SECTION 1 Cultural Heritage and Visual Character

Chapter 1.1 Aboriginal Heritage


The participants in this strategy acknowledge the prior occupancy of the Merri catchment by the Wurundjeri-willam people, and the damage to the people, communities, traditions, and to the land which was done in the settlement process.

We respect the rights of the descendents of the Wurundjeri-willam to preserve their cultural heritage and be involved in land management decision-making.

This chapter covers both archaeological (pre-contact) Aboriginal heritage as well as living (post-contact) Aboriginal heritage.

Despite the damage which was done to Aboriginal culture by settlement, the Aboriginal communitys knowledge of the Merri catchment is important to respect, to nurture and to take into account in management of the catchment.

Research, including survey work, investigation of archival accounts, and discussion with Wurundjeri-willam descendants along Merri Creek over recent decades has revealed a rich Aboriginal heritage associated with the stream. These surveys have identified a large number of known sites and areas of sensitivity where other sites are likely to occur. Surveys now span the Merri Creek corridor from Hernes Swamp at Wallan to the stream's confluence with the Yarra River at Abbotsford, as well as parts of Curly Sedge and Edgars Creeks.


Aboriginal Habitation

The northern region of Melbourne is the traditional land of the Wurundjeri-willam people, a clan of the Woiwurrung language group (Barwick, 1984 in Ellender, 1993). While descendants of the Wurundjeri willam live in Melbourne and are expected to have authority over Aboriginal Heritage sites within lands defined by the Aboriginal Heritage Act, comparatively little is known of their occupation of the lands before the time of European contact. Their land was rapidly overrun by European settlement and there were few observers to record details of their society, which was quickly and dramatically altered by European occupation.

Perhaps one of the best known sources of contact between Europeans and Aboriginal people was William Thomas, Assistant Protector of Aborigines from 1839, who camped on the Merri Creek in the 1840s and subsequently lived there. The Melbourne Baptist Congregation, with the help of Thomas, established the Merri Creek Aboriginal School on the peninsula of land between the Merri and the Yarra River, now covered by the Eastern Freeway (Hall, 1989). Although the school was apparently established with Woiwurrung support initially, parents later withdrew their children forcing its abandonment (Johnson and Ellender, 1993, vol. 2).

The diaries of William Thomas formed the major source of information for the book People of the Merri Merri[14], which provides good background to understanding the period of settlement, and the situation of the Wurundjeri today.

Previous Studies

Prior to the 1980s, Merri Creek was only subject to sporadic discoveries of Aboriginal sites. One of the earliest discoveries was by Brough Smyth in 1887 of a mound site at Donnybrook (in Ellender, 1997b). Further early records were a scatter of artefacts at the Merri/Yarra confluence discovered by Hardy in 1911, and a freshwater mussel midden and artefacts near Pentridge Prison at Coburg discovered by Hanks in 1933, (Ellender, 1997b).

Contemporary Studies

Since the late 1980s, there have been a number of archaeological studies of the Merri corridor. Presland's 1983 survey of the Melbourne area identified the Merri Creek locality as having potential for archaeological significance due to the likelihood of its use by Aboriginal people[15]. This was subsequently confirmed through work by Roger Hall commissioned by the Merri Creek Bicentennial Committee[16]. On the basis of these and other studies, there is strong evidence that the Merri Creek and surrounding lands were important for food, shelter, travel and maintaining cultural traditions for Aboriginal people.

Hall's work was one of the first regional surveys to be carried out in the Melbourne area. In relation to Aboriginal archaeology, Hall found 21 lithic scatters (stone artefacts) and 5 scarred trees to which he assigned a high regional cultural significance and at least a medium regional scientific significance'.

Hall further indicated that the area north of Mahoneys Road where the land is unmodified should be considered as archaeologically sensitive. Only a small part of these lands were effectively surveyed during his study, these being mainly at the Merri Gorge (now Galada Tamboore) and a few other sites. This was due to visibility conditions or lack of bare ground. Hall recommended that all sites surveyed should have protection through legislation and be preserved due to their research potential and cultural significance.

