Neereman protectorate, 1840/1

History of the Aboriginal Protectorate on the Loddon at Neereman: 

Review and transcription of original documentary evidence

Protectorate established November 1840, abandoned June 1841

Barry Golding, 22 July 2021: b.golding@federation.edu.au

What is new in this account?

This account provides:

  • new information as to where the Neereman Protectorate was located
  • comprehensive transcription of original 1840/41 Protectorate documents
  • new insights as to how and why the site was selected and why it was abandoned
  • a new explanation as to why it was called ‘Neereman’ by the Dja Dja Wurrung and the ‘fishponds on the plains’ by squatter, John Hepburn
  • a case for closer attention from authorities concerned about acknowledging, protecting and accurately interpreting the site.

Remarkably, very little of this story has been told before. If the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic has one upside for me, it has provided the opportunity to write and publish off the back of much of what I’ve collected. As with all histories, this is just some of the story based on partial evidence. I look forward to being told what I might have missed and got wrong.

I have deliberately left in most of the detail in the transcripts so the information is available for summary and analysis by others in the future. I am 71 year old as I write this and am concerned that what I have learnt is not forgotten again and is passed on to future generations. In future I hope that this remarkable and important site will become better recognised, interpreted and protected with the involvement and support of the Dja Dja Wurrung traditional owners and the local landholders.

Context for this historical account

In June 1841, just one hundred and eighty years ago, an attempt by the Colonial government to create a concentration camp for several hundred First Nations people in the ‘northwest’ of the then Colony of Port Philip on the Loddon River at present day Neereman was abandoned. 

Established in November 1840 in the heart of the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Nation downstream of present day Cairn Curran Reservoir, only a handful of people know where this former, pre-Franklinford, 1840-41 ‘Aboriginal Protectorate’ site is or what actually happened here. In brief, several hundred Aboriginal people were forced by the Colonial government to seek refuge on and beyond their own Country in the face of a brutal and deadly squatter invasion, organised resistance from the colonial newspapers, raging pandemics, a protracted El Nino and hunger. 

The huge penalty for the relative safety briefly provided to Dja Dja Wurrung and people from other First Nations by the Protectorate was the loss of Country, language and culture. Promised permanent solace and safely at Neereman, the families who reluctantly took the bait were moved six months later to a new site at Franklinford (north of Daylesford) and by 1864 to the Coranderrk Mission near Healesville until it too was closed. In the process the people were deliberately exposed to a warped form of missionary Christianity, that as historian Robert Kenny wrote in The lamb enters the dreaming, placed suffering at its core, and sought to console people living amongst sickness and death.

Almost every part of this tragic story about Neereman, one of the oldest Aboriginal Protectorate sites in south eastern Australia had been lost. Using original documents and maps, this blog, for the first time in 180 years, confidently identifies the original 1840-41 ‘Neereman’ site. It sits on a high sandy bank above a stunningly beautiful but rarely visited, wide and deep section of the Loddon River 6 km north of Baringhup. 

This account reveals why this section of the Loddon River was tantalisingly described to Chief Protector George Robinson by John Hepburn in February 1840 as the ‘fishponds on the plains’. It also provides a new and alternative explanation as to why it might have been called ‘Nirriman’ ‘by the Dja Dja Wurrung, other than Edward Parker’s son, Joseph’s, 1916 translation of ‘Neura Mong’ as a ‘place to hide’.

It was here on a flat and sandy area north of the river still known as ‘Parkers Plains’ by some local old timers, that Aboriginal people were being encouraged by Edward Parker to plant English seeds in the middle of the scorching El Nino summer of February 1841. The river banks show no sign of the many wood and bark huts that were constructed for over one hundred Aboriginal people, Protectorate staff and families during the eight months of 1840/41 that the Protectorate operated nor of the former 1840 Protectorate or its nearby ‘cultivation paddock’ was located.

The banks close to the waterline on this wide and deep section of the Loddon River today are lined with huge and ancient river red gums. On the elevated sandy banks are a few remnant buloke trees and there is an old peppercorn tree where a Protectorate homestead might have been. 

Readers should note that the site is in 2021 on private land south of the Baringhup-Eddington Road. The public road that crosses the Loddon River downstream of the site are at Hamilton’s Crossing, today an attractive streamside reserve on the Baringhup–West Eastville Road. Until steps are taken to protect the site, visitation to the area is discouraged other than on public roads, river bank easements or Hamilton’s Crossing Crown Reserve.

Identifying the site

Identifying exactly where the site is took some effort, as Yandoit local historian ,Edgar Morrison found in the 1960s. Morrison left some useful clues after locating the approximate site in Early days in the Loddon Valley (1966).

Morrison noted in 1966 that the site was ‘a mile or so upstream’ of the current ‘Hamilton’s Crossing Crown Reserve’ on the Baringhup-West Eastville Road. In 1966 it was then on a property owned by the ‘Jennings Brothers’ (Morrison, 1966, page 23). Morrison was guided to the site by Claude Jennings’ oral history about ‘Parker’s Plains’ as well as descriptions of the locality and the width and length of the deep pools in the Loddon River written by Edward Parker’s son, Joseph Parker, in 1916. These notes were recalled from Joseph’s early childhood over 70 years before whilst living at the original Protectorate site for over six months in 1840/1.

My initial search for the site focussed on the relatively wide section of the Loddon River, within the northern border of the Parish of Baringhup and the southern part of the Neereman Parish. It was assisted by the excellent aerial view available of the huge pools, below along the Loddon River provided by Google Map.

The Loddon River at the Neereman Aboriginal Protectorate site

The aerial images confirmed that the land north of a distinctive, long and wide east west section of the Loddon was today being irrigated by three huge ‘centre pivots’ on land that turned out to be still owned and farmed by the Jennings family. Paul Jennings and family still live nearby in 2021. Given Paul’s father only bought the nearby ‘Red Banks’ property in 1943, all Paul knew about the Protectorate site was contained in Geoff Morrison’s A successful failure, a trilogy: The Aborigines and early settlersconsolidating Edgar Morrison’s previously (1966) published works in 2002. 

I met the landowner and have since made several trips to the site during 2019-21 with the land owners advance permission. I have subsequently located new documents and maps to confidently locate the site and better inform this story.C

Background to creation of Aboriginal Protectorates in the Port Phillip Colony

The contact history of Indigenous people in Australia was from the earliest times of colonisation until relatively recently, strongly shaped by missions and reserves, the breaking up of families and removal of children from their parents. Christian missionaries played a prominent role in modelling and managing such regimes. Unsurprisingly, the history of Aboriginal Missions and the Aboriginal Protectorates that preceded them in the footprint of present day Victoria is conveniently forgotten.

While the Aboriginal Protectorates in the Colony of Port Phillip during the 1840s provided some government sponsored protection and shelter from the worst settler violence, they were totally missionary in terms of their intent, staffing and operation. It was about Christian preaching and teaching, with the aim of civilizing and Christianising First Nations peoples.

Two Aboriginal Protectorate Stations were established in the Port Phillip Colony north of the Great Dividing Range. The ‘north east’ one on the Goulburn River near present day Mitchelton (later relocated to near present day Murchison) was established by James Dredge and overseen by him in incredibly difficult circumstances between May 1839 and June 1840. The other, ‘north west’ Protectorate was at what has sometimes been called ‘Neura Mong’ on the present day Neereman site.

The brief story is that the site, with Assistant Protector Edward Parker in charge, was quickly deemed as unsatisfactory for the agricultural purposes originally intended as an important part of the perceived ‘civilizing’ process. It was relocated within to what was deemed a more suitable site adjacent to Mount Franklin close to present day Franklinford, operating from June 1841 for the rest of the decade until 1849.

Some aspects of the foundation and operation of the site at Neereman and the reasons for its relocation by Parker were first examined by Edgar Morrison in Early days in the Loddon Valley (1966, pp.16-32), and again quite (recently 50 years later) in Bain Attwood’s (2017) book, The Good Country (2017, pp.110-114). 

Where did the Protectorate idea come from?

The Protectorate system in the Port Philip Colony of New South Wales was a poorly planned, hopelessly managed and dreadfully executed experiment. The rules and plans were created by the Colonial government ‘on the run’ and were amended in response to rapidly changing circumstances and feedback on the ground from the Aboriginal Protectors. The original ideas came top-down from afar in London (the UK) and its Colonies in Sydney (NSW) and Port Phillip (now Melbourne). It was in part informed by experience of a then recent experience of missionary failure dating back to the 1820s in the Wellington Valley (east of present day Dubbo) 350km inland from Newcastle. 

The four Assistant Protectors arrived in Australia from the UK in late 1838. It was an almost impossible task trying to select a site and implement the Colonial government’s poorly-defined plans in practice, interpreted through their own largely missionary lenses, in a landscape in which the best land and water had already been seized by squatters.

On 4 June 1840 Chief Protector Robinson communicated the Governor’s directions in relation to the Protectorates to his four Assistant Protectors. They were required to select a suitable site for:

‘… a reserve of one square mile of land for a homestead, for each of the Assistant Protectors. [There will be] no stations within five miles of the Assistant Protector’s residences. … The square mile or 640 acres forming the inner reserve is intended for cultivation, and the outer reserve of five miles radius (or a circle of ten miles in diameter) for the hunting grounds of the natives, but as every effort is to be made to induce them to engage in Agriculture or regular industry, the extent of their hunting grounds is to be gradually curtailed instead of increased, and it is for this reason that his Excellency intends to make the inner reserve Permanent and the outer only a Temporary one’.

It is of some interest 180 years later that the word ‘permanent’ was underlined given the very temporary nature of what transpired.

The Governor’s plan in the Port Phillip Colonies, while based ‘… on the same principle for those provided for the Wesleyan Missionaries in the County of Grant’ (in the Wellington Valley, NSW, near present day Dubbo), stressed prophetically that:

‘Great care however is to be observed in selecting the site; which especially is to be remote from the settled Districts, otherwise similar difficulties to which the Missionaries as Wellington Valley have had to contend with may again recur.’

Here Robinson was referring to the Wellington Valley Mission, initiated by Wesleyan missionaries in 1824, and later taken over by the Anglican Church Missionary Society in 1832 with the financial support of the NSW Colonial Government, to later become the first of many missions in Australia to employ ordained Germans. 

The rush to take up country in New South Wales in the early 1800s had previously resulted in deadly clashes with the local people. In the Bathurst area, after seven shepherds were killed, Governor Brisbane declared martial law in 1824 for all land west of Mount York (in the Katoomba area 150km west of Sydney). The subsequent ‘dispersal’ (often brutal murders and massacres) of Indigenous people by soldiers and settlers became standard practice and resulted in many deaths.

Meanwhile calls were mounting for renewed efforts to ‘civilise and Christianise’ those whose lands were being rapidly expropriated. Since early ventures such as Governor Macquarie’s Native Institution at Parramatta and Blacktown had had very limited success, it was felt that new missions should be founded as far as possible from settled areas.

