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Regions with significant populations
Wadawurrung, English
Australian Aboriginal mythology, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Boonerwrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Taungurong, Wurundjeri
see List of Indigenous Australian group names

Wathaurong, also called the Wathaurung and Wadawurrung, are an Indigenous Australian tribe living in the area near Melbourne, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. They are part of the Kulin alliance. The Wathaurung language was spoken by 25 clans south of the Werribee River and the Bellarine Peninsula to Streatham. They were sometimes referred to by Europeans as the Barrabool people. The area they inhabit has been occupied for at least the last 25,000 years, with 140 archaeological sites having been found in the region, indicating significant activity over that period. [1]

Melbourne City in Victoria, Australia

Melbourne is the capital and most populous city of the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Its name refers to an urban agglomeration of 9,992.5 km2 (3,858.1 sq mi), comprising a metropolitan area with 31 municipalities, and is also the common name for its city centre. The city occupies much of the coastline of Port Phillip bay and spreads into the hinterlands towards the Dandenong and Macedon ranges, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. It has a population of approximately 5 million, and its inhabitants are referred to as "Melburnians".

Geelong City in Victoria, Australia

Geelong is a port city located on Corio Bay and the Barwon River, in the state of Victoria, Australia. Geelong is 75 kilometres (47 mi) south-west of the state capital, Melbourne. It is the second largest Victorian city, with an estimated urban population of 192,393 as of June 2016.

Bellarine Peninsula peninsula in Victoria, Australia

The Bellarine Peninsula is a peninsula located south-west of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, surrounded by Port Phillip, Corio Bay and Bass Strait. The peninsula, together with the Mornington Peninsula separates Port Phillip from Bass Strait. The peninsula itself was originally occupied by Indigenous Australian clans of the Wathaurong nation, prior to European settlement in the early 19th century. Early European settlements were initially centred on wheat and grain agriculture, before the area became a popular tourist destination with most visitors arriving by paddle steamer on Port Phillip in the late 19th century.


The Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation, a Registered Aboriginal Party since 21 May 2009, represents the traditional owners for the Geelong and Ballarat areas, [1][2] though there is considerable internal disagreement between the two regional groupings, which regard themselves as heirs to culturally and linguistic distinct groups. [2] The Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative, based in Geelong, also has a role in managing Wathaurong Cultural Heritage, for example through its ownership of the Wurdi Youang Aboriginal stone arrangement at Mount Rothwell. [3]

The Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation, a Registered Aboriginal Party since 21 May 2009, represents the indigenous people for the Geelong and Ballarat areas. Their responsibility includes ensuring that the Aboriginal culture is maintained there. The organization trades as Wadawurrung or Wathaurung.

Registered Aboriginal Party

Registered Aboriginal Parties are recognized Aboriginal people per the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act of 2006. Aboriginal people are recognized as the "primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage". They protect and manage the Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria, Australia.

Ballarat City in Victoria, Australia

Ballarat is a city located on the Yarrowee River in the Central Highlands of Victoria, Australia. The city has a population of 101,588.


Wathaurong is a Pama-Nyungan language, belonging to the Kulin sub-branch of the Kulinic language family.[ citation needed ]

Pama–Nyungan languages language family

The Pama–Nyungan languages are the most widespread family of Australian Aboriginal languages, containing perhaps 300 languages. The name "Pama–Nyungan" is derived from the names of the two most widely separated groups, the Pama languages of the northeast and the Nyungan languages of the southwest. The words pama and nyunga mean "man" in their respective languages.

Kulin languages

The Kulin languages are a group of closely related languages of the Kulin people, part of the Kulinic branch of Pama–Nyungan.

Kulinic languages

The Kulinic languages form a branch of the Pama–Nyungan family in Victoria (Australia). They are:


Map of Wathaurong Traditional Lands WathaurongLands.png
Map of Wathaurong Traditional Lands

Wathaurung territory extended some 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2). To the east of Geelong their land ran up to Queenscliff, and from the south of Geelong around the Bellarine Peninsula, to the towards the Otway forests. Its northwestern boundaries lay at Mount Emu and Mount Misery, and extended to Lake Burrumbeet Beaufort and the Ballarat goldfields. [4]

Queenscliff, Victoria Town in Victoria, Australia

Queenscliff is a small town on the Bellarine Peninsula in southern Victoria, Australia, south of Swan Bay at the entrance to Port Phillip. It is the administrative centre for the Borough of Queenscliffe. At the 2016 census, Queenscliff had a population of 1,315.

