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Regions with significant populations
Wadawurrung, English
Australian Aboriginal mythology, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Boonwurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Taungurung, Wurundjeri
see List of Indigenous Australian group names

The Wadawurrung nation, also called the Wathaurong, Wathaurung, and Wadda Wurrung, are an Aboriginal Australian people living in the area near Melbourne, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula in the state of Victoria. They are part of the Kulin alliance. The Wathaurong language was spoken by 25 clans south of the Werribee River and the Bellarine Peninsula to Streatham. The area they inhabit has been occupied for at least the last 25,000 years.


Wathaurong is a Pama-Nyungan language, belonging to the Kulin sub-branch of the Kulinic language family.[citation needed]


Wathaurong traditional lands
Basic territorial boundaries with other nations

Wadawurrung territory extended some 7,800 square kilometres (3,000 sq mi). To the east of Geelong their land ran up to Queenscliff, and from the south of Geelong around the Bellarine Peninsula, towards the Otway forests. Its northwestern boundaries lay at Mount Emu and Mount Misery, and extended to Lake Burrumbeet Beaufort and the Ballarat goldfields.[1]

The area they inhabit has been occupied for at least the last 25,000 years, with 140 archaeological sites having been found in the region, indicating significant activity over that period.[2]

Contemporary representation[edit]

The Wadawurrung Aboriginal Corporation, a Registered Aboriginal Party since 21 May 2009, represents the traditional owners for the Geelong and Ballarat areas.[1][2][3] The Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative, based in Geelong, also has a role in managing Wadawurrung cultural heritage, for example through its ownership of the Wurdi Youang Aboriginal stone arrangement at Mount Rothwell.[4]

History of contact[edit]

Coastal clans of the Wadawurrung may have had contact with Lieutenant John Murray when he charted Indented Head and named Swan Bay. Matthew Flinders met several Wadawurrung when he camped at Indented Head and climbed the You Yangs in May 1802. When Lieutenant David Collins founded the colony at Sullivan Bay, Victoria in October 1803, he sent Lieutenant J. Tuckey to survey and explore Corio Bay which resulted in several Aboriginal people being shot and wounded.[citation needed]

William Buckley, a convict who had escaped from the abortive Sullivan Bay settlement in December 1803, lived with a Victorian Aboriginal group, commonly identified with the Wadawurrung.[5][6] In his reminiscences, Buckley tells of his first meeting with native women. Buckley had taken a spear used to mark a grave for use as a walking stick. The women befriended him after recognising the spear as belonging to a relative who had recently died and invited him back to their camp. The tribe thought he was the resurrected Murrangurk, an important former leader.[7][8][a] He was adopted into the band and lived among them for 32 years, being treated with great affection and respect. Buckley states he was appointed a headman and had often witnessed wars, raids, and blood-feuds. He adds that he frequently settled disputes and disarmed warring groups on the eve of some fight.[9][10] As a revered spirit, he was banned from participating in tribal wars. According to Buckley, warfare was a central part of life among Aboriginal people in the area.[11][12]

The European settlement of Wadawurrung territory began in earnest from 1835, with a rapid arrival of squatters around the Geelong area and westwards. This European settlement was marked by Aboriginal resistance to the invasion, often by driving off or stealing sheep, which then resulted in conflict and sometimes a massacre of Aboriginal people.[13]

Very few of the reports of the killing of Aboriginal people were acted upon. On the few occasions the matter did reach court, such as the killing of Woolmudgin on 7 October 1836, following which John Whitehead was sent to Sydney for trial, the case was dropped for lack of evidence and the absconding of key witness Frederick Taylor. At the time Aboriginal people were denied the right to give evidence in courts of law. The incidents listed below are just those cases that have been reported; it is likely other incidents occurred that were never documented officially. Writing on 9 December 1839, Niel Black, a squatter in western Victoria, describes the prevailing attitude of many settlers:

The best way [to procure a run] is to go outside and take up a new run, provided the conscience of the party is sufficiently seared to enable him without remorse to slaughter natives right and left. It is universally and distinctly understood that the chances are very small indeed of a person taking up a new run being able to maintain possession of his place and property without having recourse to such means – sometimes by wholesale....[14]

