Culture

The Taungurung (Daung Wurrung) people occupy much of central Victoria. Our country encompasses the area between the upper reaches of the Goulburn River and its tributaries north of the Dividing Range. From the Campaspe River to Kilmore in the West, eastwards to Mount Beauty, Benalla in the north and south to the top of the Great Dividing Range, our boundaries with other Aboriginal tribes are respected in accordance with traditional laws.

About Taungurung

Traditionally, our people lived a hunter/gatherer existence. The various clan groups migrated on seasonal basis through their territory dependent upon the seasonal variations of weather and the availability of food.
The Taungurung people are closely affiliated with the neighbouring tribes, through language, ceremonies and kinship ties. We are part of an alliance with the five adjoining tribes to form the Kulin Nation. Other members of the Kulin Nation are the Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung, Wathaurung, and Djadjawrung. The Kulin Nation group also shares common dreamtime ancestors and creation stories, religious beliefs and economic and social relationships.

Traditional Taungurung

The Taungurung people shared a common bond in moiety affiliation with the other tribes. Their world was divided into two moieties: Bundjil (Wedge Tail Eagle) and Waang (Crow). Members of the tribe identified with one or the other of these moieties and it was their moiety which determined the pattern for marriage between individuals, clans and tribes and transcended local allegiances by obliging clan members to find spouses from some distant clan of the opposite moiety either within or outside their Wurrung (language group).
The nature of the Taungurung people enabled us to utilise the resources available in our vast country. Our ancestors had an intimate knowledge of their environment and were able to sustain the ecology of each region and exploit the food available.
A staple plant food was the Mirnong (Yam Daisy) which provided a reliable source of carbohydrate. Other plants such as the Bracken Fern (food and medicine), the Tree Fern, Kangaroo Apple and Cherry Balert were a valuable food source and can still be seen growing on Taungurung country today.
Dhulangi (Stringy Bark) was used to construct Yilam (Shelters) or to weave binak (Baskets). Fibrous plants, such as Dulim (Tussock Grass) produced Burrdi-am (Twine) for Garrtgirrk (Nets) while other tree species were utilised for their timber to fashion Malga (Shield), Gudjerron (Clubs), Wanggim (Boomerangs). Daanak (Water Carriers) and Gorong (Canoes). The rich resources of the permanent rivers, creeks, tributaries and associated floodplains enabled Taungurung to people to access an abundance of fish and other wildlife. Fish were speared and trapped while water birds were netted and Marram (Kangaroo), Goorbil (Koala), and Barramul (Emu) provided nourishing food.
The pelts from the Walert (Native Possum) were sewn together to form Gugra (Cloak ideal for the cold and wet conditions. Plants such as Karradjong provided fibres to weave Garrtgirrk (Nets) for harvesting the nutritious Debera (Bogong Moth). In the summer the Taungurung people would travel south for the Debera season and then head back northwards when the weather cooled.

Taungurung 9 Clans

The traditional Taungurung people consisted of nine clans:

  • Budhera-bulok – located on the Goulburn River at Seymour.
  • Leuk-Yilam – located near Kilmore.
  • Mum-mum-Yilam – lived west of the Campaspe River, and northwest of Mitchellstown.
  • Naterrak-bulok – west of the Goulburn River near Seymour.
  • Nira-bulok – meaning ‘Cave’, Kilmore
  • Waring-Yilam-bulok – junction of the Yea River and Goulburn River.
  • Yaran-Yilam-bulok – east side of the Goulburn River between Seymour and Mitchellstown.
  • Yiran-Yilam-bulok – located on the Broken River above and below Benalla.
  • Yawang-Yilam-bulok – located at Alexandria and Mansfield.

Sadly there are descendants of only five of those clan groups that survive today.

