In 1863, Coranderrk Aboriginal Station was established. Finally, Simon Wonga and William Barak, with a group which included the station’s first Superintendent John Green, had found a permanent home – the struggle to gain a safe haven for their people on their own country was over.
The group had trekked across The Great Divide, from the Acheron to the to the uncontested land in the Yarra Valley outside the area now known as ‘Healesville’ at the junction of the Yarra River and Badger Creek, The government was persuaded to reserve a parcel of land – which grew to 4850 acres – for the Kulin people who affectionately named their place ‘Coranderrk’.
By 1875, its Aboriginal residents who now numbered more than 100, had built their own family homes and assisted in the establishment of a dormitory school. 700 acres of land had been cleared and fenced and 140 acres were under cultivation. The remainder of the land was used for 500 cattle.
The station had its own water supply in the form of a 1.5 mile-long aqueduct complete with its own water driven saw mill. The eventual aim was to develop Coranderrk into a fully self-supporting community. The station ran a substantial milking herd, horses, pigs, poultry, orchard, a market garden and a working hop field.
The Kulin people at Coranderrk devoted one or two days each week hunting and gathering wild foods in the neighbouring forest. Their remaining time each week was spent earning good wages by shearing sheep for up-country graziers or by selling their own handmade artefacts.
John Green’s approach had been to encourage the residents to participate in the station’s decision-making. In the rare event of disputes arising, they would be settled in the informal court he had developed for such issues to be resolved by consensus.
For the first 12 years, Coranderrk was a symbol of unity between Aboriginal and European people working towards the same ideal. Over this 12 year period, the Kulin people transformed Coranderrk’s 4850 acres of bushland into one of the most productive stations in the Yarra Valley.
Hops kilns at Coranderrk in 1875