Two Wesleyan missionaries, William Walker and John Harper had suggested the Wellington Valley as a possible site, because of its then relative isolation at the limits of legal settlement. Harper travelled to Wellington Valley in 1824 and stayed there for almost two years while he waited for the government to make the Wesleyans a land grant of 10,000 acres (40 square kilometres) for a mission.

The information cited about the Wellington Valley experience (1832-43) that follows is quoted from research on German missionaries in Australia undertaken between 2011 and 2015 by Professor Regina Ganter of Griffith University.

In summary the Wellington Valley Mission’s success was zero, based on the targeted number of Christian conversions, as below:

… history was marred by internal strife, first between the Englishman William Watson and his co-labourer Johann Handt, and then between Watson and Handt’s successor, Jakob (James) Günther. After Watson was dismissed from Wellington Valley in 1840, he and his wife began a new, rival mission nearby, known as Apsley. The original mission closed in 1843 and is generally considered to have been a complete failure, since it made no lasting conversions.’

Fast forward to September 1840, by which time the Colonial Office in Port Phillip had agreed to appoint ‘Agricultural overseers’ as part of the Protectorate plan, again with the caveat that the perceived mistakes in the Wellington Valley would not be repeated.

‘Assistant Protectors of the Goulburn and Mount Macedon districts [including Parker will] be allowed to make a choice of Agricultural or Government Overseers to Superintend the Agricultural Establishment to set on foot for the benefit of the aborigines, with Governor’s concurrence … with salary at the rate of one hundred pounds a year cash, with an allowance of one shilling a day in lieu of rations. …

I am however to remark that in sanctioning these appointments the Governor cannot but feel apprehensive that results may follow similar to those which at Wellington Valley have rendered the Missionary Institution nearly, if not altogether useless. His Excellency also desires me to request that you will earnestly caution the Chief Protector, and also his Assistants, that the Establishment of a Homestead for each of Assistant is not intended to exempt him from the duty of itinerating amongst the Tribes under his protection: and also that the whole of the produce raised at each Homestead or Establishment is to be for the exclusive use of the aborigines, and that any appropriation of the same to the use or for the advantage of the Protectors, or any white persons, will be considered an abuse, calling for the Governor’s instant and most effective interference.’

The missionaries in the Wellington Valley had experienced many difficulties in their work with the local Wiradjuri people. At the end of his first official report for the years 1832 and 1833, former schoolmaster Watson who was dedicated to the teaching part of the Mission’s ‘preaching and teaching’ function, made an enumerated list of these difficulties as follows. Most if not all of these difficulties, summarised below, would later be experienced by Edward Parker and the Dja Dja Wurrung people on the Loddon River Neereman site in 1840-1.

  1. The prevalence of Wiradjuri women living with European men. Watson commented that women in this situation were kept away from the influence of the mission, and their minds were ‘poisoned and prejudiced against the motives, persons and labours of Christian missionaries’. He also believed that their unwanted children were often murdered, although proof was hard to obtain.
  2. The Wiradjuri’s ‘avoidance rules’ such as the refusal of young Indigenous men to be in the same room as an Indigenous woman. This added to the difficulties of conducting church services and a school.
  3. The Wiradjuri’s unwillingness to settle down in one place.
  4. The Wiradjuri’s ‘remarkable aversion to labour’.
  5. The cost of purchasing provisions, and the difficulty of growing crops.
  6. The Wiradjuri’s ongoing prejudice against missionaries, for which Watson blamed the settlers’ tales mentioned previously.

How Edward Parker selected the Neereman site

Edward Parker arrived in Australia in September 1838 with his young family from England to take up the task of Assistant Protector of Aborigines, never having been outside of England and never having seen an Aborigine. He was subordinate to a much more experienced (and arguably duplicitous) Chief Protector Robinson who had done such a ‘good job’ rounding up Aboriginal Tasmanians and having them all removed to be concentrated on Flinders Island during the 1830s. 

On this basis, the Colonial government gave Robinson the task of managing the four Assistant Protectors and concentrating people from more than 20 Aboriginal Nations across the present state of Victoria into just four relatively small Protectorate stations roughly on the four compass Directions, NW, NE, SW and SE.

The map reproduced, below, from ‘Victorian squatters’ compiled by Robert Spreadborough and Hugh Anderson. in 1983 indicates in black shading the position of three of the four 1840s Protectorates: the SW one at Mount Rouse, Mount Franklin towards the ‘NW’ and the Michelton Protectorate towards the NE. The map usefully shows ‘Mitchell’s Line’, in his journey from the north to Portland, and back towards Sydney. The key confirms that these three Protectorates and the land taken up earliest (by 1840) approximately coincided. The Protectorate not shown is the one in the SW at Narre Warren.

If they were created today, Protectorates might be properly be called refugee or concentration camps. Aborigines were to be coerced and encouraged to leave their traditional lands, to be herded together regardless of language and culture to be protected from the violence and removal associated with squatting, to settle down, convert to Christianity and practice agriculture. On top of all other indignities, there was a belief that removing people from Country, preventing people from practising their traditional cultures, speaking their own languages and removing their children would make this transition (and their eventual demise) quicker and more efficient. This process would today be called genocide.

Parker was given responsibility for the ‘north west’ area, then called the Mount Macedon District, as this prominent landmark was close to the limits of colonial inland settlement north west of early Melbourne at the time of his arrival in Australia. Nearby Jackson’s Creek near present day Sunbury became the Parker family temporary base while he tried to work out where his Protectorate might be most effectively based. 

Parker’s protracted excursion with Robinson in early 1840 north of the Great Dividing Range into Dja Dja Wurrung country in present day north central Victoria was intended to help identify where that site might be. The trip included a four-night stay by Parker and Robinson with Captain John Hepburn on his Smeaton Hill run from 13-17 February 1840 and an exploratory trip with Hepburn’s cart north to the Loddon River in the vicinity of present day Newstead from 18-22 February and as far north as present day Gough’s Range, today north of Cairn Curran Reservoir. Where they actually went on this five day trip is documented here for the first time.

On 14 February 1840 Robinson had accompanied Hepburn and Parker to the summit of what Robinson wrote as Korertanger (Kooroocheang). He noted in his private daily journal, that from the peak ‘Mr Hepburn pointed out the place for Parker’s Station, distant 9 miles NE and by N on the Major’s [Mitchell’s] Line where he encamped’. This description corresponds approximately to the Loddon River close to the site of present day Newstead. The detailed description of the site alluding to its attractiveness as a Protectorate site that follows was presumably suggested by Hepburn, since neither Robinson nor Parker had previously visited it when it was written in Robinson’s diary. 

‘There are large water holes there and plenty of fish, and kangaroos in abundance. And it’s on the border. Nor will it be required. Hence, a better site for an establishment could not be selected for the district. It is accessible from Melbourne, 90 miles by road through the ranges and would be easily found, being on the Major’s [Mitchell’s] Line.’

Robinson’s description of it being ‘on the border’ and not being ‘required ‘presumably refers to it being close to the then northern edge of the extent of pastoral stations in the Port Phillip District and not being required for existing stations. The next day Robinson learned from Hepburn that the ‘90 mile road through the ranges’ to Melbourne [from Smeaton via Mollison’s run near present day Kyneton] could be considerably shortened to 80 miles by going via Stieglitz’s [near present day Ballan] ‘instead of 120 [miles] by Geelong’. 

Robinson also recorded that Mr Hepburn had pointed to a hill he ‘calls Jem Crow [Mount Franklin], because of the numerous small hollows about it’. Each of these sites feature prominently in the landscape and subsequent Aboriginal Protectorate history. Fortuitously, while later camping on the Loddon River near present day Newstead, Robinson met two Dja Dja Wurrung men who identified Jem Crow as Lul.gam.book, Mitchell’s ‘Salus’ as Tarengower and the Loddon River near present day Newstead as Pul.ler.gil yal.oke.

On 18 February 1840 Robinson diarised that while he was ‘undecided whether to go to Jem Crow Hill [Mt Franklin] or the fish ponds [on the Loddon River] on the plains’, they nevertheless took the latter option and headed north across the plains towards the Loddon River. My careful examination of Robinson’s diary shows they went over the Stoney Rises near the present Tuki Trout Farm, close to present day Campbelltown and north along Joyce’s Creek to the series of large ponds in the Loddon River immediately downstream of present day Newstead. 

On 21 February Robinson’s detailed description of climbing up onto on ‘an eminence SW and by S of Tarengower’, including his description of the rocks and other peaks visible in the landscape, placed them on the metamorphosed stony ridge on the edge of the western edge of present day Gough’s Range, owned by Duncan and Julie McGinty in 2021. This was as far north as they ventured on this trip. At this point they were still approximately 15km from the soon to be selected Neereman Protectorate site, but the site would have been visible from Gough’s Range.

By mid-1840 Parker, having returned to his temporary base near Mount Macedon, had seen and heard enough evidence of what was happening to Aborigines in Melbourne and on the relatively lawless frontier into which he was required to somehow embed himself, to come to some firm, strong and evidence-based conclusions. 

Parker’s Periodical (six monthly) Report for 1 March to 31 August 1840 was informed by his time consuming and impossible work within and beyond the current site of Melbourne unsuccessfully seeking justice for the many Aboriginal deaths and indignities regularly being reported to his office. What follows is verbatim, in full, taken from his written report. The words replaced by ‘XXX’ in this and the other transcripts in this account were unclear to me or uncertain in the handwritten original.

‘During the months of October, December, January and February [1840] I was in contact communication with various parties of aborigines of the Jajowrong, Taoungurong and Witowrong and XXX tribes. These tribes either partially or entirely range the District under my charge. From them I have obtained much information illustrative of the aboriginal statistics of the district. This information, when properly matured and confirmed will be remitted in a district communication.

Several important facts materially affecting the condition and prospects of the aboriginal population, as well as the security of the persons and property of the colonists have been forcibly brought under my notice. I beg most respectfully to submit them to the consideration if Her Majesty’s Colonial government.

