The installation of rocks and plaques has long formed part of my agenda to encourage a more inclusive understanding of local history based on my belief that aspects of the Nation’s former White Australia Policy, together with our school system’s past emphasis on British History, continue to drive the way we interpret our past.
1. In 1992, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the day after the launch of my first book, Once Around the Sugarloaf, I’d made my move by arranging to have a plaque unveiled on a large rock located on the then unmarked grave of David Christmas after whom Christmas Hills had been named. That had been all of 25 years ago yet it stands there to this day to remind passers-by of their district’s roots.
2. On 9 March 1997, as a member of the Eltham Shire’s Cultural Committee, I’d included a clause whereby the Shire of Nillumbik had placed plaques similar to this on each and every one of its buildings throughout the Shire to publicly acknowledge the Wurundjeri as the traditional owners of the land now the Shire of Nillumbik.
3. Another Commitment made by the Shire at its March 1997 Gayip had been to install signage at the entrance to each and every one of its townships the message ‘Womin Je Ka’ (Welcome) which continues to remind us of the traditional owners of this land.
4. On the afternoon of the launch of my twenty-first book, Kangaroo Ground Dreaming, in association with the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group, I arranged to have Wurundjeri Elder, Uncle Dave Wandin, unveil this rock and plaque upon a recorded Aboriginal waterhole (since drained), within the present Kangaroo Ground Cemetery.
My purpose here had been to emphasise the Wurundjeri presence and to remind visitors that if they’d camped there beside their waterhole for say ten thousand years and just one of them had died there every hundred years, there may conceivably be a hundred Wurundjeri buried in its sandy surrounds.
5. In 1997, the Melbourne City Council dispatched an appeal for a name for the new seven lane highway running east-west around its recently constructed Docklands Stadium and this had moved me write and have an article published in the Melbourne Age pointing out that no road in Melbourne’s CBD had then had a Wurundjeri name, and continue on to state that since its latest planned road had passed over what had in the early period been a resource-rich wetland, it should be named Wurundjeri Way’ which had then become the name adopted— pictured is a section of Wurundjeri Way with looming up above it the recently installed 25 metre high sculpture of Bunjil, the Eagle.
6. On 13 January 2005, I spoke at a Flag-raising on the site of the Battle of Yering and remarked that the site ought to be marked with a rock and a plaque.
Two years later I spoke at the same site and had the honour of introducing senior Wurundjeri elder, Murrundindi, to invite him to unveil the large rock (pictured), with its two plaques — one portraying the battle scene, the other describing the action on that far-off day, the rock having been provided by the Shire of Yarra Ranges.
7. On 22 March 2013, on behalf of the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group, I introduced Wurundjeri Elder Auntie Di Kerr and invited her to unveil a rock with this pictured plaque upon it on the eastern boundary of the former 1,908 acre Aboriginal Reserve on the Yarra in North Warrandyte. That same afternoon, the NRG had arranged to have Uncle Bill Nicholson unveil a similar plaque on a rock on the Reserve’s eastern boundary on the south bank of the Yarra.
8. In late 2013, together with other Reconciliation Group members I was asked by Manningham City Council Heritage Officer, Elissa Pachacz to assist with the design and setting in place of a series of motivational signs along Parks Victoria’s pre-existent ‘Wurundjeri Trail’ leading down to the Pound Bend Tunnel.
These signs were unveiled in May 2014 before a large gathering by Uncle Colin and Auntie Mandy Nicholson.
9. One of the ten colourful panels that currently line the Gawa Wurundjeri Resource Trail on Watsons Creek laid out by the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group in 1999, designed to assist School children develop a deeper understanding of the worth and complexity of Wurundjeri hunting practices. Individuals and interested groups are free to walk the trail at any time. Guided tours of the trail can be arranged with the Secretary of the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group on firstname.lastname@example.org) The Trail is at 873 Eltham-Yarra Glen Road, Watsons Creek.
10. This 150 year old Red-Box tree (Eucalyptus polyanthemos), is still living and is pictured here with the author. It is situated on private property off Catani Boulevard in Bend of Islands.
When informed of this in 2013, I contacted Aboriginal Affairs Victoria who immediately dispatched an archaeologist to verify its authenticity and provenance. The archaeologist's finding was that it was an authenticated Scar Tree that on the evidence a five metre-long bark canoe had been carved from it in the early post-contact period.
As such, this scar tree is protected under the Victorian Heritage Act. Each summer, local residents rake the ground around this rare ancient relic of Aboriginal occupation to assist in its survival from passing firestorms.
11. Most stone tools currently unearthed in the Yarra Valley have been crafted from silcrete, an evaporate formed by mineralised water passing through basalt and evaporating on its underside as an extremely hard rock able to be flaked to produce useful sharp-edged tools.
I was informed of this specimen by the late Bruce Ness, a local farmer whilst working on Kangaroo Ground: The Highland Taken and had subsequently arranged to have it registered with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.
12. For the Official Opening of the Andrew Ross Museum, Bruce Nixon and I had travelled up to the Furphy Foundry in Shepparton to meet Roger Furphy and inform him of his family’s past connections with Kangaroo Ground and Andrew Ross. In doing so we had invited him to donate a Furphy cast-iron Tank-end to the Museum for display on its front wall, a request that he’d been most pleased to accede to.
