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The Good Country
The Dja Dja Wurrung people of Central Victoria described their land as merrygic barbarie – good country.
And so it was: filled with game, fish,yams and rolling pastures.
Within their own nation, the Dja Dja Wurrung lived a life of natural harmony.
But in a terrible irony the “lush plains” which attracted the European invaders of the 1830s were the result of deliberate “fire-stick” farming by the Dja Dja Wurrung.
In his latest book, The Good Country, historian Bain Attwood references archaeologist A.G.L. Shaw who said, “this was not the land as God had made it but a land that the Aboriginal people had made.”
Apart from the impact of colonial pastoralists, Bain Attwood says that two smallpox epidemics, in 1788 and 1829, brought in by earlier invaders were responsible for the initial decimation of the Dja Dja Wurrung nation.
When the Europeans invaded their idyll in 1837, the Dja Dja Wurrung were nervous and suspicious.
Their attempts at preserving the rights to the bounty of their own land were rejected.
When attempting reciprocal arrangements with the pastoralist they shared their women who became infected with syphilis and gave birth to syphilitic babies.
Violence and mass killings erupted at places such as Waterloo Creek in 1838.
Professor Attwood estimates that by 1863 the Dja Dja Wurrung nation had been reduced from some 900 to 1900 people to a pitiful 38.
Most of these people were placed on a protectorate at Franklinford.
The Dja Dja Wurrung story is one beyond sadness.
Witnessing the demise of their culture, the deletion of food stocks and the domination of the pastoralists, the assistant protector Edward Parker said “there will be no place for the sole of their feet.”
And yet from those small numbers, Attwood relates the remarkable story of the revival of the Dja Dja Wurrung.
He estimates that there are now some 3000 direct descendents of the Dja Dja Wurrung people of whom 1,500 people identify as such.
The Good Country was written at the behest of Dja Dja Wurrung elders and essentially based on the archival material of the settlers and protectors.
Professor Attwood rarely editorialises but rather allows the devastating history of colonial invasion speak for itself.
The Good Country is by far the most significant and substantial history so far of the Dja Dja Wurrung people.
St Aidan’s Orphanage has been seen historically as a benign, holy and bountiful presence on Bendigo’s skyline.
However, its magnificent gates and imposing architecture hide a story of sexual and emotional abuse, suicide, beatings and solitary confinement.
DIANNE DEMPSEY spent three months talking to and researching the stories of nine “fallen girls” who found themselves in the care of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.