The river’s really titled ‘Birrarung’, ‘Moomba’ is an insult, and there were waterfalls in front of Customs House where the migrants into the modern-day city of Melbourne first came in 1832. So many things surprised me on the Koorie Heritage Trust’s trek into our not-so-distant past in their Southbank Birrarung Falls Walk, part of the National Trust’s Australian Heritage Festival.
Take a look inside your own backyard — and the five tribes of the Kulin nation — in the Koorie Heritage Trust’s trek into our not-so-distant past.
Our walk began with Womenjeka! — a welcome greeting. The Koorie guide shared history, and much more, on our exploratory riverside walk from Federation Square. Stepping back in time and into history never seemed so easy, and it seemed fitting to hear about this place from the local peoples.
Launching from the funky Koorie Heritage Trust site (with its art gallery, retail outlet, and historic collection), our warm and DTE guide, Donna, got us started with hands-on examination of artefacts. Flint stones and axes, precious recreations of possum cloaks, the first ‘Aussie Rules’ footballs, woomera, boomerangs, and magnificently handwoven eel nets showed us the cultivation and enterprise skills of these first occupants of this land.
Next we descended upon the Birrarung Wilam (Common Ground) beside the river, which had been extended and rerouted from higher up near the MCG. We were greeted by refined art sculptures by indigenous artists, representing artefacts of high value to these first peoples. We saw hunting (eels ground art), defences (spear and shields weaponry), their spiritual beliefs (engraved stones with animal creation totems). Donna, whose totem is the turtle, advised these existed in the freshwater Birrarung (river of mists and cloud) River.
We stop at the point marking the Elizabeth Street creek, a site of many floodings since the earliest days of settlement, and the Falls under Sandridge Bridge. Here, the immigrant and goods ships could go no further, unloaded their cargoes, and turned about. Yarra means ‘waterfall’ or cascade, and this was misapplied (as were many other local utterances). You learn much about the many languages populating this state in this revealing walk.
Witnessing history at ground level, on foot, and with an authentic guide adds a three-dimensional aspect to understanding what schoolchildren learn in classrooms across this nation. It presents history as lived experience, and as transaction. Could things have been different?
This is recent history and it’s a shared one. Taking this educational walk plants a seed of new understandings. Hear the ‘other’ side of the story about this place we all call home.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
Southbank Birrarung Falls Walk ran 27 April, 2-3:30pm (90 minutes) at The Koorie Heritage Trust. This was a free event through The State Library of Victoria but walks run frequently through the Koorie Heritage Trust.
The walk is not accessible.
Check out The Australian Heritage Festival for other heritage event details.