For thousands of years, the Wa tarung Bulluk clan of the Wathaurung had practised a tribal way of life in the Geelong area.

For more than 2000 generations the Wathaurung had nurtured the land and lived a good life with its bounty. The land and water provided ample food and ingredients for medicines.

A detail from a painting depicting Captain Cook's first landing at Botany Bay, by George Soper. source: The Sydney Morning Herald

When Captain Cook first landed at Botany Bay he experienced the initial resistance of Aboriginal peoples, though minor, it did indicate the Aboriginal objection to the uninvited men to their land. After sailing up the east coast observing no signs of agriculture or other developments Cook claimed the east coast for Britain on 23 August 1770 under the prevailing European law that such land was deemed terra nullius, or land belonging to nobody. Subsequently the British Government decided to establish a prison colony in Australia in 1786 using the European legal doctrine – which meant that indigenous Australians have no property rights and territory therefore the land could be acquired through ‘original occupation’ rather than conquest or consent.

The British invasion and settlement of Australia commenced with the First Fleet in 1788 in New South Wales, then later in Tasmania and Victoria. Violence between indigenous Australians and Europeans began shortly after the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney on 26 January 1788 when in May 1788 five convicts were killed and an indigenous man was wounded. A lot of violence, murder and displacement followed.

On 15 February 1802, 20 crew of the brig Lady Nelson, the first ship to enter Port Phillip Bay, met five Boon wurrung men on the beach near Arthurs Seat. They exchanged greetings and danced, but that afternoon violence erupted, and contacts ceased. The Boon wurrung also kept their distance from the garrison at the abortive convict settlement at Sorrento (1803-1804). Over the next 30 years, sealers, whalers and a few castaways (including William Buckley) made intermittent, sometimes violent, contacts with Kulin clans.[1]


Permanent European settlement in Victoria began in 1835 when John Batman sailed from Van Diemen’s Land and set up camp at St. Leonards. Shortly after Batman, representing Tasmanian entrepreneurs, made a treaty with the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung people of the Wathaurung. The colonial government in New South Wales refused to recognise it as legitimate, and it is believed the elders would never knowingly sell the land of their ancestors. Although the treaty was exploitative, it has been the only attempt by the Europeans to involve Australian Aboriginal people in a treaty or transaction rather than simply claiming the land outright.

In the beginning the relationship between the groups was cooperative. The settlers used the Aboriginal people, who they called ‘savages’ to access their knowledge of the land. More Europeans arrived seeking their fortune in this new frontier, creating more issues for the Aboriginal people and consequently conflict became more common.

The squatters soon began settling in Wathaurong territory around the Geelong area and westwards during the mid-1930s. The Aboriginal community resisted this European settlement by often driving off or stealing sheep resulting in conflict and sometimes the massacre of Aboriginal people.[2]

Subsequently 700 of the Wathaurung people that Buckley reported seeing gathered for special occasions, had been to reduced to 297 when counted in 1837 by Foster Fyans, the newly appointed Geelong Police Magistrate. Another count of the local Aborigines was taken in 1842 at Bukar Bulok, now called Fyansford when Willem Ba Ni ip was six years old and was listed in this census as ‘Wormebaneep’. There were only 118 of his people left — 179 fewer than only five years before.[3] Eleven years later 101 people had disappeared. Only nine women, seven men and one child remained in 1853. Willem Baa Ni ip was 17 at this time and counted as a man. For many years, he may have lived inconspicuously at the edges of the white settlements. He may have lived off the land. In the early years of his life he would have learnt to gather plant food, seafood, small mammals and reptiles.[4] However much of the traditional diet had been destroyed by the grazing livestock brought in by the settlers. A lot of the game, fish traps and dwellings were destroyed by the settlers.

Deprived of their hunting ground’s and attracted to white man’s foods they attacked men and animals. Lots of lives were lost on both sides. In 1836, Dr. Alexander Thomson who squatted on land at Buckley Falls claimed to have distributed blankets to “Buckley’s tribe” finding that they numbered 279. Concerned about the attacks squatters called on authorities in Sydney to provide protection. As a result, in 1837 Captain Foster Fyans was sent as police magistrate to Geelong with three policemen to keep the peace. The following year 13 military men were sent to help. As a result of declining food sources (due to the introduction of sheep and cattle) and a severe influenza epidemic in 1839, the Wathaurong population began to decline rapidly. However, by 1840 the squatters were once more complaining about the aggression of the Aborigines and the deficiencies of the Protectorate. At this time the hostilities between the tribes had increased. In the Kulin Nation around 1842, with depleted numbers of Aboriginal men, houses couldn’t be rebuilt and squatters prevented Aboriginal communities to build in the prime river or lake frontages often shooting them as trespassers.

