Columns

Let’s Celebrate Simon Wonga Day on May 24


I HAVE WRITTEN before about how Simon Wonga developed a plan for the survival of the Kulin people in the 1840s.
This was for them to learn agricultural and stock mustering skills in order to establish an economic base in the new world they faced.
Wonga organised the last ever Kulin Nation corroboree in 1852 and gave his people the opportunity to play all their traditional games and thereby say goodbye to tribal life.

I have also told the story of how Wonga Park got its name, in tribute to Wonga’s stock mustering skills and charismatic leadership.
He was a great man, and to me Simon Wonga stands alongside Sir John Monash as the two greatest Victorians in our State’s history.
Perhaps you might agree with me when you hear a brief account of how he secured a government grant of land to establish Coranderrk Station at Healesville in 1863.
It was an achievement against all odds that showed his strategic brilliance.

Wonga’s father Billibelleri was Headman of the five Kulin tribes from 1836 until he died in 1846.
Wonga was then 25 and had been groomed for leadership.
Not because he was Billibilleri’s son, but because his innate ability, character and knowledge made him the standout choice.
However, Wonga did not feel he was ready, so in 1846 the leadership passed to Billibelleri’s younger brother Berberry.
When the government approved the establishment of an Aboriginal Reserve at Pound Bend in October 1850, Wonga decided he was ready for leadership.
Berberry willingly stepped aside and Wonga then began activating his plan.
Unfortunately, gold was discovered at Warrandyte in 1851 which compromised the viability of the Reserve at Pound Bend.
A new Reserve was consequently declared at Woori-Yallock, only for gold to be found there as well.
However, the meagre gold at Warrandyte and Woori Yallock was soon vastly overshadowed by the discoveries at Ballarat and Bendigo.
Curiously, the Ballarat and Bendigo gold discoveries turned out to be an advantage to Wonga’s plans.
With workers deserting their employment and flooding to the goldfields, it inadvertently drove up Aboriginal work opportunities and wages.
Wonga was therefore able to get contract work for Aboriginal people on farms up the Plenty and Yarra valleys.
Wonga in fact won the contract to build the first public house in Warrandyte.
It is a pity his name is not commemorated in some way at the present day Warrandyte pub.
With the disbandment of the Native Police in 1853, William Barak joined Wonga at Wonga Park, where they met the Reverend John Green who had arrived in 1858.
The three of them were to develop a most fruitful relationship over the next sixteen years.

In February 1859, Wonga received information that a settler in the Upper Goulburn had abandoned his run.
Wonga knew it was prime land, so he led a deputation of Elders to see the Aboriginal Protector William Thomas.
The deputation also included my great-great-grandfather’s friend, Murrum-Murrum.
Thomas got approval for them to claim the land, so Wonga, Barak and others left Melbourne, to establish Acheron Station in March 1859.
They were later joined by Reverend Green and others from Woori Yallock.

Over the next two years, Wonga and the Kulin people made a great success of the venture, but they were ultimately cheated out of the land by neighbouring squatters Hugh Glass and Peter Snodgrass.
Glass, a land speculator, was the richest man in Victoria and Snodgrass a Parliamentarian, so draw your own conclusions.
The Kulin were forced onto bleak and inhospitable land near Cathedral Mountain, where people started dying like flies.
So in early 1863, Wonga, Barak and Green led the remnants of their group across the Great Dividing Range, via the Black’s Spur Songline, to present day Healesville where they claimed land there.
Wonga had learned his lessons well.

The demise of Pound Bend, Woori-Yallock and Acheron had shown him he would get nothing from the parliamentarians.
So he went over their heads. On May 24, 1863, which was Queen Victoria’s birthday, Wonga led an Aboriginal deputation to Government House.
They presented gifts of woven baskets, artefacts and possum skin rugs to Sir Henry Barkley for ‘The Good Queen Mother’ and the just married Prince of Wales.
Then Wonga presented a petition for the land at Coranderrk.
Immediately afterward Sir Henry summoned the government leader and told him in no uncertain terms that if the grant of land was not made immediately, ‘the Queen would not be happy’.
The result was that a month later the land grant at Coranderrk was duly approved.
Over the next decade Coranderrk became socially and economically the most successful Mission in Australian history, until Wonga died in 1874.