Ellender's background study for the 1994 Merri Creek Concept Plan Final Draft[17] included some additional survey work, but focused on preparing recommendations for protection of sites and identifying gaps in knowledge requiring further survey work. Her report made recommendations pertaining to seven specific sites along Merri Creek from Craigieburn Road to near the confluence with Central Creek. These mainly involved preventing disturbance and erosion, and seeking revegetation for protection of the site and its values. A further three recommendations were made for areas of archaeological sensitivity.

Some of the additional work recommended was completed in 1997with a further study which included surveys between Hernes Swamp and Craigieburn[18].This study made twenty-one recommendations about protection of sites, education to engender better levels of community understanding of aboriginal heritage issues and future projects for consideration and funding. The survey work (carried out in mid-1994), brought to over sixty the number of Aboriginal sites from Hernes Swamp to the Merri Creek's confluence with the Yarra River. These sites included more than 40 registered artefact scatters, exposures in the creek bank and similar sites, and 20 scarred trees in the area upstream of Mahoneys Road. An assessment was also made of the health of the scarred trees, all of which are likely to be over 200 years old. Most (73%) were found to be in poor health and 13% already dead - although dead trees still enjoy legal protection.

Besides documenting the archaeological resources of the middle and upper Merri, Ellender's study also investigated the Merri/Yarra confluence to attempt to discover remains of William Thomas' house/Protectorate Station and the Merri Merri Aboriginal School near Dight's Mill. An attempt was also made to confirm the mound site at Donnybrook recorded in 1878. Attempts to reaffirm these important sites were unsuccessful.

During the period of Ellender's study an application was forwarded to the Register of the National Estate nominating historic and archaeological Aboriginal sites on Merri Creek for registration. The Merri Creek, Barry Road Gorge and Environs site (now know as Galada Tamboore) only ever reached indicative status. The Cooper Street to Craigieburn Grasslands area was listed, but not on the basis of its Aboriginal Heritage.

A further archaeological study applicable to the catchment is that by du Cros and Associates[19] of the Craigieburn area and particularly Malcolm and Aitken Creeks. The study identified both streams as having a zone of archaeological sensitivity on either side for a distance of 50 metres.

A study of a 700 metre section of Edgars Creek between the Kodak bridge and the confluence of Edgars and Merri Creeks[20] was prepared for Melbourne Water as part of its investigation for site works in the vicinity. The survey recorded seven isolated artefacts which were assessed as having low scientific significance.

The confluence of Merri Creek and the Yarra River has been identified as a site of significance in terms of its Aboriginal and European heritage. It was the site of an Aboriginal burial ground, meetings, ceremonies and encampments as well as of the Merri Creek Aboriginal School, the Assistant Protector William Thomas hut and a number of other features relating to Melbournes early settlement and contact history. A study of this site published in 1998 described what is known of the history of the area, and concluded that archaeological remains are not likely to be found in the area due to disturbance from Eastern Freeway and oval construction [21].

Further survey work has been undertaken as part of the background research and approval process for a number of developments in the catchment. The principal of these developments has been the Craigieburn Bypass, which resulted in studies by Vines (1996), Newby (1997) and Muir (1998 and 1999). Thirteen new Aboriginal archaeological sites were recorded. The Merri Creek, particularly close to Galada Tamboore and associated tributaries were confirmed as areas of high archaeological sensitivity.

Survey work by Biosis Research Pty Ltd in preparation for the Aurora development in Epping North identified 13 new sites, on the higher stony rises close to Edgars Creek and former swamps.

Yarra Valley Water has also conducted surveys for sites which will be disturbed as part of the Northern Sewerage Project[22], and further work is underway. A large number of artefacts have been found at the Malcolm Place site in Campbellfield.

