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Melbourne’s aboriginal cultural heritage

Birrarung Marr Heritage walk

The alliance of five indigenous tribes in Central Victoria, that spoke related languages form the Kulin Nation. Their collective territory extends around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys. Though many aboriginal communities have vanished without a trace after the European Settlement, aboriginal culture is still an important part of Melbourne’s existence as a multicultural city. Around the city, many monuments speaks in volumes about the aboriginal heritage. Below is a list of such places in Melbourne City.

aboriginal art birrarung marr -1

Birrarung art and Heritage Walk

Federation Square

Birrarung Marr, the word from the language of the Wurundjeri and Boonerwrung , aboriginal tribe means side of the river of mist. The park sits on the north bank of Yarra River beside the Federation Square. The park displays some of the best indigenous art.

Birrarung Marr heritage walk
Birrarung Marr heritage walk

Birrarung Wilam

Birrarung Marr Heritage walk
Birrarung Marr Heritage walk

Birrarung Wilam means campsite on the river of mists. The art work reflects the aboriginal past, using large rocks incised with animal drawings and semi-circle of metal shields representing each of the five groups of the Kulin Nation. Artists: Vicki Couzens (Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong), Lee Darroch (Yorta Yorta) and Treahna Hamm (Yorta Yorta).

Birrarung Marr Heritage walk
Birrarung Marr Heritage walk

Eel Trap

Aboriginals were hunters and gatherers and eel trapping was an important part of Aboriginal way of living. Aboriginal people used to build elaborate eel traps in rivers to catch eels. The designs that run up and over the structure include images of the spirits who watch over the river; the wise elder who listens to the spirits and shares his wisdom; the hunter who catches the food for his tribe; the snake which, like the river, can carry our blood; and the eels and the netting to catch them.

Artists: Fiona Clarke (Kirrae Whurrong) and Ken McKean.

William Barrack Bridge

William Barak Bridge
William Barak Bridge

This pedestrian walkaway links Birrarung Marr to Yarra Park sporting precinct. William Barrack was a famous aboriginal artist.

Nearamnew, Federation Square Plaza

Nearam New in Federation square, Flinders Street acknowledges the original Kulin Nation. The concept is based on an 1860 Aboriginal bark painting depicting a whorl of water. Made from hundreds of Kimberly sandstone cobbles, the nine visions of Kulin nation are inscribed as poetic texts.

Artist: Paul Carter

The Ian Potter Centre, Indigenous art Collection

The Ian Potter Centre holds one of the largest collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. It is located in Federation Square opposite Flinders Street train station.

Kings Domain Resting Place

Linlithgow Avenue, Melbourne

The remains of 38 aboriginal people were repatriated from Museum of Victoria in 1985 and the skeletal remains were buried in Linlithgow Avenue in Kings Domain. The Site is marked by a granite boulder with an inscribed memorial plaque.

‘Scar: A Stolen Vision’ – Enterprize Park

Created on 2001, initially installed in city square and later moved to Enterprize Park in Flinders Street Northbank of Yarra, stolen vision is an exhibition of Aboriginal view s of contemporary Australian Society. The work consists of 30 carved and decorated recycled pier costs, evoking ancient shield and canoe making techniques. Each pole represents different aspect of Aboriginal life, history or mythology and like the trees they came from, is testament to endurance.

Artists: Kimba Thompson, Karen Casey, Ray Thomas, Maree Clarke, Glenn Romanis, Craig Charles, Ricardo Idagi and Treahna Hamm.


Bunjil is the creator spirit of the land, the lore and its people and stands at the intersection of Flinders Street and Wurundjeri Way. The people of Kulin nation considered Bunjil as one of two moiety ancestors, the other being the trickster Crow. Bunjil sculpture stands 25metres tall and is made of timber and aluminium and the eyes are made of glass. The sculpture is looking for a new home to move from its current location as it is earmarked for further development.

Artist: Bruce Armstrong

Webb Bridge (Eel Trap Bridge)

Designed with a likeness of Koorie eel trap, Webb Bridge is located near the South Wharf Promenade, in Docklands, west of the Polly Woodside Tall ship. The bridge links the Docklands on the north-side to the new residential developments on the south-side. The bridge comprises two distinct sections: the 145m long existing structure and a new curved 80m long ramped link. The ramp takes up level changes and creates a point of arrival at the south bank. Both are joined seamlessly, with an emphasis on volume and containment within the curved and sinuous form.

Architect: Denton Corker Marshall in collaboration with artist Robert Owen.

Gayip – The Traveller

It is the first of the sculptures of the Travellers, the installations on the Sandridge Bridge representing the aboriginal period. Each of the ten Traveller figures represents a period of migration to Australia. Gayip is the only structure fixed to land, symbolising the importance of Australia’s first inhabitants. The Sandridge Bridge is situated near the old Yarra Falls site (now Queens Bridge), a traditional Indigenous meeting place and is just upstream from the landing point of Melbourne’s first white settlers (Enterprize Park).

Artists: Nadim Karam and Mandi Nicholson

Sir Douglas and Lady Gladys Nicholls Memorial – Parliament Gardens

Sir Douglas Nicholls was the pastor of Australia’s first Aboriginal Church of Christ, in Fitzroy, Melbourne. He was the first aboriginal person to be knighted and four years later he became the Governor of South Australia. His wife Glady Nichols worked for the under privileged and for the rights of women. She also became the secretary of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Council and the Victorian State President.

These two prominent indigenous leaders are immortalised in Melbourne’s Parliament Gardens. The Sir Douglas and Lady Gladys Nicholls Memorial were unveiled in the gardens in December 2007. Sir Douglas and Lady Gladys Nicholls were instrumental in the 1967 referendum campaign to achieve equality for Indigenous Australians. The memorial was created from a partnership between the Nicholls Family, the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government.

Artists: Louis Laumen, bronze sculpture and Ngarra Murray, ground etching design.

Freedom Fighters execution site

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were among 5 Tasmanian Aborigines who were tried for the murder of two white whalers. The three other women were Truganini, Planobeena and Pyterruner. The two men were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. This was the first judicial executions taken place in Melbourne on 20th January 1842. The execution was attended by a crowd of 5000, a quarter of the population of Melbourne at that time. An annual commemoration service is held at Bowen Terrace on 20th January every year. Bowen Terrace is the pedestrian thorough fare RMIT University in La Trobe Street. The area is between buildings 9 and 12.

Bunjilaka Cultural Centre

Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre is located at Melbourne Museum, just north of the Melbourne CBD. Bunjalika in aboriginal language roughly means, ‘creation place’. Bunjalika cultural centre holds Aboriginal heritage items. It also has exhibition and performances places.

Street Address: Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton, Victoria, 3053