Coranderrk was established in 1863 and originally comprised 4,850 acres, from Badger Creek to the foothills of Mt Riddell.
For the first 13 years, the population averaged 100, and similar to pastoral stations in remote locations throughout Australia, it was a successful, thriving, self-sustaining community. The people produced sufficient food and dairy products for the community, made clothing and furnishings from supplies purchased from travelling hawkers, attended school and church, decorated their houses, established ornamental gardens and developed a strong sense of community and inclusiveness through sport and recreation. In addition, industry was created through the manufacture of bricks and the production and processing of award winning hops.
Coranderrk was ultimately forced into failure by politicians and others in power, but the place and the connections survive.
During the 19th century, Coranderrk provided a home for indigenous tribes from across Victoria. It was a place to live and provide for themselves, a place to self govern and to establish a sense of family and community. Through its early ‘successful’ years and the later struggle to retain these freedoms, Coranderrk has significance in terms of demonstrating both reconciliation, in practice and astute political activism
In the present day, despite substantial reductions in size and a period of private ownership, Coranderrk retains this significance, not only as a physical and spiritual link to the past, but also as continuing, living history.
Considerations for the future of Coranderrk
One of the primary considerations for the future of Coranderrk is the level of public access. Anecdotal evidence from visitors to Coranderrk in the past few years and from the more than 1,000 people at the 2013 Festival was that visitors felt honoured and privileged to be visiting Coranderrk. It is important to retain that sense of respect and to avoid turning Coranderrk into a theme park.
Re-construct the past or create a new beginning?
The possibility of physically reconstructing certain aspects of Coranderrk has been considered on various occasions, however reconstructing buildings or structures often contributes to a theme park atmosphere and creates confusion between ‘real’ history and ‘reconstructed’ history.
A keeping place?
Places such as Coranderrk often create a desire to establish a museum or keeping place. There is an assumption that objects produced or associated with the place should be returned to that place. There are however, significant management issues to consider with this approach such as the logistics of housing, conserving and securing significant artefacts and documents within a relatively remote environment.
Reconstruct the past by looking to the future
It is proposed that Coranderrk is re-established through activities which reflect its past. This means that Coranderrk is not developed for a tourism audience, but for those who value the place, and for the place itself, to honour the vision, courage and strength of the people who lived at Coranderrk.
Coranderrk has the potential once again to become a productive place. Community and market gardens could be established, and farm animals could be re-introduced, not as props, but as part of a working environment. Partnerships could be created with small growers and producers to productively utilise the land. These partnerships should aim for quality not quantity, and to be produced to award winning standards and quality.
Community and family
The 19th century sense of community, family and coming together could be developed through the establishment of a meeting/education/research/welcome place. This could be a place where groups meet, workshops are held and visiting artists, researchers and others work. It is envisaged that this would be a contemporary building, obviously new but referencing the past, architect designed, but discreet, sensitive and sympathetic to the place.
Understanding the past
While it is considered inappropriate to reconstruct the 19th century buildings, there is potential to understand the village layout through discreet indicators, or a ‘working’ layout. For example, early fencelines and pathways could be indicated by changes in materials, and market and community gardens could be located in similar locations to original gardens. New dairy buildings could be located where the original dairy structures once stood, and house locations could be indicated by the planting of roses or other introduced varieties, building on the remnant plantings which are still evident along the driveway.
The superintendent’s house remains the focal point of the property. It requires conservation works, which should be guided by a conservation architect. There will always be a requirement for a manager to live onsite. Given this need and the fact that the best way of conserving a building is to have it occupied and used, it is considered appropriate that the superintendent’s house remain a private residence.
Re-establishing physical connections
At present the cemetery and what survives of the station are disconnected. Sufficient additional land should be acquired to re-connect the station and the cemetery. Similarly, the connection with the river should be re-established.
Instead of being open to the public generally with a museum and interpretive centre, the place should operate as a working farm with infrequent open days and festivals. This maintains the special quality of the place, but allows access through meetings, gatherings and celebrations.
There is scope for Healesville Sanctuary, with its ready-made audience, to provide information regarding the history of Coranderrk and indigenous stories generally, leaving Coranderrk to once again thrive as a self sufficient community. This also relieves the pressure on Coranderrk to promote and attract tourists, ensuring that the primary focus remains on regenerating the place.
See Coranderrk Rejuvenation page