  1. The first is the rapid occupation of the entire country by settlers and the consequent attempts made to deprive the aborigines of the natural products of the country and to exclude them from their native soil. The entire country of the Waverong and Witowrong tribes, with scarcely any exceptions is now sold or occupied by squatters. A considerable portion of the country XXX by the Jajowong and Taoungurong tribes is also taken up by sheep or cattle runs. The very spots most valuable to the aborigines for their productiveness – the creeks, water courses and rivers – are the first to be occupied. It is a common opinion among the settlers that with the possession of a squatting licence entitles them to the exclusion of the aborigines from their runs. Lately Mr Monro, having pushed his stations on both sides of the Coloband [Coliban River] and up the tributary creeks to Mount Alexander [Leanganook] complained in a public journal that “the blacks are still lurking around the creeks – that they seem determined to act as lords of the soil”, etc. etc. The plain fact is their ordinary place of resort, as furnishing them with the most abundant supplies of food. Precisely similar is the relative situation of the native and colonial population in other parts of the district – both parties mutually regarding each other as intruders. Are the territorial rights of to aborigines to be set aside by violence? Appointed as I have been by Her Majesty’s Government specially to “watch over the rights and interests of the natives” and to “protect their property and from acts of cruelty, oppression and injustice”, (vide Letter of Instructions from Sir G. Grey, Feb 12th 1838) I deem it my duty respectfully but firmly to assert the right of the aborigines to the soil and its indigenous productions, until suitable compensation be made for its occupation by reserving and cultivating a sufficient portion for their maintenance.
  • Another fact consequential upon the foregoing is the diminution of the natural food of the aborigines. Having in a formal communication asserted to this (vide Letter dated June 20th 1839), I need only now state that the facts then asserted have been fully corroborated by subsequent observation and enquiry, and that I am prepared with ample evidence to substantiate these assertions. The common result of this is that the natives resort to the outstations to procure bread, and too frequently under the excitement of hunger or cupidity, to take by force denied to their importunity. They have acquired universally a taste for the whiteman’s food – they tell me invariably they prefer it to their own wild productions. This acquired taste might and ought to be employed as a secondary means of their civilization.
  • I have seen in my recent intercourse with the aborigines considerable numbers of children and I invariably find among them a great quickness of apprehension and evident XXX for instruction. It is my duty therefore respectfully to urge the necessity and importance of having the children as much as possible concentrated and at once brought under Christian instruction. Every moment lost in this matter is a postponement of the hope of their ultimate civilization. Then old may be restrained, but the young will certainly be reclaimed if suitable means be at once employed.
  • It is my duty also to assert to the fact that I find it impossible to attach myself to entire tribes, from the circumstances that the tribes are most usually broken into small parties often ranging widely from each other in search of food. The only occasion when they assemble in any considerable numbers is when they resort to particular spots where some kinds of food may be abundant for a season, as to places abounding in fish or the mernon [Myrniong] root; and when different tribes meet to settle disputes by conflict or otherwise; this appears to be almost invariably in the vicinity of Melbourne. As these occasions are not of frequent recurrence, it is becoming daily more necessary that the Protector should possess some point of concentration – some fixed station to which he may invite and bring the aborigines.
  • Although indolence and dislike of constrained labour are, in common with all savages, characteristic vices of the aborigines I am connected with, I am happy to state that many instances have come to my knowledge where they have employed themselves to the satisfaction of the settlers and to their own advantage. I have found a man and boy, natives of an adjoining District, employed by Mr Piper as shepherds; they are both described as faithful and efficient servants. Several others have been named to me as occasionally employed in shepherding, washing sheep, packing wool etc. I have not found among those who have visited my station any insurmountable repugnance to cook, when properly encouraged and rewarded, and not barely commanded, but having no permanent station, no means of cultivation, and indeed up to the present time no direct authority to issue provisions as a reward for labour, I am not in a situation to employ this method of promoting their civilization.

In conclusion, I beg respectfully to express my solemn ands deliberate conviction that the present relative position of the aboriginal and colonial population must undergo a decided and speedy change, to prevent the increase of predatory attacks on colonial property on the one hand, and the continuance of a system of illegal punishment and indiscriminate slaughter on the other. While I find it next to impossible, from the desultory [meaning: lack of plan, purpose or enthusiasm] nature of my present official duties to employ the only official means of permanent civilization, i.e. Christian instruction, I am painfully conscious that the wandering aborigines are sinking to a lower degree of moral degradation by the promiscuous intercourse which they have with the vitiated portion of the lower classes in the colony. I cannot persuade the younger females to resist the importunities of the white man while I am unable to offer a counter-inducement in the shape of food, clothing or shelter. I cannot draw away the men from the stations when they can obtain more liberal supplies than I can furnish, by pandering to the lusts of those who occupy them. The results of this vicious intercourse, disease, jealousy, brutal quarrels both with whites and blacks, are rendering the condition of the natives more deplorable, and the property of the colonists more insecure. Unless prompt and efficient measures are taken to concentrate and provide for the aborigines, I look forward to the approaching winter as a period of aggravated outrage on both sides. It is universally acknowledged to be a time of privation to the natives – that privation must increase with every successive season. Concentrated and their wants provided for, they might soon be brought under such restraints as would guard them against injury, and secure the property of the colonists from deprivation. But left in their present state to be beaten back by “the white men’s foot”, to be excluded, perforce, from lands which they unquestionably regard as their own property, and from scenes as dear to them as our own native homes to us – despoiled, denied the rights of humanity classified with and treated as wild dogs, I can entertain no other expectation but that they will be driven to more frequent depredation, and exposed to more rapid and certain destruction.

Despite the understandable frustration evident in Parker’s above report, after his return to his Jackson’s Creek home base after his tour with Robinson, Parker had written to Robinson on 18 March 1840 confirming that he wished ‘to station myself and my family immediately in a central situation I have indicated’. It is unclear as to which if any map or more detailed description was appended.

Until September 1840, Parker’s attempt to set up his Protectorate was further delayed by his need to respond to even more ‘outrages’ against Aboriginal people, this time on the Upper Werribee in Watharung country. 

Insights from Parker’s Quarterly Journals, late 1840 to mid 1841

Much of what follows is detailed verbatim transcription of online records housed in the Public Records Office in North Melbourne. It relies very heavily on extracts from Parker’s Quarterly official Journal. While I have provided some other evidence to help establish context and place, I have attempted to leave most of the rich detail in with minimal commentary. My purpose is to allow Parker to give a firsthand account of what he was thinking and doing: first by identifying a likely Protectorate site during mid-1840, then moving onto the Neereman site by November 1840, attempting to ‘make it work’ over a scorching El Nino summer, and finally moving the Protectorate back to near Mount Franklin in mid-1841 when the original site proved to be totally unsuitable.

In his Quarterly Journal (September 1-November 30, 1840), Parker wrote that he was, on 1 September 1840:

‘… at the station, Yeerip Hills near Mount Macedon preparing to proceed to the Loddon to select a site for a homestead and aboriginal reserve. A small party of aborigines are camped close to my hut.

Received this evening from Melbourne the Port Phillip Herald of the previous day in which I found a report of no less than six outrages said to have been perpetrated by the aborigines at different stations on the Upper Weirabee [Werribee River] in the course of three days last week. I have lately received intimations from some of the aborigines who have been staying with me that the tribes were greatly irritated by the violent measures taken to exclude them from Melbourne as well as the treatment they receive from many of the settlers. I have been plainly told that the natives would “by and bye” take to the mountains and try to drive the “white fellows” from their country. I have done all in my power to appease this feeling and show them the danger and folly of such a step; and at the same time convince them that their exclusion from Melbourne was for their good. With those I have had access to, I believe I have succeeded. But fearing that these reported outrages on the Weirabee might be the first outbreaking of this general hostility. I deem it my first duty then before proceeding to the Loddon. 

On September 4, 5 & 6th Parker proceeded on to:

‘Bacchus’s, Clarkes’, Campbell XXX’s, Steiglitz’s and Grays’ stations [squatters in the vicinity of present day Bacchus Marsh and Ballan] and took further depositions from squatters and their employees. All of this activity investigating outrages, though urgent and necessary, encouraged and sanctioned by Robinson, took Parker away from his primary role of establishing his Protectorate station somewhere ‘in the northwest’.

Robinson was nevertheless losing patience with what he perceived as Parker’s delaying tactics. Robinson wrote to Parker on 21 September 1840 requesting that Parker:

‘… transmit to this office with the least possible delay a clear description of the locality selected for the homestead and Agricultural Establishment for the exclusive benefit of the Aboriginal natives of your district in order that instructions may be immediately furnished to the Crown Commissioner to carry into effect His Excellency’s commands in prohibiting all Squatters within the prescribed limits.’

Parker’s Quarterly Journal (September 1- November 30, 1840) confirms that as a result he returned to Dja Dja Wurrung country on 22 September, proceeding:

‘… to Mollison’s outstation near Lalgambook or “Jim Crow Hill” [Mount Franklin] to examine the country with reference to its fitness for the proposed aboriginal homestead and reserve, also to investigate alleged robbery of some articles from a watchbox by the aborigines of which I had received information at the head station.

[On 23 Sept Parker] Continued the examination of the country up the creek and around the hills Lalgambook [Mount Franklin] and Moorootah [present day Mount Stewart, 3km NW of Mount Franklin]. I obtained also much valuable information from my native attendant Yerrebulluk.

On 24 Sept I proceeded this day down the Loddon to [Lauchlan] Mackinnon’s station [south of Mount Tarrengower] having heard that one of their outstations had been attacked and robbed by the aborigines. In the evening I took the depositions of two men in reference to this transaction.

25th & 26 Sept I continued the examination of the banks of the Loddon from Mackinnon’s [downstream] to a spot some miles below the Tarrengower mountain where I found a site which seemed to be peculiarly eligible for the aboriginal establishment, but finding that the whole vicinity to have been recently occupied by Messrs Dutton & Darlot I deemed it advisable to postpone taking possession till I had received the sanction of his Honour the Superintendent. Returned therefore to Mackinnons.’

For context, James Monckton Darlot had arrived in Sydney in 1834 from Portsmouth in England. By September 1840 he was in partnership with William Hampden Dutton and Donald Campbell Simson, later called ‘Dutton, Darlot & Simson Bros.’ Darlot and Dutton had set off from Sydney in early 1840 with sheep and cattle, originally intending to take up country at Portland Bay. The overlanders had problems with sheep dying of ‘catarrh’, so they drove them around the north end of Mount Alexander to ‘avoid stations’, setting up ‘boughyards’ for their sheep on the Loddon and Deep Creek north of Simson’s Charlotte Plains run.

Lauchlan Mackinnon (1817-88) was the first owner of the Tarrangower pastoral run from 1839-42. In 1840 the run of 61,209 acres extended from Mount Tarrengower to Mount Franklin including a southern outstation at present day Yandoit Creek. A stone shepherd’s hut still inhabited in 2021 by Duncan McKinnon on Cockatoo Gully in Yandoit Creek is one of the few outstation buildings still standing from this era.

The Tarrangower run was sold in 1842 to another Scotsman, William Hunter. Mackinnon had migrated to Tasmania in 1838 from the Isle of Skye, Scotland, later moving to Sydney, before overlanding stock to Adelaide for Campbell & Co, and then with more stock from Sydney to Port Phillip. Mackinnon later became co-editor of the Argus newspaper. 

