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This Aboriginal station, named by Woi wurrung Aborigines after a flowering bush, was founded near Healesville in 1863 by John Green, a Presbyterian lay preacher, and the Woi wurrung and Daung wurrung clans who had been pushed off land they had requested on the Acheron River.

During its first decade members of other Kulin clans settled, and clearing, cultivation and building proceeded apace under the leadership of ngurungaeta (headmen) Simon Wonga and William Barak. They led a people intent on securing Coranderrk as their homeland, and Green, who allowed them considerable self-government, was much respected.

In the same decade the station increasingly became a popular destination for tourists wishing to experience 'the exotic'. Churchmen, ethnologists, artists, photographers, journalists, writers and politicians also visited to see 'natives' cast as the last of 'a dying race'. The resulting interactions shaped racial constructions of both colonists and Aborigines, while the Kulin regarded these visits as a way of explaining and sustaining their culture and selling Aboriginal artefacts specially crafted for this market.

The station's main significance, however, lies in what has been called 'the rebellion at Coranderrk'. Beginning in the mid-1870s, the Kulin protested against the loss of autonomy which occurred after Green was forced to resign by the Board for the Protection of Aborigines (BPA), and the Board's threat to close the station. As the original landowners they regarded Coranderrk as theirs and believed it had been granted to them permanently. By writing to editors of Melbourne newspapers, the BPA, government officials and humanitarian supporters, and forming delegations to wait upon ministers (on one occasion walking to Melbourne to do so), they forced the government to conduct two major inquiries (1877 and 1881) and persuaded Chief Secretary Graham Berry to gazette the station as a 'permanent reservation' (1884).

The BPA, though, proved to be a formidable opponent and legislation enacted in 1886, known as the 'Half-Caste Act', increased the Kulin's vulnerability. Many were forced off the station, joining exiles who had previously fled across the New South Wales border. They continued to fight for land, their descendants providing impetus for the Australian Aborigines' League many years later.

Those that remained, including Barak, continued to fight the BPA but were unable to prevent half of the station being alienated by an Act of parliament in 1893, and its closure in 1924. The rest of the reserve, except for the cemetery, was revoked in 1948. But the Aboriginal people of Coranderrk never forgot that this was their land and in 1998 a small section of the original reserve was purchased on their behalf by the Indigenous Land Fund.

Bain Attwood

Barwick, Diane, Rebellion at Coranderrk, Aboriginal History Inc, Canberra, 1998. Details