Monday, May 21


We recently travelled to the historically significant rural town of Camperdown (population about 2800) located about a 2 hour drive south west from Melbourne. 
Camberdown is also regarded as the gateway to the Victorian Western Area conveniently located close to the Ballarat gold fields, the National Parks in the Otway’s and Grampians and the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road.

The region was first settled in 1839 by English immigrants Peter John and Thomas Manifold who eventually chose a 100,000 acre sheep run on the northern shore of Lake Purumbeke. Others followed and soon a bustling town was established. There are many historic buildings to visit  in the town including the Court House which was erected in 1886-87 and the Historic Museum built in 1896. An impressive Clock Tower ( see picture above ) extends 30 metres above the streetscape and was erected in 1896-97 in memory of Thomas Manifold who was killed in a hunting accident at the age of 30..

The local Historical Society has images of Camperdown when it was once a hub for the vast pastoral empires that dominated the region. Agriculture blossomed because of the rich volcanic soils and pockets of unusually high rainfall. you can see images by clicking here and to enlarge simply hover over the photographs.
By the early 1950's Camperdown had become a diversified centre for support industries to the wool dairying and agricultural sectors. But since those halcyon days the town has steadily declined due to both drought which curtailed the diary industry.and the closure of the butter factory. Nevertheless the town still provides support to rich pockets of the Dairy, Sheep and Beef farming communities.
There is plenty to see in the picturesque lakes area – Lake Corangamite is the largest lake in Victoria and was part of a vast system of 30 lakes formed from depressions of erupting volcanoes. On either side of the road in places you see the effects of this uncommon land forms ( See pictures) as broad circular giant volcanic creators with steep rock sides glisten with blue water nestled down from the declining green pastureland.

Hence the countryside is interesting and varied since it gravitates from a green lush land- form on one side of the road to one that is barren and foreboding on the other - a reflection of either bountiful volcanic rich seams of soil  to basalt dominated rocky field outcrops. Consequently prices per acre for farming land can vary enormously from as little as $2,500 to $10,000.

In some areas the immigrants took advantage of the readymade supply of basalt rocks to engage in stone fencing which is abundantly evident today in dry stone walls and homesteads. Initially the walls served three purposes; as boundaries; to keep out Rabbits; and to clear the land of rocks. 

The Djargurd Wurring peoples were the traditional owners of the land at the time of white settlement and consisted of about 12 clans.
Archeologists have unearthed many sites of fish traps, piles of surface scatters (artifacts or cultural material or shells) and burial sites. However Camperdown was subject to the same sordid history as other regions where pastoralists stole the land from the indigenous inhabitants and subsequently denied access. . 

The Djargurd in the 1830’s and 1840’s were subjected to several massacres in retaliation for sheep killed by aborigines for food.  One clan, the Tarnbeere gundidj, was massacred by a Frederick Taylor and others at a location known as Murdering Gully. Click here for the history

Here is a summary:  
This massacre site is of significant for the following reasons: the extent to which the local Aboriginal clan was decimated; the fact that oral histories of this event have survived, as has detail in local diaries; the perpetrators incurred considerable censure from Aboriginal protectorate officials, Wesleyan missionaries, and local people, who demonstrated their disapproval by changing the name of Taylors River to Mount Emu Creek; and finally, because of the notoriety of Frederick Taylor, one of the principal actors in the conflict.

A Djargurd wurrung clan that particularly suffered during the late 1830s was the Tarnbeere gundidj. This clan's name literally means belonging to Tarnbeere, or flowing water, a reference to nearby Mount Emu Creek. This clan was effectively exterminated in a massacre in early 1839 by a group of Europeans led by Frederick Taylor, the manager at George McKillop and James Smith's station at Glenorminston, adjoining Lake Terang. Glenorminston was also known as Weeraweeroit, after the Aboriginal name for the camping place and waterhole on the rivulet near the home station. Before his involvement in this massacre, Taylor had earned some notoriety through his involvement in the murder of a Watha wurrung Aborigine in October 1836. At that time, John Whitehead, a convict shepherd working for Taylor murdered Woolmudgin, the clan head of the Watha wurrung balug clan based in the Barrabool Hills near Geelong, apparently with Taylor's encouragement.

The Murdering Gully massacre took place in early 1839 and was investigated by Assistant Protector CW Sievwright, responsible for the Western District of the Port Phillip Protectorate. The massacre occurred at Puuroyuup, or Puuriyuup, a gully on the Mount Emu Creek (known to the Djargurd wurrung as Borang yalug), where the creek is joined by a small unnamed stream from Merida station. At this gully were camped between 45 to 52 men, women, and children. These people were predominantly Tarnbeere gundidj , along with members of other Djargurd wurrung clans and several Gulidjan people. Apparently the massacre was organised in retaliation for the killing of some of Taylor' sheep by two Aborigines.