Yerrebulluk, who Parker mentions above, was described as his ‘native attendant’, was then approximately 15 years old. He was a Dja Dja Wurring  man from the Wurn Balug Clan centred on present day Talbot, according to Parker orphaned age eight in 1833. He recalled hiding in the bushes in 1836 as Major Mitchell passed through, likely in the vicinity of Mount Greenock (see monument, below). He adopted the European name ‘Dicky’ and later became a bullock driver ferrying supplies from Melbourne to Parker’s Protectorates at the Neereman and Franklinford sites. When the Franklinford Protectorate closed in 1850, Yerrebulluk obtained land and became a farmer. He died on 16 October 1862. The pace of change in Victoria in the 26 years of his life between sighting Major Mitchell and his death was massive. Six months before Yerrebulluk died, the Geelong-Ballarat railway was officially opened.

Monument commemorating Major Mitchel’s traverse, summit of Mount Greenock near Talbot

Parker had stumbled into a veritable newspaper ‘hornet’s nest’ by attempting to set up an Aboriginal establishment on the Loddon. Aside from being a squatter, Dutton was a co-owner of the Port Phillip Herald newspaper, one of the principal organs of the critics of the Aboriginal Protectorate, along with the Sydney Herald. Part of Bain Attwood’s account of the founding of the Neereman Protectorate in his The Good Country book draws on correspondence and editorials critical of Parker published in the Port Phillip Herald during December 1840 and January 1841. In its pages, fellow squatter Darlot threatened to sue Parker for serious loss as a consequence of what Darlot ironically saw as illegal occupation by the Protector and the Aborigines.

Returning to Parker’s late 1840’s Quarterly Journal, he recorded that on:

‘29th & 30th (Sept) Leaving the articles I had brought up at Messrs Mackinnon’s, who had kindly engaged to store them till my return, I proceeded this day with the drays to Major Mitchell’s Line to “Expedition Pass” [close to present day Chewton]’

The articles Parker actually left at Mackinnon’s station (on the southern slopes of Tarrengower) were likely to have included most of the agricultural materials detailed in the Protectorate 1840 schedule. The hand written list of what was procured by Parker on 16 July 1840, with cost in Pounds (£) shillings (s) and pence (p), is fully transcribed in Table 1 below. It is reproduced to confirm the intention was inclusive of working with wood and gardening, including the ‘seed potatoes’ and the ‘English seeds’.

The supplementary articles procured for ‘sewing’ at the base of the table were obtained just before finally Parker set off for the Neereman site in late October 1840. The medical equipment obtained in late December 1840 when Parker returned to Melbourne for Christmas would have been required for the medical officer on the site.

Table 1 Goods procured in Melbourne for the Neereman Protectorate, 1840

Date in 1840ArticlesAmount (£.s.d)
July 16Blankets, Red Shirts, Woollen Shirts 
 6 Bullocks @ 20 Pound and Commission126.00
 1 Plough10.00
 2 Harrows @ 70 shillings7.00
 24 Spades @ 5 shillings6.00
 6 garden Rakes @ 2/66.15
 12 Garden Hoes @ 4/32.11
 12 Grubbing hoes @ 6 shillings3.12
 1 Dray and Tarpaulin 35 Pounds, (commission 5 per cent 1.15)36.15
 3 grind stones, handles and spindles @ 20 shillings3.00
 2 mortice (= mortise] axes @ 4 shillings0.8
 12 falling axes @ 5/63.6
 2 American Augurs @ 7/60.15
 1 pair maul rings 7 ½ pounds @ 8 pence0.5
 1 set wedges 15lbs@ 8 pence0.10
 2 Cross cut saws, 12 ½ foot @ 5/33.5.7
 2 Hand Saws @7/60.15
 2 Wheel Barrows @ 45 shillings4.10
 1 Steel Mill5.15
 1 Ton seed potatoes17.00
 1 Paling knife0.7
 3 spoke shaves assorted @ 3/90.11.3
 6 pair files assorted @ 8 pence0.4
 2 saw setts @ 2/90.5.6
 12 XXX assorted @ 9 pence9 shillings
 28 pounds bottom nails @ 9 pence1.1.0
 3 pounds shingle nails @ ¼0.4
 14 pounds two shilling nails @ 8d 
 14 pounds twenty shilling nails @ 1 shillings0.14
 1 Vice2.0
 3 iron tripods 99 pounds @ 6 pence2.9.6
 1 claw hammer0.5
 2 pick axes @ 5/60.11
 3 Morticing Chisels @ 2/90.8.3
 2 Pails @ 7/70.15
 3 assorted Augurs @ 10 shillings1.10
 A Lot English seeds3.10
 6 Sets Bows & Yokes5.8
 Government duty on 6 bullocks 1½%1.16
 1 Dray Chain 15 pound0.10
 1 Bullock chain 30 pounds1.00
October 29 100 needles 
 2 pair scissors  
 4 combs  
 6 razors 
 1¼ pound of thread 
December 242 oz Alum 
 4 oz Tincture of Camphor [for skin rashes] 
 3 pounds Epsom salts 
 2 pounds Senna leaves [= a laxative] 
 1 oz Comp Extracts of Colycynth [a herb for diabetes] 
 4 oz Mercurial ointments 
 1 oz Sulphate zinc 
 4 oz Emplasture Cantharides [burn agent] 
 2 Sponges 
 1 Old linen sheet 
 1 Pestle & Mortar 
 1 Graduate glass measure 
 1 Syringe 

On 1 October 1840 Parker ‘sent the [presumably empty] dray homeward … directing the men to proceed with the cart across the country to the Campaspe near Monros’. He then returned home to his temporary family base at Yeerip Hills.

The list of food supplies provided to Parker for the calendar year 1840, also reproduced in the Table 2 below, includes a large quantity obtained a few days later on 5 October, presumably for the planned Neereman station, as well as for the large number of Aborigines then camped at his temporary home and station at Yeerip Hills. The even bigger extra quantity of food (in pounds: lbs) was obtained to bring back to the Neereman station on 21 December 1840, since the crops planted in the sand of the ‘cultivation paddock’ in mid-summer during the severe El Nino had understandably not produced the food Parker had anticipated, and starvation had set in.

Table 2: List of supplies provided to Parker for the calendar year 1840

Date 1840Flour lbsMeatlbsTea lbsSoap lbsSugar lbsTobacco lbsRicelbsSaltlbs
April 10400300147    
Oct 52,0001,4002814400  100
Dec 214,0002,000  5628500 

As an important aside, for much of October 1840, Parker had been stymied from getting out of Melbourne to Neereman, this time by his desperate need to intervene when several hundred Aborigines were locked up in a stockade in Melbourne in an incident generally referred to as the ‘Lettsom Raid’. At dawn on Sunday 11 October 1840, Major Samuel Lettsom, accompanied by 58 soldiers and police, rounded up 400 Aboriginal people who were camped near Melbourne and marched them to town, ‘pricking them with their bayonets and beating them with the butt end of their muskets’. Two Aboriginal men were killed in the process and others were wounded.

Major Lettsom had been dispatched from Sydney to apprehend Aboriginal leaders alleged to be responsible for attacks against settlers on the Goulburn River, but followed them to Melbourne after learning that they had gone there for a ceremonial gathering. Lettsom demanded that Assistant Protector William Thomas hand over the Goulburn ‘troublemakers’ ,but he refused, arguing that there were no warrants for their arrest. Lettsom then gained permission from Superintendent La Trobe to make the raid.

Edward Parker finally managed to free all but 30 of the Goulburn men, ten of whom were put on trial on 6 December 1840. They were tried without the benefit of a defence lawyer or interpreter and nine were sentenced to ten years transportation for theft. 

On 15 October 1840, amongst all of the above chaos, Parker found time to write to Robinson in response to his request for a report on possible Protectorate sites in the Mount Macedon (north west) district, confirming that during September 1840 he had:

‘… carefully examined the country on both sides of the River Loddon for above 25 miles along its course and am of the opinion that the most eligible locality for the aboriginal reserve is that indicated in my letter of July, viz. in the vicinity of the hill Tarrengower. The neighbourhood contains at present much game – is abundantly watered by the lagoons of the river in which there are plenty of fish – and is evidently a favourite place of resort with the natives with the almost innumerable indications of their occasional presence which I have observed. It is in the Learkabulluk [Clan of the Dja Dja Wurrung]. The land has been recently occupied by Messrs Dutton …[XXX last words not readable in original].

The most eligible situation for the homestead appears to me to be an alluvial tract about 3½ [5.6 km] miles WNW of the peak of Tarrengower, and about 12 miles [19 km] down the Loddon from Major Mitchell’s crossing place. The country to the westward is mostly an arid plain. To the eastward it is open forest. It would much enhance the value of the location as an aboriginal reserve if its westernmost limit were made three miles and its eastern seven miles from the central station or homestead. The distance from Melbourne by the present line of road is 105 to 110 miles.’

The description of the preferred homestead station described by Parker to Robinson would place it on the Loddon River close to the present day 2021 township of Baringhup. While the final site actually chosen at Neereman later in 1840 is around 6km further north and downstream of Baringhup, Parker’s distances are necessarily estimates in a then formally unmapped landscape.

Moving to the Neereman site

Parker records his activities in moving to the Loddon River site in detail in his Quarterly reports. In this section, most of the detailed history of the approximately eight months in total spent on the Neereman site is retained in Parker’s own words.

Between 1 to 14 November 1840 Parker was:

‘Travelling with my family and the aboriginal establishment under my charge to the locality on the Loddon approved by His Honour the Superintendent. Five orphan children and seven other aborigines accompanied me. We were detained on the 5th by one of the drays getting bogged and breaking the pole [on the dray]. On the 8th the pole of another dray … snapped in two, and it became necessary to cut and fit a pole. This, as there was no timber at hand caused the loss of the whole of the next day. On the 14th I camped on the Loddon one mile above Dutton and Darlot’s station.’

On 15th November 1840 Parker:

‘Proceeded with [Agricultural] Overseer Bazeley to the spot for a homestead four miles lower down the river. Found the aspect of the country entirely XXX since the end of Sept. The ground was parched – the grass mostly dried up. Bazeley looked over the whole of the ground in the vicinity and pronounced it an unfavourable spot of for agricultural purposes.’

The photo below taken in mid summer 2019 confirms how dry the country and sandy soli might have been in the extreme El Nino summer of 1840. The Loddon River course is where the trees protrude over the mid horizon. This is approximately where the Neereman Protectorate briefly and unsuccessfully attempted to establish a garden and produce food for as many as 200 people.

Approximate site of the 1840/41 Protectorate cultivation paddock. Mount Tarrengower & Goughs Range on the horizon, pivot irrigator in mid-ground. Photo taken in mid summer, 2019.