Great Otway National Park Protected area in Victoria, Australia

The Great Otway National Park, located in the Barwon South West region of Victoria, Australia. The 103,185-hectare (254,980-acre) national park is situated approximately 162 kilometres (101 mi) southwest of Melbourne. It contains a diverse range of landscapes and vegetation types and is situated within the Otway Ranges.

Lake Burrumbeet lake in Australia

Lake Burrumbeet is a large but shallow eutrophic lake in central western Victoria, Australia. Located 20 kilometres (12 mi) west of Ballarat and 140 kilometres (87 mi) west of Melbourne, the lake has been progressively emptying since 1997 and was declared completely dry in 2004. It has however in recent years refilled because of good rainfalls, making water sports in the lake once again possible, with recreational jet skiing and boating taking place in the winter of 2010. The lake is a major wetland for the region because of its size and is utilised as a recreational area for boating, fishing and camping.


European Settlement

Coastal clans of the Wadawurrung may have had contact with Lieutenant John Murray when he charted Indented Head and named Swan Bay. Matthew Flinders met several Wadawurrung when he camped at Indented Head and climbed the You Yangs in May 1802.

John Murray (c.1775–c.1807) was a seaman and explorer of Australia. He was the first European to discover Port Phillip, the bay on which the cities of Melbourne and Geelong are situated.

Indented Head, Victoria Town in Victoria, Australia

Indented Head is a small coastal township located on the Bellarine Peninsula, east of Geelong, in the Australian state of Victoria. The town lies on the coast of the Port Phillip bay between the towns of Portarlington and St Leonards.

Swan Bay, Victoria Town in Victoria, Australia

Swan Bay is a bounded rural coastal locality of the City of Greater Geelong between Queenscliff and St Leonards. It is bounded in the west by Portarlington-Queenscliff Road, in the north by Anderson Road, in the east by an offshore line across Swan Bay excluding Swan Island, and in the south by the coastline abutting Queenscliff.

When Lieutenant David Collins founded the colony at Sullivan Bay, Victoria in October 1803, he sent Lieutenant J. Tuckey to survey and explore Corio Bay which resulted in several Aborigines being shot and wounded. William Buckley, a convict who had escaped from the abortive Sullivan Bay settlement in December 1803, lived with a group of Victorian aborigines, commonly identified with the Wathaurong. [5] [6] In his reminiscences, Buckley tells of his first meeting with native women. Buckley had taken a spear used to mark a grave for use as a walking stick. The women befriended him after recognising the spear as belonging to a relative who had recently died and invited him back to their camp. The tribe thought he was the resurrected Murrangurk, an important former leader. [7] [8] [lower-alpha 1] He was adopted into the horde and lived among them for 32 years, being treated with great affection and respect. Buckley states he was appointed a headman and had often witnessed wars, raids, and blood-feuds. He adds that he frequently settled disputes and disarmed warring groups on the eve of some fight. [9] [10] As a revered spirit, he was banned from participating in tribal wars. According to Buckley warfare was a central part of life among the Australian hunter-gatherers.[ citation needed ] [11] [12]

Sullivan Bay, Victoria bight in Australia

Sullivan Bay lies 60 km due south of Melbourne on Port Phillip, one kilometre east of Sorrento, Victoria. It was established as a short-lived convict settlement in 1803 by Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins, who named the bay after the Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, John Sullivan.

Corio Bay bay in Victoria, Australia

Corio Bay is one of numerous bays in the southwest corner of Australia's Port Phillip, and is the bay on which abuts the City of Geelong. The nearby suburb of Corio takes its name from Corio Bay.

