An Australia Day story….
Long before recorded history
Mesopotamia can be traced back 5,500 years. Stonehenge was constructed about 5,000 years ago. The great pyramids of Egypt date back 4,500 years ago.
But well before all this, the Gunditjmara people of south west Victoria had established the oldest known aquaculture system, catching eels and other fish in and around Lake Condah.
The area, some 300 kilometres west of Melbourne, called Budj Bim was formed by the lava flows from Mt Eccles some 8,000 years ago. The flows created many alluvial wetlands and rocky rises that characterise the area. The Gunditjmara probably saw the erupting volcano. Their name for the volcano means “high head”
About 7,000 years ago the Gunditjmara constructed a complex system of weirs and channels at Lake Condah. These trapped unsuspecting eels and other fish. They smoked their catch which preserved it for the colder winter months.
They built stone huts, traded with their neighbours, engaged in spiritual activities and rituals. They developed a deep and abiding affinity with the land.
In the 1830s white settlement reached the Western districts of Victoria. When squatters began shooting at the indigenous people, the Lake provided refuge.
The Eumeralla War, the forgotten war, that ensued between blacks and whites lasted 20 years. Rolf Boldrewood who wrote Robbery under Arms chronicled the bloody fighting. His admiration for the Gunditjmara is captured in the following passage
“One is often tempted to smile at hearing some under-sized Anglo-Saxon, with no brain power to spare assert gravely the blacks of Australia were the lowest race of savages known to exist…. On the contrary, many of the leading members of tribes known to pioneer squatters were grandly formed specimens of humanity, dignified in manner, and possessing an intelligence by no means despised, comprehending a quick sense of humour, as well as a keenness of perception, not always found in the superior race”
Ultimately guns beat spears. The squatters drained the lake and imprisoned the remaining Gunditjmara people.
But they would not be moved.
In 1866, an Aboriginal Reserve was established and a Mission was opened in 1867. The Mission was closed in 1896 and destroyed (with dynamite) in the 1950s to disband the indigenous community. The Half Caste Act 1968 created further displacement, as it prohibited indigenous people with mixed heritage from living on Aboriginal missions.
The Mission lands were returned to the Gunditjmara in 1987.
Last week, the State and Federal governments announced that Lake Condah would be included on Australia’s World Heritage Tentative List.
One day this place will be world famous!
Terra Nullius? I think not.