage ties.

Traditionally, the Kulin lived as hunters and gatherers for many generations. Seasonal changes in the weather and availability of foods would determine where campsites were located.

When developing units of work on this particular topic, the following learnings need to be considered:

  • mapEstimates of the Aboriginal population in Victoria before 1834 vary quite considerably, but is believed to be approximately 100,000 people. By 1860 the number of Aboriginal people living in Victoria had fallen to less than 2,000.
  • No treaties were made and no charter of rights was established to ensure the survival of the life and social organisation of Victoria’s Aboriginal people. John Batman's questionable treaty was one exception, though even this was later invalidated by European authorities.
  • By introducing stock, converting forests to farmland and destroying native flora and fauna, Europeans caused the destruction of the Aboriginal people's traditional ways of life.
  • Conflict and violence were long and protracted. Aboriginal people did not cede their land passively or easily.
  • In spite of heroic resistance by Aboriginal groups, their numbers were drastically reduced. European weaponry and the physical and psychological effects of the culture clash made resistance difficult.
  • The Dreaming stories tell of aspects of Indigenous Australian lifestyles and law. They explain the creation of the land, the animals and the people. The Dreaming stories are a powerful way of educating young children about rules for living, the natural environment and the spiritual world.
  • Dreaming stories vary from region to region, and different versions of the same story will exist because of differences in emphases and interpretation amongst Indigenous groups.


Written texts
Chapman, H, and Stillman, J, 2005, Melbourne Then and Now, Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, California

Eidelson, M, The Melbourne Dreaming: A guide to the Aboriginal places of Melbourne, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1997. This book is helpful for teachers in building local background information, as well as identifying local places that could be incorporated into an excursion.

Presland, G, Aboriginal Melbourne: The lost land of the Kulin people, Harriland Press, Forest Hill, Australia, 2001. This book is helpful for teachers in building background information about the history of the Aboriginal people around the Melbourne area.

Wheatley, N. My Place, Kane/Miller Books, 1994

www.yarrahealing.melb.catholic.edu.au The Yarra Healing website contains information about the 5 language groups that make up the Kulin Nation. It also contains descriptions of boundaries, stories about the language groups told by Elders and Dreamtime stories relating to the formation of particular landmarks such as the Yarra River.

www.museumvictoria.com.au/marvellous/index.asp contains a simply written history of Melbourne from 1835 onwards with paintings and photographs.

www.whitehat.com.au/melbourne/History/HistoryM.asp contains historical details regarding the early settlement of Melbourne

www.australianscreen.com.au Film clips of early Melbourne can be found on this website. Good clips for giving students a visual image of aspects of Melbourne include:

  • Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South, a documentary made in 1910
  • The St Kilda Esplanade on Boxing Day, 1913
  • Commuting by Cable: Mind the Curve, a documentary about the introduction of cable trams to Melbourne in 1885
  • Marn Grook: The Game, excerpts from a documentary showing the origins of AFL football and its links to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander game Marn Grook.

www.museumvictoria.com.au/MelbourneMuseum/WhatsOn/Current-Exhibitions/MelbourneStory/Favourite-Objects/ Features photographs and video clips about artefacts featured in the Melbourne Story exhibition at the Melbourne Museum.

www.emhs.org.au/gallery/early_melbourne East Melbourne Historical Society. This site contains pictures from early settlement days in Melbourne.

www.onlymelbourne.com.au This site contains a timeline showing Significant dates and events/Melbourne, note the amount of times the Yarra River has flooded. Also of interest is the Google Earth Alphabet made up of sites in Victoria.

www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/rsrc/PDFs/History/Historydates.pdf Another website citing key dates but only from 1835 onwards.

www.walkingmelbourne.com/city.html contains a brief overview of Melbourne and some good photographs of Melbourne today and in the past.

www.vaeai.org.au/regions/index.html You can find your Local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Consultative Group (LAECG) through the VAEAI website.

Audio Visual
Photographs from the above websites. Families may also have some photographs of Melbourne or the local areas showing changes over time.