Consequences of Colonisation

When Europeans first settled the region in the early 1800s, the area was already occupied by Taungurung people. From that time, life for the Taungurung people in central Victoria changed dramatically and was severely disrupted by the early establishment and expansion of European settlement. Traditional society broke down with the first settler’s arrival and soon after, Aboriginal mortality rates. soared as a result of introduced diseases, denial of access to traditional foods and medicines and conflict.

At various times, Aboriginal settlements were established in the area by missionaries and governments at Michellstown, Acheron and Coranderrk. These however, despite relative success, were eventually dissolved through various government policies.

Taungurung and other members of the Kulin nation were deeply impacted by the dictates of the various government assimilation and integration policies. Today, the descendants of the Taungurung Clans form a strong and vibrant community. Descendants of five of the original clan groups meet regularly at Camp Jungai – an ancestral ceremonial site.

Elders assist with the instruction of younger generations in culture, history, and language and furthering of their knowledge and appreciation of their heritage as the rightful custodians of the Taungurung lands in Central Victoria. Evidence of scar trees, rock shelters, rock art, and even place names all indicate that Taungurung people have been in this part of Victoria for thousands of years.

Many Taungurung people still live on their country and participate widely in the community as Cultural Heritage Advisors, Land Management Officers, artists and educationalists and are a ready source of knowledge concerning the Taungurung people from the central areas of Victoria.

We are pleased to welcome you to our country – to enjoy the landscapes, the flora and fauna. Taungurung people will continue to care for this country and welcome those who share a similar respect.

Moieties and totems

Taungurung people belong to one of two moieties which are connected to the ancestral beings Bundjil and Waang. These moieties traditionally played a role in deciding marriages within a tribe. Aboriginal people generally have very complex social structures built around various different groupings. For an in-depth view read Social Organisation from aboriginalculture.com.au.

Bundjil the Creator

Bundjil
Bundjil

Bundjil the eagle (or eaglehawk) is a creator deity, culture hero and ancestral being. In the Kulin nation in central Victoria he was regarded as one of two moiety ancestors, the other being the trickster Crow. Bundjil has two wives and a son, Binbeal the rainbow. His brother is pailian the bat. He is assisted by six wirmums or shamans who represent the clans of the Eaglehawk moiety: Djurt-djurt the Nankeen Kestrel, Thara the quail hawk, Yukope the parakeet, Dantum the parrot, Tadjeri the brushtail possum and Turnong the gliding possum. According to one legend, after creating the mountains, rivers, flora, fauna, and laws for humans to live by, Bundjil gathered his wives and sons then asked Crow, who had charge of the winds, to open his bags and let out some wind. Crow opened a bag in which he kept his whirlwinds, creating a cyclone which uprooted trees. Bundjil asked for a stronger wind. Crow complied, and Bundjil and his people were blown upwards into the sky. Bundjil himself became the star Altair and his two wives, the black swans, became stars on either side. A Bunurong story tells of a time of conflict among the Kulin nations, when people argued and fought with one another, neglecting their families and the land. The mounting chaos and disunity angered the sea, which began to rise until it had covered the plains and threatened to flood the entire country. The people went to Bundjil and asked him to help them stop the sea from rising; Bundjil agreed to do so, but only if the people would change their ways and respect the laws and each other. He then walked out to the sea, raised his spear and ordered the water to stop rising. It is believed by the Kulin and other Indigenous peoples that, in the Dreamtime, Bundjil took shelter in a cave located in the part of Gariwerd that is now known the Black Range Scenic Reserve. Bundjil’s Shelter is today a popular tourist attraction and one of the most important Aboriginal rock art sites in the region.

