Intimate Relations: Objects from the Port Phillip District

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The territories of the Kulin nation surround Port Phillip and Western Port bays in central southeastern Australia, now part of the state of Victoria. This federation of cultural-linguistic Aboriginal groups comprise the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, Wathawurrung, Djadjawurrung and Daungwurrung. In 1835 the small town that would become Melbourne was established in the midst of Kulin lands and peoples, on the edge of the large Port Phillip Bay, by entrepreneurial European overstraiters from Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) seeking new pastoral lands.

In 1839 George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector of Aborigines, observed that the Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) and Boonwurrung clans around Melbourne numbered around 230 people, and that their bark ‘miam.miam or huts’ were ‘scattered over a beautiful eminence at the north east corner of the township’.1 Aboriginal people from other groups also came in and out of the town every year for ceremonial reasons. When an influx of European settlers arrived, Aboriginal people were ordered to stay on the far side of the Yarra River on the ‘south bank’, a place where boatloads of new immigrants were also placed. In late 1839 Robinson recalled that 250 newly arrived immigrants, ‘all Scotch’, camped in fifty tents with the ‘natives … camped next to them’. The Aborigines held a ‘grand corobery [sic]’, or dance ceremony, attended by the Scottish immigrants and local settlers and ‘one Scotch man played the bagpipes’.2 Port Phillip soon became a place of confluence, a mixed space of cross-cultural encounter, intimacy and violence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAncestors, Artefacts, Empire
Subtitle of host publicationIndigenous Australia in British and Irish Museums
EditorsGaye Sculthorpe, Maria Nugent, Howard Morphy
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherBritish Museum Press
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)9780714124902, 0714124907
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Intimate Relations
  • Objects
  • Port Phillip


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