So to me, May 24 is not Empire Day, it is Wonga Day and it should be fittingly celebrated as the start of Reconciliation Week each year.

On being the last one left at the movies


Films take us places we have never been, even if it’s for just a few moments, offering us a window into the wider world, opening our eyes to new wonders.

They entertain us, they offer hope and inspire us, they challenge us and broaden our perspective.

Films take us inside the lives of people different from ourselves and take us to places different from our everyday surroundings.

Why, only recently, I was flying over rooftops in London, transported back to 1935.

I had been dropped into a world of beautiful costumes, fabulous music and dance and some clever lines delivered by handsome actors at just the right moment.

Along with the beautiful sets and a chance to revisit a classic, watching Dick Van Dyke dance up a storm again at aged 91 was sheer brilliance.

Going to the cinema, sitting in a darkened theatre, we are left alone to travel to those places, until often, all too soon, it’s over.

The transition is often abrupt as lights come on and people start to move.

They murmur and stretch and turn on their phones, they scratch around in bags looking for keys and stand up, dusting the popcorn from their laps and loudly share their opinions.

Meanwhile, the music invites us to linger on the edge of where we have been, and the long list of names and acknowledgments continues down the screen.

First, of course, are the names of the stars of the show, appearing in a fancy font, one by one, as does the director’s name and a few other special people.

Then the long list of names with job titles rolls while the music continues and the theatre empties.

But I stay seated, often to the frustration of my other half.

I am not quite ready to go back to my ordinary, I like to stay and I like to read that long list of names.

To find out where it was filmed, and how many units were set up in different locations and which townsfolk need to be thanked.

To see just how many people worked in the art department, on costume design and make-up, and how many stunt performers, camera crew and lighting technicians made the leads look so good and by the way, what even is a ‘grip’?

And then there’s the production babies.

In the credits of Toy Story, Pixar began the custom of listing the names of babies born to anyone involved in the film during production, paying homage to the length of time a crew spends together and the personal relationships established over the period of production.

What we consume in under 120 minutes takes years and a multitude of people to produce, and the credits are the signifier.

Let’s go back to Mary Poppins.

It took over 500 people to bring us that single opportunity of simple escapism.

There were the usual stars and of course a few street urchins, 26 leeries (lamplighters) and one ‘handsome man’, there were 32 in the make-up department, over 130 in the art department and I lost count on the camera and lighting crew.

And though filmmakers often add in a little reward for those that choose to watch the credits, I know that as I read those names I am, in just one small way, acknowledging the work of a large group of talented artists and craftspeople.

Birrarung stories: Just how long have aboriginal people been here?


BEFORE THE 1940s it was thought that the arrival of Aboriginal people in Australia only dated back 2,000 years.

In 1940 this arrival date was dramatically extended when the Keilor skull was unearthed and dated at nearly 15,000 years.

However the skull was in the upper sedimentary levels of the Maribyrnong River Gorge and by 1971, radiocarbon dating had pushed the date of the lower sedimentary layers back to 31,000 years.

In every decade since, the date of human occupation of Australia has inexorably marched backward as new scientific techniques have been developed.

The problem though, is that scientists get attached to the theories and techniques of their own particular discipline.

Certain ideas get entrenched with religious conviction in the scientific community and then in the general public.

For instance the technique of radiocarbon dating originally had a validity level of only 40,000 years, but with technological advancement is now 50.000 years.

That is, the radiation decay in a C14 molecule is such that every 5,730 years its radioactivity decreases by half.

Ultimately you get to a situation when a half of stuff all is still stuff all.

This means that the oldest artefact measured by radiocarbon dating always came out at 40,000 years, regardless of the fact that it might have been 80,000 years or even 180,000 years.

So from this imprecise scientific method, a myth developed that Aboriginal people have been in Australia for 40,000 years.

