The Austin Hospital and local Aboriginal sites

Bolin Bolin, meeting place of the Kulin Nations

It takes seven minutes to travel by car from Austin Hospital to the Bolin Bolin Billabong in Bulleen.

You may not have heard of it, but Bolin Bolin is a significant Aboriginal site and one of the last surviving billabongs of the Yarra River.

Once part of a larger wetland area surrounding the Yarra River, Bolin Bolin was an important meeting place for the Wurundjeri and surrounding Kulin tribes. The tribes gathered here every February while eels were running and kangaroos plentiful, to discuss issues such as marriage, justice, trade and land management.

(In fact, on the Wurundjeri calendar, late summer is know as Kooyang, the season of eels.)

The Wurundjeri used fire to clear the local area for kangaroo farming. Further along the Yarra (or Birrarung, ‘river of mists’), at the junction of Ruffey Creek, they had aquaculture farms for fish, eels, yabbies and freshwater mussels.

As white settlement spread, Wurundjeri leader, Billibellari, tried to have the area protected as an Aboriginal reserve. He was unsuccessful and in 1843, organised the last corroboree of the Kulin Nation tribes at Bolin Bolin.

Just nine years later, the great leader Simon Wonga held the very last of the great intertribal corroborees of the Kulin Nation at Pound Bend in Warrandyte. It was a fortnight-long ceremony and celebration that in many ways marked the end of tribal life for the Wurundjeri.

By 1863, the Wurundjeri had settled at Coranderrk Station, near Healesville, and begun to lead a different – and far more European – lifestyle.

Renewed interest in and respect for Melbourne’s Aboriginal history and the area’s environmental significance has seen work undertaken to regenerate the Bolin Bolin Billabong in recent years.

Parks Victoria, Manningham Council, Melbourne Water and others are now working in partnership with the Wurundjeri to rehabilitate the area. Water has been returned to the billabong and interpretive signage explains the area’s history and ecology.

Melbourne University geologist and Wuradjuri man, Dr. Michael Fletcher, is also studying the billabong’s sediment to build a more accurate picture of our area’s pre-European history – including land management practices that may help us better manage the environment today.

Project contributor, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung corporation’s Delta Lucille Freedman, told the Guardian that “from an anthropological perspective, it was not a natural landscape but a cultural landscape that was shaped over millennia by Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung beliefs, traditions and land management.”

If you follow the ancient songline north from Bolin Bolin up modern-day Bulleen Road, you will soon reach Yingabeal, the scarred songline marker tree, in the grounds of the Heide Museum of Modern Art. By car, that’d take you another three minutes. But that’s a story for another day…

Want to know more?

  • See the area for yourself on the Bolin Bolin Billabong Walk. Reconciliation Manningham and the Wurundjeri Land Council also conduct guided tours of the area.
  • Most of the information in this article comes from the detailed research compiled on the Reconciliation Manningham website.

Image: Map of our local area, showing the Austin Hospital, Bolin Bolin Billabong, the scarred tree at Heide and Aboriginal songlines through the area. Image credit: Peter Young. Pen, watercolour and watercolour pencil.