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

The Wurundjeri are an Aboriginal Australian nation of the Woiwurrung language group, in the Kulin nation. They occupied the Birrarung (Yarra River) Valley before British settlement of the area, around the present location of Melbourne, and were called the Yarra tribe by the settlers. The Wurundjeri are one of several sub-groups or clans of Woiwurrung people who traditionally occupied some of the territory now the site of the city of Melbourne. There were two separate clan groups, Wurundjeri-balluk and Wurundjeri-willam.

The Wurundjeri Tribe Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council was established in 1985 by Wurundjeri people.


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.[1] 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".[2]


Main article: Woiwurrung language

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


Basic territorial boundaries with other nations
Basic territorial boundaries with other nations

Norman Tindale estimated Wurundjeri lands as extending over approximately 12,500 km2 (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.[3]

The Wurundjeri-balluk and Wurundjeri-willam people occupied the area from the Yarra Valley/Yarra River catchment area to Heidelberg.[4]

In June 2021, the boundaries between the land of two of the traditional owner groups in greater Melbourne, the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung, were agreed between the two groups, after being drawn up by the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council. The new borderline runs across the city from west to east, with the CBD, Richmond and Hawthorn included in Wurundjeri land, and Albert Park, St Kilda and Caulfield on Bunurong land. It was agreed that Mount Cottrell, the site of a massacre in 1836 with at least 10 Wathaurong victims, would be jointly managed above the 160 m (520 ft) line. The two Registered Aboriginal Parties representing the two groups were the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation and the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation.[5]


Main article: Woiwurrung § History

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.[6] These murnong roots and various tuber lilies formed a major source of starch and carbohydrates.[7] 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 and Gunung Willam Balug clans 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.[8][9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13]


Main article: Coranderrk

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

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.[14] 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 fulfil statutory roles under Commonwealth and Victorian legislation and to assist in raising awareness of Wurundjeri culture and history within the wider community.[15][16]

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[17][18]

Notable people

William Barak at Coranderrk
William Barak at Coranderrk

Notable Wurundjeri people at the time of British settlement included:

Other notable Wurundjeri people include:

Alternative names/spellings

See also



  1. ^ Howitt 1889, p. 109, note 2.
  2. ^ Ellender & Christiansen 2001, p. 35.
  3. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 208–209.
  4. ^ "Indigenous Sporting Heroes". Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  5. ^ Dunstan, Joseph (26 June 2021). "Melbourne's birth destroyed Bunurong and Wurundjeri boundaries. 185 years on, they've been redrawn". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  6. ^ Gammage 2012, pp. 45–46.
  7. ^ Pascoe 1947.
  8. ^ McBryde 1984, p. 44.
  9. ^ Presland 1994.
  10. ^ National Heritage List.
  11. ^ Barwick 1984, p. 122.
  12. ^ Jaga Jaga's Resistance War.
  13. ^ Clark 2005, p. ?.
  14. ^ VAHC 2008.
  15. ^ Abbotsford Convent Muse 2007.
  16. ^ Gardiner & McGaw 2018, p. 22.
  17. ^ Wandin 2000.
  18. ^ Flanagan 2003.
  19. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 209.
  20. ^ Howitt 1889, p. 109.