We acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honour their Elders past and present.
We respect their deep enduring connection to their lands, waterways and surrounding clan groups since time immemorial. We cherish the richness of First Nations Peoples’ artistic and cultural expressions.
We recognise that our office is located on Turball Land.
We are privileged to gather on this Country and through this website to share knowledge, culture and art now, and with future generations.
Victoria’s Gold Rush brought untold wealth to ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ and the boom’s rich legacy can still be seen in the city’s glorious architecture. But 40,000 years before white men set foot on this continent, the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung had already created a prosperous place. They called it Naarm. The Royal Botanic Gardens rests in this significant and beautiful place.
Aboriginal Heritage Walk
We met Jakobi for our Aboriginal Heritage Walk on a cool and rainy morning in May at the Royal Botanic Gardens. He explained as he was a Djab Wurrung and Jardwardjali man from Victoria’s Western Districts – that this land doesn’t belong to his people. So he could welcome us to country in a non-traditional way. Instead, each of us explained where we were from and what place we felt connected to in the world; he added that “It helps us to understand the connection to land and country”.
He explained that the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people are the traditional owners of this land and along with the other clans of the Kulin Nations shared the same ‘wurrung’ or language.
The people of the Kulin Nations – the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, Wathaurrung, Daungwurrung and Dja DjaWrung called it Naarm. They traditionally gathered here in this fertile place.
This walk is designed to let visitors understand the intimate relationship the people had and still do have with the land. Understanding the seasons to keep food growing and create a sustainable life is only part of the story. Knowing when particular plants blossomed meant it was time to harvest, burn or hunt. Observing and keeping life in balance meant a long and healthy life.
Working with nature not against it
Over ninety minutes Jakobi explained how the First people used many of the plants in the Gardens. Lomandra’s been used for eons for weaving everything from baskets to eel traps across the East coast. And when you chew Lomandra for a while it produces more saliva – a neat trick to keep you going until you find water. The hardy leaves can also be milled into flour.
Jakobi says the area was a rich resource for the local people before colonisation. The wetlands teemed with birds, plants, eel, possum and kangaroo. The international tourists in our group were amazed at how soft and warm possum skins are. We were all dazzled by the strength of an axe ‘glued’ together with resin.
Although at home it wouldn’t be right for Jakobi to conduct a Tandrerrum or smoking ceremony as he’s not an elder, the local people allow both him and the other guides to cleanse. As he carefully layered the different barks and leaves he explained how smoking not only cleanses it was a way of sending prayers to Bunjil – the ancestral Wedge-tailed Eagle that created all the living things here and beyond.
Each of us took turns to breathe and ‘cover’ ourselves in the smoke. The smoke vaporises the water rather than burns leaving it sweet-smelling.
In late summer and early autumn, firestick farming in patches kept the denser vegetation from shading out the plants eaten most and promoted new tender grass to attract grazing kangaroos. Women tilled the soil and thinned the bulbs in a way to promote a healthier crop to harvest next season. This land nurtured the people and the people nurtured the land. That understanding and unsurpassed respect for the land, plants, animals and water continues today.
Later, Jakobi unrolled the AIATSIS map of all the nations on the continent – to show just how many different people inhabited this land before white settlement.
He told us he learns from the other guides and the Education team about their different cultures and what he learns reinforces my own experiences. “There is a lot of knowledge here at the Gardens. Landscapes might change but the identity of that land hasn’t changed in 200 years. This land is not just what it was but what it continues to be”.
DISCLAIMER; This Magnificent Life were guests of Welcome to Country. But, we highly recommend this walking tour. Not only does it open up another side of Melbourne it will open your eyes to the importance of connections to the land and a sense of belonging.
Welcome to Country operates as a social enterprise and is a majority Aboriginal-led team. It’s a marketplace to sell experiences and products. They are the ultimate guide to experiencing First Nations Australia.
To learn more or book visit: welcometocountry.com. Welcome to Country is Australia’s only not-for-profit marketplace for First Nations experiences and products.