This is still the most quoted figure, even by Aboriginal people.

The point is, if you ask the question ‘Well, if Aboriginal people arrived here 40,000 or even 50,000 years ago, how did they get here?’

The obvious answer is: ‘They arrived by boat during an ice age when the sea levels were lower.’

Well, if that is right then the sea levels were right for migration into Australia around 70,000 years ago.

This is an interesting figure because about 75,000 years ago Mount Toba, a volcano in Sumatra erupted.

It was a catastrophic event that almost wiped out life in the Northern Hemisphere.

The toxic pollution would have been a great motivator to migrate southward into Australia, which was not affected.

However an arrival date in Australia of 70,000 to 75,000 years ago conflicts with the popular ‘African Eve’ theory.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) research, which traces ancestry through the female line, puts migration out of Africa at 60,000 years ago.

The big problem with such research is that every time a woman has no daughters, her genetic history disappears, because her sons cannot pass on her mtDNA.

This means that the age of African Eve is constantly moving forward as female genetic history disappears. The same flaw also applies to male Y chromosome dating.

New research in fact now shows that there was indeed migration into Australia around 75,000 years ago.

However there is also mounting evidence that Aboriginal people were already here.

Another window for migration at the time of low sea levels occurred about 105,000 years ago, but various new techniques put the antiquity of Aboriginal occupation significantly longer than even this.

In 1985 Australian palaeontologist Gurdip Singh drilled a 72 metre core sample at Lake George in NSW and analysed the pollen and charcoal layers.

He found that the charcoal deposits at a certain point became so regular, that it could only be explained by deliberate human activity.

In other words it was due to Aboriginal firestick farming.

Singh estimated this date as 120,000 years ago, and created a storm of controversy amongst conservatively minded academics.

However his findings were replicated by core samples in North Queensland which pushed the date back to 140,000 years ago.

Since then, thermoluminescence techniques have pushed the date of ochre paintings at Kakadu back to 150,000 years ago.

This is a really interesting coincidence of dates, because at this time there was a 20,000 year window of opportunity for migration into Australia, due to the lower sea levels of an ice age.

So it now seems likely that Aboriginal people first migrated here at least 150,000 years ago.

As marsupial animals cannot communicate diseases to humans they found themselves in a disease free environment, and apart from the marsupial lion (the Dooligar), they had no predatory competitors.

So within 10,000 years of arrival, Australia was fully colonised and Aboriginal people had begun systematically managing the environment by fire.

However you will still see the culturally blind assumption in academic texts that Aboriginals were just using fire to hunt animals, rather than as a sophisticated tool of land management.

Terra Nullius still insidiously influences our thinking.

If firestick farming was going on 140,000 years ago then it was underpinned by a systematic knowledge base.

That knowledge base was of course the totem system, within which all knowledge was integrated to serve ecological purposes.

2019: Time for a climate resolution?

THE START OF THE New Year brings fresh hope, potential and the promise of good deeds.

It is a chance to slip out of the shackles of the past 12 months, shake up some old habits — and get started on some new ones.

If the past year has left you feeling frustrated, infuriated and keen to push for climate change action make 2019 the year you throw some climate change resolutions into the mix.

Hungry for ideas? 

Here are our top five picks from the Climate Council’s climate action toolkit:

Make your vote a climate vote

2019 is a Federal election year in Australia — and a chance to make a real impact on climate change.

Contact your Member of Parliament (MP) and let them know that climate change will be an election-deciding issue for you.

For Menzies this is Kevin Andrews.

You could do this by attending WarrandyteCAN’s #Fridays4Future protests (every Friday at 4pm outside his office), calling his office or writing him a letter.

Install rooftop solar, or switch to green energy

Two million (and counting) Australians are now harnessing the power of the sun to reduce their greenhouse gas pollution and take control of their power bills, by installing rooftop solar.

And when paired with battery storage, rooftop solar can deliver clean, reliable, renewable power 24/7.

Alternatively, if you’re not in a position to purchase solar panels, you could consider making the switch to a clean energy provider, who will purchase renewable energy on your behalf.

