Tribute to Mick Woiwod

Mick Woiwod

March 31, 1929 – August 26, 2020

 

The wattles are in bloom and now it is my time to fly with Bunjil

TRIBUTES have flowed for local historian and founder of the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group, Mick Woiwod, who died on August 26, at the age of 91.

Mick was born in Ferntree Gully in 1929 during the Great Depression.

His parents were London born Alfred and Gertrude Woiwod (nee Rosenbrook).

Mick spent his formative years in Frankston.

A description in the school magazine included the phrase “Michael says little but thinks a lot”.

He married wife Marg in 1954 and children followed in quick succession with Louise and Christine born in 1956, Graeme 1958 and Deborah the following year.

In the seventies Mick signed up for a Council of Adult Education course in Archaeology through the University of Melbourne and attended summer camps at Wood Wood on the Murray and Yambuk beyond Port Fairy that opened up a window into the mysterious Aboriginal world.

This later led to further courses in geology and little did he know then that he would one day be writing a book, opening up to today’s world how the Aboriginal people had seen the land of the Yarra Valley of which they had long formed its most important element.

In the late 70s a friend mentioned to Mick that they had just purchased land in the Bend of Islands, which followed an offer for them to have a picnic on the new block.

Driving the last kilometre, Mick described: “at last I was home”.

At the age of 60 Mick enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts course in Australian History, which he completed in 1991.

While still at university he started a booklet about Christmas Hills first settler Joseph Stevenson.

This soon assumed major book proportions and was called Once Around the Sugarloaf: The Transformation of a Victorian Landscape and the story of its People and launched at the Christmas Hills in Primary School in 1992.

This also was the beginning of many an unveiling of commemorative rocks and plaques.

Over the last 30 years he has researched and written over 25 books, most of these on the history of the Yarra Valley’s Indigenous people, in particular the story of Coranderrk Aboriginal Station in Healesville.

All through his life, Mick searched for the truth about Victoria’s Indigenous people, always determined to fill in the missing layer of Victoria’s history.

He was Founding President, and later patron of Nillumbik Reconciliation Group (NRG).

NRG President Jan Aitken paid tribute:

“It was a vision for him of a group of people who would work together to promote reconciliation with the Traditional Owners of land which included Nillumbik Shire, the Wurundjeri people.

For Mick, reconciliation covered acknowledgment: he was instrumental in having the Shire give its regular acknowledgement at all Shire meetings.

It meant information: we need to know more about the lives of Wurundjeri pre-settlement and their lives after invasion of their lands by squatters, gold miners, and settlers.

Mick researched these topics constantly over the last 30 years or so.

I read his first book, The Last Cry when I arrived in Eltham in 1998.

It was that book which set me on the track of reconciliation.

Mick compiled his research into early original records into two large databases, Birrarung and Coranderrk, each with a searchable CD.

He then had copies distributed to all the schools in Nillumbik, at his expense.

Each of Mick’s books had two or three launches so that as wide a population as possible could know about them.

NRG was there for most of these.

They are solid volumes, filled with history, story, imagination and love for Wurundjeri.

A book he struggled with and worked on for years was the story of Coranderrk.

Not only the story of Simon Wonga, William Barak and Rev John Green and the success of the farming enterprise, Mick went further.

He explored what had happened to bring an end to Coranderrk as an Aboriginal reserve.

Barak and the Black Hats of Melbourne was the result, a moving tragedy of political takeover by ruthless men in the Victorian Acclimatisation Society.

This is a story not told in history books to date.

Mick also liked to have markers on the land so that the Aboriginal story was firmly acknowledged in ways that would remain.

Go down to the end of the Boulevard in North Warrandyte and you will find a rock there with a plaque commemorating the area as an Aboriginal reserve where the last corroboree was held.

Walk in Kangaroo Ground Cemetery and find a large rock with a plaque acknowledging the place as an earlier Aboriginal campsite near a spring which still flows.