13. The Donaldson Oak (Quercus robur) stands midway along Donaldson Road in the heart of Kangaroo Ground. It is reputed to have been grown from acorns collected by James Thomas Donaldson in Windsor Great Park in 1887 on a visit back to his birthplace. In 2003 Bruce Nixon donated a suitably inscribed bronze plaque to remind passer-byes the story of the trees roots.
Another Oak grown from the same collection is the Stevenson Oak on Watsons Creek in Bend of Islands. Oak trees are rare in Nillumbik which still maintains and is proud of its indigenous flora.
14. As a member of the Shire’s Kangaroo Ground Tower Advisory Group, I’d been involved in the placement of two bronze plaques on the front façade of the Tower to include those who had served their country in the
post-W W II Conflicts of Korea, Vietnan, Malaysia and Borneo.
Senior Wurundjeri Elder, Juby Wandin, with Elizabeth Kooroonya Savage and author, 2001, holding the Coolamon that had been cut that morning from a Manna Gum in the Gawa Trail on Watsons Creek for use during the ceremonial opening of the Trail.
ROCKS and PLAQUES - why they are so important
15. As a member of the Shire’s Kangaroo Ground Tower Advisory Group, I’d been involved in the placement of two bronze plaques on the front façade of its Tower to include those who had served their country in the post-W W II Conflicts of Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Borneo.
The plaques had been ceremoniously unveiled by the Victorian Governor, John Landy, pictured with members of the Tower’s Advisory Committee on the day.
16. In 2000, the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group had been Awarded the honour of Nillumbik Community Group of the Year won to some extent by its achievement in organising the Nillumbik Short Story Award among some thirty local primary schools and its setting in place of the Gawa Wurundjeri Resource Trail on Watsons Creek which it continues to develop and maintain to this day.
For details visit the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group Web-page.
17. In 2000, my wife Margaret and I were awarded the high honour of ‘Joint Nillumbik Citizens of the Year’, a reward that had hit like a bolt from the blue. Sure, we’d been busy in the community and been enjoying every moment of it doing what we had always delighted in doing.
My decision in 1989 to tackle a Degree Course at La Trobe University had turned my life around and my decision to try writing books had achieved the rest. We’d found our community in Bend of Islands and had completed building our iconic mud-brick home among the gum-trees on the bank of the Yarra and now had time to devote to our community.
My writing led me to helping to found the Andrew Ross Museum and to subsequently become more intimately involved in Aboriginal Reconciliation. Marg and I had always been a good team and each of us had delighted in our involvement in bringing about a better community. Now, after fifty-nine good years together, move today at a decidedly slower pace, still determined to make the world a better place.
18. Nobody remembers it much today but back in 1988, the Shire of Nillumbik had become involved in a Melbourne initiative that had seen it build a ten metre high Beacon Bonfire on the western slopes of Garden Hill in Kangaroo Ground below there the Moor-rul Viewing Platform has stood these past five years.
Melbourne, it would seem had felt a little left out of the Bi-Centenary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. And so a decision had been made to build a series of Beacon Bonfires between the two cities. Disallowed from doing so in the Fire Season, they’d chosen 18 June that same year. For an entire week leading up to the big night, truckloads of combustibles had been trucked up to the site and craned up into the ten metre high framework built to contain it.
With all in readiness on the chosen night, crowds had gathered in and around the Kangaroo Ground Emergency Operations Centre at thje foot of the hill to dance the night away. As the bewitching hour approached, more and more of the celebrants clustered at the Centre’s east facin window wall from where dark-hooded figures dressed as Druids waving flares could be seen dancing around the massive structure. Then suddenly from what all day had been a perfectly blue sky a massive storm hjad appeared as if from nowhere, to wash out every attempt to ignote the Beacon–Bonfire— the sky gods had decided otherwise. Kangaroo Ground wasn’t to be the place to celebrate a white-fella invasion.
19. In 2014, the Bend of Islands Conservation Association had developed a partnership with the Wurundjeri Council’s Narrap Team which had then arranged funding to carry out conservation work in Bend of Islands.
Led by Uncles Bill Nicholson and Dave Wandin they then continued with their chosen projects. These included talks and further liaisons which had included the setting-in-place on the corner of Henley Road and Upper Catani Boulevard jointly designed in association with Deadly Designs, by Tom Fisher, and the author.
The signage (pictured) was formally unveiled after a smoking ceremony by Auntie Di Kerr.
20. Nillumbik Shire Council has a proud record in that it has made its Apology to the Traditional Owners of the land, first Shire of Eltham and now the Shire of Nillumbik. Furthermore, the council has fulfilled all of the Commitments it had made at the Gayip in Wingrove Park on 9 March 1989.
In 2016, Nillumbik Shire arranged to have set in place - in each of its towns and hamlets - memorials for today’s people to gather around and remember those who had fallen in each of its earlier wars. However, there is still no memorial for today’s Indigenous people to gather around and remember the hundreds of men, women and children who’d fallen locally in the first of those wars, the Frontier Wars of the 1830s.
Still some work to be done.