Kulin Life

Kulin Life

The City of Melton is on ancient land that has taken millions of years to form, from the grassy basalt plains and woodlands, to the rivers and creeks, and the low volcanic peaks that stretch westward.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this website may contain images and voices of people who have died.

Kulin custodians are likely to describe their presence around Narrm (greater Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay) as being from time immemorial. A European scientific perspective is that Aboriginal people have lived on this continent for at least 40,000 years.[1] Kulin people lived alongside megafauna, witnessed volcanic activity, and around 12,000 years ago they saw the flooding of the land bridge that once connected the mainland to what is now called Tasmania.

Bones from the giant marsupial Diprotodon, which lived tens of thousands of years ago alongside Aboriginal people, were discovered in a Melton creek in 1923. Photographer: A.J. Campbell. Museums Victoria Collections, MM 47261.

The Kulin Nations comprise five ‘wurrungs’ or language groups, the term Kulin indicating the concept of ‘human being’.[2] Three of these five groups – the Woi wurrung, Boon wurrung (Bunurong) and Wathaurong – occupied territory in and around what is today the City of Melton. Today, ancestors from all three groups continue to maintain vital traditional connections to this area.[3]

Aboriginal people used fire to hunt animals and to actively manage the resources of the natural environment. Joseph Lycett, c. 1817. National Library of Australia, PIC MSR 12/1/4 #R5689.

The plains and waterways that now lie within the City of Melton are the traditional territory of the Kurun jang balug of the Wurundjeri-willam, a clan of the Woi wurrung. The name ‘Kurun jang balug’ translates as ‘red ground people’ and describes the distinctive deep red earth on which Melton is situated.[4] This name is preserved today in the suburb of Kurunjang. In the 1830s, the Kurun jang balug clan-head or ngurungaeta was Bet Banger, an important leader who worked alongside white settlers and mediated Kulin people’s access to Country.[5]

Fish traps being used by Aboriginal people on the Darling River, New South Wales, c. 1870s. Similar traps are likely to have been used in the waterways of the Melton area. Henry King, c. 1870-1880. State Library of New South Wales, FL524875.

The resources of Narrm were plentiful. Thousands of years of interaction with the land, combined with an effective system of transmitting knowledge between generations, allowed Kulin people to thrive. Food was abundant, including kangaroo and other mammals, as well as reptiles, birds, insects, mussels and fish. Kulin people used ingeniously designed fish traps that diverted the flow of waterways.[6]

Plants were another major food source.[7] These included the nutritious tuber from the yellow-flowered murrnong (Microseris sp.) or yam daisy. Murnong was cultivated by Aboriginal women in the Narrm area.[8] Plants had other purposes in addition to food, including being used for fibre, medicine, to make implements and cement.[9] Firestick practices saw strategic burning to promote constant renewal of plant and animal life. This also contained the growth of foliage, to facilitate ease of movement through Country.[10]

Kulin people maintained important social and ritual connections by gathering for ceremony to enact spiritual obligations, discuss important business and settle disputes. This painting by William Barak depicts an Aboriginal ceremony, c. 1880-1890. State Library Victoria, H29641.

Additionally, Kulin life allowed time for leisure and for fulfilling social and ritual obligations. With extensive cross-cultural and spiritual affiliations across Kulin clans and language groups, people would meet for ceremony and to discuss important business. A series of earth rings on hillsides around Sunbury are thought to be ceremonial sites that may have been locations for male initiation.[11] Other physical evidence of the presence of Kulin people is still clearly visible today in numerous local scar trees, including those at Pinkerton Forest, Eynesbury Grey Box Forest and the Melton Golf Course.

In the 19th century, the arrival of European settlers from far across the sea, with their animals, fences, diseases, and completely foreign cultures and ways of life, spelled the end of Kulin ascendancy over the lands of which Kulin people had been custodians for more than two thousand generations.[12] The effects of this invasion would be nothing short of catastrophic.


[1] Richard Broome, Aboriginal Victorians: a history since 1800, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005, p. xviii. Note that there are varying estimates for the length of time that Aboriginal people have lived in Victoria.

[2] Gary Presland, First People: the Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip & Central Victoria, Museum Victoria Publishing, Melbourne, 2010, p. 12.

[3] A number of Aboriginal stakeholders assert a traditional connection to the area covering the current day City of Melton. These groups include the Wurundjeri Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council Aboriginal Corporation, the Boon Wurrung Foundation, the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, and the Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation.

[4] Ian D. Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans: an historical atlas of western and central Victoria, 1800-1900, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, 1990, p. 383. Note that there are alternative spellings of Kurun jang balug, including Kurung jang balug, Kurun jang ballak and Kurun jang balluk.

[5] Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans,1990, p. 38

[6] Presland, First People, 2010, p. 68.

[7] Australian Plants Society, Keilor Plains Group, Plants of Melbourne’s Western Plains, 2012, p. 26.

[8] Ian D. Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Heritage Matters, Melbourne, 2000, vol. 2, p. 318.

[9] Beth Gott and John Conran, ‘Victorian Koorie Plants’, information sheets accessed from Melton Botanic Garden, pp. 2-3. More information about bushfoods and plants that are indigenous to the Melton area can be found at Melton Botanic Garden.

[10] Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth: how Aborigines made Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2011, p. 3; Australian Plants Society, Keilor Plains Group, Plants of Melbourne’s Western Plains, 2012, p. 25.

[11] David Moloney, David Rowe, Pamela Jellie, Sear-Jane Peters, ‘Shire of Melton Heritage Study Stage Two’, Shire of Melton, Melton, 2007, p. 13.

[12] Bunjilaka, Museums Victoria, Creation Stories, https://museumsvictoria.com.au/bunjilaka/about-us/creation-stories, accessed 30 November 2021.