Very few of the reports of the Aboriginal people killing were acted upon. On one occasion in 1836 when John Whitehead was charged with the killing of Woolmudgin. Whitehead was sent to Sydney for trial, but the case was dropped for lack of evidence. Frederick Taylor the key witness had disappeared and at the time Aboriginal people were denied giving evidence in a court of law.

As genocidal outcomes were becoming more common, and there was a rapid decline of Aboriginal people, the government created the Aboriginal Protectorate in 1838. The primary directives of the Protectors was to protect the Aboriginal people in their districts and to ‘civilise’ them, in other words to minimize conflicts between European settlers and Aboriginal people, and to help Aboriginal people take up the European way of life.

Although protectors were made justices of the peace in order to take depositions in frontier conflicts and represent their Aboriginal clients in court, anomalies in the law prevented most Aboriginal suspects from getting a fair trial. It is hard to say to what extent the protectorate modified the impact of white settlement on indigenous societies. Aboriginal people were still dispossessed, poisoned, shot, raped, infected and ridiculed. Their language, culture and health were undermined, but at least the protectorate stations offered a place of refuge and a source of food and medicine for those who survived the loss of land and the spread of disease.[5]

Within only 10 years the organization crumbled, and was no longer seen to be effective or viable, in December 1849 the Protectorate was abolished.

Neil Black’s diary entry in 1839 described the prevailing understanding in Victoria of the need to massacre local Aboriginal people occupying their lands and his concern about this settler attitude.

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….[6]

James Baines wrote in his ‘History of Torquay’, there is an account of a murder in the 1860s of a shepherd by Wadawurrung people – and a description of a supposed reprisal attack on the local Wadawurrung clan. It appears that in the sixties of last century the local blacks were responsible for the murder of a shepherd aged 18, who was tending sheep for his employer, a Germantown predecessor of Andrew White, as occupier of Crown lands at Spring Creek under grazing licence (This is Mr Wilson’s version from Mr. Underwood, of Connewarre.) The youth was usually on friendly terms with the dusky nomads, but on this occasion, they coveted, in vain, a gun that he valued and refused to give up; whereupon, awaiting a favourable opportunity, they buried their spears in his back. A search party found his body under wattle boughs and brushwood on the flat above the site of the corduroy ford (later Gottlieb’s Bridge). An armed body of whites traced the blacks and pursued them past Airey’s Inlet where the remnant took to the sea and were wiped out,

In 1854 Dr. Thomson calculated that there were only 34 adults left and two children under five years.

John Armstrong, at Mount Duneed squatted on the traditional winter camp of the Wathaurong. When the stations were divided up, John Stewart purchased part of this land. A few acres of land along the banks of Armstrong Creek were used by the remaining ten Wathaurong people. By 1861 there were seven adults now known as the Barrabool tribe. They were moved from Stewarts Reserve to live on one acre of land on the Ghazeepore Road which was declared the Duneed Aboriginal Land Reserve. It had a wooden hut for shelter. 

Frank Armstrong remembered as a young boy, he would see the Barwon Tribe approaching Geelong every morning over an open plain, they would stop at the house and ask for food. He also recalled Willem Baa Niip teaching him to throw a boomerang.[7] Frank described how “Billy” would walk “backwards and forwards as if to gauge the wind. Then when he thought everything was favourable, he would let go. Away it soared until it poised in the air for a second or two, and then returned with not a little force, dropping to earth a little behind us.”

In 1861 a reserve of only one acre was set aside for Wadawurrung balug tribe on Ghazeepore Road just south of Andersons Creek. On it lived the six males and one female that then comprised the tribe. Willem Baa Nip (King Billy), the last of the local Wathaurong (1836 – 1885) during his life time he defended his right to live on the land of his people.

J.M. Garratt, Honorary Correspondent of the Central Board appointed to watch over the interests of the Aborigines, reported in the Geelong Advertiser in 1862 that there was “plenty of wood and water”. He also reported to parliament that he had distributed supplies which were barely minimal.

The Wathaurong people could not sustain themselves with such small food resources so they would walk to Geelong each day to trade or beg because they were not allowed to stay in the town after sunset.

Through the hard times, Willem Baa Ni ip and Dan Dan Nook had resisted being moved to the Aboriginal Reserve at Coranderrk preferring to live out their lives on Wathaurung country. Frank Armstrong states that “Jerry (Dan Dan Nook) was King and after he died in 1870, Billy was proud of being styled King.”[8] All alone Willem Baa Ni ip regularly stayed near Edwards Point on the shores of Swan Bay and at Skepper’s Well, Ocean Grove. It was near the home of fisherman, Thomas Blackwell who was the Aboriginal warden issuing rations.[9]

Willem and Thomas were friends who had a falling out in 1877 after a ‘drinking’ session. Consequently, Thomas asked Willem to leave his property; land which Willem looked upon as his own territory. Blows were landed on each other until Thomas attacked Willem with a soldering iron. Willem Baa Ni ip went to the police charging Thomas with assault. Willem was laughed at in the Geelong Police Court when he gave evidence, and the case was dismissed even though Thomas admitted to giving Billy a good “prodding” in the side with a soldering iron.[10] After this Willem Baa Ni ip moved to Portarlington.

