Thursday, August 13, 2009

Aboriginal Melbourne: The lost land of the Kulin people, by Gary Presland

My local library had a flyer advertising a talk with the author of this book. Due to this, I presumed Aboriginal Melbourne must have been just released, but it turns out it was first published in 1985. I don’t know what Mr Presland does now, but his bio in the book describes him as an archaeologist.

This is a short history of the original people of the area that now constitutes Melbourne, with plenty of useful illustrations that help give the reader a visual idea of Koorie Melbourne. Melbourne originally was occupied by five language groups or tribes that formed a confederacy or nation called Kulin, which was their common name for ‘human’.

What amazed me as I read about the original landscape of pre-European Melbourne was how the original Kulin people managed to travel such distances without getting lost. To my Western brain, that can only think in terms of roads and maps and amenities, it seems amazing that a people could have such a knowledge of what to us modern day Australians is simply so much wild bushland. Yet the first Australians knew the land like the back of their hand.

One of the great tragedies of European settlement was of course the superior attitude of the whites. This meant that Aboriginals, and their culture and knowledge, were not taken seriously at all. In fact the opposite took place: it was better to erase their culture and ‘save them’ by making them Christian. Hence so much valuable information was lost about how the first Australians lived.

This is a fascinating book about the ‘lost land of the Kulin people’ that tries as best it can to paint a picture of the natural environment before it was carpeted over with roads, houses, factories and all the other forms of industrialisation we call modern Western civilisation.

Reading this history makes you realise what a terrible tragedy it is that the Kulin people lost their land and lifestyle, and what a tragedy for the Europeans that we couldn’t stop and learn all that the Kulin people would have had to teach us about the land that we now occupy as Melbourne.

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