Djab wurrung

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Djab Wurrung
Regions with significant populations
Djab wurrung, English
Australian Aboriginal mythology,
Related ethnic groups
Dja Dja Wurrung, Jardwadjali, Dhauwurd wurrung and Wada wurrung
see List of Indigenous Australian group names

The Djab wurrung, also spelt Djabwurrung, Tjapwurrung, Tjap Wurrung, or Djapwarrung, people are Aboriginal Australians whose country is 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. Their embassy is located on a proposed highway duplication on the Western Highway south of Ararat.[1] There were 41 Djab wurrung clans who formed an alliance with the neighboring Jardwadjali people through intermarriage, shared culture, trade and moiety system before colonisation[2] Their lands were never ceded.[1]


Djabwurrung, or Tjapwurrung, meaning "soft language",[2] belongs to the Western branch of the Kulin languages.[3] It was the southernmost version, with Djadjawurrung spoken to the east/southeast, and Yartwatjali/Jardwadjali (thought to be a dialect of Wemba Wemba language) spoken in the area from Casterton northwards to Donald.[3]

The Djabwurrung language shared 85 percent common vocabulary with Yartwatjali, 82 with Wemba-Wemba, 66% with Madhi Madhi and 68% with Letji-Letji.[4]


The Tjapwurrung's lands extend over 2,700 square miles (7,000 km2), ranging from Mount Rouse westwards to Hamilton. To the east its boundaries end at the Hopkins River and Wickliffe. The northern boundary lays near Mount William, Stawell, Ararat and the Dividing Range.[5]


The Tjapwurrung are known to have had at least eleven bands.[5]

They have a two class matrilineal system, with descent based on the wirran (yellow-tailed black cockatoo) and grugidj (sulphur-crested cockatoo or Long-billed corella white cockatoo) moieties. Grugidj sub-totems included pelican, parrot, mopoke and large kangaroo. Gamadj sub-totems included emu, whip snake, possum, koala, and sparrowhawk. Clans intermarried with the Dja Dja Wurrung, Jardwadjali, Dhauwurd wurrung and Wada wurrung peoples.[2]

The Djab Wurrung were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers within their territorial boundaries[citation needed]. During winter their encampments were more permanent, consisting of substantial huts as attested by Major Thomas Mitchell near Mount Napier in 1836:

'Two very substantial huts showed that even the natives had been attracted by the beauty of the land, and as the day was showery, I wished to return if possible, to pass the night there, for I began to learn that such huts, with a good fire between them, made comfortable quarters in bad weather.'[6]

During early Autumn there were large gatherings of up to 1,000 people for one to two months hosted at the Mount William swamp or at Lake Bolac for the annual eel migration.[7] Near Mount William, an elaborate network of channels, weirs and eel traps and stone shelters had been constructed, indicative of a semi-permanent lifestyle in which eels were an important economic component for food and bartering, particularly the Short-finned eel.[8] Near Lake Bolac a semi-permanent village extended some 35 kilometres (22 mi) along the river bank during autumn. George Augustus Robinson on 7 July 1841 described some of the infrastructure that had been constructed near Mount William:

' area of at least 15 acres [6.1 ha] was thus traced out... These works must have been executed at great cost of labour... There must have been some thousands of yards of this trenching and banking. The whole of the water from the mountain rivulets is made to pass through this trenching ere it reaches the marsh...'[9]

In mid summer, gatherings for ceremony and hunting took place at Mirraewuae, a marsh near Hexham rich with emu and other game.[2]

Djab wurrung football[edit]

It has been argued that a traditional ball-kicking aboriginal game[a] such as Marn Grook had some influence on the formation of Australian rules football. Ashley Mallett suggests the form played among Wimmera tribes might have been one influence, and cites a passage from the pastoralist and aboriginal rights activist James Dawson on how the Djab Wurrung played the game,[10] using a stitched possum skin for the football:

'One of the favourite games is football, in which fifty or as many as one hundred players engage at a time. The ball is about the size of an orange, and is made of opossum-skin, with the fur side outwards...The players are divided into two sides and ranged in opposing lines, which are always of a different class-white cockatoo against black cockatoo..Each side endeavours to keep possession of the ball, which is tossed a short distance by hand, and then kicked in any direction. The side which kicks it oftenest and furtherest gains the game. The person who sends it highest is considered the best player, and has the honour of burying it in the ground until the next day.'[11]

Tom Wills family moved to a station, Lexington, near Ararat around 1840, when he was 5 years old, and he grew up often playing with the local aboriginal kids and learning the local dialect. He was influential later in introducing the 'catch' and 'kick' style, and in establishing and codifying Australian Rules football,[11] although whether Marn Grook influenced the development of the game is still being debated.

Burial rites[edit]

Some of the Djab wurrung clans are thought to have practiced burial of their dead in trees. According to Hyett there have been two recent discoveries to the west of Ararat of secondary tree burials, involving the re-interment of two or more individuals, and a primary interment of a child in a hollow tree in the vicinity of Stawell.[12]


Map of Victorian Aborigines language territories

The ancestors of the Djab wurrung may have occupied their lands for up to 40,000 years; the oldest known occupation site, in Gariwerd, is dated at 22,000 BP.

It is likely the Djab wurrung were well aware of European colonisers from their communications with coastal tribes. Their first explicit contact in the written record was with Major Thomas Mitchell exploring western Victoria in September 1836 when he surprised two women of the Utoul balug and their children near Mount Cole. Two years later, in 1838, a squatter invasion began with colonials and their sheep flocks settling in Djab wurrung country.[7]

European Settlement from 1836 was marked by resistance to the invasion often by driving off or stealing sheep; the settlers often responded by massacring aboriginal people. From 1840 to 1859 there are reports of 35 massacres and killings of Djab wurrung people, most occurring before the end of 1842. Very few of these reports were acted upon to bring the settlers to court.[13]

Resistance also takes the form of maintaining connections to country and culture through whatever means available. On the Campbell brothers Mount Cole run, settled in 1840, the Beeripmo balug and Utoul balug clans were allowed to stay on the area and were actively supplied with food and clothing establishing a relationship of care and protection. The Campbell brothers discouraged white employees from visiting the out-stations further reducing possible interaction and conflict. Archeological evidence shows that the Beeripmo balug and Utoul balug maintained their connection to country, culture and food diet well into the 1860s on the property.[14]

In 1841 Kolorer (Mount Rouse) and Burrumbeep were gazetted as Aboriginal reserves, although only the Kolorer reserve was used by Djab wurrung. In 1842 and 1843 Kolorer was used as a base to launch guerilla attacks against the increasing numbers of squatters and their sheep, then retreat to the reserve which was under the protection of the Assistant Protector of Aborigines, Charles Sievwright. Resistance to the European invasion peaked between 1840 and 1842. By 1848 all the Djab wurrung lands had been squatted and resistance had been broken through the use of Border Police and the Native Police Corps.[15]

By 1845 the Djab Wurrung population had dropped from a conservative pre-contact estimate of 2050 to 615. Three quarters are estimated to have been killed by introduced diseases, poisoned flour, diseased blankets and starvation due to shortage of traditional foods, and a quarter killed by rifle attack.[16]

During the gold rush period the Djab wurrung saw large numbers of European and Chinese people camping on their land in search for gold, but the search for gold also attracted many station hands, and so Djab wurrung people often found employment as station hands and in menial jobs around the stations during this period.[15]

In the 1870s the Djab wurrung were largely dispersed to the reservations: the Hamilton mob to Lake Condah, the Wickcliffe people to Framlingham mission, and the Mount Cole people to Framlingham and Coranderrk station.[15]

Djab Wurrung today[edit]

In 1989 there was a proposal by Victorian Minister for Tourism, Steve Crabb to rename many geographical place names associated with aboriginal heritage in the Gariwerd - Grampians National Park area. There was much community opposition to this proposal. The Brambuk centre, representing five aboriginal communities with historical links to the area, advocated a dual name for the main area: Gariwerd/Grampians.[17]