And on the Eltham-Yarra Glen Road, the Gawa Wurundjeri Resource Trail was established on a Mick initiative.

The Barak Short Story competition was run by the NRG in the early years of the new millennium.

Mick wanted children who were writing stories about Wurundjeri life to have a hands on experience of what the land provided.

The Gawa Trail was built in partnership with Wurundjeri, the Shire and Parks Victoria and remains today as an important community resource.

I recall with affection the urgency and passion with which Mick pursued a story he was researching.

It was this passion and drive which fed the NRG.

Even when he had retired from being President, Mick was there: at meetings, at events, speaker, honoured guest, author, elder.

His legacy continues to inspire.

He has given us a significant example of what reconciliation requires: passion, commitment, honesty.

Thank you Mick for your gifts all of us.”

Fellow historian and founder of Reconciliation Manningham, Jim Poulter, said Mick Woiwod was a good friend, colleague and collaborator for more than 40 years.

“He made an invaluable, indelible and unique contribution to the telling of our local Indigenous history.

“He was a kindred spirit and I will miss our always animated chats,” said Jim.

Mick was also the co-founder of the Andrew Ross Museum at Kangaroo Ground and member of both the Warrandyte and the Eltham District Historical Societies.

Mick served on the Advisory Committee for the Kangaroo Ground Tower for 14 years, which saw the reserve brought up to its present highly commendable state.

This introduced a new fire-spotting cabin complete with spiral stairway as replacement for the ancient steep ladder to the top-deck, plus the iconic Moor-rul Viewing Platform with displays which speak of the Hill’s Wurundjeri Story to the thousands who now visit the site each year.

Jim Connor, President of Eltham District Historical Society told the Diary:

“Mick, as he was usually known… comprehensively researched and wrote extensively about European settlement in the Eltham and Kangaroo Ground districts, particularly commenting on the resulting impact on the local Wurundjeri clan.

He was honoured with the name Murrup Ngooloo ‘Spirit Voice’ and his work helped raise the awareness of settlement activities of the early pioneers of the area, while concentrating on highlighting the adverse reactions their introduced lifestyles had on the original inhabitants.

In researching and recording this information, Mick’s legacy is a valuable resource of local Indigenous history, culture and practices, particularly for current and future history researchers.

Mick was a decisive initiator of change in respect of practices and attitudes towards our earliest inhabitants.”

Warrandyte Historical Society also paid tribute to Mick.

Society Secretary, Valerie Polley said:

“Warrandyte Historical Society was saddened by the news of the death of Mick Woiwood, a leading advocate for Aboriginal history of the local area.

As a past member of the Society, Mick together with wife Margaret, were keen supporters over many years.

Mick loved to share his passion and great knowledge of local Aboriginal history especially with children during school visits.

Truly a sad loss.”

Nillumbik Councillors paid their respects to Mick.

Mayor Karen Egan said Mr Woiwod would be sadly missed by all who knew him.

“Mick was a true champion of history and heritage, a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights, and a revered member of the Nillumbik community,” Cr Egan said.

Cr Jane Ashton said:“Mick was a scholar and a gentleman, reading his books added significantly to my understanding of this area.

“From the first peoples, the squatters, gold miners and farmers, to the present-day story of The Bend of Islands Community, he brought the place alive and put people into the landscape.

“Passionate about the history, devoted to using his writing to shed light on the suffering of the Aboriginal people and the founder of our Nillumbik Reconciliation Group Mick was a champion for truth and justice.

“I was privileged to have met him, enjoyed very much listening to him, and can only imagine the gap he has left in the lives of those who knew him for so much longer than I did.”

He may be gone but never forgotten and the legacy of his books, knowledge of Australian Aboriginal history and the passion will live on in many for years to come.

Mick’s funeral was held on September 3 and was livestreamed.

Those interested can view the livestream at oneroomstreaming.com/family-and-friends until mid-October.
Contact the Diary for login details.

Thanks to the Woiwod family for their assistance in telling Mick’s story.