The City of Moreland is preparing a pre-contact study and has prepared a post-contact (i.e. non-archaeological) study also[23].

In 2008 the Growth Areas Authority commenced an Aboriginal cultural heritage sensitivity study which aims to formalise areas of Aboriginal cultural heritage sensitivity (but not actual sites) The study covers the whole of Whittlesea, and probably[24] other areas within the Melbourne@5 million study area. These areas of sensitivity will be gazetted and be the basis for whether a Cultural Heritage Management Plan is required.

In 2009 Parks Victoria will be commissioning some survey work within the Merri Catchment as part of a Cultural Heritage Management Plan to be developed for the Merri Parklands.


Aboriginal Affairs Victoria (AAV) is the Victorian Government's central point of advice on all aspects of Aboriginal affairs in Victoria. This policy advice mayrelate to services provided by other State Government agencies, Commonwealth departments, or to services delivered within the Aboriginal community. AAV is often the first point of call by members of the Aboriginal community and its organisations requiring information on a wide range of issues.

An important aspect of the work of AAV is to promote knowledge and understanding about Victoria's Aboriginal people within the wider community. AAV also administers legislation that protects Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria. This function relies on close co-operation with the various Aboriginal communities around the State. Aboriginal Affairs Victoria's objectives are to:

· promote the social, economic and cultural development of Victoria's Aboriginal communities

· protect and promote Victoria's Aboriginal cultural heritage

· improve coordination and monitoring of the development of government policy relating to the delivery of programs and services to Victoria's Aboriginal people

· promote and strengthen effective relationships between government agencies with Victoria's Aboriginal communities; and

· promote a greater awareness and understanding of Victoria's Aboriginal people.

State-level protection

A new State Act (The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006) has been enacted which took force in May 2007. It replaces the Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972 and as a result part IIA of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 was repealed, and the rest of the Commonwealth Act applies only as a last resort. Key features of the Aboriginal Heritage Act are listed in the box below.

Areas of Cultural Heritage Sensitivity

The legislation protects known and unknown sites The Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2007 define areas of cultural heritage sensitivity. Registered cultural heritage places are areas of cultural heritage sensitivity as is land within 50m of the place unless the land has been subject to significant ground disturbance.

Waterways and land within 200m of waterways are areas of cultural heritage sensitivity unless they have been subject to significant ground disturbance. Almost all of the Merri Creek and major tributaries are mapped as areas of sensitivity under the Act. Parks under the National Parks Act are also areas of significance.

Key features of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006[25]

The primary objective of the Act is to recognise, protect and conserve Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria in ways that are based on respect for Aboriginal knowledge and cultural and traditional practices.

Aboriginal cultural heritage includes places and objects relating to Aboriginal occupation of Australia as well as places and objects of cultural heritage significance to the Aboriginal people of Victoria.

It establishes an Aboriginal Heritage Council in Victoria consisting of 11 Victorian Traditional Owners. The Council registers Aboriginal parties and advises the Minister on Aboriginal Heritage Management.

Local Aboriginal organisations can apply to become Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs). Under the provisions of the Act they are involved in cultural heritage decision making at a local level.

Larger developments and many high impact activities in culturally sensitive landscapes can cause significant harm to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. The Act prescribes in regulations the circumstances in which a Cultural Heritage Management Plan will be required for certain types of development or activities in sensitive areas before they can commence.

Some activities that will, or are likely to, harm Aboriginal Cultural Heritage will not require preparation of a Cultural Heritage Management Plan. In these cases a Cultural Heritage Permit may be required.

The Act allows the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to make declarations in order to preserve important Aboriginal cultural heritage places as protected areas for future generations.

Landowners and managers will also be able to enter into Cultural Heritage Agreements with Registered Aboriginal Parties to manage and protect important Aboriginal places on their property.