Waang the Trickster

Waang
Waang

Waang the Crow is a trickster, culture hero and ancestral being. In the Kulin nation in central Victoria he was known as Waa (also Wahn or Waang) and was regarded as one of two moiety ancestors, the other being the more sombre eaglehawk Bundjil. Legends relating to Crow have been observed in various Aboriginal language groups and cultures across Australia. Crow caught and hid a number of snakes in an ant mound then called the women over, telling them that he had discovered ant larvae were far more tasty than yams. The women began digging, angering the snakes, which attacked. Shrieking, the sisters struck the snakes with their digging sticks, hitting them with such force that the live coals flew off. Crow, who had been waiting for this, gathered the coals up and hid them in a kangaroo skin bag. The women soon discovered the theft and chased him, but the bird simply flew out of their reach and perched at the top of a high tree.One common myth concerns Crow’s role in bringing fire to mankind. According to a version of this story told by the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, in the Dreamtime fire been a jealously-guarded secret of the seven Karatgurk women who lived by the Yarra River where Melbourne now stands. These women carried live coals on the ends of their digging sticks, allowing them to cook yams. One day Crow found a cooked yam and, finding it tastier than the raw vegetables he had been eating, decided he would cook his food from then on. However, the Karatgurk women refused to share their fire with him and Crow resolved to trick them into giving it up. Bundjil the Eaglehawk, who had seen all of this, asked Crow for some of the coals so that he could cook a possum. Crow instead offered to cook it for him. Soon, a large group had gathered around Crow’s tree, shouting and demanding that he share the secret of fire with them. The din frightened Crow and at last he flung several live coals at the crowd. Kurok-goru the fire-tailed finch picked up some of the coals and hid them behind his back, which is why to this day firefinches have red tails. The rest were gathered up by Bundjil’s shaman helpers, Djurt-djurt the Nankeen Kestrel and Thara the quail hawk. The coals caused a bushfire which burnt Crow’s feathers permanently black and threatened to consume the entire land, until Bundjil’s efforts halted its spread. The Karatgurk sisters, meanwhile, were swept into the sky where they became the Pleiades (the stars are said to represent their glowing fire sticks).

Language

Lee Healy has compiled an amazing Taungurung language dictionary called Taungurung Liwik-nganjin-al Ngula-dhan (Our Ancestors’ Language) Yaawinbu Yananinon (Enjoy the Journey). It contains over 200 pages of carefully researched translations and as well as an English to Taungurung reference. Some examples are;

Taungurung English
Darrang Brother
Gaaginja Daughter
Maaman Father
Baban Mother

Many place names in use today are derived from Taungurung language. Benalla comes from Benalta – meaning big waterhole. Delatite comes from Delotite – wife of Beeolite, head of the Yowung-Illam-Balug clan. Murrindindi comes from Murrumdoorandi – meaning place of mists, mountain. Trawool comes from the Taungurung Tarawil for turkey. Nagambie comes from Nogamby – meaning lagoon.

Artefacts

Traditional Taungurung made many objects for hunting, fishing, shelter, battle and clothing. Many were made from materials that have degraded and disappeared over time, but in some cases the skills have been handed down through family lines and are still utilised today. Wangnarra (Stringybark) was used to construct Yilam (shelters) or to weave Benak (baskets). Fibrous plants, such as Buarth (tussock grass) produced Burrt-tean (twine) for Garrt-girrk (nets) while other tree species were utilised for their timber to fashion Malgarr (shields), Gudjerrun (clubs), Wangim (boomerangs), Darnuk (water carriers) and Gurrong (canoes). Pelts from the Walert (native possum) were sewn together to form Googarra (cloak) ideal for the often cold and wet conditions. A modern Taungurung possum skin cloak has been made by a group of Taungurung artists led by Mick Harding. Read about it here. Stone and wooden artefacts are still found today on Taungurung country. If you think you may have found a Taungurung artefact please contact us.

