Tag Archives: Yarra River

Commencing research about the original aboriginal communities living and walking along the Derwent River

In earlier posts, I acknowledged the original aboriginal custodians of the land over which I have walked: refer to https://walkingthederwent.com/2014/08/21/acknowledgement-of-country-to-the-moomairremener-people/, and https://walkingthederwent.com/2014/11/10/the-paredarerme-people-the-original-indigenous-owners-of-the-land-along-the-derwent-river/.

My last blog posting referred to a book telling the story of a walk from the mouth to the source of the Yarra River in Victoria on mainland Australia.  Many steps of the author’s journey were associated with aboriginal stories past and present and this made me wonder what could be learnt here in Tasmania around the Derwent River. The history of aboriginals in Victoria and elsewhere on mainland Australia, is very different to that in the isolated island state of Tasmania.  Around 10,000 years ago, when the sea rose to form Bass Strait, Tasmanian aboriginals were cut off completely from their relatives on the mainland of Australia.

From the 1870s, for the next 100 years, the official Tasmanian government line was that the entire aboriginal population had been exterminated. No full blood descendants of the original indigenous peoples have survived however there is a sizeable minority of population in Tasmania now who proudly declare themselves as descendants from specific aboriginal ancestors.

During these cold winter days, I have started research seeking to understand the lives of indigenous bands and tribes which roamed the land from the mouth to the source of the Derwent River.  My starting point is my belief (which may be found to be incorrect) that, prior to European settlement in Van Diemen’s Land (later renamed Tasmania),

  • indigenous peoples had a significant history with activities, practices, laws, dress, property that are unique as a collection, although individual aspects may be common with mainland indigenous peoples.
  • indigenous peoples had a perfectly functioning tribal family system
  • indigenous peoples had a perfectly functioning interaction system with other tribes
  • indigenous peoples had a perfectly functioning communication system with other tribes
  • indigenous peoples were thriving

Most historians, anthropologists, sociologists, other researchers and various document writers have introduced ‘facts’ and conjecture about the nature and impact of events subsequent to European settlement, and I suspect this has been to the detriment of understanding the original situations of indigenous people.   As a result, I suspect at least some people who identify currently as having Tasmanian indigenous heritage, focus more with the outrages of the past 200 plus years than with the life of their ancestors, pre-European settlement. I wonder whether historians, anthropologists, sociologists, other researchers and various document writers (almost all of whom were original settlers in Van Diemen’s Land, are the descendants of the non-indigenous peoples, or are in some other way, non-indigenous) have presented a clear picture of the nature of the original indigenous peoples without the shadow of events post-settlement in 1803. Considering the political activism of some of the descendants of the original indigenous populations, their attempts to censor studies and dispute evidence, and their destruction of ancient artefacts, it may not be possible to create a clear picture, however I plan to try (and it may take time).

The Comfort of Water – a River Pilgrimage

Maya Ward’s story of walking from the mouth to the source of the Yarra River in Victoria, Australia (The Comfort of Water – a River Pilgrimage, Transit Lounge Publishing, Yarraville, Australia) was published in 2011. Maya Ward says, ‘There were many reasons to start where the river meets the sea. We knew where the sea was, but we didn’t know the location of the source, so we needed to follow the Yarra to find it. We’d start from where we live and what we knew to walk into the unknown.’

The Comfort of Water book cover

This was a continuous walk over three weeks made with a changing collection of friends, backed by a support crew, and with an assortment of accommodation pre-arranged for the end of the each day.  Maya Ward undertook preparation prior to departure to the extent most of the landowners along the length of the River were contacted for permission to walk across their land.

The two main themes of the walk, and therefore the book, were the environment and indigenous practices and history (Birrarung in the Wurundjeri language).  Intertwined, were the author’s personal reflections and philosophy as well as some of her life story in which she seemed devoted to cultural and ecological political activism at a community level.

From time to time, the author offered simple ideas which I found very attractive. For example, ‘I liked the wind – it stopped us talking.’ … ‘A story is like the wind – it comes from a far off place, and we feel for it.  So says the Kalahari Bushmen …’, ‘Grandma knew, I think, of the comfort and the intimacy to be found among trees.’, and ‘The watching is just the start of something.’

I am pleased to have discovered this book because Maya Ward’s approach has made me consider that the history of Tasmanian indigenous peoples has not been evident in my posts during my walk along the Derwent River. In fact, I have been remarkably ignorant of the nature and practices of the original inhabitants prior to European settlement on the edge of Tasmania’s Derwent River in 1803. I am now interested to know more and it occurs to me that blog readers might also be curious.  To rectify this gap in my knowledge, I have set myself a new project (I do like projects) to find out if I can discover information relevant to the Derwent River that is reliable and authentic.

Travelling to the River Source

Please listen to the radio broadcast on Radio National during the Blueprint for Living program of 4 April 2015, provided by host Michael Williams titled Travelling to the River Source.  Go to http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/blueprintforliving/rivers/6070254. Below the options to listen to the audio and download the broadcast, the web site provides the following information:

“Throughout the history of travel, rivers have held a particular place – whether it be as the first trade routes or the more modern experiences of bobbing around for enjoyment. But for a few hardy souls, a river journey wouldn’t be complete if it wasn’t attempted on foot. Maya Ward is a Melbourne writer who travelled the length of the Yarra River in Melbourne a few years ago and Katharine Norbury is a London based screenwriter and author who has also discovered the redemptive nature of walking the path of river from its mouth to its source. Her first book is published this month called ‘The Fish Ladder-travelling upstream’. They joined Michael Williams to explain the appeal of travelling upstream.”