Through what we know as Melbourne’s north-western suburbs, there once flowed a dynamic waterway. The physical landscape we see today is not what the Moonee Ponds Creek was originally.
The Moonee Ponds Creek begins its journey from an intrusion in granite hills north of Woodlands Historic Park. It is one of the watercourses that drain in to the Yarra River providing a corridor between the mountains and the Bay, for both Aboriginal people and fauna. The creek had shallow ponds of water that formed a chain along the length of the watercourse, isolated in drier times of the year, and flowing in the wetter months after heavy rains.
The Creek and Woiworung (Woy wur rung) the Wurundjeri people
These environments would have provided a water source as well as abundant plant and wildlife resources. Eels and Murnong (Yam Daisy) appear to have been prominent resources along the creek. As well as these food resources, there were camp locations on the nutrient rich flood plains that, at certain times of the year would have encouraged the Aboriginal people to take advantage of its seasonal bounty.
When Europeans first settled the Port Phillip region five Aboriginal language groups already occupied it. These groups spoke a related language and were part of the Kulin (Koolin) Nation of peoples.
These people were from the Eastern Kulin Language Group:
Woiworung (Woy wur rung) the Wurundjeri people
Boonwurrong (Boon er rong) the Boonwurrung people
Taungurong (Tung ger rong) the Taungurong people
Dja Dja Wrung (Jar Jar Wrung) the Jaara people
And the Western Kulin Language Group:
Wathaurung (Wath er rong) the Wathaurung people.
Each of these language groups consisted of up to six or more land-caring units, called clans, that spoke a related language and were connected through cultural and mutual interests, totems, trading initiatives and marital rites. The local clan, the Gunung (meaning “creek dwelling people”) were connected to the Moonee Ponds Creek and other waterways in the area.
There is still evidence of Aboriginal occuptation at the WHP. Scattered theough the park are scarred trees and surface stone tool scatters; and an occupation site is also listed in the park. Other resources within the park which would have been used by the Aborigines include kangaroos and possums, birdlife including water fowl and plant foods such as Yam Daisy, tubers and gum resins .
In 1840 Lady Mary Greene Stawell described the native inhabitants in her diary: ‘When we first took up our abode at Woodlands, a tribe of Aborigines used to camp on the creek (Moonee Ponds Creek ) that ran through our property. Their colour was a rich dark brown, their figures slight and graceful; they had fine eyes and splendid teeth, and thick black hair. They were very intelligent soon learning to understand English, and laughing heartily at anything that amused them … They were wonderfully athletic and agile and it was a fine sight to see them throw their spears and boomerangs. In their games they used light reed spears, and it was remarkable how, with almost imperceptible movements, they avoided an opponent’s spear. They danced their corrobarees at night, and it was picturesque to see these dark figures with the light from the large fires playing round them. Their only shelter from the weather were the “miamias” – mere windbreaks, made of branches of trees or, in winter, of bark; they lived a really open-air life and a mostly healthy one it was. They were different then from what they became afterwards, when they had learnt to drink, smoke and wear European clothes. ‘
In December 1824, after some 36 years of settlement at Botany Bay/Port Jackson, the first white men came overland to the Port Phillip area from New South Wales, a party led by Hamilton Hume and William Hilton Hovell. In June 1835, Jon Batman brought a party from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). He appears to have crossed the district from the west to the east; his route most probably took him closer than Hume and Hovell to the Broadmeadows area as he travelled over the plains. Through treaties with local Aborigines, he laid claim to a vast area of land to the north and west of Port Phillip bay, some 240,000 ha, on behalf of the port Port Phillip Association. Batman chose for himself an area extending from Depp Creek (Maribyrnong River) to the Merri Creek, incorporating most of the Broadmeadows area. On 2nd September 1835, the Governor of the Colony NSW (which then incorporated Port Phillip) repudiated Batman’s and others’ claims, and proclaimed treaties void and the settlers to be trespassers. The region was taken under formal government control.
In July-August 1835, an advance party sent by John Pascoe Fawkner from Van Diemen’s Land also arrived in the Port Phillip area. The Government Surveyor, Richard Hoddle, began surveying the Port Phillip area, dividing it into parishes each of approximately 65 square km, which were further subdivided. Hoddle’s parishes in the Broadmeadows area included Jika Jika (taking in the area south of Rhodes Parade, Glenroy and east of the Moonee Ponds Creek); Doutta Galla (which included the Strathmore area); Will Will Rook (north of Rhodes Parade to north of Barry Road, and east-west from the Merri Creek to the Moonee Ponds Creek); and Tullamarine. The names were derived from Aboriginal names.
The first land sales in the area of Strathmore on Moonee Ponds Creek were made in 1843 and 1845.
Early Development of the Lower Reaches of the Creek
Near its entry to the Yarra River, the creek formed a series of marshy pond on the flood plain, with extensive salt marshes known as Batman’s lagoon. With rapid development of Melbourne due to the Victorian gold rush in the 1850s, the swamp quickly became a receptacle for waste waters from Flemington, North Melbourne and Parkville.