Reported Aboriginal killings in Wadawurrung territory to 1859[15]
Date Location Aboriginal people involved Europeans involved Aboriginal deaths reported
October 1803 Corio Bay Wadawurrung, possibly Yaawangi or Wadawurrung balug Lieutenant J Tuckey and others two people
17 October 1836 Barwon River, Barrabool Hills Wadawurrung, balug clan John Whitehead, encouraged by Frederick Taylor Woolmudgin, alias Curacoine
Summer 1837-1838 Golf Hill Station, Yarrowee River, north of Inverleigh Wadawurrung, clan unknown A shepherd and a hut keeper, Clyde company employees two people
June 1839 – 1840 unknown Wadawurrung, barug clan soldiers three people
25 November 1847 Anderson and Mills Public House, Buninyong Wadawurrung, clan unknown unknown two people

In 1841, Wadawurrung man Bonjon (or "Bon Jon") was charged with murder for killing Yammowing of the Gulidjan people whose territory bordered that of the Wadawurrung. According to the Wesleyan missionary Francis Tuckfield, Bonjon had been in contact with Europeans more than any other member of the Wadawurrung, having been attached to the Border Police for some time. According to the local head of that force, Captain Foster Fyans, Bonjon was with him and his troopers for 4 years, tracking down and assisting in armed confrontations with Aboriginal insurgents in the districts to the west.[16] The prosecution alleged that on or about 14 July 1841, Bonjon shot Yammowing in the head with a carbine at Geelong, killing him.[17][b] The prosecution ultimately abandoned the case and Bonjon was eventually discharged. The case in the Supreme Court of New South Wales for the District of Port Phillip, R v Bonjon, later become notable for the legal question of whether the colonial courts had jurisdiction over offences committed by Aboriginal people inter se, that is, by one Aboriginal person against another, and the legal situation as to the British acquisition of sovereignty over Australia, and its consequences for the Aboriginal people.

The events of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion took place on Wadawurrung land. Three Wadawurrung clans lived in the vicinity of the Eureka diggings: the Burrumbeet baluk at Lakes Burrumbeet and Learmonth, Keyeet baluk, a sub-group of the Burrumbeet baluk, at Mt Buninyong, and the Tooloora baluk, at Mt Warranheip and Lal Lal Creek.[18]

The early policing of the Ballarat Goldfields was done by the Native Police Corps, who enforced the collection of the gold miners licence fee resulting in confrontations between diggers and the Gold Commissioner, considered by some historians, such as Michael Cannon and Weston Bate, as preludes to the Eureka Rebellion.[19]

There is oral history that local Aboriginal people may have looked after some of the children of the Eureka miners after the military storming of the Eureka Stockade and subsequent massacre of miners. Although not corroborated by any written sources, the account has been deemed plausible by historian Ian D. Clark.[20]

Some further credence, although circumstantial, may be provided to the above information. George Yuille, older brother of William Cross Yuille, was not only liked and trusted by the local Aboriginal people, but had also formed a relationship with one of their women. Together they had at least one child, also named George Yuille. George Yuille senior died on 26 March 1854. He was at the time of his death a storekeeper on Specimen Hill and hence he was among the miners. Whether his wife was with him is unknown, but it is a fair assumption that the local Aboriginal people would have been very familiar with the miners, especially if they were in constant contact with George Yuille.

One Learmonth brother in particular was implicitly aware his shepherds were using skulls of Wadawurrung people on stakes to ward people off his property.[21]

Willem Baa Nip was the last surviving member of the Wadawurrung to witness colonisation.[22] A number of prominent Wadawurrung people from the early colonial period, including Baa Nip, are buried in the north-west corner of the Western Cemetery in Geelong.[23]

Historical land use and customs[edit]

Communities consisted of 25 land-owning groups called clans that spoke a related language and were connected through cultural and mutual interests, totems, trading initiatives and marriage ties. Access to land and resources by other clans, was sometimes restricted depending on the state of the resource in question. For example; if a river or creek had been fished regularly throughout the fishing season and fish supplies were down, fishing was limited or stopped entirely by the clan who owned that resource until fish were given a chance to recover. During this time other resources were utilised for food. This ensured the sustained use of the resources available to them. As with most other Kulin territories, penalties such as spearings were enforced upon trespassers. Today, traditional clan locations, language groups and borders are no longer in use and descendants of Wadawurrung people live within modern day society, although still preserving much of their culture.[citation needed]

According to William Buckley, the Wadawurrung practised ritual cannibalism, moderately compared to what he reported of the practices of a neighbouring tribe, the Pallidurgbarran, whose putative cannibalism is itself dubious. Buckley claimed enemies slain in combat were roasted and eaten.[11]


Before European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with a clan headman,[13][c] who was called a n'arweet among the coastal Wadawurrung and a nourenit among the inland northern tribe.[24] N'arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