Modern Taungurung

When Europeans first settled the region in the early 1800s, the area was already occupied by Taungurung people. From that time, life for the Taungurung people in central Victoria changed dramatically and was severely disrupted by the early establishment and expansion of European settlement. Traditional society broke down with the first settler’s arrival and soon after, Aboriginal mortality rates. soared as a result of introduced diseases, denial of access to traditional foods and medicines and conflict. At various times, Aboriginal settlements were established in the area by missionaries and governments at Michellstown, Acheron and Coranderrk. These however, despite relative success, were eventually dissolved through various government policies. The Taungurung and other members of Kulin Nation were deeply impacted by the dictates of the various government assimilation and integration policies. Today, the descendants of the Taungurung form a strong and vibrant community. Descendants of five of the original clan groups meet regularly at Camp Jungai – an ancestral ceremonial site. Elders assist with the instruction of younger generations in culture, history, and language and furthering of their knowledge and appreciation of their heritage as the rightful custodians of the Taungurung lands in Central Victoria. Evidence of the Taungurung can be found in many places throughout Taungurung Country. Scar trees, rock shelters, rock art and even place names all indicate thatnwe have been in this part of Victoria for thousands of years. Many Taungurung people still live on their country and participate widely in the community as Cultural Heritage Advisors, Land Management Officers, artists and educationalists and are a ready source of knowledge concerning the Taungurung people from the central areas of Victoria. We are pleased to welcome you to our country – to enjoy the landscapes, the flora and fauna The Taungurung will continue to care for this country and welcome those who share a similar respect.

Totem Pole

This totem pole stands at the Mansfield Visitor Information Centre. It was created in 2008

The two moiety totems of the Taungurung people are Bundjil (Wedged Tailed Eagle) and Waang (Crow). Bundjil is the creator spirit of the people of the Kulin Nation: he carved figures from bark and breathed life into them: Waang was often seen as a trickster’

Aunty Judy Monk-Slattery

The story of the carvings by Taungurung traditional owner Michael Harding

The first shield as you look at it from the entrance represents the nine clans of the Taungurung; Budhera-bulok (Bundjil), Leuk-yilam (Waang), Mummum-yilam (Bundjil), Naterrak-bulok (Waang), Nira-bulok (Waang), Waring-yilam-bulok (Bundjil), Yaran-yilam (Bundjil), Yiran-yilam-bulok (Bundjil), Yawang-yilam-bulok (Waang). As you can see at the end of the name of each clan there is the name of the moiety or skin group (Bundjil–Wedge Tailed Eagle) and Waang (Crow) for the particular clans. There are nine symbols on that shield that you’re looking at, of which five are red (Bundjil) and four are black (Waang) these are the symbols I use to represent the clans. The reason I’m showing you the different moieties/skin groups is in traditional times before European people came here these were the way in which our old people organised marriages. It is a paternal society that works something like this. The Elders of any particular clan would get together and organise marriage and a Bundjil clan person could only marry a Waang clan person, and the women of either of these groups went to the man’s clan country to live (if she was from a Bundjil clan, she would marry a man from Waang clan and go to his clan country). The shield on the opposite side represents the wings of both of these birds with Bundjil having red wings and Waang having black wings. The Eel trap was made by the late Aunty Joyce Moate who was a basket maker for most of her life and this depiction of one of her pieces of work is a dedication to her as this is her clan area. Aunty Joyce has passed on her knowledge to many Taungurung women so that the tradition lives on with our women today. Lastly this is a story that we share with you as we are the First People of the Rivers and Mountains in this area. Taungurung traditional owners who carved the totem pole: Uncle Ernie Innes, Michael Harding, Glen Innes, Tandy Annuscheit, and Joshua Innes.

Reference List

Dixon, R.M.W and Blake, B. J. (1991) The Handbook of Australian Languages Volume 4, Oxford University Press, Australia
Healy, L. (2011) Taungurung Liwik-nganjinal Ngula-dhan Yaawinbu Yananinon,
Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Victoria
For further information
please contact:
37 High Street
Broadford VIC 3658
PO Box 505
Broadford VIC 3658
Phone: (03) 5784 1433
Email: enquiries@taungurung.com.au
www.taungurung.com.au