Detailed History of Pipemakers Park
the document- 'Pipemakers Park Conservation Analysis and Plan',
Melbourne's Living Museum of the West, 1996
is difficult to place the study area as an identifiable and specific
site over tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal history. Intensive
industrial use began within fifteen years of white settlement in the
river valley and continued, with intervals, during the next 130 years.
Although there is extensive evidence of Aboriginal activity further
up the Maribyrnong river valley, no trace of Aboriginal occupation of
the study area has yet been found, mainly because of the disturbance
caused by man and beast. 1.
It is important to be aware of the very long period of Aboriginal history,
given the discoveries, further up the valley at Keilor, which show ancient
middens and charcoal from hearths as long ago as 40,000 years. 2.
The vegetation, animal life and culture of those times would have been
very different from that found in the valley thousands of years later.
30,000 years ago there were diprotodon (the size of a rhinoceros), marsupial
lions and giant kangaroos in the Maribyrnong valley, as the evidence
at Keilor has shown.3. Aboriginal people
of that time would have been able to walk across a plain which is now
Port Phillip Bay and over a land bridge to Tasmania, or travelled by
water to join the vast river which linked the Yarra, Maribyrnong and
Werribee rivers with the Tamar. These people used stone tools and used
fire to cook their food.
Even 10,000 years ago, the climate would have been colder and wetter.
The river valley would have been far deeper and there would have been
more trees and vegetation. Ferns, bracken, bog moss and beech trees,
as well as red river gum, may well have grown in the study area.4.
The lower part of the study area would not even have existed, because
it was formed only later from deposited sediments and silt.
5,000 years ago the scene would have been different again. The climate
was warmer, the sea level higher. In fact the sea had now filled Port
Phillip Bay and reached as far as Essendon, where the fossils of sharks,
dolphins, oysters and other shellfish have provided evidence that part
of the present valley and possibly part of the study area were below
sea level. It is from this time onwards that Aboriginal people used
quartzite for their tools, as revealed in the discovery of a wealth
of quartzite knives and axe heads during excavations prior to the construction
of the explosives factory at Maribyrnong. 5.
All along the valley Aboriginal people gathered and hunted for food,
camped, repaired their tool kits and left evidence of their technology.
In more recent times, within the last two hundred years, a fish trap
at Braybrook indicated to white explorers one of the Aboriginal methods
of obtaining food. One of the first white children born in the area
remembered watching a blackfellow stand in the river and display
his quickness of eye and sureness of stroke by striking fish with his
spear, as they swam around him. 6.
Scarred trees and an Aboriginal quarry at Brimbank Park have shed further
light on the Aboriginal presence in the Maribyrnong valley. The very
name Maribyrnong gives clues on the Aboriginal way of life
and their sources of food. The most common origin of the name is said
to be Mirring-gnai-birr-nong - I can hear a ringtail
possum. A second version is Mirring -quai- birnong
- a kind of edible yam shaped like a finger. 7.
is extremely likely that murnong or yam daisy grew in the valley, as
they did along the Moonee Ponds Creek, and that women with their digging
sticks gathered the murnong in large quantities. The rhizomes of cumbungi
(native reed) in ponds or wetlands down on the flood plain would also
have been a valued food, while the reeds themselves were useful for
weaving into baskets, bags and mats. From wattles, especially lightwoods,
Aboriginal people could obtain the seeds which they would grind to make
damper. They could also use the resin of wattle trees for binding axe
heads. The local basalt would have been useful for choppers and grinding
stones. Silcrete was available from Keilor and greenstone from Mount
William, but it was through trade routes that the people of the valley
obtained quartzite to make axe heads and spear points. From the red
river gums along the river banks, Aboriginal people could use the bark
for making shields, coolamons and shelters. From the plentiful sheoaks
of Maribyrnong came the useful hard wood which Aboriginal people used
for making implements such as digging sticks. The words Koort
Boork Boork (meaning clump of sheoaks) were later
selected for the name of the area when white surveyors began dividing
the land into parishes.