William Buckley (convict) English convict who was transported to Australia and then escaped

William Buckley was an English convict who was transported to Australia, escaped, was given up for dead and lived in an Aboriginal community for many years.

The European settlement of Wadawurrung territory began in earnest from 1835, with a rapid arrival of squatters around the Geelong area and westwards. This European settlement was marked by Aboriginal resistance to the invasion, often by driving off or stealing sheep, which then resulted in conflict and sometimes a massacre of Aboriginal people. [13]

Very few of the reports of the killing of native people were acted upon. On the few occasions the matter did reach court, such as the killing of Woolmudgin on 7 October 1836, following which John Whitehead was sent to Sydney for trial, the case was dropped for lack of evidence and the absconding of key witness Frederick Taylor. At the time Aborigines were denied the right to give evidence in courts of law. The incidents listed below are just those cases that have been reported, it is likely other incidents occurred that were never documented officially. Writing on 9 December 1839, Niel Black, a squatter in western Victoria, describes the prevailing attitude of many settlers:

"The best way [to procure a run] is to go outside and take up a new run, provided the conscience of the party is sufficiently seared to enable him without remorse to slaughter natives right and left. It is universally and distinctly understood that the chances are very small indeed of a person taking up a new run being able to maintain possession of his place and property without having recourse to such means – sometimes by wholesale...." [14]

Table: Reported aboriginal killings in Wadawurrung territory to 1859 [15]
DateLocationAborigines involvedEuropeans involvedAboriginal Deaths reported
October 1803Corio BayWadawurrung, possibly Yaawangi or Wadawurrung balugLieutenant J Tuckey and otherstwo people
17 October 1836Barwon River, Barrabool HillsWada wurrung balug clanJohn Whitehead, encouraged by Frederick TaylorWoolmudgin, alias Curacoine
Summer 1837-1838Golf Hill Station, Yarrowee River, north of InverleighWadawurrung clan unknownA shepherd and a hut keeper, Clyde company employeestwo people
June 1839 – 1840unknownWadawurrung balug clansoldiersthree people
25 November 1847Anderson and Mills Public House, BuninyongWadawurrung clan unknownunknowntwo people

In 1841, Wathaurung man Bonjon (or, alternately, "Bon Jon") was charged with murder for killing Yammowing of the Gulidjan people whose territory bordered that of the Wathaurung. According to the Wesleyan missionary Francis Tuckfield, one of the witnesses in the case, Bonjon had been in contact with Europeans more than any other member of the Wathaurong, having even been a volunteer member of the Native Police for some time. According to police magistrate Foster Fyans, Bonjon was with the Native Police for seven months, tracking runaway horses and generally assisting the other members. The prosecution alleged that on or about 14 July 1841, Bonjon shot Yammowing in the head with a carbine at Geelong, killing him. [16] [lower-alpha 2] The prosecution ultimately abandoned the case and Bonjon was eventually discharged. The case in the Supreme Court of New South Wales for the District of Port Phillip, R v Bonjon , later become notable for the legal question of whether the colonial courts had jurisdiction over offences committed by Aboriginal people inter se , that is, by one Aboriginal person against another, and the legal situation as to the British acquisition of sovereignty over Australia, and its consequences for the Aboriginal people.

The events of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion took place on Wathaurung land. Three Wathaurung clans lived in the vicinity of the Eureka diggings: the Burrumbeet baluk at Lakes Burrumbeet and Learmonth, Keyeet baluk, a sub-group of the Burrumbeet baluk, at Mt Buninyong, and the Tooloora baluk, at Mt Warranheip and Lal Lal Creek. [17]

The early policing of the Ballarat Goldfields was done by the Native Police Corps, who enforced the collection of the gold miners licence fee resulting in confrontations between diggers and the Gold Commissioner, considered by some historians, such as Michael Cannon and Weston Bate, as preludes to the Eureka Rebellion. [18]

There is oral history that local aboriginal people may have looked after some of the children of the Eureka miners after the military storming of the Eureka Stockade and subsequent massacre of miners. Although not corroborated by any written sources, the account has been deemed plausible by historian Ian D. Clark. [19]

Some further credence, although circumstantial, may be provided to the above information. George Yuille, older brother of William Cross Yuille, was not only liked and trusted by the local Aboriginies but also had formed a relationship with one of their women. Together they had at least one child, also named George Yuille. George Yuille senior died on 26 March 1854. He was at the time of his death a storekeeper on Specimen Hill and hence he was among the miners. Whether his native wife was with him is unknown, but it is a fair assumption that the local Aborigines would have been very familiar with the miners, especially if they were in constant contact with George Yuille.