This is also a great way to bring down greenhouse gas pollution and invest in renewable energy. 

Check out the Green Electricity Guide at: bit.ly/2G9QiJm for help picking a provider.

Move your money, so it doesn’t support the fossil fuel industry

Do you know where your personal finances are invested? 

Many banks, super funds and share portfolios invest in fossil fuel projects.

Making informed choices about where to invest your hard-earned cash, will put pressure on financial institutions to do better.

And thankfully, there are a lot of options out there for banks and super funds that support renewable energy and the environment.

To find out where your bank stands see: bit.ly/2HB9twp.

To find what future your super is funding see: superswitch.org.au/

Change the way you travel

Transport accounts for 18% of Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution, adding 100 million tonnes to the atmosphere every year.

On emissions, transport is second only to electricity.

While a credible national policy is needed to tackle transport emissions, there are actions you can take to reduce your transport emissions, including: avoiding unnecessary travel, especially air travel; choosing cleaner alternatives to car travel; and encouraging your workplace to support cleaner transport.

Join the movement to Stop Adani’s mega-mine

Adani’s coal mine will contribute to cooking our climate, wrecking our reef and draining our water.

We must #StopAdani and move beyond coal.

We would love you to join us (join our local Warrandyte group or one of the other 160 local #StopAdani groups).

Our national movement so far has stopped public and private funding to the mine.

Every month we hold peaceful protests, meet with politicians, send letters and postcards to MPs, door knock our local community, attend local markets, and hold trainings and film/information nights.

There is an activity for everyone and all are welcome!

Charlotte Sterrett is a member of local climate change action group WarrandyteCAN. If you would like to become a climate change hero, join us. 

We are on Facebook at: WarrandyteCAN

An Ode to JC’s Birthday

Paddling through the Yarra

In a holey old canoe

Hitting rocks below

Whilst fighting off a ‘roo

~~~~~

Tiger snake swims by

Hissing Christmas songs

It’s time for summer holidays

And I’m in my boardies n’ thongs

~~~~~

Oh! Jingle bells, my red bin smells

It wasn’t picked up last week

It’s Christmas time in Warrandyte

40 degrees and my goon-bag’s sprung a leak, hey

~~~~~

Jingle bells, jingle bells

Christmas time is grouse

Oh what fun it is to ride

‘cross the bridge to Nanna’s house

~~~~~

Asphalt’s getting hot

Melts the soles of shoes

An echidna’s getting prickly

He deserves a chilled beer too

~~~~~

All the clan is there

Sitting by the river

Christmas Day the Wazza way

Even Wombats are ruining their liver.

~~~~~

Oh! Jingle bells, my compost smells

The outdoor table is set

It’s Christmas in Warrandyte

And the rain’s on its way I bet, hey

~~~~~

Jingle bells, jingle bells

Kookaburras stole the goose

A dozen ales and a few chilled wines

And Granny’s getting loose

~~~~~

Come the afternoon

The adults have a doze

The prawn heads start going off

And burn the hairs of my nose

~~~~~

The snoring has slowed down

It’s finally time to go

Except Auntie Pain-in-the-arse

Decides we need the annual photo

~~~~~

Oh! Jingle bells, recycling bin smells

The kids have spat the dummy

It’s Christmas in Warrandyte

The ham’s given us an upset tummy, hey

~~~~~

Jingle bells, jingle bells

Christmas time is ace

Oh what fun it is to stagger home

Completely off your face.

~~~~~

Internet’s back on-line

And the bridge is working fine

Despite Santa losing his sleigh

On the round about

~~~~~

It’s the Warrandyte community way

To help the poor fella out

Use my old tin bath for his sleigh

And wrangle a flock of cockies for the flight

~~~~~

Oh! Jingle bells, my septic tank smells

I should have connected the sewer

It’s Christmas night in the ‘Dyte

Where the sunset’s a ripper sight, hey

~~~~~

Jingle bells, jingle bells

Christmas time is worth the fuss

Oh what fun it is to ride

On an uncrowded 906 bus