|Region||New South Wales|
weg – Wergaia
xwt – Wotjobaluk
Map of Victorian Aborigines language territories
Wergaia is an indigenous Australian language group in the Wimmera region of north-Western Victoria. Twenty clans made up the Wergaia language, which consisted of four distinct dialects: Wudjubalug/Wotjobaluk; Djadjala/Djadjali; Buibadjali; Biwadjali. Wergaia was apparently a dialect of the Wemba Wemba language. The people were known as the Maligundidj, which means the people of the Mallee country, referring to the mallee eucalypt bushland which covers much of their territory.
Before European settlement in the nineteenth century, the Wergaia-occupied the area that included Lake Hindmarsh, Lake Albacutya, Pine Plains Lake, Lake Werringrin, Lake Corong, Warracknabeal, Beulah, Hopetoun, Dimboola, Ouyen, Yanac, Hattah Lakes and the Wimmera River.
History and culture
The Maligundidj people were divided into 20 clans each with their particular territory. They were a matrilineal society divided into two moeties: gabadj (black cockatoo) and grugidj (white cockatoo). Intermarriage occurred often with the Jardwadjali and Dja Dja Wurrung peoples, and meetings and ceremonies were attended with the Dadidadi, Wadiwadi, and Ladjiladji peoples to their north.
The clans that spoke Wergaia have lived in the area for up to 30,000 to 40,000 years. There is evidence of occupation in Gariwerd many thousands of years before the last ice-age. One site in the Victoria Range (Billawin Range) has been dated from 22,000 years ago.
European contact and history
It is likely that first contact with Europeans was through smallpox epidemics which arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 and rapidly spread through the trading networks of indigenous Australians and killed many people in two waves before the 1830s. One Wotjobaluk account called the disease thinba micka and that it killed large numbers of people, and disfigured many more with pock-marked faces, and came down the Murray River sent by malevolent sorcerers to the north.
The explorer Edward John Eyre was possibly the first European seen by the Maligundidj when he followed the Wimmera River to Lake Hindmarsh in 1838. His reports of the mallee country spurred a rush of settlers with their cattle and sheep eager to establish pastoral stations.
With the encroachment of European settlers from 1840 eager to run cattle and sheep conflict in Wergaia country was inevitable. The first 10 years of European settlement in the area was met with considerable resistance by the Maligundidj.
Horatio Cockburn Ellerman, an early settler, participated in several raids on aboriginal camps:
- "The Wotjobaluk singled him out early for his ruthlessness. In 1844, learning that one had threatened to kill him, Ellerman obtained a warrant and, with members of the Border Police, hunted down the man. The party shot and killed him and another Wotjobaluk, presumably claiming self-defence. The raid that killed Willie's mother would not have been the first such raid in which Ellerman had taken part. William Taylor, another adventurer, mentioned that Ellerman, and others who would later move to the Lake Hindmarsh area, took part in a punitive expedition in the Southern Wimmera in 1844."
The boy, William Wimmera, whose mother was shot in 1846, was taken in by Ellerman. On a trip taking wool to Melbourne in 1850 the boy became lost. He was taken in by Lloyd Chase and later taken to England to be educated, While in England he contracted a lung disease and died on 10 March 1852. Just before his death he asked to be baptised in the Christian faith. A sixteen page account of his life was published which focused on his religious redemption.
Dick-a-Dick was a Wotjobaluk tracker responsible for finding the three Duff children lost in the Australian bush for 9 days in 1864 which garnered national and even international attention. Dick-a-Dick was one of the Wotjobaluk and Jardwadjali men who formed the basis for the Australian Aboriginal cricket team in England in 1868.
In 1981 or early 1982 the aboriginal community met in Horsham and applied for registration as the Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative. According to Clark, Goolum goolum is a Wergaia word meaning 'stranger, especially a dangerous stranger, wild blackfellow.
Ebenezer Mission was established in 1859 in Wergaia country at a site called Banji bunag, near the site of the killing of Willie's mother which was a traditional meeting place and corroboree ground. The site was chosen with the assistance of Ellerman.
In 1902 the State Government of Victoria decided to close the Ebenezer Mission due to low numbers. The mission closed in 1904, and most of the land was handed back to the Victorian Lands Department and made available for selection. In the following twenty years many Wergaia people were forcibly moved to Lake Tyers in Gippsland under police escort, along with closure of all rations to Ebenezer Mission and seizure of children. Despite these measures, some Wergaia families avoided relocation and remained on their ancestral lands.
Native Title recognition
The indigenous peoples of the Wimmera won native title recognition on 13 December 2005 after a ten year legal process. It was the first successful native title claim in south-eastern Australia and in Victoria, determined by Justice Ron Merkel involving Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagalk people. In his reasons for judgement Justice Merkel made special mention of Wotjobaluk elder Uncle Jack Kennedy and explained the significance of his orders:
- "The orders I propose to make are of special significance as they constitute the first recognition and protection of native title resulting in the ongoing enjoyment of native title in the State of Victoria and, it would appear, on the South-Eastern seaboard of Australia. These are areas in which the Aboriginal peoples suffered severe and extensive dispossession, degradation and devastation as a consequence of the establishment of British sovereignty over their lands and waters during the 19th century."
Prominent speakers of Wergaia
- R. M. W. Dixon, Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development: v. 1 (Cambridge Language Surveys). Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-521-47378-1
- Wergaia at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
- Ian D. Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans: An Historical Atlas of Western and Central Victoria, 1800–1900, Monash Publications in Geography Number 37, Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Monash University. 1990. ISBN 0-909685-41-X
- Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Cambridge University Press. p. xxxvi.
- Ian D. Clark, pp177-183, Scars on the Landscape. A Register of Massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 ISBN 0-85575-281-5
- Parks Victoria, Management Plan for Grampians National Park, 2003, ISBN 0-7311-3131-2 . Accessed 19 November 2008
- Edward Stanbridge, On the Astronomy and Mythology of the Aborigines of Victoria, 1857. Accessed 10 September 2011.
- Duane Hamacher, A Wergaia Planisphere: An Educational Tool, Australian Aboriginal Astronomy Blog, 28 June 2011. Accessed on 10 September 2011.
- Richard Broome, Aboriginal Victorians: a history since 1800, Allen & Unwin, 2005 ISBN 1-74114-569-4
- Ian D. Clark, pp180-182, Scars on the Landscape. A Register of Massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 ISBN 0-85575-281-5
- Robert Kenny, pg 140, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming - Nathaniel Pepper and the Ruptured World, Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2007. ISBN 978-1-921215-16-2
- Robert Kenny, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming - Nathaniel Pepper and the Ruptured World, Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2007. ISBN 978-1-921215-16-2
- Fergus Shiel, Past gives us strength, Aborigines say, The Age, 14 December 2005. Accessed 10 September 2011
- Federal Court of Australia, Clarke on behalf of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples v Victoria  FCA 1795 (13 December 2005), AUSTLII, 13 December 2005. Accessed 10 September 2011.