Not all cases of Aboriginal killings were documented officially

Frontier Massacres across Victoria


Frontier Massacres around Victoira


There were no known massacres in the Surf Coast Shire, the closest was around Warrnambool.


Site NameAire River Estuary, Cape Otway
Aboriginal Place Name 
Language GroupGadubanud
Present State/TerritoryVIC
Police DistrictPortland
DateBetween 1 Aug 1846 and 2 Aug 1846
Attack Timedawn
VictimsAboriginal People
Victims Killed8
Victims Killed Notes1 warrior, the rest were women and children. Up to 20 were killed.
AttackersColonisers: Government official
Attackers Killed0
Attackers Killed Notes 
Weapons UsedMuskets Tomahawks
NarrativeIn July 1846, surveyor George Smythe was hired to conduct a coastal survey of the Otway Ranges. Having established a base camp on the eastern shore of Cape Otway at Blanket Bay, Smythe and four others in the party marched westward towards the Aire river and when they returned to Blanket Bay six days later, they found that another member of the party, James Conroy, had been ‘barbarously murdered’ with a tomahawk’ about 200 yards from the tent, where he had gone to cut wood’. Conroy had been visited by some Gadubanud people earlier in the day and it appears he had tried to abduct an Aboriginal woman, and had been killed for his efforts. Smythe and the party buried Conroy’s body and made their way back to Geelong and then to Melbourne where Smyth informed Superintendent La Trobe of the incident. Smythe then organised a punitive expedition to avenge Conroy’s death, comprising a ‘party of heavily armed’ pastoralists and stockmen, probably on horseback and an ‘armed detachment of the Barrabool tribe’, employed ‘under the sanction of government’. The party tracked down a group of the Badubanud camped on the opposite bank of the Aire river estuary. Early the following morning, the Barrabool were sent into attack the Badubanud camp and promptly killed the chief and several women and children. Reports of the numbers killed range from 8 to 20.
SourcesGeelong Advertiser and Squatter’s Advocate, 8,22 and 29 August 1846; Cannon 1190:147; Niewojt 2010:193-213; (Sources PDF)
The University of Newcastle, Australia
Ryan, Lyndall; Pascoe, William; Debenham, Jennifer; Gilbert, Stephanie; Richards, Jonathan; Smith, Robyn; Owen, Chris; Anders, Robert J; Brown, Mark; Price, Daniel; Newley, Jack; Usher, Kaine Colonial Frontier Massacres in Australia Newcastle: University of Newcastle, 2017-2020, (accessed 7/12/2019). Funded by ARC: DP 140100399.

Reported Aboriginal killings in Wadawurrung territory to 1859 [15]




Aboriginal people involved

Europeans involved

Aboriginal deaths reported

October 1803

Corio Bay

Wathaurong, possibly Yaawangi or Wathaurong balug

Lieutenant J Tuckey and others

two people

17 October 1836

Barwon River, Barrabool Hills

Wathaurong balug clan

John Whitehead, encouraged by Frederick Taylor

Woolmudgin, alias Curacoine

Summer 1837-1838

Golf Hill Station, Yarrowee River, north of Inverleigh

Wathaurong clan unknown

A shepherd and a hut keeper, Clyde company employees

two people

June 1839 – 1840


Wathaurong barug clan


three people

25 November 1847

Anderson and Mills Public House, Buninyong

Wathaurong clan unknown


two people



[1]  accessed 17/10/2021


[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid


[6] Et al Clark

[7]  Geelong Advertiser 12/08/1922 p11

[8] Ibid

[9] Geelong Advertiser, King Billy: the last of a proud people, Ron Milligan, 11/11/2005, p8

[10] Geelong Advertiser, Town Talk, 3/3/1877 p2


Broome, Richard, Aboriginal Victorians: A history since 1800, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2005. Details

Eidelson, Meyer, The Melbourne dreaming: A guide to the Aboriginal places of Melbourne, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1997. Details

Jackomos, Alick, and Derek Fowell (eds), Living Aboriginal history of Victoria: Stories in the oral tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991. Details

Wynd, Ian (1992), Barrabool – Land of the Magpie. Barrabool Shire, Torquay

Pascoe, Bruce (2003), Wathaurong : the people who said no.  prepared by for the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative and Coast Action

Macintyre, Stuart (1999), A concise History of Australia. Cambridge Concise Histories, Cambridge university Press

Geelong Advertiser, 1837