There are many Indigenous cultures in Australia, made up of people from a rich diversity of tribal groups each speaking their own language, holding their own cultural beliefs and traditions. Long before Europeans settled in the Torquay region it was home to the Wadawurrung (Wathaurong) people, one of five language groups making up the Kulin Nation who prospered in the areas surrounding Port Phillip and Western Port Bays. Traditionally, the Kulin people lived as hunters and gatherers with seasonal changes in the weather and availability of foods determining where campsites were located.
The five communities are known as:
• Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) of the Birrarung (Yarra) catchment
• Boonerwrung of the bays and south coast
• Taungurung of the Koriella catchment (Goulburn River)
• Wadawurrung (Wathaurung) of the western plains
• Dja Dja Wrung of the northwest region (Loddon River).
Each of these large groups are divided into a number of smaller, land-owning communities.
The Wadawurrung (Wathaurung) consisted of 25 separate land-owning units called clans which had commonalities in language, custom, traditions, marriage ties, totems, burial rites and very strong trading links. It was also the group with which an individual Koorie would firstly identify herself or himself. Clans looked after their land, they owned it and renewed it. They met at times of ceremony.
Is it Wadawurrung, Wathawurrung or Wathaurong?
As Australian Aboriginal languages were oral, not written languages, there is no “correct” spelling of any Aboriginal words. Therefore, over time, different groups of people have changed the spelling of Wadawurrung to best reflect the way it is pronounced. Wadawurrung – is currently the most accepted spelling.
Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (WTOAC) is the representative body for Wadawurrung Traditional Owners. The Corporation works to support Traditional Owner aspirations and protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in accordance with the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. WTOAC was appointed in May 2009 as a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) under this Act.
Wadawurrung’s RAP area covers more than 10,000 km2 on the western side Melbourne encompassing the major regional cities of Geelong and Ballarat. The Surf Coast Shire in within the boundaries of Wadawurrung’s RAP area, including the Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road, which is experiencing very a high rate of growth in terms of population, infrastructure, commercial and residential development.
The Wadawurrung are the seven family groups who are the sole descendants of John Robinson, the apical ancestor. John was born in 1846 and was the son of respected Wadawurrung Elder, Cantobeen –Queen Mary of Ballarat.
Descendants of John Robinson researched their ancestry and in 1997 acquired enough information to be recognised as Traditional Owners. WTOAC was incorporated under the Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act 1976 to act on behalf of and represent the interests of all Wadawurrung people.
In 2009 WTOAC was accorded Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) status and is the representative body for Wadawurrung Traditional Owners.
Shortly after the arrival of the First Fleet colonial governments began to grant, lease and sell land to white settlers. The prosperity of the colonial wool industry increased and so did the number of Europeans arriving looking for their own fortunes. The white settlement in the Torquay region occurred soon after the establishment of Melbourne and Geelong. Squatters brought thousands of sheep to the banks of Spring Creek and eventually settled on the foreshore area in the early 1840’s.
The earliest recorded settlers in the Torquay district were Henry Tait, a pastoralist, and his wife Emma. They took up the Spring Creek Station Tooyoung-e-Warra in 1842.
As squatters began to claim land they began to encroach on Indigenous sacred sites, hunting grounds and food supplies. The settlers completely ignored the deep spiritual connections the Aboriginal peoples had with the land. They believed that the Aboriginal peoples were happy to move on to new land, due to the ‘nomadic’ nature of the Indigenous lifestyle. The Indigenous peoples, however, always returned to the land after it had been given time to replenish itself.
European settlement had a severe and devastating impact on Indigenous people. Their dispossession of the land, exposure to new diseases and involvement in violent conflict, resulted in the death of a vast number of the Aboriginal peoples. The small percentage of Aboriginal people who did not die during these early decades of the colony, were not unaffected. The impact of the white settlers changed their lives, and the lives of future generations, forever.
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