I have had a wonderful day today, thanks to this exciting new edition of Melbourne Dreaming, A Guide to Important Places of the Past and Present.
It is, as the name implies, a guide to the indigenous heritage of our city. First published in 1997 but now updated, the guide lists 36 places of interest, grouped by location so that exploring can be done in manageable chunks.
In the city, you can discover the Freedom Fighters execution site on the corner of Bowen and Franklin Streets where Maulboyheenner and Tunnerminnerwait became the first men executed in Victoria. They were not allowed to give evidence in their defence because they were deemed unable to take the Christian oath and although the jury recommended leniency on the grounds of general good character and the peculiar circumstances in which they are placed’ the government was determined to make an example of them and they were executed on January 20th, 1842. You can visit the Koorie Heritage Centre which houses one of the largest indigenous collections in the country including 10,000 weavings, baskets, eel traps, paintings and other artefacts. There’s the Bujilaka Cultural Centre, the Birrarung (Yarra) art and Heritage Walk, Billibellary’s Walk, the scarred tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, and more. You have to get the book to see just how rich this heritage is in the CBD, a modern bustling city with an ancient history that is unique in the world.
Further out in the eastern suburbs, there’s the Stonnington Indigenous History Trail, the Bolin Bolin Billabong, and another scarred tree at the Heidi Museum. (How many times have I been to Heidi and not known this?!) There are astonishing earth rings at Sunbury in the outer north, and a fish trap at Solomon’s Ford in the west. Down on the Mornington Peninsula (where there are numerous congenial wineries for sustenance en route) there is Collins’ Settlement and Bunjil’s Cave.
Fascinated by the wealth of things to investigate, I decided to start in my own area. I set out today with my friend Mairi Neil (occasional guest reviewer on this blog) to walk some of the Bayside Coastal Trail. We parked the car at Middle Brighton – where we discovered that the book is a tad misleading here and there: the Barraimal Emu is actually about a 20 minute walk back towards Elwood from the Middle Brighton Pier – which wouldn’t have mattered if we had started from Elwood as suggested, but did confuse us a little until we found the coastal trail guide panel by the pier and worked out which way to go. But the walk was worth it: we were fascinated by the story of the emu (which you can see on the panels on the slide show) and delighted by the sculpture depicting the Barraimal Constellation, an emu’s body, nest and eggs created by the Southern Cross, Pointer, Scorpio, Sagittarius and Coalsack Nebula in our southern skies. (It’s one thing to read about this in reference books, as I have, when planning a unit on Space for school, and another thing entirely to see it represented as a work of art in this way. BTW this constellation is only visible in the night sky in June, July and August, see here).
One thing we discovered quite quickly is that covering this entire trail might be quite expensive for some visitors. Bayside Council charges an astonishing $5.00 per hour even for street parking along the Beach Rd, and the full trail would involve parking the car half a dozen times in different places. For the energetic a bike is probably the best solution. Not an option for me with my dodgy ankle…
My dodgy ankle also meant that traipsing across the sand at Dendy Street was out. Fortunately Mairi is an excellent photographer and it’s her picture of the midden that you can see in the slideshow. It’s astonishing to find this precious reminder of former indigenous cooking fires on a suburban beach in our city. But there it is, one kilometre long in the natural dune system. The book tells me that there are more than 350 of these middens recorded around Port Phillip Bay.
Brighton was one of the most popular fishing places for the Boom Wurrung in Melbourne before two miles (3.2 kilometres) of the Brighton foreshore was sold to Henry Dendy in 1841. Dendy Street beach was an ideal willam [camp]. Sand dunes provided natural shelter from the wind and sun and a soft place for sitting. Native trees provided firewood and shelters. Most importantly there is a very large shallow reef adjoining the beach. Reefs are good sources of shellfish and crustaceans. These in turn attract fish which could be speared. Stone traps could be built on reefs using the tide to strand fish. Stone from the reef could be used to sharpen tools or provide rocks to increase the heat of fires.
At Brighton, Kulin women in particular harvested shellfish and many of the plants found on the coast such as Karawun (Mat Rush), Kummeree (Pigface), Worike (Banksia), Bowat (Poa Grass), Kabin (Running Postman) and Seaberry. (p.114)
We think that clearer directions might have been useful in some places – we never did find the panels on the Beach Road opposite Sims Street in Sandringham, but we consoled ourselves with a very pleasant lunch at Coffee Cottage and it was such a glorious day that we didn’t mind. And what’s more, even without the promised signage to guide us, we had begun to perceive our landscape in an entirely different way. I have walked these pathways by the beach hundreds of times without knowing its story, now I know better, thanks to this book. By the time I dropped Mairi back home and slipped round to the Mordialloc Aboriginal Reserve to see the scarred trees I had begun to feel – as I did in Pompeii – that there was a living history beneath my feet and a presence that demanded my respect.
I am delighted to be able to share this experience with a giveaway copy of Melbourne Dreaming, thanks to Aboriginal Studies Press and Scott Eathorne from Quikmark Media. The usual rules apply:
All entries from readers with an Australian postcode will be eligible but it is a condition of entry that if you are the winner, you must contact me with a postal address by the deadline that will be specified in the blog post that announces the winner. (I’ll redraw if this deadline isn’t met). Please note that your address will be passed on to the publisher who will send you the book direct.
Please indicate your interest in the Comments box below and I’ll select a winner using a random generator by the middle of November.
Author: Meyer Eidelson
Title:Melbourne Dreaming, A Guide to Important Places of the Past and Present (2nd edition)
Publisher: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2014
Source: Review copy courtesy of Aboriginal Studies Press and Scott Eathorne from Quikmark Media.
Fishpond: Melbourne Dreaming: A Guide to Important Sites of the Past and Present