Clan estates of the Bunurong

The area that is now known as Cardinia Shire was once home to two key Indigenous clans, the Yalloc Bulluk Bunurong and the Mayone Bulluk Bunurong. Council’s Aboriginal heritage consultant has compiled information on these clan estates, which describes some aspects of the lives of these people in the days before white occupation in this area. Some of this information is reproduced here.

Yalloc Bulluk Bunurong people

The Yalloc Bulluk people represent one of the largest clans of the Bunurong people. Their traditional land took in the eastern catchment of Western Port Bay, also the catchment of the Powlett River and French and Phillip islands. The Yalloc Bulluk derived their name from the many creeks and rivers on their land. The Yalloc Bulluk along with other Bunurong clans, the Burinyong Bulluk of Mornington Peninsula and the Lowandjeri Bulluk of the Tarwin River, were some of the first Aboriginal people in Victoria to make contact with European mariners and many accounts have been documented by these early mariners in archives all over the world.

Like most other Indigenous people, Yalloc Bulluk people changed with the seasons, and though a seasonal change didn't always mean a move to another camp, it almost always involved a change in diet as certain resources became abundant and others faded till the next season. During the warm summer months, the Yalloc Bulluk would make bark canoes and visit French and Phillip islands to catch seals and mutton birds. Other days would be spent foraging Western Port Bay’s many tidal flats or the rocky platforms of the Bass coast for their favourite shellfish, or perhaps fishing for snapper at the mouth of one of the many mangrove inlets that run into the north-eastern side of Western Port Bay. Part of every day, one to two hours was spent harvesting indigenous vegetables and fruits such as orchid bulbs or wild currants.

As summer came to an end, the Yalloc Bulluk people would begin making cloaks and rugs from possum and kangaroo skins, and collect the flower stems of the grass tree; which was a favoured timber for making fire and steeped in lore.

In winter the Yalloc Bulluk would meet with other Bunurong clans or Koolin people at their favourite hunting grounds in the Dandenong Ranges, Pakenham, Bass Valley and Upper Powlett River. Here the people would cooperatively hunt kangaroos, wallabies, emus and possums, dig out wombats and snare small marsupials. They would catch eels and fish from the many creeks and swamps, and also harvest yams, the piths from the tree fern and cumbungi (bullrush), and collect the many mushrooms that grew in the damp weather.

As winter began to shy away from summer, the elders of the Yalloc Bulluk would see the first blooms of the ti-tree and declare it was once again time to travel back to the swamps and coastal lagoons for the ‘egging’ season, when thousands of wading and aquatic birds would begin to nest and lay their eggs. Swan eggs were favoured, and strict collection and management protocols applied to the harvesting of this much-anticipated resource.

Mayone Bulluk Bunurong people

Mayone Bulluk Bunurong traditional land extended north to the top of what was once the old Carrum swamp (or Carrum Carrum as it was known to the Mayone Bulluk), east to the western edge of the Koo Wee Rup swamp, south as far as Moorooduc and west to Port Phillip Bay.

As with most Aboriginal people in the world, Mayone Bulluk people’s cultural, ceremonial and spiritual life was dictated by the seasons through the availability of sustainable resources.

Mayone people were in turn able to predict the seasons through natural indicators, such as the behaviour of different animals or the blooming of a certain flower, for example, the Mayone people knew that ‘quoim’ (kangaroos) were at their fattest when all the bark had fallen from the gum trees, which usually occurred at the height of summer when the grass was dryer.

During the summer months, the Mayone Bulluk people could (and still can) be found at one of their many coastal camps at Mordialloc, Frankston or Warneet. Here they would access many of their favourite resources such as fish, shellfish and the many marine birds and eggs. For vegetables they would collect a variety of bulbs, shoots and leaves, such as the leaves of the Warrigal spinach. For fruit they ate many different species, such as the fruit of the native cherry or the kangaroo apple, which was quite often washed down with a beautiful sweet drink made from the coastal banksia flower.

All throughout the summer, the Mayone Bulluk would collect their kangaroo and possum skins and tan them with bark from the many wattle trees, and as summer came to an end they would stitch the skins together to make cloaks and rugs for the cold months ahead.

As winter drew near, Mayone Bulluk families would begin to gather at one of their many winter camps around Moorooduc or perhaps the Dandenong Ranges. During the colder months when the wind blew hard and kangaroos were very frisky, the Mayone Bulluk would join neighbouring clans in large-scale cooperative hunts, and harvest the many yams, shoots and mushrooms. Sometimes the women and children would rob an ants nest for seed the ants had inadvertently stored while gathering their own food. The seed would be ground on a rock grinding bowl to make flour for a true damper.

The Bunurong people are blessed with an environment that once provided a great diversity of plant and animal life, much more than has been noted here, though many of these plants and animals have disappeared or are threatened by past land management practices, over-development and/or over-exploitation, as is the case for the many occupational, cultural and sacred sites of the Bunurong people.

There is much more to Bunurong life and anyone who has spent enough time in their land will see the diversity in their available resources, even given we can only see what has yet been spared from development and exploitation. Today the Bunurong people have very little access to their traditional land, and actively struggle for the recognition and protection of Bunurong cultural heritage and their cultural environment through the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.

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