In 1879 Batman lagoon was drained and filled to make way for the North Melbourne railway yards at its northern end. In the southern area, the filled-in marshes were called Dudley Flats, where, during the 1930s depression, impoverished people scrounged building material from the land-fill tip to build shelters and huts.
In the 1890s the lower Moonee Ponds Creek was used as a canal access for coal for railway locomotives.
(1) Lemon, A., 1982, Broadmeadows: a Forgotten History; Hargreen Publishing Company
(2) Lennon, J., 1993, Red Gums and Riders: a History of Gellibrand Hill Park, Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources.
(3) Hunt, A., 1993, Broadmeadows: A Concise History, Broadmeadows Historical Society
The Creek becomes a Drain
Between 1940 and the 1980s the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works, now called Melbourne Water, realigned and concreted the creek from Strathmore to Flemington Road, in an attempt to stop periodical flooding. The modifications were part of extensive urban development of the lower floodplain. For much of its length through the northern suburbs it is now characterised as a concrete stormwater drain that parallels the Tullamarine Freeway.
Moonee Ponds – The Name
There are many different theories of the origins of the name ‘Moonee Ponds’. Nobody really knows.
According to the Argus newspaper on 1st September 1934, Moonee Ponds was first known as Moonee Moonee Ponds which meant plenty of small flats. The same paper quoted Marl I. Meagher as saying the name derived from John Long Moonee, a British soldier who was a Crown grantee of allotments in and around Moonee Valley.
It is also claimed that Moonee Moonee was an Aborigine attached to the mounted police. Moonee Moonee, or Mooney Mooney was headman of the Balluk willam clan arrested at the same time as Tullamareena, (see the story below).
The 1918 Victoria railways list of stations and names supports this derivation. Another source says the Moonee Ponds area of Essendon almost certainly derived it name from a corruption of the name of Captain Mooney, who was a large land holder in the area.
It is considered most likely that the name was derived from the Aboriginal name for the Moonee Ponds creek rather than the name of any of the early European settlers. A form of the name first appeared in the surveyor Robert Hoddle’s field Book in 1837 when he referred to the “Mone Mone Chain of Ponds”. This reference is very early in the Settlement of the Port Phillip area. Subsequent maps of the period show the name of the creek as “Moonee Moonee Chain of Ponds”. The use of double word construction “Moonee Moonee” in the name is also typical of Aboriginal names as adopted by the European colonists.
Tullamarine derives from the Indigenous name Tullamareina
Further reading: Alastair Campbell, John Batman and the Aborigines, Kibble Press, 1987, p. 208; Historical Records of Victoria. Volume 2A: ‘The Aborigines of Port Philip, 1835-1839’, pp. 213ff
Tullamareena was a Woi wurrung man who escaped from the first Melbourne jail by burning it down, in a dramatic act
of resistance against White authority.
The background to the incident reveals much about how the white intruders overtaxed the hospitality of the Kulin peoples. By early 1838, Europeans had already taken over the best country around Melbourne, and sheep were spreading up and down the river valleys in plague proportions. Displaced from their traditional food-gathering areas, many Kuhn took refuge in the town.
At first, the only provision made for them in town was the Government Mission, near the present site of the Botanic Gardens, but it could not cope with the hundreds who flocked in. Tullamareena was a regular visitor there, and George Langhorne, the missionary, described him as ‘a steady, industrious man’. He would have needed to be, given the regime at the mission, where people were expected to work long hours in the fields for very little return. When supplies at the mission ran short, the Kulin turned to other sources of food, among them a potato field beside the Yarra owned by one John Gardiner. One night in April 1838 a watchman saw a party of Aboriginal men, including Tuliameema, digging up potatoes. When he accosted them, a man pointed a gun at him. The threat of violence was averted by Tullamareena, who persuaded his, companion to lower his weapon. For a moment, this seemed to resolve the issue. The watchman and the potato-diggers shook hands, and the terrified watchman said he would not tell Gardiner they were there.
Then, as soon as their backs were turned, he ran home to raise the alarm. Gardiner’s men rushed out, brandishing their weapons, and the potato-diggers fled. Most swam across the Yarra to safety, but Tullamareerna was knocked down with the butt of a rifle, tied up, forced into a boat and taken to the jail, along with another man known to the Europeans as Jin Jin.
When news of the incident reached the mission, there was a panic. Residents were asking what would happen to Tullamareena and Jin Jin. Fearing retribution all but 30 of the people headed for the hills. Tullamareena soon followed them, much to the authorities’ surprise. His method of escape was ingenious. The jail was a crude structure with wooden walls and a thatched roof. Tullamareena pulled a long straw from the thatch and worked it through a chink in the wall into the guard room, where he held it over a candle until it caught alight. He then used the burning straw to set fire to the roof and escaped in the ensuing confusion.
In May 1839 the Assistant Protector William Thomas recorded the death of Tullamareena’s wife, who was among the many Kulin to succumb to diseases introduced by the white settlers. She was buried next to her husband, who had died some six months earlier.