The Act includes a range of enforcement provisions to provide better protection for Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria. This includes higher penalties of up to $1 million and clear powers for Heritage Inspectors.

Causing harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage is an offence under the Act. Stop Orders provide a process for stopping activities that threaten or harm Aboriginal cultural heritage. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs will also be able to order a person to audit their activity under certain circumstances.

The Act establishes the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register to hold details on Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria.

The mapping by Ellender 1997 and earlier studies of Aboriginal Archaeological sensitivity may be useful to identify the core of lands needing protection in urbanised areas of the Merri Creek, as well as possible extensions in rural parts.

The AAV website includes a planning tool to help developers and other work out their responsibilities under the Act.[26]

Registered Aboriginal Parties

In the Merri catchment the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Compensation and Cultural Heritage Council, is the approved Registered Aboriginal Party.

Council responsibilities under the Aboriginal Heritage Act

As responsible authorities under the Victoria Planning Provisions, Councils must check whether a Cultural Heritage Management Plan is required prior to determination of applications for planning permits, amendments to planning permits and other statutory authorisations.

Map 6 - Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Sites (from AAV website)

Sites and areas of archaeological sensitivity (areas which are most likely to contain Aboriginal sites) have been mapped and the mapping has been provided to Councils. However, the presence of sites may be unknown to landowners. The Aboriginal Affairs Victoria website[27] provides broad scale maps of areas of cultural sensitivity. However, the planning scheme provides a powerful tool for protecting European heritage, and should be able to be used for protecting Aboriginal Heritage also. Critical to protecting Aboriginal sites is protection from ground disturbance. The new Act puts such protection into law. It remains to be seen how this can be best drawn to the attention of those who need to know. A new planning scheme overlay may be appropriate. The Heritage Overlay can be, and in some cases is, used for Aboriginal sites, however it doesnt provide good protection against ground disturbance.

Good protection from ground disturbance is provided in the Environmental Significance Overlay (ESO) which has been applied to much of the Merri Creek. The ESO requires a permit to carry out works (unless the works are exempted in the overlay schedule), and the definition of works includes ground disturbance.

The other complication relating to Aboriginal sites is that the location of identified sites should not be made public without consulting the Wurundjeri. The Heritage Overlay requires explicit listing of sites, thereby making them public. Unknown sites obviously cannot be listed in the Heritage overlay and there is no provision for areas of archaeological sensitivity. The Heritage Overlay also has limitations in dealing with cultural landscapes. Areas of sensitivity can be incorporated into the Environmental Significance Overlay area however, and this can be done without explicitly listing known sites. The Merri Creek ESO implemented separately in five Councils planning schemes incorporates the objective To protect areas of sensitivity for Aboriginal heritage.[28] The Merri Creek ESO therefore potentially provides a consistent regional approach to protecting these areas. Unfortunately the boundaries of the ESO in the cities of Hume and Whittlesea are not designed to incorporate the areas of sensitivity for Aboriginal heritage, and the Mitchell Shire does not have a Merri Creek ESO.

Staff Training

Staff training opportunities exist through DSEs PlaNet program, AAV (for free), and Maddocks. Where possible these existing training providers should be used rather than developing new training programs.

The Wurundjeri

The Wurundjeri Tribe Land Compensation and Cultural Heritage Council P/L (WTLCCHC) was nominated for this region for the purposes of Part 2A of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984. Written consent from the WTLCCHC was therefore required before disturbing any identified Aboriginal places, sites or objects. It is approved as a Registered Aboriginal Party under the new Act, and must be consulted regarding local impacts on Aboriginal Heritage within the whole of the Merri Creek Catchment.

