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Historical Facts - Mornington Peninsula
Collins Settlement - Aborigines

Aboriginal Tribe
Aborigines have been part of Australia's history for over 40,000 years

Aborigines have been a part of Australia's culture for over 40,000 years. In the area known as the Mornington Peninsula the Aboriginal tribe was known as the Boonwurrung people. Boonwurrung people traveled in groups of as many as 30 men, women and children in search of food.

The Boonwurrang people had favourite hunting spots. Tootgarook, between what we know as Rosebud and Rye, was a haven for birds and animals due to a large swamp. Portsea and Point Nepean were very popular for the shellfish and fishing.

For thousands of years, the Boonwurrung People passed through Sullivan Bay as part of this coastal journey. The shallow water gave the people easy access to a wide rock shelf that made gathering shellfish easy. Middens along the coast contain remnants of blue mussels and top shells and evidence of Boonwurrung occupation of this region.

From the end of the 18th century this wandering way of life for the Boonwurrung people was threatened by the arrival of Europeans. Boonwurrung people came into contact with sealers and they saw ships and sailors from the explorations of Murray, Flinders and Robbins.

Violence soon followed. According to the book ‘Mornington - In the wake of Flinders’ by Leslie Moorhead. The first recorded encounter between the Aboriginal people and Europeans in Victoria took place on the beach near Dromana. Moorhead writes ‘ This affair happened when, in February 1802, Mr Bowen and a party of men in the Lady Nelson’s launch met some 18-20 Aboriginal men and greeted them with signs of friendliness. Bowen gave them a few trifles and persuaded them to dance for him. In return, the white men showed them what a sailors hornpipe was like, and Bowen dressed out some of his new found friends in white shirts. Naturally this caused some mirth, and perhaps the natives resented the laughter. At any rate, one of them was detected with raised spear, and the encounter developed into armed conflict when a number of men, prepared for battle, emerged from the bush beyond the sand. Bowen contented himself at first with a single musket shot above their heads. After a moment’s surprise, the natives responded with a flight of spears. A volley was then poured among them, and then another, as the whites reacted to the threat of the blacks. Further panic ensued when Murray, from the deck of the Lady Nelson, fired a broadside of round shot into the forest of honeysuckle trees where the natives were running. Two natives were wounded, perhaps killed, in this affray, and the first black mans blood was spilt by the white man’s weapons in Victoria on the Mornington Peninsula.’

There is quite a discrepancy when to this story on the information signs currently erected at the Collins Settlement Site, They state the following - ‘The first recorded frontier clash in Victoria between Aboriginal people and the British occurred close to this place on 14 February 1802. Men from John Murray's Lady Nelson fired on and killed Boonwurrung men who tried to resist their landing.’ These signs also claim that ‘The sealers abducted Boonwurrung women from the coastline and introduced diseases with such shocking results that populations began to fall.’

Later in 1803 when the Collins Settlement was established, Leslie Moorhead continues to say ‘ the first natives seen were friendly, and one gave Lieutenant Tuckey a spear, and Captain Collins gave one native a blanket. Later on a large party of black men surrounded the tent of George Harris, surveyor of the Collins party, on the Western side of the port, and attempted to steal from their boats. They were in an aggressive mood, in full fighting rig, and led by a chief who wore a headdress of swans feathers and a bone two feet in length stretched through the cartilage of his nose. His face was painted with red, white and yellow clay. The chaplain, Reverend Knopwood, of the Collins expedition, who observed this said, “we have great reason to believe they are cannibals”. A little later some carpenters of the expedition, who were working at Arthurs Seat, sent back to headquarters for arms to defend themselves against attacks as large numbers of natives were visiting them.

Again, there is quite a discrepancy to this story when reading the information signs at the Collins Settlement site. They state ‘Relations between the 1803-4 settlers at this site and the local people were marked by suspicion. Boonwurrung men and women were wary. Collins made little attempt to treat the people with kindness and friendship. He was concerned that they might threaten his settlement.’

A less dramatic incident happened a year later when members of Grimes surveying party came upon a group of natives near Mornington. James Flemming, who kept a journal of the expedition, remarked that here the party “fell in with a body of natives, 14 men, besides women and children; they pointed to us to follow ship (which was moving in unison with the land party). I gave them some biscuit, some of us gave them old hats and a handkerchief; they followed us a considerable way seemingly asking for more.’

Also stated on the signs at Collins Settlement is this: ‘The Collins settlement is of great importance to Boonwurrung people as a symbol of the British invasion of Victoria. In this way, it is also a symbol of the tragic consequences - population declines, the loss of the land and damage to an ancient heritage - suffered by the people in the years that followed.’

It is quite possible that there were different tribes roaming these areas and they had different agendas, but on the whole, according to Leslie Moorhead, they were quite friendly. As a final quote from ‘Mornington - In the Wake of Flinders’ ‘John Darbyshire, an early settler at Sorrento, writing many years after this episode, said of the Aborigines, ”the natives? They are as harmless as babies. A good-natured lot ’till the cruelty of the whites made them bad and revengeful - poor things! And who can blame ‘em.”

Sources of information include 'No Place for a Colony' by Richard Cotter, 'Mornington iin the wake of Flinders' by Leslie Moorhead, The logs of the Lady Nelson, 'A Voyage to Establish a Colony at Port Philip in Bass's Strait On the South Coast of New South Wales, in His Majesty's Ship Calcutta, in the Years 1802-3-4' by James Hingston Tuckey, ADB and other sources

 


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