Willem Baa Nip was the last surviving member of the Wadawarrung to witness colonisation. [20]

Structure, borders and land use

A basic map of the Wathaurung territory in the context of the other Kulin nations Kulin Map.PNG
A basic map of the Wathaurung territory in the context of the other Kulin nations

Communities consisted of 25 land-owning groups called clans that spoke a related language and were connected through cultural and mutual interests, totems, trading initiatives and marriage ties. Access to land and resources by other clans, was sometimes restricted depending on the state of the resource in question. For example; if a river or creek had been fished regularly throughout the fishing season and fish supplies were down, fishing was limited or stopped entirely by the clan who owned that resource until fish were given a chance to recover. During this time other resources were utilised for food. This ensured the sustained use of the resources available to them. As with most other Kulin territories, penalties such as spearings were enforced upon trespassers. Today, traditional clan locations, language groups and borders are no longer in use and descendants of Wathaurung people live within modern day society, although still preserving much of their culture.


Before European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with a clan headman, [13] [lower-alpha 3] who was called an arweet among the coastal Wathaurong and a nourenit among the inland northern tribe. [22] Arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

NoClan NameApproximate Location
1Barere barere balug Colac and "Mt Bute" stations
2Beerekwart balugMount Emu
3Bengalat balug Indented Head
4Berrejin balugUnknown
5Boro gundidj Yarrowee River
6Burrumbeet gundidjLakes Burumbeet and Learmonth
6aKeyeet balug Mount Buninyong
7Carringum balug Carngham
8Carininje balug"Emu Hill" station, Linton's Creek
9Corac balug"Commeralghip" station, and Kuruc-a-ruc Creek
10Corrin corrinjer balug Carranballac
11Gerarlture balugWest of Lake Modewarre
12Marpeang balug Blackwood, Myrniong, and Bacchus Marsh
13Mear balugUnknown
14Moijerre balug Mount Emu Creek
15Moner balug"Trawalla" station, Mount Emu Creek
17Neerer balugBetween Geelong and the You Yangs (Hovells Ck?)
18Pakeheneek balug Mount Widderin
19Peerickelmoon balugMount Misery area between Beaufort and Ballarat
20Tooloora balug Mount Warrenheip, Lal-lal Creek, west branch of Moorabool River.
21Woodealloke gundidj Wardy Yalloak River, south of Kuruc-a-ruc Creek
22Wadawurrung balug Barrabool Hills
23Wongerrer balugHead of Wardy Yalloak River
24Worinyaloke balugWest side of Little River
25Yaawangi You Yang Hills


According to William Buckley, the Wathaurong practiced ritual cannibalism, moderately compared to what he reported of the practices of a neighbouring tribe, the Pallidurgbarran. The bodies of enemies slain in combat were roasted and eaten. [11]

Alternative names


  1. "They have a belief, that when they die, they go to some place or other, and are there made white men, and that they then return to this world again for another existence. They think all the white people previous to death were belonging to their own tribes, thus returned to life in a different colour. In cases where they have killed white men, it has generally been because they imagined them to have been originally enemies, or belonging to tribes with whom they were hostile."
  2. Report is available on Wikisource at: Wikisource-logo.svg Port Phillip Patriot, 20 September 1841.
  3. Dawson, citing Clark, writes:"Within the Wathaurong territorial name there is thought to have been from between 14 and 25 smaller clans who traversed a wide area in groups of up to 100 in response to seasonal food sources, ceremonial obligations and trading relationships." [21]



Related Research Articles


In Australian Aboriginal mythology, Bunjil is a creator deity, culture hero and ancestral being, often depicted as a wedge-tailed eagle. In the Kulin nation in central Victoria he was regarded as one of two moiety ancestors, the other being Waa the crow. Bunjil has two wives and a son, Binbeal the rainbow. His brother is Palian the bat. He is assisted by six wirmums or shamans who represent the clans of the Eaglehawk moiety: Djart-djart the nankeen kestrel, Thara the quail hawk, Yukope the parakeet, Lar-guk the parrot, Walert the brushtail possum and Yurran the gliding possum.

