top of page

Readings in Australian History

The history you were never taught

An online study course of articles by local historian Dr Jim Poulter on
Australian Aboriginal history and heritage into the first contact and colonial period.
This page is best viewed using a non-mobile device.

Foreword by Woiwurrung Elder Uncle Bill Nicholson

Woiwurring Elder Uncle Bill Nicholson during traditional ceremony. Photo copyright of Barbara Oehring-43631

Photo by Barbara Oehring Photography

I have known and worked closely with Jim Poulter for more than a decade, but he knew my father before that and Jim’s mother knew my Aunty Vicki. This indicates how the involvement of Jim’s family with the Aboriginal community has in fact been unbroken since 1840.

Jim had the good fortune to be brought up not only hearing the stories passed down his own family, but also those passed down the Aboriginal families they knew.

The series of articles before you, which has been organised into eight themes, is therefore a direct product of Jim’s own lived experience. It has been complemented by his academic research, but informed first and foremost by the knowledge and wisdom gained from the many Senior Elders and tribal people he has known over his lifetime.

I personally endorse this course of readings to you as an Aboriginal Elder, as well as a friend and colleague of Jim.

Jim is probably best known to the public for having in the early 1980’s proposed that Australian Rules football was derived from the tribal football game of Marngrook.

Jim and I have worked together for many years to promote the playing of Marngrook at schools. This is so that students can directly experience Aboriginal culture and the traditional behavioural norms associated with playing the game. Marngrook is one of the topics addressed in Theme Eight of the course before you.

Also, over the last few years Jim and I have continued to explore traditional Aboriginal land management practices, for which Jim has coined the term ‘Permaculture Farming’. More particularly we have sought to raise awareness of how ‘Songlines’, the traditional Aboriginal travel routes, are still with us today as the meandering major roads and highways across Australia. These topics are all discussed within Theme One.

Themes Two and Three discuss Aboriginal thought systems and social structures, and whilst Jim and I have over the years had many discussions on these topics, his debt is more to others. This includes iconic Victorian Elders such as Uncles Reg Saunders, Banjo Clarke and Reg Blow, and Northern Australian tribal people such as Donald Murrawilli and David Gulpilil.

In Theme Four, Jim discusses the impacts of colonisation and most particularly the smallpox plague of 1789. I remember vividly when Jim first began researching the smallpox issue more than ten years ago and I said to him ‘Surely it was deliberate?’ When Jim said he hadn’t found any proof, I urged him to keep digging. Fortunately, the First Fleet was the most documented event in human history, and Jim finally fitted all the jigsaw pieces together.

It was subsequently a great pleasure for me to provide a Foreword to Jim’s 2016 book ‘The Dust of the Mindye’ which exhumed this buried history of the 1789 smallpox plague. This was particularly pleasing for me, because the Mindye was a Kulin legend of the smallpox plague. The effects of 1789 smallpox plague on the Australian people are covered in Theme Four of the readings.  

Jim and I also collaborated closely on reconstructing the fragmentary knowledge of the Aboriginal Seasons in Melbourne. I then subsequently had the honour of launching his book on the subject in 2015 and it has since become a best seller. ‘The Kulin Seasons’ is accordingly covered in full by Theme Five of the Readings before you.

We have also collaborated closely on documenting the lives and backgrounds of Woiwurrung leaders from the early colonial period, such as Billibellary, Jagga-Jagga and Simon Wonga. This has been in order for us to successfully nominate these historic figures for induction into the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll.

It is a continuing mutual endeavour and the stories of these historic figures, as well as some of Jim’s family stories, compose the articles in Themes Six, Seven and Eight.

I hope you enjoy the more than seventy articles before you, because it is essentially history from the inside.

The subtitle really says it all - the history you were never taught.  

Uncle Bill Nicholson

Foreword: Uncle Bill Nicholson
Anchor 2


Introduction to the Course

Introduction to the Course

The readings before you have been produced by Jim Poulter over several years. During this time Jim has tutored U3A classes in Australian History and given innumerable talks to schools and community groups. His aim has always been to enable ordinary Australians to better share and take pride in our rich Australian Aboriginal history and heritage.

Over the last few years Jim has also written a popular monthly column ‘Birrarung Stories’ for the Warrandyte Diary Community Newspaper. The majority of the articles in the course before you, come from this source.

A retired Social Worker, Jim’s close knowledge of our rich Aboriginal history and heritage does not come from abstract academic study, it comes from his own and his family’s lived experience.

Jim Poulter’s family first settled on the Yarra River at Templestowe in 1840. Close relationships were established with the local Aboriginal community, and these have endured through the generations.

Jim Poulter at Pound Bend, Victoria

Jim has therefore been privy to the oral history both of his own family and Aboriginal families. He has known and worked with many iconic Aboriginal Elders and tribal people who have trusted him with their knowledge. Many of his thirty books and articles on our Australian Aboriginal history and heritage, have been in collaboration with or the endorsement of Aboriginal Elders.

The more than seventy articles in this course have been grouped within eight themes, in order to guide your learning about what has previously been a much neglected aspect of our Australian history.

To aid student reflection about the content and issues raised in each of the eight themes, questions will be posed for consideration and as a stimulus for discussion with others.

bottom of page