Fortunately we can learn the details of the massacre from the five accounts that record the evidence of some of the survivors. From these accounts of this massacre it is possible to compile a list of Aboriginal informants and survivors.
These accounts are first hand, and although they agree on the details of the massacre, some differ on what happened to the corpses. A combination of them can be summarised as follows.

Having heard of the encampment at Puuroyuup, Taylor and associates James Hamilton and Broomfield headed a party of shepherds with the intention of attacking them. Taylor no doubt agreed with the conventional view held by most settlers that bullets were the only antidote to Aboriginal sheep stealing, and that, when a few were shot, the rest kept clear. Furthermore, many settlers believed that it didn't matter if those attacked were not the actual perpetrators as vicarious punishment was thought to be just as effective.

As they approached the gully on horseback, the party formed an extended line with Taylor in the centre. They found the Aboriginal people asleep and advanced  shouting and immediately fired upon them, killing the whole group except 12 people. They afterwards threw the bodies in a neighbouring waterhole. One of the survivors was Woreguimoni, a Gulidjan, who had hidden in the long grass. Karn, alias Mr Anderson, had also safely fled the gully when the Europeans approached. He returned after they had left the scene, and began to remove the bodies from the waterhole, placing them on the ground four deep, head by head. In the course of this, he was discovered by some of the Europeans, who took him and his wife and child, who had also escaped, to Taylor's home station, where he and his family were given provisions so that they would stay nearby, and away from the waterhole. With Karn removed from the waterhole, a cart was taken to the scene of the massacre and the bodies bought up to the home station, where they were conveyed to some other waterholes and thrown in.

Larkikok had been spared when he stood up and begged Taylor to spare his life. After the massacre, he sought the refuge of the Buntingdale Wesleyan mission near present-day Birregurra. Two further survivors of the massacre, Bareetch Chuurneen - alias Queen Fanny, the 'chieftess' of the clan - and a child, were pursued to Wuurna Weewheetch (the home of the swallow), a point of land on the west side of Lake Bullen Merri. With the child on her back, she swam across to a point called Karm karm, below present day Wurrong homestead, and escaped. Other survivors included Benadug, Born, Tainneague, and Mammalt.

The second account of the aftermath of the masssacre comes from Wangegamon, a Djargurd wurrung man, who escaped by running to the other side of the river and hiding in the grass behind a tree. From this vantage point he saw his wife and child killed. After the bodies had been thrown into the creek, the water became stained with blood. Grieving, he remained near the gully for two days. According to Wangegamon, two days after the massacre two men named Anderson and Watson visited the site and, seeing the bodies, felt remorse and asked Taylor why he had killed so many women and children. Anderson, Charles Courtney, James Ramslie, and James Hamilton subsequently made some fires and burned the bodies. Two days after cremation, Taylor, Watson, and Anderson returned with a sack and removed all the bones that had not been consumed by the fires.

It is possible that the differences between these two accounts may only be chronological; that is, that the cremation took place after removal of the corpes from the Mount Emu Creek Waterhole, thus the accounts are complimentary. The destruction of the corpses was a deliberate and commonly used attempt to destroy hard evidence.
Many of the survivors sought sanctuary at the Wesleyan mission, and it is largely through the efforts of missionaries the Reverend Benjamin Hurst and Francis Tuckfield, Assistant Protector Sievwright, and Chief Protector George Robinson, that we know so much about this massacre.

In 1861, after the establishment of the Framingham Aboriginal Station most of the surviving members of the Djargurd wurrung were forcibly removed to the station with the exception of some of the elders who stubbornly remained to eke out an existence on the edge of Camperdown.

Not all of the early settlers turned a blind eye to these injustices and acts of genocide and those remaining   were assisted by people like H K James Dawson, a Scotsman who became a guardian for the indigenous peoples from 1876 to 1882 and whose support came out of his own pocket.

Returning home from a trip home to Linlithgow in 1882 he found Fjargurd Wurrung Puyuun, the last survivor of the Djargurd Wurring people, had died and had been buried outside the Camperdown cemetery. After unsuccessfully appealing for public money to support a memorial  he had a granite obelisk erected with a plaque at his own expense.

It was a sobering reminder it took just 43 years of white settlement for the Djargurd wurrung to be displaced from the Camperdown area.

It  was a memorable trip discovering previously unexplored ( to us) beautiful pockets of rural Victoria .