A few months ago, I was hanging out at a pub in the High Country. I asked the publican?s wife (a good friend of my Dad?s) what she knew about the local Aboriginal people.
?Nah, no Aboriginal people up here,? she said.
?What do you mean?? I asked.
?Too cold for ?em up here. Read the history.?
The ?history? she was referring to was a book written 100 years ago about the township, by white people, in which no Aboriginal people were mentioned.
The local Aboriginal people in the region were the Taungurong people. If you look at this map you can see their country covers roughly the area from Benalla to Bendigo, the Goulburn River and Lake Eildon. (By the way, AIATSIS sell wall maps of Aboriginal Australia. You can find details on how to buy them here.)
About 15 years ago, C and B?s mother L found a bora ring up on the Black Range. Bora rings are circles of raised ground and/or stones used for ceremony. When the February bushfires came through, they burnt away much of the undergrowth in those hills, exposing a lot more of the ground than perhaps would have been visible before. A couple of weeks ago, B and L went walking up there again and found the following:
The rock at the top right is a grinding stone, used for crushing seeds and other tucker. The rock below it is the head of a stone axe. They?re Aboriginal tools. B and L found them very close to the location of the bora ring.
Unfortunately, the Department of Sustainability and Environment have been clearing through the Range to make way for mountain bike trails and firebreaks. B says they?ve started moving the bora stones and cutting into the ground.
I was telling this story to some friends the other day who asked why L didn?t tell the DSE or other government agencies about the bora ring. I don?t know the answer to this, but I suspect it?s not as simple as ?tell the DSE, protect the site.? There were also reasons why they didn?t take the tools with them, and why when B picked up the axehead to look at it more closely, she put it straight back down again in exactly the same place. Those reasons have very little to do with site preservation in whitefella terms, and everything to do with the land itself, the people who used to inhabit it and the spirits that still do.
I?m not sure what’s more depressing: that the DSE has started breaking up the site, that they probably didn?t know it existed in the first place, or that the possibility might not even have crossed their mind.