On 17 November Parker ‘removed to [selected] the site for the homestead’. The next day, 18 November, Parker:

‘Sent Overseer Bazeley to look at the ground between McKinnon’s and Lalgambook – as I felt some uncertainty as to the course I should pursue in the faithful discharge of my duty to the government. On his return he reported that the soil above Mackinnon’s was much superior to that conveyed yesterday. Still, as I had obtained the sanction of His Honour the Superintendent expressly for the lower station, as it was desirable that the station should be as low down the river as possible, as in every respect the lower station was more eligible, and the overseer thought that crops might be raised if there were sufficient falls of rain – I determined on placing the establishment on that [Neereman] site and fairly testing its capabilities.

Having learned, somewhat to my surprise that Dutton & Darlot had received no notice from the Crown Commissioner as to the occupation of the establishment of the aboriginal station, I sent this day a forma, notice of my arrival to the head station.’

On 19 November, Parker ‘Commenced the erection of a bark store for the goods under my charge’. Between 19-30November 1840, Parker:

‘… was occupied in building temporary huts for my family and the establishment, and the various labours usually connected with the formation of a new station in the bush. On the 23rd a party of aborigines of the Jajawrong tribe, numbering 41 men, women and children came to my station. Two other men came in on the 27th making with those who have travelled up with me a total of 55. They appear to welcome my arrival in their country with great warmth. The men immediately proceed to strip bark for the store and huts we were then building. Most of them were previously known to me.’

Parker’s separate, detailed list of Aborigines at the Protectorate on the Loddon during November 1840 confirms five ‘orphans’ and seven other children had travelled with him to the Neereman site, to be joined on 22 November by 43 Dja Dja Wurrung people in family Clan groups. One of the ‘orphaned male’ youths listed was previously mentioned Yeerebulluk. Parker’s census shows that most of the Dja Dja Wurrung people were either from the local Liarga bullukClan (including Dja Dja Wurrung ‘leader’ Manangabum and his family), or from Clans to the east of the Protectorate site. 

On 2 December (1840):

‘A party of 3 men and two boys came to the station this morning from the northwestward. As they appeared to march in with some degree of ceremony I received them in a similar manner. They spontaneously separated themselves into their respective sections [Clans] and were formally introduced by some of their number who reminded me that I had met them in different places on former occasions.’

From 3 to 12 December Parker reports that he:

‘… was employed among the aborigines congregated at my station in the collection of statistical information, the direction of their labour and the various arrangements XXX to the formation of a new station. The number of aborigines assembled continued to increase till XXX the 14th. They numbered about 170 men, women and children. There are many circumstances connected with this tribe worthy of special note. They have no firearms, nor can I learn that they ever possessed any. They are miserably destitute of clothing, a few very old, ragged garments being all they possessed of European attire. They appear to be generally peaceable and willing to work and I learn from neighbouring settlers that in many instances made themselves very useful. Nor can I learn that any charge of robbery against any of those now concentrated at my station. It is universally acknowledged that they have never attempted life. They have not been, however, without provocation. One man was shot by some of Dutton’s people four months time – if the aborigines are to be believed – almost wantonly. The perpetrator is not now to be found. Other lives have been sacrificed within the last two years by white people. A very large portion of their country was simultaneously occupied with stock last winter [i.e. mid-1840] and they are now ordered away from places where they have been accustomed most frequently to XXX for food. On the whole, the character and condition of this tribe present more hopeful circumstances than most others I have met in this colony, They are by no means inveterate [= ingrained] beggars as some of their neighbours. Nearly 80 children are now at the station.

For the week of 14-21 December, Parker:

‘… was variously occupied among the aborigines. It is the subject of great regret with me that I have not a school master on the station as an excellent opportunity is now furnished for the communication of the benefits of Christian Education to these people. My multifarious occupations connected with my office give me no XXX for the work and there is no person on the establishment who can be employed in this way. Another subject of regret is that I cannot fully employ the people for their own advantage, as it is now evident that the site is unfavourable for an agricultural establishment and permission must be obtained to occupy another situation.’

Between 22-24 December, Parker travelled back to Melbourne for Christmas and New. On 20 January 1841, Parker left Melbourne to return to his station. The 1841 list of extra stores, in Table 3 below, includes a large amount of clothing and other provisions collected on 12 January ‘required for barter, not intended to be given way unless in cases of sickness or old age’, as well as extra hardware procured for the Neereman station the day before his departure, on 19 January 1841.

Table 3 Stores procured in Melbourne by Parker for the Protectorate, January 1841

Dates 1841Articles
January 1230 tin plates
 30 tin pannikins
 50 blankets
 50 blue shirts
 36 tomahawks
 24 pocket knives
 25 combs
January 191 steel mill [for grinding flour]
 2 adzes
 2 dressing sieves
 2 sickles
 Ration scales & weights, 7 oz and upwards
 1 Box lock for store
 3 pair XXX hinges
 6 pair butt hinges
 2 butcher knives
 1 butcher steel
 2 Branding Irons C.P. XXX

On 22 January 1841, Parker diarised that:

‘I found this morning at Mr Mollison’s station a party of the Jajowrong tribe numbering about 30 who had left my station about a XXX. I endeavoured to induce them to return. I regret to observe that disease is spreading amongst them.’

On 23 January Parker notes that he returned to his station at Neereman: 

‘I find still a large body of aborigines assembled. They have generally conducted themselves well during my absence, A few individual quarrels have occurred but they have been appeased by the overseer without any serious result. One of these quarrels was occasioned by an individual named Mokilte (Wertunarramin) who was accused by the other blacks of having attempted to carry off sheep from a station of Darlot’s. Most of the tribe evinced great indignation and threatened to XXX him.’

On 25 January:

‘The Crown Commissioner visited the station this day to consult with me respecting the most suitable [alternative] site for the aboriginal reserve. He suggested the vicinity of Lalgambook [Mt Franklin]- to which on behalf of the aborigines I concurred. I took the opportunity of complaining to Mr Darlot who accompanied him of the conduct of his men in decoying the native women and girls for the basest of purposes. The remainder of the week [26-30 January] was occupied with official correspondence and returns, and the ordinary duties of the establishment. The overseer proceeded with the drays to Melbourne on the 27th.

Many of the men attended Divine service in the morning [of Sunday 31 January]. Feeling deeply anxious for the communication of some kind of instruction for the aboriginal youth now about the station, I commenced this day a kind of Sunday School attended by 20 boys who seem ready and willing enough to learn. Being without any school paraphernalia I have had recourse to the moveable letters of a child’s toy, known under the name of “Wallis’s Spelling Games” [NOTE: E. Wallis produced a number of popular board games, published in London in the early 1800s, including ‘The Wonders of Nature’].

Parker continues on February 2 as things were getting increasingly desperate:

‘A number of the aborigines left the station this day – stating that as my flour was nearly gone and there was too many of them there, they would go away and return in 10 days. The means of conveyance at my disposal have not been sufficient to enable me to bring up supplies fast enough to meet even the limited XXX I make. I had only two or three days supply on hand and could not expect the drays up in less than 10 days. I did not therefore oppose their temporary absence particularly as some serious personal quarrels had occurred during the last two days, in one of which a man and in another woman were badly speared. I warned them as earnestly as possible against hanging about the sheep station. As, however great numbers of sheep are dying at one of Darlot’s stations, I fear they will be induced to remain about there till my supplies come up. Between 40 and 50 remain at the station. Among those who have left are four men from the Goulburn who arrived on the 30th [January].’

On 3-6 February 1841 Parker:

‘… was chiefly occupied in completing a census of the Jajowrong tribe, which has engaged my attention for some time past. A number of youth who have been at the station have within the last few days built themselves permanent habitation of saplings and reeds. They commenced them of their own accord in imitation of one of them built by the government men.

In the latter part of this [6 February] one of the men who left the station on Tuesday returned and informed me with great concern that one of the Goulburn blacks had speared a sheep. I immediately rode over to Mr Darlot’s head station of the overseer [to see] if a thing of this kind had occurred at any of his outstations. He said he did not think any depredations had been committed – that it was possible or likely sheep might have strayed the flocks and had been picked up by the aborigines. He wished to keep the natives [away] from the stations, but the men (and one in particular) encouraged them to come, and constantly had the women about them. At the lower station 200 sheep had died from XXX XXX since the 1stof January, and had given the men ample means as of alluring the aborigines around them. I subsequently ascertained that the sheep was speared at a new station belonging to a Mr Cato lower down the river by a Tanne-bullar black named Maitegurra. The shepherd being asleep, did not observe the theft, but was immediately apprised of it by Moorin-weila, a remarkable well-conducted Borum-bulluk black who took charge of the sheep while the shepherd got his gun, and afterwards assisted in endeavouring to trace the thief, and recover the sheep.

[On the morning of Sunday 7 February] I sent a black on whom I could rely on to bring all the blacks back to the station. In the evening he returned with a few of them and brought information that Darlot’s people at the same outstation to which they had so frequently been decoyed had fired on them, that one (Gou-du-wurmin) was dying and another (Mu-nang-abum) very badly wounded.’

For context, Manangabum (also called ‘Abraham’) was then regarded as the most important Elder of the Dja Dja Wurrung and a man possessing great spiritual power. Parker later gave him the title of ‘Abraham ‘in recognition of him being a father of the nation’. George Robinson first met him in January 1840. Manangabum had been attacked by squatter Munro, after seven of his men and three mounted troopers had accused several Aboriginal men of sheep stealing. Munro brutally murdered several of them on the Campaspe River and arrested Manangabum, who was arrested on a sheep stealing charge and locked up in the Melbourne Gaol from late January 1840. He was eventually released in March 1840 after strong petitions from many Aboriginal people via the Aboriginal Protectors. Manangabum accompanied by other Dja Dja Wurrung people returned to Country via Parker’s Jackson’s Creek Station on 11 April 1840. 

Manangabum and 42 other Dja Dja Wurrung had arrived at the Neereman Protectorate station soon after it was established and stayed there until November 1840. They had moved away to Bet Bet Creek (near present day Wareek) as the Protectorate rations ran out. By February 1840, Donald Simson at Charlotte Plains had placed James Darlot as his manager on his nearby Fourteen Mile Creek run, whose heavy handedness with Aboriginal people was then well known. Manangabum’s wounding took place in an altercation between Darlot’s convict shepherds.

Parker continued in his 1841 diary:

‘[On the morning of 8 Feb] … more of the aborigines returned. Their version of the affair of yesterday was that a number of armed men came to the station – that they enquired for the Goulburn blacks – that they accused the two blacks who were shot of sending them away, that Mu-nang-abum fearing from their threats that they intended to shoot him, clasped the shepherd round the body, and cried out to the foremost of the white men “Borack shoot Nenne-nenne” (Neddy Neddy) – that they then fired at him and Gou-du-wurmin was then dead. They gave me the names of nine blacks from the Goulburn who were at the station. Four of them had been at my station on the 31st of January. I went over to the station expecting in my way to find the dead body which had been placed in a tree; the boys who accompanied me, however, could not find it. On arriving at the station the convict hutkeepers were at first disposed to be very indolent. I took their depositions and afterwards in search of the shepherd whose deposition I also succeeded in obtaining before he could have any communication with the others.

