Top of their priorities is to prepare for a surge in post-COVID visitors to the volcanic Budj Bim Cultural Landscape about 40 kilometre north-east of Portland, which was listed last year as Australia’s newest UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tenders worth between $5 million and $10 million have been put out for roads, paths, tourist buildings, landscaping, interpretative displays and other infrastructure over five major sites where Aboriginal people established an aquaculture system about 7000 years ago and built stone houses.
Though a summer bushfire and the current coronavirus pandemic have interfered, major tourist facilities are expected to open within 12 months at three sites amid the volcanic stony rises and wetlands of Budj Bim, according to Damein Bell, chief executive of the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation.
A million-dollar Keeping Place has already risen over the old Lake Condah Mission.
Built to represent the style of ancient Gunditjmara community housing, the Keeping Place will serve as both an administrative centre and the repository of Indigenous cultural artefacts currently held in collections across Australia.
Mr Bell said a top priority was to have a famous Gunditjmara possum skin cloak repatriated from the Museum Victoria collection.
Meanwhile, the Gunditj Mirring corporation is planning a community effort to restore the Convincing Ground after receiving $30,000 as part of the Coastcare Victoria Community Grants.
The corporation’s project officer, Denis Rose, said the initial stage would be to clean up the site and to replace weeds with native plants.
Eventually, there were plans to create a “reflective area” where both Indigenous and other Australians could learn the history of the site and contemplate a healing future.
Though the number of people massacred at the Convincing Ground will never be known, almost all the Kilcarrer Gunditj clan, or more than 60 men, women and children, are believed to have been wiped out. Estimates range from 60 to as many as 200 people died after they were attacked by whalers wielding muskets.
The massacre is thought to have occurred around 1833 – at least a year before the Henty family arrived at nearby Portland and laid claim to being the first permanent European settlers in Victoria.
Although the massacre has been disputed by some conservative historians, Victoria’s first Protector of Aborigines, George Robinson, recorded that the Convincing Ground “was a remarkable place” where a conflict had occurred “between the Aborigines and the whalers on which occasion a large number of the former were slain”.
The Kilcarrer Gunditj clan had laid claim to a whale washed up on the beach, but the whalers used their guns to “convince” them they had no right to the whale.
Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.