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Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People

The following timeline forms part of ‘Hidden Histories: The Wadawurrung People’, a digital tour about gold rush Ballarat which brings to life the perspectives and participation of Aboriginal People.

Click here to explore the website, which was produced by the Sovereign Hill Museums Association.

The story of Bunjil the wedge-tail eagle features as part of Sovereign Hill’s sound and light show, Aura

Bunjil – the creator

60,000 years ago

According to Dreamtime legend, 60,000 years ago, Bunjil soared over Wadawurrung Country, shaping the landscape and creating all the people and animals.

A wedge-tail eagle creator being, Bunjil made the laws for people to live by, before becoming a star to live forever alongside the stars of his two black swan wives.

Mt Buninyong

The legend of Mt Buninyong

20,000 – 10,000 years ago

Dreamtime legend says long ago, two warriors – Bonan Youang and Terrinalum – fought.

As a result, both were mortally wounded and returned to their campsites to rest.

However, they remained so angry that they spat fire at each other until they both died and turned to stone, creating two mountains – Mt Buninyong (in Ballarat) and Mt Elephant (in Derrinallum).

The jagged holes in the sides of both mountains are the wounds these warring volcanos suffered during the mythical battle.

Wadawurrung Country

Until 1835

For thousands of generations, the Wadawurrung People have lived in the Ballarat-Geelong region.

Wadawurrung Country provided all of the food, clothing and shelter the people needed, and their lives were rich in culture and ritual.

They typically lived in family groups and, by following the laws of Bunjil and other creator ancestors, they took great care of their country to make sure it would always look after them.

The squatters arrive

1835 onwards

In 1835, John Batman signed a treaty with Melbourne’s Wurundjeri People to purchase their land for sheep grazing.

Following this, other British pastoralists (known as ‘squatters’) moved into what is now the state of Victoria.

The fertile western plains of Victoria were rapidly occupied by these squatters and their sheep.

Sheep numbers rose rapidly and, by 1851, Victoria had five million sheep.

The introduction of these animals drastically changed the landscape, destroying the traditional food sources of the Aboriginal People.

Panning for gold at Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill is a living museum which presents the story of Ballarat as a gold rush boomtown

Gold!

1851

Within six months of the discovery of gold, 10,000 miners were working the Ballarat diggings.

These new arrivals had walked from the ports of Melbourne or Geelong and settled close to the gold deposits.

It was an exciting time and fortunes were made which helped build our modern city.

However, the impact of the gold rush, on top of the devastation caused by the grazing of sheep, completely destroyed the natural environment essential for the traditional lifestyle of the Wadawurrung People.

Ballarat’s Eureka Centre is now home to one of Australia’s most compelling historic artefacts – the Eureka flag

Eureka

1854

By 1854, following countless licence hunts, a failed petition to Governor Hotham over expensive gold licences, and an unjust murder acquittal, the miners of Ballarat took a stand and erected a crude stockade.

Alarmed, the government sent a detachment of soldiers.

At dawn on 3 December, the Eureka Stockade was stormed, around 30 people died and our democracy was born.

Some oral histories suggest Wadawurrung People sheltered women and children who fled to Mt Warrenheip during the fighting.

The impact of the Industrial Revolution

1870s

By the 1870s, the Industrial Revolution had well and truly arrived in Ballarat.

Poppet heads, mullock heaps of mining waste and smoke stacks dominated the skyline.

Steam was needed to power the huge underground quartz mines: it drove the pumps, lifted the cages and ran the batteries which crushed the quartz.

Ballarat’s foundries were established to make many of these mining machines but they soon diversified and began making trains and farm machinery, thereby creating our modern industrial city.

A modern day Ballarat from above

Ballarat today

Present day

Now our city is a quiet, leafy place to live, and is host to thousands of tourists each year.

It is home to many descendants of the Wadawurrung People, the squatters, the gold miners and the foundry workers who all share a common history.

Source: Hidden Histories – The Wadawurrung People

Main image: Deanne Gilson’s Murrup Laarr Ancestral Stones at Lake Wendouree

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The City of Ballarat acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land we live and work on, the Wadawurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung People, and recognises their continuing connection to the land and waterways. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging and extend this to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.