Returning to my station in the evening I found Munangabum had been brought in with a large wound in his shoulder evidently inflicted by a gun or pistol fired close to his body.’

Edward Parker’s son, Joseph Parker, writing in later life in the Mount Alexander Mail (22-24 June 1916) vividly and independently recollected during his childhood that an Aboriginal person with a gunshot wound was brought in to the Protectorate. He tells the story of an intimidating, heavily armed posse of mounted men challenging his father about protecting them. This account very likely relates to this incident documented above involving Darlot in February 1841.

0n 9 February 1841, Parker:

‘Went over to another station of Mr Darlot’s 8 miles distant with the overseer and took the depositions of four men.’

On 10 February, Parker: 

‘Sent a policeman and one of my men with two aborigines to search for and try and identify the body of Gou-du-wurmin. They returned in the afternoon having found the body, but in such a state from the heat of the weather as to preclude further identification.’

On 12th & 13th Parker wrote that 

‘… having carefully collated the evidence I had obtained I signed warrants for the apprehension of Edwin Collins & Robert Morrison who were brought up on the 12th, and the evidence being repeated I committed them for trial in Melbourne. At the same time I went for further police aid to apprehend three other men implicated in the affair.

[Feb 14th-28th] During this period I was occupied principally in preparing Returns – copies of the aboriginal Census – copies of the depositions and proceedings in the late affair with Darlot’s people. … On the 19th two policemen arrived, and on the 20th the XXX  Martin and Jenkins were apprehended, examined and committed for trial.

During this month several of the natives, seeing the improved dwellings erected by the boys, constructed good seed tents for tomatoes under the direction of one of my men, so that the station now [Feb 28th] XXX 12 permanent aboriginal dwellings affording comparatively comfortable accommodation for about 50 people.

On the two last Sabbaths of the month nearly all the natives on the station attended Divine Service. Their deportment was serious and orderly; they spontaneously followed the example of the whites in standing up, kneeling, etc. They appear ready to acknowledge the existence of a Great and Good Being, but say that black fellows know nothing about him.

On March 1 to 6,

‘[Parker] remained on the station. The number of aboriginal assembled was about eighty. Since the fatal encounter at Darlot’s on the 7th Feb they have remained generally quiet. A very strong impression has been made upon them by the prompt apprehension and committal of the men who first decoyed them to their huts, and then, when they became XXX,  fired on them.

On the 8th I proceed to the Pyrenees to investigate the circumstances connected with the slaughter of several aborigines by a Mr Francis. On the 9th and 10th I fell in with different parties of natives. From the last of them I obtained some distressing statements as to the slaughter of the blacks. They have me the names of several individuals shot by Mr Francis within the last six months. I found, however, no legal evidence attainable. The only persons present in the last and most serious affair with the aborigines, which took place in December last year, were Francis, a person named Downes and a stockkeeper, all of whom were concerned in the slaughter. Downes is in another part of the colony, Francis absent at Portland and the stockkeeper in Melbourne. No other admissible evidence  of the death of these poor people can be obtained than what Francis’s written statement conveys. In that he reports that he and the persons before named in consequence of seeing the bush on fire, and fell in suddenly with some natives, on whom they fired and killed four. The natives say six were slain and the information as to that it is more to be depended on. Owing to the legal disabilities of the aborigines cannot be added to the many others which have passed without judicial notice. I cannot, however, but wish that squatting licences were withheld from persons who manifest such utter disregard of human life as Mr Francis, even on his own thievings have done.

March 12th I returned to my station.

March 15th One of the Jajowrong natives came in this day from Melbourne. He proved to be a messenger from the Port Phillip aborigines sent to bring the natives now at this station to Melbourne. Several attempts had previously been made to get them there, but hitherto I had successfully opposed their going: a few only had strayed away about three weeks time. They now, however, appeared determined to go. For the persons have imposed on a story that another governor had arrived, and wished to see all black fellows in Melbourne to give them blankets and other things. Nothing I could say would convince them of the contrary. “White gentlemen” in Melbourne had had told the blacks and therefore they had sent a letter to their Jajowrong friends to come and see them. The “letter” which was treated with great respect and shown to all was merely a dirty piece of an old copy book. This was accompanied with two or three knives and handkerchiefs and other items of good will.

March 16th This morning all the men with the exception of three left the station to proceed to Melbourne. I succeeded in inducing them to leave their women and children. I warned them that I should follow them and watch their conduct.

On the 19th I left my station to proceed to Melbourne and next day came up with the aborigines at Messrs Cumming and Smyth’s station. They were joined here by another party. They stated it to be their intention to proceed to Karkanamoom (late Howie’s cattle station) and there await the arrival of their Port Phillip friends to have a great Yepene (corrobory) and then return to Nirriman.

On the 29th I received information that Mr Oliphant’s station in the Pyrenees had been attacked on the 19th instant, the hut keeper killed, and the hut nearly stripped. From what I had previously heard of the character of some of the natives on the Western side of the Pyrenees, belonging to the Nilangboum tribe I concluded that the trouble had been committed by them.

On the 1st April the Jajowrong natives came to Melbourne and a very formal kind of meeting took place between them and the Port Phillip aborigines. On this and the following days they danced their corrobory. Only two or three of my people who had been in Melbourne went into the town, the remaining on the south side of the river. They had provided me before leaving the station they would only remain two days with the Melbourne blacks. In fulfilment of this promise, on the morning of the 3rd they expressed their willingness to return, at the same time their wish to see “the Governor”. His Honour the Superintendent was pleased to gratify this wish and had an interview with them near the signal station. After receiving a supply of flour they proceeded on their journey.

On the 6th I came up with the aborigines at the Police Station. They had been retarded, like myself, by the heavy rains. I found that a few of them had strayed back with Tolloorabulluk and Marpeanbulluk people to Melbourne.

On the 8th [April] I returned to my station. I found that a number of natives from the lower parts of the river Loddon had come in making the number at the homestead upwards of 100. Between this date and the 12th the men who had visited Melbourne returned in small parties.

On the 21st visiting Mr Mackinnon’s station I received information of a dreadful outrage by the aborigines on the person and property of Mr Grice of Mount Alexander on the 15th instant. Mr G was reported to be so badly speared, as to be near death, and 500 of his sheep were said to be missing.

On the 22nd I proceeded to Mr Grice’s station about 12 miles North-West of Mount Alexander. Found Mr Grice received three spear wounds and two of his men had been severely wounded. A large body of natives suddenly rushed upon Mr Grice and one of his men while they were getting a flock into the fold. Their intention was evidently to kill them, but Mr Grice succeeded in forcing his way through them and getting to the hut he took out a gun on which they ran away. In the meanwhile another party intercepted one of his shepherds returning with his flock, speared him in the arm and took away the sheep: the next day a horse was found dead with many spears sticking in him. The sheep were recovered two days after, with the exception of about 50. Most of them were in possession of the blacks at a spot about 20 miles east of the station. This outrage appears to have been of a more determined and hostile character than any that has come within my observation. As I can account for most of the people belonging to the Jajowrong tribe on the day this was committed, I can readily acquit them of any participation in it. It has doubtless been perpetrated by some of the “Goulburn” blacks as they are usually termed – the people occupying the country between the lower parts of that river and the Yerrin or Campaspe. Their periodical visits to the neighbourhood of Mount Alexander are frequently attended by depredation and outrage.

On the 24th [April 1841] I returned to the station. I found there two blacks belonging to the Taongerongs named Jille jille and Neraboop. An earnest request was made by the other aborigines that they might be allowed to remain. These men spontaneously stated that the Moonoom goodeet, Netterackbulluk, Nerabulluk and other Taoungurong blacks had been “spearing white fellows and stealing sheep”: and that in consequence they had left them.

On the 26th [April] I proceeded to Melbourne in expectation that the trial of Darlot’s men would come on. While in Melbourne I received information of another dreadful outrage, doubtless by the same people at Mr Bennett’s on the Campaspe. A shepherd had been killed and his flock had been taken away, but subsequently the sheep had been recovered.

I was detained in Melbourne some days to attend the examination of two mounted policemen charged with having caused the death of “Harlequin”, a native black who was apprehended in December last on the Murray. He had been made to travel on foot about 220 miles in seven consecutive days. When brought into Melbourne he had a chain around his neck, and in this manner had been compelled to walk or run by the side of the trooper’s horses – and this in the hottest season of the year. He died on the second day after arrival of a violent fever. The men were committed to trial.

On the 5th May [1841] I returned to Nirriman where I remained till the 13th. During this interval I found among the natives some blankets from the marks I inspected came from Mr Oliphant’s. This led to further enquiry and at length I obtained the following statement from some of the aborigines who had been with me in Melbourne and were much concerned by the attack on Mr Oliphant’s. After the slaughter of Gondu-urmin by Darlot’s people, his immediate relatives the Galgalgoondeet roved around the country in a state of great irritation, Coming unexpectedly upon Mr Oliphant’s station, which had been recently formed, and finding the hut open and the hutkeeper at a little distance shifting the hurdles, they determined on revenging the death of their companion and attached the poor man as he was coming up to the hut, after killing him they took all the provisions, clothing and guns. The murder was committed by Wowingnap and Beristgoodeet, brother of the deceased Gondu-urmin and Maitejurra, a Larnebullar black. These men are now at the station. I find they are in great alarm for the consequences of their wild revenge, my two native policemen having threatened that they would fetch the “white fellow policeman” to take them away. The blankets bearing Mr Oliphant’s marks had passed through many hands before I had discovered them and were in possession of people who I knew to be in Melbourne at the time of the outrage was committed. No legal evidence of their having been in the possession of the murderers could be obtained. Two of the three guns taken from the hut were left in the bush (these men not knowing how to use them) and two men at my request went out and brought them to me. They were absent on the journey three days.

On the 13th May I proceeded to Melbourne to attend the sitting of the Supreme Court.

On the 18th five men were put on their trial for shooting at Munangabum with intent to kill. The Crown Prosecutor deemed the evidence insufficient to put them on their trial for killing Gondoo-urmin, The first witness, one of their companions, swore that there were 150 blacks throwing spears at them and the men were immediately acquitted. The witness had stated in his disposition of the first investigation of the case that no spears had been thrown. Thus there is no chance of justice being obtained for these unfortunate people, while their evidence is rejected. The witnesses are sure to be hostile and have only to swear hard enough, as in the present case, and the cause of the aborigines is put out of court,

On the 22nd [May] Tarrick-munnin one of the nine aborigines convicted of the robbery at the last January XXX, and the only one of the number who was recaptured when they made their escape from a lighter in the river, was discharged from prison, and by the judges order given over to my charge, the whole of the convictions having been illegal, and the prisoners therefore pardoned. The remaining three days with the Rev McXXX and then joined his tribe.