Place names

Table 2 - New Wurundjeri place names

Known name

Wurundjeri name


Cooper St Grasslands

Bababi Marning

Mothers Hand

Craigieburn Grasslands

Galgi Ngarrk

back bone

Jukes Rd Grasslands

Bababi Djinanang

Mothers foot

Central Creek Grasslands



New park on Merri Creek

Marran Baba

Body of Mother

Many existing localities and roads probably reflect Wurundjeri names and words. More recently the Campbellfield Retarding Basin was renamed Galada Tamboore, after the Friends of Merri Creek invited the Wurundjeri to supply a name. Galada Tamboore means Stream Waterhole. In 2008 Parks Victoria and Friends of Merri Creek invited the Wurundjeri to name the Craigieburn, Cooper Street, Jukes Road and Central Creek Grasslands, and the proposed new Merri Creek Park. Whilst not all names have been formally adopted, the names shown in Table 2 provided by the Wurundjeri have been incorporated into this document where possible.

Reporting possible infringements

Members of the public and community groups are able to report possible infringements of the Aboriginal Heritage Act by calling Aboriginal Affairs Victoria on 1800 762 003. This number is a free call number and generally attended. Before calling, note the location of the site in terms of a Melway reference, street address or nearest road intersection, and what you saw happening and when. Note any relevant number plates. If possible take a photo which you can email to Aboriginal Affairs Victoria at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Individuals or members of community groups need permission from the landowner to enter private land. Enforcement Officers under the Aboriginal Heritage Act need consent of the owner or a warrant to enter private land to investigate possible infringements of the Act .

Key References

Andrew Long & Associates, Merri Creek Main Sewer Extension Route Investigation Archaeological Desktop Assessment, report for Yarra Valley Water August 2003

Clark, I.D. & Heydon, T. G. (1998). The confluence of the Merri Creek and Yarra River: A history of the Western Port Aboriginal Protectorate and the Merri Creek Aboriginal School. Report to the Heritage Services Branch, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.

Ellender, I. (1997a) Considerations for Aboriginal Archaeology during the Barry Road Gorge cleanup. Unpublished report for Melbourne Water, Waterways and Drainage Group.

Ellender, I. (1997b) The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage of the Merri Merri Creek: Including the Archaeological Survey for Aboriginal Sites from Craigieburn to Hernes Swamp, Report for Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

Ellender, I. & Christiansen, P. (2001) People of the Merri Merri the Wurundjeri in Colonial Days, Merri Creek Management Committee Melbourne.

Hall, R. (1989). Merri Creek Parklands Aboriginal and Historical Heritage Survey, Vols. 1&2, report prepared for Merri Creek Bicentennial Committee, Melbourne.

Johnson, C. & Ellender, I. (1993). Cultural Heritage Report, Vols. 1 & 2, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.

Muir, S. (1998). Hume Freeway Alignment (Options 1-5), Western Ring Road to Donnybrook Road, Archaeological investigation. Report for VicRoads by Strata Archaeology, Melbourne.

Muir, S. (1999). Proposed Hume Freeway Alignment Advice on Submissions to Advisory Committee Archaeological, Heritage and Cultural Issues. Report prepared for VicRoads by Strata Archaeology, Melbourne.

Newby, J. (1997). Desktop Survey of Option E14 and the Current Hume Highway Alignment. Report for VicRoads by Strata Archaeology, Melbourne.

Presland, G. (1983). An Archaeological Survey of the Melbourne Metropolitan Area, Victorian Archaeological Survey Occasional Report, Series No 15, Melbourne.

Terraculture (2005) An Archaeological Assessment: Merri Creek Main Sewer Extension and Cooper Street Sewerage Outlet Project, report for Yarra Valley Water, November 2005

Vines, G. (1996). Hume Freeway, Mahoneys Road to Craigieburn Preliminary Archaeological Assessment. Report for VicRoads by Melbournes Living Museum of the West Inc.

Aboriginal Heritage Issues

1. All sites of Aboriginal Significance along the Merri Creek need to be identified and surveyed so that appropriate measures can be put into place for their ongoing management and protection.

