Gunaikurnai have lived in the valleys, on the fertile plains and up in the mountains of our traditional Country for many thousands of years.
Our Country was created by the spirits – the ancestors who link us to the land and bestow on us identity, rights and responsibilities. They defined our relationship with the land – how it should be used, how to move through it safely and how to care for it. In return, Country provided physical and spiritual nourishment for our people, with plentiful food, medicine, water and natural resources for survival.
Our Country is diverse and fertile, it includes the southern slopes of Victoria's alpine ranges and the grassy plains that sit at their feet. Our lakes and coastal lagoons form the largest navigable network of inland waterways in Australia and are host to internationally significant wetlands. We have isolated beaches and temperate forests, and the spectacular granite landscapes of Wilsons Promontory.
Our Sea Country is equally important, with a huge diversity of marine life that supports rich tourism and fishing industries. Our Country possesses a rich Aboriginal culture. Our heritage is strong across our landscape, and Aboriginal cultural sites and artefacts can be found along our songlines, and trade routes, mountain ridges and waterways. They remind us about the ways of our ancestors and show our close and continuing connection to Country. Some of these sites have been recorded, however many have not yet been found and protected. Our spiritual connection is something that cannot be seen, but nevertheless exists strongly in the places we walk and in the paths of our ancestors.
Wilsons Promontory. Image source: Visit Melbourne.
Tarra-Bulga National Park
Tarra-Bulga National Park is a stronghold of virgin bushland in an otherwise cleared landscape. It is one of the last refuges of natural forest in the area and home to mountain ash trees, lyrebirds and wallabies, as well as a number of species that have now largely disappeared from the rest of the region. The significant remnants of old growth forest are characteristic of a time when only Gunaikurnai were present on the land and is therefore an important reminder to us of what our Country was like in the time of our ancestors.
The Knob Reserve
The Knob Reserve was traditionally a common ground for the five clans of the Gunaikurnai. Aboriginal people would travel for days to join great meetings where they would feast, share information, trade goods and practice corroborees and other cultural ceremonies. Evidence of these gatherings can be seen in the rich range of artefacts found in the Reserve – scar trees, grinding grooves and, unusually, wooden artefacts like spears and paddles.
The Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park
The Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park is part of the Gippsland Lakes system, which has traditionally been a major food source for our people. Its resource abundance and diversity encouraged our ancestors to spend a lot of time in this area - fishing, camping, hunting and collecting natural resources. Our people have a deep, longstanding connection with this area. The towns of Lakes Entrance, Metung and Paynesville were developed on our old people’s camping grounds. Evidence of our use and occupation is visible in the many midden sites, artefact scatters and scar trees found within the park. There are many burial grounds in this area, around Boole Poole for example, and there are a number of massacre sites which are terrible but important parts of our past. The waterways and lakes system were our transport network - our ancestors would use bark canoes to move from one spot to another. They would also travel into the open ocean from this area, harvesting a range of marine resources and moving up and down the coast.
Gippsland Lakes Reserve on Raymond Island
Gippsland Lakes Reserve on Raymond Island comprises some disconnected pockets of bushland and stretches of coastline that have abundant native plants and animals. Raymond Island is not a densely populated area, but it does get busy during peak tourist seasons. Gunaikurnai lived and camped on this Island, which they called Gragin, for thousands of years. It was particularly important for collecting swan eggs, and evidence of scar trees, burial sites and artefact scatters have been found in the area. It is in a strategic location in the lagoon system, providing a line of sight to many of the other important places on the water. Our old people would have used this place to keep an eye on what was going on in the surrounding area.
Buchan Caves. Image source: Camper Mate.
Corringle Foreshore Reserve
Corringle Foreshore Reserve is a fairly natural camping and recreation area. The old people used to go camping and fishing here. It was a plentiful food source for the mob and a place of connection – connecting the ocean to the rivers, connecting along the coastline to Lake Tyers. And it was an important meeting place for families. This is the place where our people came when they were displaced from the mission, and a place where people who lived off-Country would come to re- connect to the traditional land. It was a safe place. Evidence of our use and occupation can be seen in the many large middens, canoe trees and an earth oven at Lake Corringle. Many Gunaikurnai continue to use the area today for camping, fishing, hunting and gathering natural resources.
Mitchell River National Park
Mitchell River National Park has a rich cultural history that tells of tribal conflict, ceremonies, food gathering, community life and local spirits. It is rocky country that has rugged gorges and 100 metre sheer drops. Some of these, such as The Bluff, provide 360 degree views that were good lookout points for our ancestors, used for safety and defence. Mitchell River is Victoria’s largest remaining wild and free flowing river. Mitchell River was a major stop-off point for our old people travelling from the high country to the lowlands. It was at one point going to be the site of the mission, but it was found to be too cold in winter so Lake Tyers was chosen instead. There are important places throughout this park – Angusvale was a good source of food, medicine and materials, and Billy Goat Bend had reliable water. Deadcock Den is important to Gunaikurnai men. There are caves throughout the area that were shelter places and burial grounds where human remains have been found.
Buchan Caves were traditionally an important meeting place for our people. The area connects to the high country and was a place of refuge during the seasonal migrations to and from the mountains, where our mob would go to chase the Bogong Moth and other food sources. Although Gunaikurnai people did not traditionally venture very deep into the limestone caves, there is evidence going back more than 18,000 years of the important role they played in the lives of our old people, including burials in the caves and ceremonial rings all through the Buchan area. Some of the artefacts and cultural materials are very rare, such as artwork done in animal fat. There is also evidence of fishing and camping, as well as a significant massacre site.
The Lakes National Park
Nestled alongside the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park, The Lakes National Park is recognised as an internationally significant wetland, playing an important role in providing habitat for migratory bird species. The marsh and wetland between the park and the coast are also very significant. Rich in wildlife, they are home to several of our totem species as well as a number of rare and endangered species. The Lakes is a hotspot of cultural sites. There are shell middens all along the sand dunes, Aboriginal human remains (where people were wrapped in bark and buried upright in hollowed out possum holes), and a possible massacre site. Our ancestors travelled up between Pelican Bay and Sperm Whale Head, across the land and waters, and over the islands.
The sources used to create the content on this page can be found on Gunaikurnai - Further Reading.