On the 27th [May] I returned to my station at Nirriman where I found still about 130 aborigines. Three infants have died within the last six weeks. One apparently from carelessness on the part of the mother, combined with the severity of the weather. The second was a half caste belonging to Yeepburneen, one of Manangabum’s women and reported by all the blacks to be the offspring of Clarke, one of Darlot’s assigned servants. Fearing this child might have been killed, I made very minute inquiries into the circumstances of its death, but found no reason to conclude that it died form other than natural causes. The third was the child of Boongarrapurneen and according to the concurrent testimony of all the women was killed by the mother the morning after its birth. It is said to be the third child she had murdered. The reason assigned is that by suckling their children they become old looking and wrinkled and therefore disagreeable to their men. The event took place in my absence. I spoke to the people strongly of the wickedness of the action and as the woman became dangerously ill I took occasion from that circumstance to warn them of the certainty that the “Great Father” would be angry with them and punish them. I do not think the crime of infanticide is common amongst them. One other woman only was spoken of as having done the like. But it is deeply painful to observe the callousness with which this atrocious deed is regarded.

[On Sunday 30th] The Aborigines continue to attend Divine service with scarcely any exception. Having however no place large enough to contain even half of them, considerable difficulty occurs in bringing them together. This is greatly advanced by the singular custom designated the “Knalloin”. By this the mother of the female child is interdicted from even looking upon the person to whom the child was betrothed; and this betrothing frequently takes place as soon as the child is born, the women who have children are almost always under the influence of this custom.’

Moving to the new Station

Unfortunately the first part of Parker’s detailed next Quarterly Journal, June 1, 1841, to August 31, 1841, is missing. It resumes with the final pages in mid-July 1841. A ‘Precis of Journal, March 1, 1841- August 31st, 1841’ confirms that during the missing interval, in June 1841, Parker spent ‘Five days travelling between the new and old stations, removing the to the permanent situation [at Franklinford]. The rest of the month [he was] occupied in the laborious duties of my station’. 

Under the heading ‘General results’, Parker summarises the six months ending 31 August 1841 as below. From March to May 1841 just the Neereman site was operating. During July and August 1841, the new station at Mount Franklin was in operation. Parker reported: 

‘I have been in contact communication with the aborigines. The average number daily at the homestead was 100. Of those several have remained for the whole period. Many others have continued at the station from three to five months.

With the single exception of the revengeful attack on Oliphant’s station by a small party, no charge has been made against the Jajowrong people who are not less than 300 in number. Two other outrages which have occurred have been distinctly traced to another tribe.

During the last three months of the half year a new station has been formed at Willam-e-barramul [place of the emu]on the river Loddon [in fact this was on a major Loddon tributary, to 2021 called ‘Jim Crow Creek’]. About 35 acres of land have been enclosed and 13 acres prepared for cultivation, and five acres sown with wheat. A dwelling house, store and two cultivation huts have been put up. In these operations the aborigines have fully participated. Amongst other work done by them they have furnished the establishment within the last 2 months with 300 sheets of bark & 350 trees and saplings for building materials, have broken up [cultivated] 250 perches [= 1.56 acres] of ground, felled 100 trees and completed 150 rods [approx. 750 metres] of fencing.

Partial instruction has been afforded on the average to about 20 boys. The unsettled state of the establishment has unavoidably interfered with this department of the work but the clear continuance of a number of aboriginal youths at the homestead and their increasing alienation from the habits of the tribe authorize a hope permanent good will result from future efforts of this kind.

Eight orphan children have been maintained during the half year, and the average number of XXX daily attended to during the same period has been about twelve.’

Post script from the Protectors

In leaving this detailed account from Parker on the upper Loddon in August 1841, it is useful to briefly consider Chief Protector Robinson’s understanding of what was happening in 1841, when he observed that the squatters were not allowing Aborigines to stop at their home or outstation. Robinson posed the valid question in his personal journal, ‘Where are the natives to go?’ His response is as follows.

‘As many squatters claim from 2, 3 or 400 square miles of country, the home station and out stations, in many instances in a bad water country, secure all the water and the sheep and cattle graze the intermediate space. Then where are the natives to go?  … are they to throw themselves in the mercy of other tribes because no British humanity exists in the hearts of British Australian squatters towards the original occupants of the soil?’

It is of some interest as a postscript to note that the Chief Protector George Robinson apparently never visited the Neereman Protectorate site during its operation. His daily Journal confirms he was in Melbourne from November 1840 when the Protectorate was established until early February 1841, aside from a two day visit to Narre Warren from 19-20 December 1840. Robinson was in the Ovens River district for much of February and was in the Western District for almost five months between March 21 and August 14 1841, by which time Parker’s Protectorate had been relocated back to near Mount Franklin.

Robinson makes only several brief mentions of Parker in his Journal during late October 1841 as Parker was readying to move to the Neereman site. On 29 October 1840, he writes that Le Seuf (sic.) ‘is to send his cart for the invalid Aboriginal natives at Parker’s station’, and agrees that Parker can have a loan of Le Souef’s cart for two weeks. Robinson also notes that he had bought some articles ‘for the blacks of Parker’ including shirts and flour. On 11 December 1840 Robinson wrote: ‘Noland gone to Parker’s Loddon. Papers complain of Parker at Loddon’. [Note: Noland was an ex-employee of overlander and pastoralist Peter Snodgrass: the depression of the 1840s had led Snodgrass into insolvency. It is not clear what Nolan’s role was]. The next time Parker is mentioned by Robinson is when Parker returned to Melbourne on 24 December 1840, providing Robinson with his requested Dja Dja Wurrung census. On 15 January 1841, Robinson wrote about La Trobe’s annoyance at Parker for writing to the newspapers in defence of his Protectorate. 

Several brief mentions are made of in the official records of Parker’s agricultural overseer, Robert Bazeley. On 30 October 1840 he writes that ‘Parker’s overseer Bazeley started on Sievwrights’s cart’, presumably referring to his overseer borrowing Protector Seivwright’s cart to set begin the journey up to Neereman. Another mention is when Bazeley returns to Melbourne from ‘the Loddon’ (Neereman) on 2 Feb 1841. As a relevant aside, Bazeley would later employed by squatter Rostron, initially at Holcomb near Daylesford (inclusive of the recently opened ‘Manna Gums Frontier Wars ‘site) and later at Tottington homestead near Stuart Mill. A Bazeley descendant, Richard Bazeley, lives in St Arnaud in 2021.

How did Parker reflect on this era?

It is illuminating to reflect on what Edward Parker said four years later about this tumultuous time on the Loddon River frontier. His written perception was that ‘a very considerable expenditure of the public money’ had led to ‘but little real improvement in the condition of the condition of the aborigines’. This led to a Select Committee of the Legislative Council being appointed in 1845 ‘to consider the condition of the aborigines, and the best means of promoting their welfare’. 

The Maitland Mercury (27 December 1845) reported the following testimony of Edward Parker to the inquiry, as he reflected on ‘the results of his five years’ labour among the aborigines’.

‘When I took charge of the first district assigned to my care, I found everything in a state of the greatest confusion; aboriginal outrages, involving extensive loss of property, and in some instances, of life, were of frequent occurrence; the most deadly feelings of hostility existing on the part of the Europeans, which in all probability would have led to a war of extermination on both sides. A respectable settler (now a magistrate of the colony), told me in the latter end of 1840 that he considered the existence of two races in the same country incompatible. Another (also a magistrate), about the same time, avowed it as his opinion that one-half of the aboriginal population must be shot, before we could subdue and keep in order the other half. On the other hand, after the measures adopted by the police authorities under Major Lettsom, in October 1840, some of the most influential men among the aboriginal tribes frequenting Melbourne declared to me their intention of retiring to the mountain and forest ranges, and killing every white man they could find unprotected; and it is my firm belief that this threat would have been executed, so far as lay in their power, but for the efforts and officers of this department. ‘

It is pertinent to note that Parker, by 1845, was battling to save the Protectorate system including his own relocated Protectorate station, at Larnebarramul below Lalgambook (Mount Franklin), from being wound up. For this reason, he concluded with the most optimistic Christian gloss in the face of evidence of a fairly comprehensive failure, concluding that any shortcomings were for the want of adequate religious instruction.

‘Yet now, without any such exterminating measures, the whole of the eastern and central parts of this district are at peace, life and property are considered to be secure, remedial measures are applied for the improvement of their condition; and if more marked results have not been obtained in the improvement of their condition, it has been from the want of additional agency in carrying on the work of religious instruction.’

Why does all this matter?

What happened on now comprehensively ‘settled’ land in Dja Dja Wurrung country on the frontier in conflict with our colonial ancestors in 1840-41 remains both unsettling to me and also unsettled over 180 years on. Though I’ve added some brief commentary to the shocking official record, I sense that Edward Parker has perhaps, amongst the inevitable government self-censorship, said it all, though I acknowledge that there are almost no Aboriginal voices here.

The question I ask as an Australian citizen in 2021 as to what British humanity could have done differently is not only an historical question, but a current moral one. As Inga Clendinnen wrote the following in her Quarterly Essay in 2006, ‘Who owns the past?

‘Daily we enjoy the fruits of what those hard men did. Our present comforts drive from their past actions.  … [S]urely it is a crucial part of the historian’s duty to uncover how it was that some settlers were killers and some were not? It is only by establishing the span of choices open to these men that we can hope to understand why individuals made the choices they did.’

I am motivated to research and write about these things as a person who has lived within and enjoyed the fruits of Dja Dja Wurrung country, from my home town of Donald in the north west to Daylesford to Kingston in the south east for over 40 years, in total spanning much of my seven decades to 2020. As Clendinnen so eloquently put it:

‘I do feel a connection to the country and what has happened here, which manifests as an intensifying impulse to acknowledge and redress past injustices, and to attempt restitution.’

But I have to ask, how will history judge our own generation for locking up innocent refugees, including children, for many years on Pacific islands, to deter others from arriving on boats? But I forget, as John Howard recently confirmed in a television interview, Australia and Australians are not racist.

The Neereman Protectorate site today

Edward Parker came to what was to become the Neereman Protectorate site with his family of seven in November 1840. In the next eight months, around 200 Dja Dja wurrung and other First Nations people came to the Protectorate Station there to seek his protection. The records I have transcribed in detail above give just a small flavour of a highly contested, deadly and dangerous frontier, particularly for Aboriginal people on their own Country.

There are few signs of what happened ‘on the ground’ after 1840. Some of the scarred and strap grafted trees remain, but there is no contemporary signage, memorial, buildings or post contact artefacts to mark the site of this first failed attempt at a Protectorate on the Loddon River. Neereman’s existence and history has been erased almost as completely as that of the Dja Dja Wurrung traditional owners. 

