Franklinford’s 1840s Aboriginal Protectorate: failed and forgotten
Barry Golding & Gib Wettenhall
It comes as some surprise to most tourists, as well as to some Daylesford locals, that an historic early ‘Aboriginal Protectorate’ operated for a decade before gold was discovered just a few kilometres north of Hepburn Springs around present-day Franklinford.
This post provides a very brief summary of what the Protectorate was about. The Great Dividing Trail Association has designed a self-guided walk around the streets of Franklinford that will be published later in 2020 as Walk 14 in a set of other interpretative local walks.
With the establishment of the Port Phillip colony in the late 1830s, the British colonial government sought to avoid the prolonged bloodshed that had already occurred in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) between the Palawa people and the colonists.
The idea was to divide the Colony of Victoria into four, appointing ‘Aboriginal Protectors’ in each division, who would make contact with Aboriginal people and encourage them to leave their land and seek refuge for their own safety. They were to be coerced and concentrated to live in four small areas (near present day Mount Rouse, Narre Warren, Murchison and Franklinford) where they could be managed, civilised, settled, Christianised and encouraged to work the land for agriculture. Today we might call them refugee or concentration camps.
Overseen by Assistant Protector Edward Parker, the ‘civilising mission’ of the northwest Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate was set up within a five mile radius of present day Franklinford to the west of present day Mt Franklin (Larnebarramul, then called ‘Jim Crow’ by the squatters) in 1841. At its peak, the Protectorate had a population of 300 Dja Dja Wurrung and Aboriginal people from elsewhere. It consisted of a school, church, administrative centre, workshops, farm, medical outpost, flour mill and lime kiln. What is signposted as the Aboriginal School today was the site of most of the 1840s Protectorate-era buildings.
By 1849 this first experiment in the taming of other people who the settlers regarded as ‘heathens’ and ‘savages’ had failed and was abandoned. Dja Dja Wurrung people from diverse clans over a huge area from the Loddon to Avoca rivers were brought together in close proximity off Country. They were not only broken and dispirited, but also prone to disease, conflict and starvation. The Protectorate’s five miles radius was minuscule in terms of the expectation that hundreds of people could somehow eke subsistence from farming, hunting and fishing. Pressure to close down the Protectorate was relentless from politicians and white squatters, who owned the newspapers.
The only present-day memorials to the Protectorate are to be found in rustic wrought iron roadside signs and a symbolic stone cairn erected by local historian Edgar Morrison in the 1960s and 1970. While the current Franklinford cemetery encloses the older Protectorate era cemetery dating back to 1842, no-one knows where the Dja Dja Wurrung bodies are buried. There is an upstanding obelisk and fenced grave site for the Parker family.
As a sobering postscript, after forced removal to government reserves and missions elsewhere, only 14 apical ancestors of the Dja Dja Wurrung Nation could be traced by 1870. In a token gesture of reparation in 2013, the government handed back to traditional owners just one hectare containing a few foundation stones from the former Aboriginal School Site at Franklinford.
Two Dja Dja Wurrung sites of significance stand nearby, one a large swamp on private land with huge remnant red gums, now trampled by livestock; the other being Mt Franklin, a Crown Reserve fully planted out with exotic pine trees. While the cycle of acknowledgement of past wrongs, renewed respect for Indigenous heritage and meaningful reconciliation with First Nation descendants has begun, it is still a long way from closing.