Uncle Robert Wandin was a Wurundjeri man born in the Steele's Flat area of the Upper Yarra and was the son of Annie Borate, the sister of William Barak.
In 1875 Uncle Robert, then 21, married Jemima Burns, a Pangerang woman from the Murray River district and together they had 10 children. Uncle Robert was named as one of three men who could speak and write on behalf of Uncle William Barak and was regarded a trusted young man and a future leader of his people.
When the government decided to close Coranderrk in 1881 Uncle Robert was one of 22 men led by Uncle Barak, who walked to Melbourne from Coranderrk to appeal to the Chief Secretary to allow the residents to remain on Coranderrk and for John Green to be reinstated as the manager of Coranderrk.
The Coranderrk men on a deputation into Melbourne. Image source: The Coranderrk Inquiry.
This appeal led to the 1881 Parliamentary Inquiry in which Uncle Robert played a major role. Due to his education of both traditional Lore and the English language Uncle Robert was able to clearly express to officials the problems his community were facing and was the only person during the enquiry to be called on to testify twice.
He was able to bring to light the living conditions, lack of rations and good quality clothing and lack of sustainable payment for the work they did. He also fought hard to ensure that they understood the residents didn’t not want to move from Coranderrk as that was their home – the authorities wanted to move them to the mission in Lake Tyers. Following the enquiry Coranderrk was made a permanent reserve and was able to stay open and operational.
Coranderrk. Image source: The Coranderrk Inquiry.
Uncle Robert fought for his people’s right to live and work on the land they had made their home and his fight for better conditions inspired many.
You can read more about Uncle Robert Wandin on the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll in which he was inducted in 2015.