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Boon Wurrung

The language spoken by members of six Koorie clans who lived in adjoining estates in the Port Phillip region. The name literally means 'no lip (or speech)' and refers to the way in which speakers expressed the negative, i.e. 'boon'.

What little is known of the structure of Boon wurrung clans and their relationships with other clans in the region has been derived primarily from careful analysis of historical records compiled within 70 years of the settlement of Melbourne. The reconstructed picture cannot be regarded as complete but, rather, the best approximation available.

Traditionally, each of the six Boon wurrung-speaking clans identified with a specific area (an estate). These estates were contiguous and collectively comprised a broad tract of land from Andersons Inlet in the east to the Werribee River in the west. Wilsons Promontory was included in this territory, as was the Mornington Peninsula and a strip of land around the top of Port Phillip Bay. This domain was bordered on the north by the estates of clans of the neighbouring language group, called Woi wurrung. South of the Yarra River, the dividing line between Boon wurrung and Woi wurrung was based on topographic considerations. The Woi wurrung clans collectively claimed all the area of the Yarra drainage basin. Where the streams drained into Port Phillip or Western Port bays was Boon wurrung territory.

Because their estates were mainly along the coastal margin, the Boon wurrung clans are often referred to in the historical literature as the Coast tribe, Port Phillip tribe and Westernport tribe. Alternative spellings of the language name, used in various historical sources, include Boonoorung, Boonwurong, Bunwurru and Bunurong.

Accurate description of each of the six Boon wurrung clans, in terms of location and relationships to others, is a matter of some complexity; the following characterisation is both general and subject to correction as further detailed research is undertaken.

1. The Yowengerra clan identified with the area of the basin of the Tarwin River, their estate also taking in Wilsons Promontory.

2. To the west of this clan, the Yallock-balluk clan identified with the area around the Bass River and on the eastern side of Western Port.

3. The estate of the Burinyung-bulluk was in the southern part of Mornington Peninsula, around Point Schanck and Point Nepean.

4. Neighbouring this clan to the north was the Mayonebulluk, who identified with the area about Carrum Swamp, Cranbourne, and the coastal strip at the head of Western Port.

5. The Ngaruk-willam clan estate stretched from near Gardiners Creek, south to near Dandenong, taking in the area of present-day Brighton and Mordialloc. Because of their proximity to the Yarra, this clan has sometimes been identified as a part of the Woi wurrung language group.

6. The westernmost of the Boon wurrung clans was the Yalukit-willam, whose estate was a strip of land around the top of Port Phillip Bay from the area of St Kilda to the Werribee River. The self-identification of the landowners of this area as Boon wurrung suggests a statement on their part of religious and political authority, since ownership controlled access to the area by distant Kulin clans.

Each of the Boon wurrung clans was governed by an individual or group of senior men - individuals of distinguished achievement with effective authority within their clans - who had the title Arweet.

Boon wurrung clans were part of the bunjil/waa moiety system of kinship and totemic class that characterised the Kulin confederacy of -(w)urrung speaking clans. Boon wurrung clans were in the Bunjil class, with the exception of the Burinyung-bulluk whose members were Waa. All Kulin clans were exogamous; i.e. men always sought marriage partners from another clan. In the case of most of the Boon wurrung clans, marriages were usually contracted with Waa clans of Watha wurrung speakers, whose estates took in the area between the Werribee River and near Streatham, as well as the Bellarine Peninsula. The connections forged in this way gave members various rights of access to a large area of central Victoria.

Like all Koorie clans in the Melbourne area, those of the Boon wurrung were greatly affected by European settlement. Today Boon wurrung interests are represented by an active community of people who trace their descent from the original owners of the Boon wurrung estates.

Gary Presland

Barwick, Diane E., 'Mapping the past: an atlas of Victorian clans 1835-1904', Aboriginal History, vol. 8, no. 2, 1984, pp. 100-31. Details
Cotter, Richard, Boon wurrung: people of the Port Phillip District, Lavender Hill Multimedia, Sorrento, 2001. Details
Gaughwin, Denise, and Hilary Sullivan, 'Aboriginal boundaries and movements in Western Port, Victoria', Aboriginal History, vol. 8, no. 1, 1984, pp. 80-98. Details