Some of the changes included:

  • Grampians to Gariwerd (mountain range)
  • Mount Zero to Mura Mura (little hill)
  • Halls Gap to Budja Budja.[18]

The Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre in Halls Gap is owned and managed by Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung people from five Aboriginal communities with historic links to the Gariwerd-Grampians ranges and the surrounding plains.[19]

In the summer of 2019 members of the Djab wurrung protested the building of a new highway between Ararat and Buangor as it would involve the destruction of 260 trees considered sacred in Djap Wurrung spirituality. Politician Lidia Thorpe and her daughter took part in the protest.[20]

Alternative names[edit]

  • Tyapwuru, Tyapwurru, Chaap Wuurong, Chaapwurru, Djabwuru
  • Pirt-kopan-noot (This is a dialect name to the north round Ararat).
  • Purteet-chally (lit. 'fight seekers')
  • Punoinjon (a lake name)
  • Nutcheyong (The name of one of its hordes at Moyston).
  • Buninjon, Buninyong. A toponym
  • Kolor (toponym of Mount Rouse), Kolor Kuurndit, Kooloor, Kolorer,.
  • Girriwurra (name of a horde near Maroona).
  • Hopkins River Tribe
  • Bolakngat (eastern name).
  • Bolagher (perhaps a toponym from Lake Bolac, yet it may have denoted, according to Norman Tindale, the northwestern horde of the Kirrae).
  • Knindowurong[5]


  1. ^ Beveridge writes of the football used among the riverine Murray tribes uch as the Tatitati, Latjilatji, Jitajita, Nari-Nari, Barapa Barapa, Warkawarka, Watiwati, Wemba-Wemba etc., that 'the women participate in this game as well as the men. I have seen as many as 200 (including both sexes) engaged in this game at one time. The ball is composed of old opossum skin tightly rolled up and covered with a fresh piece of skin firmly sewed together with opossum tail sinews; before they begin to play they arrange sides, each side having a captain, whose place it is to guide and control an oftentimes unruly squad. When all is in order a lyoor starts off with the ball in her hand; she walks a little way out from her own side and towards that of their opponents, drops the ball with seeming carelessness, but ere it has time to reach the ground she gives a dexterous and by no means a gentle kick, which being correctly aimed sends the ball into the air. Thereupon the fun begins in downright earnest...They have not any appointed goal to which the ball has to be driven; the whole of the play merely consists of keeping the ball in motion, and preventing its coming to the ground, whilst the strugglers of the game all tend to keep the ball from being captured by the opposing side. Those holding the ball throw it from one to the other of their own side, and it is whilst this is going on that the non-possessors strenuously run and jump to intercept it in its flights. As the eyes of the players are never by any chance bent on the ground, tumbles during the game are numerous and frequently ludicrous, more especially when one goes down, and so becomes a stumbling block over which a dozen or more come toppling in a heap; these incidents, however, add mirth unto the fun, without creating the least ill temper. (Beveridge 1883, pp. 52–53)


  1. ^ a b DW Embassy
  2. ^ a b c d Clark 1995, p. 57.
  3. ^ a b Blake 2011, p. 8.
  4. ^ Blake 2011, p. 9.
  5. ^ a b c Tindale 1974.
  6. ^ Mitchell 2011, p. 245.
  7. ^ a b Clark 1995, p. 58.
  8. ^ Mallett 2002, pp. 10–11.
  9. ^ Lourandos 1997, p. 65.
  10. ^ Dawson 1881.
  11. ^ a b Mallett 2002, p. 12.
  12. ^ Richards, Bennett & Webber 2013, pp. 62–72.
  13. ^ Clark 1995, pp. 57–83.
  14. ^ Wolski 2001, pp. 225–226.
  15. ^ a b c Clark 1995, pp. 58–60.
  16. ^ Mallett 2002, pp. 8–9.
  17. ^ Kostanski 2014, p. 275.
  18. ^ Clark & Harradine 1990.
  19. ^ Pieris 2016, p. 48.
  20. ^ Martin 2019.