2. The protection provided under State legislation to all Aboriginal sites has not been effectively linked to the planning system for land development and change of use. The result is that the protection of known and yet to be identified sites is currently inadequate.

3. Having a consistent approach between local governments to managing Aboriginal heritage means there is a need for the State to introduce a new planning control.

4. Areas of archaeological sensitivity along Merri Creek and tributaries are subject to a number of threatening processes caused by inadequate, or inappropriate management, or simple ignorance of their values. Still others are under threat due to development planned for the future. In some cases this may mean that archaeological sites are lost even before they have been surveyed.

5. Many sites, especially in the upper and middle catchment, are on private property. Alerting the landowners to the presence of sites and appropriate management of them is critical.

6. Aboriginal sites are fragile and non-renewable, and known sites might only be a fraction of those which could be found to exist with future investigation.

7. Information regarding the location of identified Aboriginal sites held by Councils or MCMC should not be made publicly known except where this is consistent with the new Act and Regulations.

8. Many of the upper tributaries of Merri Creek have not been surveyed for Aboriginal Heritage sites, while some lower tributaries have been only partially surveyed.

9. Agency staff need better training and procedures to effectively fulfil their obligations under cultural heritage legislation and to the community.

10. Impacts of the new Aboriginal Heritage Act for local government, landowners and the Indigenous community are not entirely clear. There is much to learn for Councils and the community, but the level of support from DSE/AAV is unclear.

11. The new Act needs to be linked to the planning system.

12. With the exception of Darebin Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Council, there is little ongoing involvement of Aboriginal organisations in strategic planning in the catchment.

13. Formal adoption of Wurundjeri place names is not yet complete.


The following objectives are slightly amended, from the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006

1. Recognise, protect and conserve Aboriginal cultural heritage in the catchment in ways that are based on respect for Aboriginal knowledge and cultural and traditional practices.

2. Recognise Aboriginal people as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

3. Accord appropriate status to Aboriginal people with traditional or familial links with Aboriginal cultural heritage in protecting that heritage.

4. Promote the management of Aboriginal cultural heritage as an integral part of land and natural resource management.

5. Promote public awareness and understanding of Aboriginal cultural heritage in the catchment.


1. Implement the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.

2. Implement a control in the planning schemes to facilitate protection of Aboriginal Heritage sites and areas of sensitivity under the Act.

3. Provision of notification and information to all land managers, both public and private, regarding the general location of significant sites and their responsibilities for protection and management.

4. Implement landowner agreements.

5. Ensure land management is sympathetic to Aboriginal Heritage.

6. Continued identification sites of archaeological and Aboriginal cultural heritage significance.

7. Involvement of appropriate bodies such as the WTLCCHC in management and interpretation of Aboriginal cultural sites and the recording of knowledge of Aboriginal history, both written and verbal.

8. Appropriate interpretation of sites of Aboriginal cultural heritage significance within a context of ensuring their management and protection.


See Appendix 1 pages 1-3

[14] Ellender & Christiansen  2001

[15] Presland, 1983

[16] Hall, 1989

[17] Johnson and Ellender, 1993

[18] Ellender, 1997b

[19] du Cros and Associates, 1991 in Ellender, 1997b.

[20] Lane, 1996 p 13

[21] Clark & Heydon, 1998

[22] Andrew Long and Associates, 2003, and Terraculture (2005)

[23] Moreland Pre Contact Aboriginal Heritage Study (draft) and Post Contact Aboriginal Heritage Study (adopted 2006)

[24] This could not be confirmed prior to publication




[28] Darebin, Hume, Moreland, Whittlesea and Yarra Councils.  Mitchell Shire does not have a Merri Creek Environmental Significance Overlay.  Mitchell Shire does have a Watercourse Protection ESO but this doesnt include Aboriginal Heritage protection as an objective, nor is it applied to the bulk of the Merri Creek and its tributaries within the Shire.  ESOs are not implemented on many tributaries of Merri Creek in the other municipalities also.