Wurundjeri ethnic group

The Wurundjeri are indigenous descendants of the people of the Indigenous Australian nation of the Wurundjeri language group, in the Kulin alliance. They occupied the Birrarung Valley. Its tributaries are the present location of Melbourne.

The Boon wurrung, commonly written Bunurong, and also Boonurrong, Boonoorong, Boonoor-ong, Boon-oor-rong, Boongerong, Bunwurung or Bunwurru, are Indigenous Australians of the Kulin nation, who occupy South-Central Victoria, Australia. Before British settlement, they lived as all people of the Kulin nation lived, sustainably on the land, predominantly as hunters and gatherers, for tens of thousands of years. They were referred to by Europeans as the Western Port or Port Philip tribe and were in alliance with other tribes in the Kulin nation, having particularly strong ties to the Wurundjeri people.

Djadjawurrung ethnic group

Djadjawurrung or Dja Dja Wurrung, also known as the Jaara or Jajowrong people and Loddon River tribe, is a native Aboriginal tribe which occupied the watersheds of the Loddon and Avoca rivers in the Bendigo region of central Victoria, Australia. They were part of the Kulin alliance of tribes. There were 16 clans, which adhered to a patrilineal system. Like other Kulin peoples, there were two moieties: Bunjil the eagle and Waa the crow.

Arweet is an important tribal position in the Boon wurrung and Wathaurong tribal peoples of the Indigenous Australian Kulin alliance who live from Western Port, Port Phillip, Geelong to Ballarat. An Arweet is a leader or headman and held a similar tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

The Djab wurrung, also Tjapwurrung, people are Indigenous Australians who occupy the volcanic plains of central Victoria from the Mount William Range of Gariwerd in the west to the Pyrenees range in the east encompassing the Wimmera River flowing north and the headwaters of the Hopkins River flowing south. The towns of Ararat, Stawell and Hamilton are within their territory. There were 41 Djab wurrung clans who formed an alliance with the neighboring Jardwadjali people through intermarriage, shared culture, trade and moiety system.

Gadubanud ethnic group

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<i>R v Bonjon</i>

R v Bonjon was a criminal court case, decided in the Supreme Court of New South Wales for the District of Port Phillip on 16 September 1841, in which Bonjon, an Aboriginal man, had been charged with murder for killing Yammowing, another Aboriginal man. The main issue in the case was whether the colonial courts had jurisdiction over offences committed by Aboriginal people inter se, that is, by one Aboriginal person against another.

Yarrowee River river in Australia

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Snake Valley, Victoria Town in Victoria, Australia

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Ian D. Clark is an academic historian and Toponymist whose primary work has focused on Victorian Aboriginal history, aboriginal toponymy and the frontier conflict between Indigenous Australians and immigrant settlers during the European settlement of Victoria, Australia.

Wathawurrung language language

Wathawurrung is the extinct Indigenous Australian language spoken by the Wathaurong people of the Kulin Nation of Central Victoria. It was spoken by 15 clans south of the Werribee River and the Bellarine Peninsula to Streatham.

The Jaitmatang, also spelled Yaithmathang, were an indigenous Australian people of the State of Victoria.

The Kurung were identified as an indigenous Australian group of the State of Victoria by Norman Tindale. The theory that they constituted an independent tribe has been challenged with modern scholarship generally considering them as a clan, associated to one of two major tribes. Their language is unconfirmed.

In 29th June 1861, the one acre Duneed Aboriginal Land Reserve was set aside for the Wadawurrung (Wathaurong). The reserve was located on Ghazeepore Road just south of Andersons Creek, in Mount Duneed, Victoria Australia.