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Woiwurrung language, English
Australian Aboriginal mythology
Related ethnic groups
Boonerwrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Taungurong, Wathaurong
see List of Indigenous Australian group names
Aborigines on Merri Creek by Charles Troedel

The Wurundjeri are an Aboriginal Australian nation of the Woiwurrung language group, in the Kulin alliance. They occupied the Birrarung (Yarra River) Valley before British colonisation of the area, around the present location of Melbourne.

The "Wurundjeri" are the people who occupy one tribal territory, while "Woiwurrung" is the language group shared by the other tribal territory groups and clans within the Woiwurrung territory. The term Wurundjeri is often used to describe the Woiwurrung people as a whole, although it was only one of a number of Woiwurrung peoples.

The Wurundjeri Tribe Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council was established in 1985 by some descendants of the Wurundjeri people.[1]


According to the early Australian ethnographer Alfred William Howitt, the name Wurundjeri, in his transcription Urunjeri, refers to a species of eucalypt, Eucalyptus viminalis, otherwise known as the manna or white gum, which is common along Birrarung.[2] Some modern reports of Wurundjeri traditional lore state that their ethnonym combines a word, wurun, meaning Manna Gum and djeri, a species of grub found in the tree, and take the word therefore to mean "Witchetty Grub People".[3]


Wurundjeri people speak Woiwurrung, one of the five languages of the Kulin nations.

Languages of the five Kulin nations.


Norman Tindale estimated Wurundjeri lands as extending over approximately 4,800 square miles (12,000 km2) (12,500 square kilometres (4,800 sq mi).).These took in the areas of the Yarra and Saltwater rivers around Melbourne, and ran north as far as Mount Disappointment, northwest to Macedon, Woodend, and Lancefield. Their eastern borders went as far as Mount Baw Baw and Healesville. Their southern confines approached Mordialloc, Warragul, and Moe.[4]


The earliest European settlers came across a park-like landscape extending inland from Melbourne, consisting of large areas of grassy plains to the north and southwest, with little forest cover, something thought to be testimony of indigenous sheet burning practices to expose the massive number of yam daisies (murnong) which proliferated in the area.[5] These murnong roots and various tuber lilies formed a major source of starch and carbohydrates.[6] Seasonal changes in the weather, availability of foods and other factors would determine where campsites were located, many near the Birrarung and its tributaries.

The Wurundjeri & Gunung Willam Balug Tribes mined diorite at Mount William stone axe quarry which was a source of the highly valued greenstone hatchet heads, which were traded across a wide area as far as New South Wales and Adelaide. The mine provided a complex network of trading for economic and social exchange among the different Aboriginal nations in Victoria.[7][8] The quarry had been in use for more than 1,500 years and covered 18 hectares including underground pits of several metres. In February 2008 the site was placed on the Australian National Heritage List for its cultural importance and archeological value.[9]

Settlement and dispossession of the Wurundjeri lands began soon after a ceremony in which Wurundjeri leaders conducted a tanderrum ceremony, whose function was to allow outsiders temporary access to the resources of clan lands. John Batman and other whites interpreted this symbolic act, recorded in treaty form, as equivalent to medieval enfeoffment of all Woiwurrong territory.[10] Within a few years settlement began around Pound Bend with Major Charles Newman at Mullum Mullum Creek in 1838, and James Anderson on Beal Yallock, now known as Anderson's Creek a year later. Their measures to clear the area of aborigines was met with guerrilla skirmishing, led by Jaga Jaga, with the appropriation of cattle and the burning of fields. They were armed with rifles, and esteemed to be excellent marksmen, firing close to Anderson to drive him off as they helped themselves to his potato crop while en route to Yering in 1840. A trap set there by Captain Henry Gibson led to Jaga Jaga's capture and a battle as the Wurundjeri fought unsuccessfully to secure his release. Resistance was broken, and settlements throve. One elder, Derrimut, later stated:

You see…all this mine. All along here Derrimut's once. No matter now, me soon tumble down…Why me have no lubra? Why me have no piccaninny? You have all this place. No good have children, no good have lubra. Me tumble down and die very soon now.[11][12]


In 1863 the surviving members of the Wurundjeri tribe were given "permissive occupancy" of Coranderrk Station, near Healesville and forcibly resettled. Despite numerous petitions, letters, and delegations to the Colonial and Federal Government, the grant of this land in compensation for the country lost was refused. Coranderrk was closed in 1924 and its occupants bar five refusing to leave Country were again moved to Lake Tyers in Gippsland.

Wurundjeri today[edit]

All remaining Wurundjeri people are descendants of Bebejan, through his daughter Annie Borate (Boorat), and in turn, her son Robert Wandin (Wandoon). Bebejan was a Ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people and was present at John Batman's "treaty" signing in 1835.[13] Joy Murphy Wandin, a Wurundjeri Elder, explains the importance of preserving Wurundjeri culture:

In the recent past, Wurundjeri culture was undermined by people being forbidden to "talk culture" and language. Another loss was the loss of children taken from families. Now, some knowledge of the past must be found and collected from documents. By finding and doing this, Wurundjeri will bring their past to the present and recreate a place of belonging. A "keeping place" should be to keep things for future generations of our people, not a showcase for all, not a resource to earn dollars. I work towards maintaining the Wurundjeri culture for Wurundjeri people into the future.[a]

In 1985, the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Compensation and Cultural Heritage Council was established to fulfill statutory roles under Commonwealth and Victorian legislation and to assist in raising awareness of Wurundjeri culture and history within the wider community.[14]

Wurundjeri elders often attend events with visitors present where they give the traditional welcome to country greeting in the Woiwurrung language:

Wominjeka yearmenn koondee-bik Wurundjeri-Ballak, which simply means, Welcome to the land of the Wurundjeri people[15][16]

Wurundjeri people[edit]

William Barak at Coranderrk

Notable Wurundjeri people at the time of British settlement included:

Other notable Wurundjeri people include:

Alternative names/spellings[edit]

  • Coraloon (?)
  • Gungung-willam
  • Kukuruk (northern clan name)
  • Mort Noular (language name)
  • N'uther Galla
  • Ngarukwillam
  • Nuthergalla (ngatha = juða "no" in the Melbourne dialect).[17]
  • Oorongie
  • Urunjeri[18]
  • Waarengbadawa
  • Wainworra
  • Wairwaioo
  • Warerong
  • Warorong
  • Warwaroo
  • Wavoorong
  • Wawoorong, Wawoorong
  • Wawurong
  • Wawurrong
  • Woeworung
  • Woiworung (name for the language they spoke, from woi/worung = speech)
  • Woiwurru (woi = no + wur:u = lip)
  • Woiwurung, Woiwurong, Woiwurrong
  • Wooeewoorong
  • Wowerong
  • Wurrundyirra-baluk
  • Wurunjeri
  • Wurunjerri
  • Wurunjerri-baluk
  • Yarra Yarra Coolies (kulin = man)
  • Yarra Yarra

See also[edit]