No Clan name Approximate location
1 Barere barere balug Colac and "Mt Bute" stations
2 Beerekwart balug Mount Emu
3 Bengalat balug Indented Head
4 Berrejin balug Unknown
5 Boro gundidj Yarrowee River
6 Burrumbeet gundidj Lakes Burumbeet and Learmonth
6a Keyeet balug Mount Buninyong
7 Carringum balug Carngham
8 Carininje balug "Emu Hill" station, Linton's Creek
9 Corac balug "Commeralghip" station, and Kuruc-a-ruc Creek
10 Corrin corrinjer balug Carranballac
11 Gerarlture balug West of Lake Modewarre
12 Marpeang balug Blackwood, Myrniong, and Bacchus Marsh
13 Mear balug Unknown
14 Moijerre balug Mount Emu Creek
15 Moner balug "Trawalla" station, Mount Emu Creek
16 Monmart Unknown
17 Neerer balug Between Geelong and the You Yangs (Hovells Ck?)
18 Pakeheneek balug Mount Widderin
19 Peerickelmoon balug Mount Misery area between Beaufort and Ballarat
20 Tooloora balug Mount Warrenheip, Lal-lal Creek, west branch of Moorabool River.
21 Woodealloke gundidj Wardy Yalloak River, south of Kuruc-a-ruc Creek
22 Wadawurrung balug Barrabool Hills
23 Wongerrer balug Head of Wardy Yalloak River
24 Worinyaloke balug West side of Little River
25 Yaawangi You Yang Hills

Alternative names[edit]

  • Bengali (horde near Geelong)
  • Borumbeet Bulluk (horde at Lake Burrambeet speaking a slight dialect)
  • Buninyong (place name, location of a northern horde)
  • Waddorow, Wadawio, Wadourer, Woddowrong, Wollowurong, Woddowro, Wudjawuru, Witowurrung, Wothowurong, Watorrong
  • Wadjawuru, Wuddyawurru, Wuddyawurra, Witouro, Wittyawhuurong
  • Wadthaurung, Waitowrung, Wudthaurung, Woddowrong
  • Warra, Wardy-yallock (horde in the Pitfield area)
  • Witaoro
  • Witowro, Witoura
  • Wudja-wurung, Witowurung, Witowurong

Source: Tindale 1974


  1. ^ "They have a belief, that when they die, they go to some place or other, and are there made white men, and that they then return to this world again for another existence. They think all the white people previous to death were belonging to their own tribes, thus returned to life in a different colour. In cases where they have killed white men, it has generally been because they imagined them to have been originally enemies, or belonging to tribes with whom they were hostile."
  2. ^ Report is available on Wikisource at: Port Phillip Patriot, 20 September 1841.
  3. ^ Dawson, citing Clark, writes:"Within the Wathaurong territorial name there is thought to have been from between 14 and 25 smaller clans who traversed a wide area in groups of up to 100 in response to seasonal food sources, ceremonial obligations and trading relationships." (Dawson 2014, p. 83 n.14)


  1. ^ Tindale 1974.
  2. ^ Geelong Australia – Wathaurong People 2007.
  3. ^ Jones et al. 2016, p. 265.
  4. ^ Norris et al. 2012, pp. 1–2, 9.
  5. ^ Russell 2012, p. 175 n.82.
  6. ^ Lawrence 2000, p. 31.
  7. ^ Maynard & Haskins 2016, pp. 26–59, 31.
  8. ^ Morgan 1852, p. 25.
  9. ^ Howitt 2010, p. 307.
  10. ^ Morgan 1852, p. 101.
  11. ^ a b Morgan 1852.
  12. ^ Clark 1995, p. 169.
  13. ^ a b Clark 1995, pp. 169–175.
  14. ^ Clark 1995, p. 1.
  15. ^ Clark 1995, pp. 173–175.
  16. ^ Bride, Thomas Francis (1898). Letters from Victorian Pioneers. Melbourne: Government Press.
  17. ^ Port Philip Patriot 1841.
  18. ^ Clark 2004, p. 3.
  19. ^ Clark 2004, pp. 10–13.
  20. ^ Clark 2004, p. 15.
  21. ^ Whelan 2020.
  22. ^ City of Greater Geelong 2018.
  23. ^ "KING JERRY'S TOMB". Geelong Advertiser. No. 21, 886. Victoria, Australia. 29 June 1917. p. 3. Retrieved 7 July 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  24. ^ Barwick 1984, p. 107.