The Marin Balluk were the people of the area west of the Maribyrnong
on the eve of white settlement, occupying land extending to Kororoit
Creek to the west and Sunbury to the north. Their alternative clan name
and the name of their dialect was Boiberrit. They were part
of the Wurundjeri or Woiworung tribe and members of the Kulin nation.
The Marin Balluk men, writes Robert Mate Mate, had nose perforation
and their hair was plaited with red ochre. Their head man was Bungerim,
who was custodian of the Mount William quarry. 8.
stone has been found in the study area, near the escarpment, and it
is possible that it was used by Aboriginal people for body painting
on ceremonial occasions. It is still being used by descendants of the
Wurundjeri for performances at Pipemakers Park.
The Aboriginal people of the area knew their country well. They knew
the pattern of the seasons, the times of plenty and the times of scarcity,
They knew that the river frequently flooded. They knew the value of
fire. The Aboriginal methods of firestick farming were practised on
the plains above the valley and the study area. Fire was the essence
of many Aboriginal skills and the firestick, the Aboriginals
main technology ... vital for tribes who had to travel with few possessions.
escarpment would have provided a good viewing point, looking across
and down the river and over the swampy lands below. It is unlikely that
the study area was a favourite camping site because of the lack of fresh
water. Even the pond, shown on a map of 1858, may have been brackish.
Undoubtedly the river at this point was a plentiful source of eels,
fish, waterbirds and aquatic plants of dietary and medicinal value.
As in post contact times, the river was a means of navigation and Aboriginal
canoes and rafts would have passed by the study area, long before any
Oral sources relate the importance of the river banks as travelling
and trade routes. An Aboriginal person, while travelling on this land,
was allowed to pass through, regardless of their tribal association.
There is also a story that you were only allowed to cross the Maribyrnong
between the hours of sunrise and sunset. 10.
was a significant dividing line or barrier between different clans.
It could be said that the study area, even in pre-contact times, had
a certain importance, as a source of food, from the river and the alluvial
flats; as a source of timber and stone, including red stone; as a trade
and travelling route. In more recent times, the study area has again
become a significant resource for Aboriginal people. In Pipemakers Park
in the 1990s, they are using modern technologies, sharing their culture
and demonstrating that they are proud of their Aboriginal identity.
1.See Wilson Sayer Core Pty.Ltd., ADI
Footscray Redevelopment Environmental Effects Statement, p.17. This
refers to a survey by Hilary Du Cros to record and assess Aboriginal
archaeological sites on ADIs Footcray site. One isolated artefact
occurrence was recorded on the Footsceay site, adjacent to an electricity
pylon approximately halfway along the river frontage. The artefact occurrence
was in poor condition and had been disturbed by dumping of fill. It
was rated as of very low significance and was not recommended
2.Gary Presland, Aboriginal Melbourne: the lost land of the Kulin people,
Melbourne, 1985; new edition, 1995, p.128.
3. Josephine Flood, Archaeology of the Dreamtime, Sydney and London,
4. Edmund D.Gill, Melbourne before history
began, Sydney, c.1968, p.7.
5. Hugh Anderson, Saltwater River History Trails, Melbourne, 1984, p.61.
6. Recollections of Alfred Solomon, in Thomas Flynn, A History
of Braybrook District, typescript, Braybrook, 1906.
7. See Ivar Nelson and Patrick Miller, Heritage Survey, Explosives Factory,
Maribyrnong, Victoria, vol.1, p.p.19,40 for discussion of the name and
the various sources and meanings.
8. Robert Mate Mate, Notes for the exhibition, The Amazing Maribyrnong,
16 April 1989, quoted Olwen Ford and Pamela Lewis, Maribyrnong: Action
in Tranquillity, Melbourne, 1989, p. vii.
9.Geoffrey Blainey, Our Side of the Country:
The Story of Victoria, Melbourne, Sydney, 1984, pp.13-15.
10.Larry Walsh, Aboriginal Cultural Officer with Melbournes Living
Museum of the West, 10 July 1996.
11.See the Still Here:exhibition, opened at the Visitor Centre, Pipemakers
Park, 9 July 1996.