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Australia's Arsenal
- Munitions Industries
in Melbourne's west

Stone Upon A Stone
-Stone wall construction
in Melbourne's west

Hear Our Voices
-Stories by women
in Melbourne's west

- Aboriginal history
of Melbourne's west


A Brief History of the Park
- and bluestone buildings

History of the Land Gardens

The Pipestacks
+ Memorial to Bruce Duff

Pioneer Women's Shelter

Park + Environment Projects

Charles Grimes Re-enactment
- projects + events
(February 2003)
The Maribyrnong River Walk
- Pol McMahon (April 1999)
- contemporary art exhibition
(April 2003)



A Detailed History of Pipemakers Park
From the document- 'Pipemakers Park Conservation Analysis and Plan',
Melbourne's Living Museum of the West, 1996

Aboriginal History

It 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. It 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. Red 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 Aboriginal’s main technology ... vital for tribes who had to travel with few possessions’.
9. The 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 white explorer.

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. It 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 ADI’s 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 for retention.
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, 1983, pp.148-152.

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 Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West, 10 July 1996.
11.See the Still Here:exhibition, opened at the Visitor Centre, Pipemakers Park, 9 July 1996.

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