Djab wurrung

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

The Djab wurrung people are Indigenous Australians who occupy 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. There were 41 Djab wurrung clans who formed an alliance with the neighboring Jardwadjali people through intermarriage, shared culture, trade and moiety system.[1]

Alternate transcriptions of the name are Chaap Wuurong, Djabwurrung, Tjapwuring, Tjapwurong etc.


The Djab wurrung were a matrilineal society, with descent system based on the Gamadj (black cockatoo) and Grugidj (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.[1]

The Djab Wurrung were semi-nomadic hunter gatherers within their territorial boundaries. During winter their encampments were more permanent, sometimes 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."[2]

During early Autumn there were large gatherings of up to 1000 people for one to two months hosted at the Mount William swamp or at Lake Bolac for the annual eel migration. Several tribes attended these gatherings including the Girai wurrung, Djargurd wurrung, Dhauwurd wurrung and Wada wurrung. 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.[3] Near Lake Bolac a semi-permanent village extended some 35 kilometres 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 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..."[4]

In mid summer gatherings for ceremony and hunting took place at Mirraewuae, a marsh near Hexham rich with emu and other game.[1][5]

Wimmera pioneer James Dawson witnessed a group of young Djab Wurrung men playing the Marn grook football game with a stitched up possum skin for the ball:

"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..."[6]

Tom Wills family moved to a station 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 establishing and codifying Australian Rules football, although whether Marn Grook influenced the development of the game is still being debated.

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.[7]


Djab wurrung was one of four primary languages spoken in western Victoria. Sub dialects included Djab wurrung, Knenknen wurrung, and Pirtpirt wurrung. The Djab wurrung language shared 90 percent common vocabulary with Jardwadjali, 80 percent common vocabulary with Dja Dja Wurrung, 70 percent with Wergaia and Wemba-Wemba, 48 percent with Dhauwurd wurrung and 42 percent with Buandig.[8]


Map of Victorian Aborigines language territories

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

It is likely the Djab wurrung were well aware of Europeans from their communications with coastal tribes. Their first explicit contact 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, the squatters with their sheep started settling in Djab wurrung country.[7]

European Settlement from 1836 was marked by resistance to the invasion often by driving off or stealing sheep which then resulted in conflict and sometimes a massacre of aboriginal people. From 1840 to 1859 there were 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.[9]

Resistance also took the form of maintaining connections to country and culture through whatever means were available. On the Campbell brothers Mount Cole run, settled in 1840, the Beeripmo balug and Utoul balug clans were allowed to stay on the run 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.[10]

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 growing squatters and their sheep and 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[11]

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.[11]

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.[13]

Some of the changes included:[14]

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

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.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Ian D. Clark, pp57, Scars on the Landscape. A Register of Massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 ISBN 0-85575-281-5
  2. ^ Major Mitchell quoted in Two Native Tribes Shared Shire Area Shire of Mt. Rouse Centenary booklet, 1964, as detailed by the MT. Rouse & District Historical Society website, 20 October 2007. Accessed 25 November 2008
  3. ^ Victorian Eel Fishery - Management Plan Accessed 25 November 2008
  4. ^ Harry Lourandos, pp63-65, Continent of Hunter-gatherers: New Perspectives in Australian Prehistory, Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-521-35946-5
  5. ^ Andrea Murphy & Dale Owen, pp23, Darlington Wind Farm - Desktop Cultural Heritage Assessment[permanent dead link] A Report to Robert Luxmoore Pty Ltd, November 2007. Accessed 25 November 2008
  6. ^ Ashley Mallett, pp12, The Black Lords of Summer: The Story of the 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England and Beyond, University of Queensland, 2002. ISBN 0-7022-3262-9
  7. ^ a b John Hyett for TerraCulture, pp13, An Archaeological Desktop Study Proposed Oaklands Windfarm, Glenthompson Archived 24 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine., November 2006 (amended May 2007). Accessed 25 November 2008
  8. ^ Language Entry, Djab wurrung Archived 14 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine., Victorian Aboriginal Languages Directory, Accessed 24 November 2008
  9. ^ Ian D. Clark, pp61-83, Scars on the Landscape. A Register of Massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 ISBN 0-85575-281-5
  10. ^ Nathan Wolski, pp225-226 All's not quiet on the Western Front - rethinking resistance and frontiers in Aboriginal historiography as contained in Colonial Frontiers: Indigenous-European Encounters in Settler Societies edited by Lynette Russell, Published by Manchester University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7190-5859-7. Preview Accessed 25 November 2008
  11. ^ a b c Ian D. Clark, pp58-60, Scars on the Landscape. A Register of Massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 ISBN 0-85575-281-5
  12. ^ Ashley Mallett, pp8-9, The Black Lords of Summer: The Story of the 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England and Beyond, University of Queensland, 2002. ISBN 0-7022-3262-9
  13. ^ Laura Kostanski, pp6-8‘That Name is OUR history: Divergent Histories of Place’, University of Ballarat, SCHOOL OF BUSINESS WORKING PAPER 2006/10, ISSN 1832-6846 Accessed 19 November 2008
  14. ^ Ian D. Clark and Lionel L. Harradine, The restoration of Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung names for rock art sites and landscape features in and around the Grampians National Park, Melbourne, Vic. : Koorie Tourism Unit, 1990.
  15. ^ About Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre, Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre website. Accessed 25 November 2008