An ancient Aboriginal fire hearth on the northern Neereman river bank. The original carbon has been leached, out leaving only the fireclay

What does remain is its presence and natural beauty. Its still massive river pools on the Loddon River run much of summer from environmental and irrigation flows from Cairn Curran Reservoir above Baringhup. Its elevated aspect, and the huge remnant river red gums and straggly remnant buloke trees remain on its high northern bank. One ancient peppercorn tree and the possible fragment of a granite fireplace are all that might have been there since the 1840s. Seasonal floods and fires, the sludge and sand from mining and dredging, shifting sands of drought and erosion combined with intensive agriculture and grazing down to the river’s edge leave the privately owned site in a degraded and vulnerable state. Some of the deep erosion scars on the sandy northern bank are filled with domestic and farm rubbish. The site warrants acknowledgement and care.

I have recently found two early maps that together accurately and definitively confirm where the Protectorate site actually was. The first map I found was an early (1856) Parish Plan map (Country lands, Parish of Baringhup on the river Loddon [cartographic material] / Thomas Couchman, Assist. Surveyor; lithographed at the Surveyor General’s Office, Melbourne, Oct 9, 1856, (by James B. Philp)).The 1856 subdivision plan is superimposed over the dotted outline of some of the pre-1856 survey (likely 1848) features, including an original track along the north bank of the Loddon River, and tantalisingly, an ‘Old Cultivation Paddock’ is marked with a ‘hut’ to the west of the paddock on a ‘sandy bluff’. It seemed possible, indeed likely, that this former cultivated paddock area, and perhaps the former hut dated back to the 1840s. 

I later found the ‘smoking gun’ above on an obscure microform map in the State Library, Victoria, simply titled ‘Loddon 66’. In microform it was very small and white on black and the north point had been placed unconventionally towards the north east. The version above has been reoriented, greatly enlarged and converted to black on white.

The map was almost certainly made by Surveyor Urquhart in 1848. On the same, distinctive bend high north bank of the Loddon River, are the words ‘Parker’s original site for the Protect. Estab. NEREMAN’. The surveyor describes the northern bank as ‘light grassy land, lightly timbered’. Just downstream on the opposite bank, ‘D. C. Simpson’s Hut’ is marked.

Loddon River immediately downstream of Newstead, near where Robinson & Parker camped in Feb 1840 on the way to the

In 2021 the area north of the Loddon River is on Paul Jennings’ family property, seasonally watered by large pivot irrigators north of the Loddon River. An area under the westernmost pivot irrigator seems very likely to have been included with the ‘one square mile’ within the ‘permanent core’ of the briefly cultivated ‘Cultivation Paddock’ area of the then Protectorate in 1840-1. This area formally known as Neereman came to be referred to as ‘Parker’s Plains’ in oral history within the Jennings family, but to 2021 is still not marked on any map.

The1848 survey of the Loddon River confirms that by that time, the northern part of the original Neereman Protectorate site had become part of Donald Campbell Simson’s Charlotte Plains run. The extended Protectorate south and east of the Loddon River had become part of E. Bryant’s Cairn Curran run. By 1848 the land to south of the site had become part of smaller runs operated by Hunter (Tarrengower), Joyce (Plaistow), Bucknall (Rodborough), McCallum (Dunach) as well as McNeil and Hall (Glenmona).

The area east of the Loddon near present day Baringhup was in 1848 ‘timbered with box eucalypts’. To the west of Baringhup towards Carisbrook were ‘open grassy plains’. To the south on the Loddon near present day Baringhup ‘E. Bryant’s Homestead’ is marked. Edmund Bryant had previously farmed and operated businesses in Hobart and the Tasmanian Midlands from 1824 but arrived in Melbourne on 31 October 1845. He was first at ‘Charlotte Plains’ station with H. N. Simson (who later married Bryant’s daughter, Janet) before acquiring ‘Cairn Curran’ in 1848. It was there that he died on 21 April 1849. 

The Cairn Curran Reservoir has since inundated the original Bryant homestead. Two closely adjacent pointed hills are named to the south and just east of the river as ‘Baringup’ and ‘Goomit’, with E. Bryant’s [Cairn Curran] Hut and D. C. Simpson’s [Charlotte Plains] Hut located nearby.  The Loddon River upstream marks W. M Hunter’s ‘Tarrengowar’ homestead near where Joyce’s Creek then flowed into the Loddon, now also inundated.

As an aside to be explored by me elsewhere, it seems very likely that the present day township of ‘Carisbook’ within the Charlotte Plains station footprint is named after the ‘Carisbrook Pen’ Simson family slave colony by that same name and spelling in Jamaica, which had produced sugar and rum. In the 1830s the Simson family, like several other squatter families (such as Mollison, Ebden, Barkly and Scott) had been handsomely paid out by the British government for releasing their slaves.

On site where the former cultivation paddock was marked on the 1856 map is an exceptionally high northern bank. An online search for ‘Neereman’ revealed very little, but I found an entry to the word, spelt the same way, in an Aboriginal dictionary list from Coranderrk. Coranderrk was a government Aboriginal mission that operated in the post Aboriginal Protectorate era from 1863 and 1924, and to which several Dja Dja Wurrung people were forcibly taken from the Mount Franklin Aboriginal Station in the 1860s. The entry read: 

‘Neereman (high bank; bend in river), Coranderrk, Vic.’

 [Science of man and Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia, 1909, p.140].

This and Edwards Parker’s spelling of ‘Nirriman’ in April 1841 suggests to me that Neura Mong almost certainly refers to the site with the distinctive high bank.

Joseph Parker, Edward Parker’s son, writing in the Mount Alexander Mail (22-24 June 1916) left some other clues confirming this site as the Protectorate station’s location, picked up on by Edgar Morrison in the 1960s. Joseph Parker recollected that in January 1840, his family had moved to ‘the large waterhole’ on the Loddon at ‘Neura Mong’, that he understood to be ‘the Aboriginal word for ‘hide here’, which also ‘proved to be the home of codfish’. Joseph noted in 1916 that ‘The locality is called Parker’s Plains to this day and is north of Baringhup about four miles’.

The ‘codfish’ refers to the huge Murray Cod and Macquarie Perch that were once plentiful in the deep pools along this stretch of the Loddon River that John Hepburn had described to Robinson as ‘the fishponds on the plains’.

Some possible insights into the Aboriginal context for siting the Protectorate

Aborigines of Central Victoria (2015) by John Tully provides some possibly insightful data into the likely Dja Dja Wurrung context in which the 1840 Aboriginal Protectorate was sited and established at Neereman.

The map of Dja Dja Wurrung Clan areas in Tully’s book suggest that the Loddon River at the Neereman site was the Clan boundary between the Liarga balug Clan (to the north of the river) and the Bane bane balug Clan (south of the river). The river in the vicinity of the early Protectorate station later also formed the boundary between the Charlotte Plains run and the Cairn Curran run. To the south of the river, the rich flat, open country comprising the Bane bane balug Clan home range had by November 1840 been invaded and totally overrun by a least four squatter runs: Hepburn on Smeaton Hill, McLachlan on Glengower, McKinnon on Tarrengower and Campbell on Clunes.

Whilst the Neereman Protectorate Station was operating, Parker made careful notes of who visited and when, as well as their age, gender and Clan associations. Tully has separately prepared a list of Aborigines at Neura Mong Protectorate, Loddon River, November 1840 to June 1840. In total, the list includes 193 named Dja Dja Wurrung individuals. It is striking that whilst 31 Liarga balug men, women and children as well as diverse groups of people from five other Clan groups visited the station, no Bane Bane bulluk people are recorded as visiting the Station in the 1840-1 Census. In Tully’s opinion, the rich plains that comprised Bane ban balug Clan country:

‘… were their downfall, not having hills or thick undergrowth to hide in they suffered appallingly on the arrival of the Europeans. By 1840 there were only two members left of this clan, a young man and a girl [who] could not survive on their own and so crossed the Loddon and joined with their neighbours, the Liarga balug clan.’

Acknowledgements

I acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung peoples as the traditional owners of the lands on which I live, write and research. I sincerely thank Gib Wettenhall for his advice and assistance with this research. I am astounded and ashamed that what happened on the Neereman Protectorate site is so poorly known or understood 180 years later.

I acknowledge that while the Neereman site and its epic failures have been conveniently forgotten by the victors, they have not been forgotten by the vanquished.

I acknowledge the ‘hard yards’ done by countless previous historians and archivists in helping make this material accessible and visible. In relation to the Neereman site, these particularly include the late Edgar Morrison from Yandoit, the late Wendy French from Maldon and the late Felicity Say from Castlemaine, as well as to present day historians Bain Attwood and John Tully. I am indebted to Vic Say of Castlemaine for the generous loan of materials from his document and book collection with his late wife Felicity. I acknowledge and thank the late and charismatic Uncle Brien Nelson and his son Uncle Ricky Nelson for their generosity of time, insight and spirit in sharing what they know and have inherited. 

Countless landholders across Dja Dja Wurrung country have in recent years, almost without exception, showed an increasing willingness to share what they know and open their hearts and properties for closer examination. Paul Jennings whose family owns the former Neereman Protectorate site has been very generous and trusting. 

However I urge others to respect that the core of the original Neereman site is privately owned. Until the site is properly surveyed and secure for its heritage value, it is best to acknowledge where it is and anticipate that in the future an appropriate plan of management and signage will be developed with the traditional Dja Dja Wurrung owners.

The best way meantime to get a taste of the area is on public land, by visiting the Hamilton Crossing Crown Reserve approximately 2km downstream of the original Neereman site on the Loddon River. It is possible to walk upstream along the northern river bank to visit the huge, sprawling strap grafted river red gum tree several hundred metres upstream of the river crossing on the Loddon’s northern banks.

I acknowledge it is time in this country for these stories to be told. The Hepburn Shire Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), its Community Reference Group members and staff, particularly Reconciliation Officer, Donna Spiller have provided invaluable advice and support. All of these people have combined to provide an incentive and opportunity to finally synthesise and make sense of material and insights that I have been collecting in my mind and in filing cabinets for several decades. I admit to feeling sort of like a bowerbird, making visible a nest to share from all I have collected, seen in the landscape, gleaned from oral histories and sought out in public records across a lifetime. 

I acknowledge that as with all histories, if I was not writing this as an old ‘pale, stale male’, if I’d picked up other documents, arranged it in a different way or viewed it though a different theoretical, historical or moral lens, it would be a different story to the one I tell here.

Author: barrygoanna

Honorary Professor, Federation University Australia: researcher in men's learning through community contexts, author of 'Men learning through life' 2014) book (NIACE, UK), 'The Men's Shed Movement: The Company of Men' (2015) & 'Shoulder to Shoulder: Broadening the Men's Shed Movement' (2021) books, both published Common Ground Publishing, US.

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