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Theme 8 - Surviving Colonisation

Over the twenty-five year neo-colonial period from 1850 to 1875, one Aboriginal figure, Simon Wonga, stood head and shoulders above all others, yet he is hardly known.

Wonga’s vision for the Kulin people within the new world confronting them was to establish a viable economic base as farmers, whilst still retaining their cultural roots.

Thirteen years after becoming paramount Kulin leader in 1850

at the age of twenty-eight, Wonga’s strategic acumen and persistence finally paid off. Against enormous odds and skullduggery Wonga achieved the establishment of Coranderrk Aboriginal Station at Healesville in 1863. Coranderrk then went

on to become economically and socially the most successful
Mission in Australia.

This section maps Wonga’s life Journey and shows how William Barak continued Wonga’s legacy after succeeding him as paramount Kulin leader in 1875.


  1. How many students at Wonga Park Primary School do you think know about how Wonga Park got its name?

  2. Has the refusal by the AFL to recognise Marngrook as a precursor to Australian Rules football, been an example of ‘institutional racism’.

  3. Is it an overstatement to say Simon Wonga stands alongside Sir John Monash as the two greatest Victorians?

AH 8.1

Simon Wonga - a man of destiny

The son of Billibelleri, Wonga, was tasked by his father with ‘learning whitefella ways’. In doing so, Wonga developed a plan for the economic survival of his people in the new world they faced.

AH 8.2

Wonga’s baptism of fire

On assuming Kulin leadership in 1850, Wonga began to put his plan into action by gaining farm work for his people but was immediately faced with Victoria’s worst bushfire in February 1851.

AH 8.3

Warrandyte’s first festival in 1852

Before putting his economic plan into action, Wonga organised the last great Kulin corroboree, so his people could say goodbye to their traditional life.  

AH 8.4

The original Aussie Rules

At the 1852 corroboree, all the traditional games were played, including a football game called marngrook, played with a possum-fur ball. This traditional game was a precursor to Australian football.

AH 8.5

Three experiences of Burke and Wills

As teenagers, both Tom Chivers and Lanky Manton had experiences with the ill-fated 1860 expedition of Burke and Wills. Tom’s great-grandson, Jim Poulter then had a third experience 150 years later.

AH 8.6

Let’s celebrate Wonga Day on May 24

On 24th May 1863, Wonga led a deputation of Elders to Government House and successfully presented a petition for a grant of land at Coranderrk near Healesville.

AH 8.7

How Barak got his act together

Identified early as a future leader, Barak initially lost ground when involved with the Native Police Corps. However, on disbandment of the Force, Barak joined Wonga and re-established himself.

AH 8.8

The insidious Acclimatisation Society

After Coranderrk was established, Barak shot some deer belonging to the people who ran the Zoo. For the next fifty years, they pursued a plan to close Coranderrk and establish a Zoo, finally succeeding in 1923.

AH 8.9

Truth telling will help our healing

Like Jewish people after the holocaust, Aboriginal people suffer from trans-generational trauma and we all need to openly share their oral history.

AH 8.10

The shaping of the Australian character

The harsh land of Australia has always fostered certain personality characteristics to cope successfully. Just as it shaped Aboriginal people, it continues to shape us all.

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