Invasion of Victoria

This article looks at the invasion of what is now known as the state of ‘Victoria.’ Prior to invasion and colonisation there were no states as the land was divided up by Mobs’ countries.

For the sake of this article we will be using the colonial names of places (e.g. ‘Victoria,’ ‘Australia’ or ‘Van Diemen’s Land’) to avoid confusion. We will also be referring to the Europeans who came here and invaded this country as colonists and not as settlers.

Invasion vs settled vs discovered

There is a lot of contention around the language that is used when discussing the invasion of this country. There are still many non-Indigenous people who refuse to acknowledge that ‘Australia’ was invaded and not ‘discovered’ or ‘settled.’

Firstly, ‘Australia’ was not discovered by Europeans. Aboriginal people have lived on this land since time immemorial. In the Western sense, Aboriginal people have been here for between 80-120,000 years compared to the colony which has been here roughly 230 years. Not only that but Captain Cook was not the first person or even the first European set foot in ‘Australia’ when he came to this Country on the Endeavour in 1770. The first person to land on ‘Australian’ shores was Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon (1606) who was then followed by Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós later in the same year.

Aboriginal people have lived on this land since time immemorial

Before Europeans had thought of colonising other peoples' lands, Aboriginal people had established positive relations with people from overseas. Top End Mob had strong trade relationns with the Makassan people fromthe island of Sulawesi (in modern day Indonesia). Between 1700 and until around 1907, fishermen sailed each year from Makassar to the Arnhem Land coast, to trade sea cucumber with Aboriginal people. The Makasar never settled on the land but did influence some of the culture and language.

Secondly, the idea that ‘Australia’ was settled suggests that colonisation was a smooth, peaceful process – the complete opposite of what actually occurred. ‘Australia’ had a permanent civilization living on its land. When the British came and decided to stay they tried to eliminate our people and steal our land – it is for this reason we were invaded and not settled.


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"The Founding of Australia. By Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788" / Original [oil] sketch [1937] by Algernon Talmage R.A. Image Source: State Library New South Wales.


Invasion of ‘Australia’ – 1788

In 1770, Captain James Cook was the first English person to sail to the east Coast of Australia in his ship the Endeavour. At this time he wrongfully 'claimed' the colony of 'New South Wales' for Britain. Following this, in May of 1787, 11 ships, 6 of which were transport for convicts, set sail from Portsmouth, England. They were looking to begin a penal colony, which was a remote settlement used to exile and separate prisoners from the general population in England.

These 11 ships are what we know as the ‘first fleet’. They arrived on ‘Australian’ shores around the 24th of January and on the 26th they officially raised the Union Jack and ‘claimed’ the land as Crown Land.

When the ‘first fleet’ first arrived, local Mob thought they were relatives who were returning from the spirit world due to the paleness of their skin and their long journey from the Dreaming back to life explained why they had forgotten their language and customs. It was eventually realised that these invaders were not of the Dreaming and that they would be staying/invading.

This was followed by years of violence, genocide, and the attempted eradication of our people while the invaders spread their colony across our land.


Invasion of the Southern Lands – 1834 

Before invasion there were around 38 Mobs thriving in what is now known as ‘Victoria.’ Each Mob had their own society, their own language and way of living. There were treaties and agreements with neighbouring Mobs and Clans who lived in a generally peaceful, well-functioning and stable society.

The ships arrive at the Bay – 1803 

In February 1803 another convict ship was to set sail from England for ‘Sydney’, however the British official Lord Hobart decided it would instead go to ‘Port Phillip Bay’ - the Bay at the centre of Kulin Country where Melbourne now stands. They arrived in the Bay on October 3rd 1803 but were immediately disappointed in the landscape. They chose to instead leave ‘Port Phillip’ and sail again. This time their destination was ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ (today this area is known as ‘Tasmania’). 

Before they left ‘Port Philip Bay’ however a convict named William Buckley escaped the group of colonists. He was soon discovered by a group of Wadawurrung people who took him in and cared for him. Buckley lived with the Wadawurrung people for around 30 years until 1835 when he heard of John Batman’s colony, he left and re-joined the colonists.

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'Buckley ran away from ship.' by Tommy McRae. Image Source: Koorie Heritage Trust.


A ‘settlement’ is established – 1834

The first permanent ‘settlement’ in Victoria was in ‘Portland’ on Gunditjmara Country by the Henty family, who were originally farmers from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). In 1835, Major Thomas Mitchell led an expedition to the region from Sydney arriving at Portland in August 1836, when he arrived he found a small but prosperous Gunditjmara community living off the fertile land. Colonists launched a war against local Mob in order to invade their Country.

One example was the Convincing Ground Massacre that occurred in ‘Portland Bay’ in 1833 or 1834 as a result of a possible dispute about a beached whale between whalers and the Kilcarer gundidj clan of the Gunditjmara people.

In 1835 John Batman ‘founded’ what we now call ‘Melbourne’ after the creation of a ‘treaty’ with the Wurundjeri leaders in 1835 (for more information about the Batman ‘Treaty’ you can read about it here). He had recently come to Kulin Country from ‘Van Diemen’s Land’. Batman had been a key figure in the dispossession, colonisation and violence against Aboriginal people in ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ and was one of the colonists to take part in the Black Line – a brutal campaign to drive ‘Tasmanian’ Aboriginal people from their lands into islands in the Bass Strait.

There were a number of different people and interests who were influential in how invasion of ‘Victoria’ occurred. There were representatives of the Crown and there were also a group of powerful and wealthy businessmen who wanted to steal and exploit Aboriginal lands in order to make money in the colony. They were often allied with squatters, who were people who occupied Aboriginal or Crown land to graze livestock without a legal claim to that land. This alliance of businessmen and squatters became a powerful force in the 'Victorian' colony, forming political parties and having a strong voice in the media. They were able to successfully push for their agenda to have almost all Aboriginal land in ‘Victoria’ stolen and given to colonists. These businessmen included John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner.

There were representatives of the Crown, but there were also a group of powerful and wealthy businessmen who wanted to steal and exploit Aboriginal lands in order to make money in the colony

The British Colonial Office appointed 5 Aboriginal ‘Protectors’ for the whole of Victoria; they arrived in Melbourne in 1839. Their jobs however were insignificant as the squatters and farmers were encouraged by the government and powerful figures in the colony to take whatever land they wanted from the Aboriginal people in spite of what these 'protectors' said. This led to dispossession and a lot of violent conflict as the Aboriginal people fought back to keep their traditional lands from the invaders.

In 1851 Victoria became an official colony and was separated from the colony of NSW.

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A changing landscape. Collins Street - Town of Melbourne. Image Source: State Library Victoria.


The legacy

The invasion of ‘Victoria’ was by no means peaceful. There were many wars and massacres that occurred – usually against our people. Our population declined and we were forced to suffer through terrible conditions and policies – many of which you will read about in this history timeline.

The invasion of ‘Victoria’ was by no means peaceful.

As of 2016 Aboriginal people make up 0.8% of the Victorian population. Our children continue to be removed from their families at alarming rates and discrimination and racism still play major parts in our lives. These current issues all stem from invasion and colonisation that began in the 1830s and have continued ever since. 

It is not all bad though. Our Community is one that prides itself on resilience. Despite everything that has been forced upon us we continue to survive and thrive in the colonial society and continue to bring back our culture and languages for future generations.

Our Community is one that prides itself on resilience.



Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material. To listen to our Acknowledgement of Country, click here.