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Coordinates: 37°41′02″S 145°31′19″E / 37.684007°S 145.521938°E / -37.684007; 145.521938

William Barak's grave and headstone at Coranderrk cemetery

Coranderrk was a government reserve for Australian Aborigines in the state of Victoria between 1863 and 1924, located 50 km north-east of Melbourne.

Under the protectionist policies of the time, the government provided land for Indigenous people who had been dispossessed of their traditional lands by the arrival of European settlers to the colony of Victoria since the 1830s.[1][2]

The reserve was formally closed in 1924, with most residents removed to Lake Tyers Mission.


In February 1859, some Wurundjeri elders, led by Simon Wonga (aged 35) and brother Tommy Munnering (aged 24), petitioned Protector William Thomas to secure land for the Kulin at the junction of the Acheron and Goulburn rivers. Initial representations to the Victorian Government were positive, however the intervention of the most powerful squatter in Victoria, Hugh Glass, resulted in their removal to a colder site, Mohican Station, which had been abandoned as unsuitable for agriculture.[3][4]

In March 1863, after 3 years of upheaval, the surviving leaders, among them Simon Wonga and William Barak, led 40 Woi Wurrung, Taungurong and Bun warrung people over the Black Spur. They squatted on a traditional camping site on Badger Creek near Healesville and requested ownership of the site. They were anxious to have the land officially approved so that they could move down and establish themselves. An area of 9.6 km² was gazetted on 30 June 1863 and called 'Coranderrk', at the Aboriginal people's suggestion. This was the name they used for the Christmas Bush (Prostanthera lasianthos), a white flowering summer plant which is indigenous to the area.

In mid-1864, there were around 70 Aboriginal people living at Coranderrk.[5][6]

Coranderrk Station[edit]

Coranderrk Station ran successfully for many years as an Aboriginal enterprise, selling wheat, hops and crafts on the burgeoning Melbourne market.[3] Produce from the farm won first prize at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1881;[7] and other awards in previous years, such as 1872.[8]

By 1874, the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) was looking for ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. Neighbouring farmers also wanted the mission closed as the land was now deemed 'too valuable' for Aboriginal people to occupy.[9]

Photographer Fred Kruger was commissioned to document the site and its inhabitants.

Coranderrk Petition[edit]

In the 1870s and '80s, Coranderrk residents sent deputations to the Victorian colonial government protesting their lack of rights and the threatened closure of the reserve.

A Royal Commission in 1877 and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 on the Aboriginal 'problem' led to the Aborigines Protection Act 1886, which required 'half-castes under the age of 35' to leave the reserve.

Activist William Barak and others sent a petition on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Coranderrk to the Victorian Government in 1886, which reads: "Could we get our freedom to go away Shearing and Harvesting and to come home when we wish and also to go for the good of our Health when we need it ... We should be free like the White Population there is only few Blacks now rem[a]ining in Victoria, we are all dying away now and we Blacks of Aboriginal Blood, wish to have now freedom for all our life time ... Why does the Board seek in these latter days more stronger authority over us Aborigines than it has yet been?"

The Coranderrk Petition has survived and is on display at the Melbourne Museum in Carlton.[10]

Decline, closure and aftermath[edit]

As a result of the Aborigines Protection Act of 1886, around 60 residents were ejected from Coranderrk on the eve of the 1890s Depression. Their forced departure crippled Coranderrk as an enterprise, with only around 15 able-bodied men left to work the hitherto successful hop gardens.[8]

Almost half the land was reclaimed by government in 1893, and by 1924 orders came for its closure as an Aboriginal Station, despite protests from Wurundjeri returned servicemen who had fought in World War I.[3]

The reserve was formally closed in 1924, with most residents moved to Lake Tyers Mission in Gippsland in eastern Victoria.

Five older people refused to move and continued living at Coranderrk until they died. The last known Aboriginal woman to live at Coranderrk was Elizabeth (Lizzie) Davis, who died in 1956, aged 104. She was denied permission to be buried at Coranderrk alongside her husband and siblings. The last Indigenous child to be born at Coranderrk Station was James Wandin in 1933, in the home of his grandmother, Jemima Wandin.[11]

After the death of the last remaining Indigenous residents in 1950s, the land was handed over to the Soldier Settlement Scheme.

Healesville Sanctuary[edit]

In 1920, Sir Colin MacKenzie, a leading medical researcher, leased 78 acres (320,000 m2) from the Aboriginal Protection Board to begin his work in comparative anatomy with Australian fauna. This was the catalyst for the creation of the Healesville Sanctuary, a popular zoo for Australian native animals, which today occupies part of the original Coranderrk reserve.[12]

Coranderrk today[edit]

Many Aboriginal families continue to live in the Upper Yarra and Healesville area.

In March 1998, part of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station was returned to the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Compensation and Cultural Heritage Council when the Indigenous Land Corporation purchased 0.81 km².[13]

Coranderrk was added to the Australian National Heritage List on 7 June 2011.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mission Voices, Coranderrk. Koorie Heritage Trust Archived 19 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Accessed 3 November 2008
  2. ^ Meyer Eidelson, Coranderrk Station, in The Melbourne Dreaming. A Guide to the Aboriginal Places of Melbourne, pp113-114, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1997. Reprint 2000. ISBN 0-85575-306-4
  3. ^ a b c Isabel Ellender and Peter Christiansen, pp112-113, People of the Merri Merri. The Wurundjeri in Colonial Days, Merri Creek Management Committee, 2001 ISBN 0-9577728-0-7
  4. ^ Richard Broome, pp123-125, Aboriginal Victorians: A History Since 1800, Allen & Unwin, 2005, ISBN 1-74114-569-4, ISBN 978-1-74114-569-4
  5. ^ "THE ABORIGINAL SETTLEMENT AT CORANDERRK". The Age (3, 050). Victoria, Australia. 6 August 1864. p. 7. Retrieved 5 March 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ "LIST OF BLACKS AT CORANDERRK STATION, ON THE UPPER YARRA". The Age (3, 050). Victoria, Australia. 6 August 1864. p. 7. Retrieved 5 March 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION AWARDS". The Argus. Melbourne. 3 February 1881. p. 6. Retrieved 13 November 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ a b Gary Presland, pp105-107, Aboriginal Melbourne: The Lost Land of the Kulin People, Harriland Press (1985), Second edition 1994, ISBN 0-9577004-2-3.
  9. ^ Mission Voices, Coranderrk. Mission History Archived 19 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Accessed 3 November 2008
  10. ^ Coranderrk Petition, [1] Archived 22 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine Melbourne Museum
  11. ^ Meyer Eidelson, The Footballer, First in the league, in Walks in Port Phillip. A guide to the cultural landscapes of a City Archived 30 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Accessed 1 November 2008
  12. ^ Coranderrk, wurundjeri perspectives, plaque at Healesville Sanctuary, 2008.
  13. ^ State Library of Victoria, Coranderrk Mission Archived 20 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Accessed 4 November 2008
  14. ^ "National Heritage Places – Coranderrk". Department of the Environment (Australia). Archived from the original on 9 May 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2015.