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Scars of the past

You only have to scratch the surface of metropolitan Melbourne to find evidence of Aboriginal Australians’ clever and sustainable culture.

Photo credit: Neil Perkins

The biggest surprise for most Victorians who join a Koorie Heritage Trust tour along the Yarra/Birrarung River is how much Aboriginal culture is on show if you know to look, according to guide Lucas Hyatt.

The scars borne by the few River Red Gums that still flank the original route of the river are just one example.

‘Scarring a tree is a really awesome sustainable process where you go to one of these large gum trees and carve in the shape of whatever tool you are creating. You then take a small rock to push into those cuts, which actually irritates the trunk. As that trunk gets irritated, it loosens up the cuts, trying to release those rocks, which then allows us to push them in deeper and deeper,’ Lucas says.

Eventually, the rocks are able to be pushed past the bark and into the wood.

‘Which actually allows us to just slide a hand in to pull that bark off and it completely leaves everything on the inside intact and untouched, so this tree can continue to grow and support life while allowing them to take this large piece of wood and turn it into a tool.’

As well as showcasing evidence of the commitment of Aboriginal peoples to sustainable practices and their clever use of technology, Lucas is keen for his tour participants to leave with a greater appreciation of the diversity and complexity of Aboriginal Australia.

Pre-colonisation, Australia had 270 Aboriginal nations, many with additional smaller groups.

‘This actually led to us having over 700 spoken languages here in Australia, and it is much more complicated than just having slight differences; they were vastly different groups, they had different hunting styles, food preparation, different medicine — all these aspects were really unique to each group.’

The Koorie Heritage Trust, based at Federation Square, plays a key role in educating visitors about Aboriginal living history and culture and supports and celebrates contemporary Victorian Aboriginal art and artists. The trust hosts the second largest Indigenous-owned collection of artefacts in Australia as well as running an art gallery, cultural awareness training and public tours. It is just one of the many resources available to residents and tourists to learn more about Aboriginal Australia.

Discover Koorie culture in Victoria

Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne

The one-hour Birrarung Wilam (River Camp) Walk heads from Federation Square to the banks of the Yarra River.

Visit the Koorie Heritage Trust websiteExternal Link .

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Starting with a smoking ceremony, the Aboriginal Heritage Walk weaves a picture of Aboriginal peoples in-depth knowledge of native plants, which they used for everything from food and medicine to tools and weapons.

Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria websiteExternal Link .

Worn Gundij @ Tower Hill, south-western Victoria

Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve is set within the crater of one of Australia’s oldest dormant volcanos and a local Gunditjmara guide can tell you the history of the area and introduce you to its native animals.

Visit the Tower Hill websiteExternal Link .

Budj Bim, south-western Victoria

The stunning World Heritage Listed Budj Bim Cultural Landscape includes evidence of the simple but sophisticated aquaculture system used by the Gunditjmara people to farm eels.

Visit the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape websiteExternal Link .

Reviewed 18 May 2023