First Occupants of the Clyde Area

Accounts by Thomas Patterson

Bunurong: Six Seasons

Bunurong Language


History for Students

First Occupants of the Clyde Area
The Bunurong: An Eye Witness Account

Thomas Patterson, eldest son of Alexander Patterson knew Bunurong people who lived in
Clyde. In several letters and interviews he provides and eye-witness account of the Bunurong people, an account that provides an insight into their way of life.

1. Public Lecture about Aborigines 3. Favourite Bunurong campsite
2. The meaning of Barnibynong 4. Interview with Thomas Patterson at the Royal Melbourne Show

1. Public Lecture About Australian Aborigines.
Presented at the Royal Victorian Historical Society about 1931 by Thomas Patterson

(I was ) very often about with the blacks, the vicinity of our station home in Westernport being a favourite camping grounds of the Boonerang tribe, with the result of learning a good deal of their tribal dialect, and gaining some knowledge of their customs and legends, of all of which it is now my -very great regret not to have acquired much more. At this stage of my life many wildflowers come under my notice, and in association with eerie surroundings awakened in me an indefinable way-, a sense of the weird and elusive spirit of the bush, which was destined later on under varying conditions again and again to hold me completely enthralled.

Such was the atmosphere of the favourite and much frequented portion of the territory of the Boonerong tribe and if the spirit of bush so intrigued and effected one of the white race, is it to be wondered (?) at that the untutored primitive blacks has stranger notions in relation to magic and mystery, as well as quaint traditions and superstitions as they unquestionably had. My earliest recollection of the tribe and it is marvellous how vividly one retains those old time impressions mine right back to my being taken out for a walk along the timbered ferny ridge below the stockyards, when little more than a mere toddler, past the mia mias of about 20 or 30 of the blacks of which at that time I was somewhat afraid.

Mr John Aitken of Mount Aitken, who landed at Arthur’s Seat in 1836 with sheep from Van Diemen’s Land records in “Letters from Victoria Pioneers” that he saw about 80 natives of the Westernport tribe, who were most friendly, and some of them accompanied him with his sheep round the bay to Melbourne. The tribe was never numerous nor at all aggressive or offensive (?); but have just lessened (?) to gradually disappear before the white race, and are now all gone.

When I was in contact with those most, there were only some seven or eight of the Tribe left. The Chief was Jimmy, an intelligent man and quite a friend of mine in the stages between booboop (boy) and kohlin (man). He could make himself intelligible in English, and by the way I cannot recall in his speech any of that inelegant “Australian accent’, so objectionable nowadays. He taught me much of what I know at first hand of the blacks, and when in after years I met Barak (referred to later on) he reminded me somewhat of black Jimmy, It was my practice to write down native words and phrases with their meanings. One day I asked Jimmy his native translation of some words which had escaped me. He replied "You got him down", and in such a way as I indicate a delightful sense of humour seemingly characteristic of many of those simple natives.

They used to keep a small pack of dogs of various sorts and sizes, and when out hunting, if they startled a bandicoot, the dogs would tumble over one another at a turn in the chase, and the black gins would follow up, and scream with laughter and enjoy the fun like children. Jimmy made a boomerang for me from the cross (?) branch of a cherry tree growing on the bank of the billabong near his camp, which was unsatisfactory, and he said,” Cherry tree no good” Jimmy called my father Wagabil (old man, with no sinister suggestion) and one day I went over to his camp and he said, “Where Wagabil? To a further instance of his native dictionary me ? m___one evening sitting by the fire in front of his mia mia, where his makes a light for his pipe, and he said to black Eliza his gin, just the one word Ween (fire) and she handed him a lighted stick. His gin “moondagoorts” (old woman) was a good wife! moormoordic (young woman) I have always thought very euphonious and most happy in its application.

The ordinary grey opossums (wallart) was very plentiful in their tribal territory, so the blacks never lacked food, and the little tea and sugar they occasionally received was not much missed from the station stores in those good old days".

(Transcribed from original document by Joan Vanderhorn and printed here with permission of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria
Original Document MS 00330 Box 118, Australian Aborigines by Thomas Patterson)

2. The Meaning of "Barnibyrnong"

Sir, - I have great pleasure in enclosing herewith cheque for £1 for the above object. King Barak, the last chief of the Yarra Yarra tribe, was of peculiar interest to me, as it was from him I learned the meaning of "Barnibyrnong" the native name of St Germains, my father's station on the Cardinia Creek in Westernport. The vicinity of the homestead was a favourite camping-ground of the Boonerang tribe of blacks, where I was bred and reared and learned a good deal of their language.

The dialects of the Boonerang and the Yarra Yarra tribes were very similar. Yet it was late as 1891, on a visit to the Coranderrk aboriginal station that I learned from Barak the meaning of the word Barnibyrnong, which freely translated, is "the haunt of the ring tailed opposum," King Barak, whose death took place shortly afterwards, was the last living man from whom this information could have been obtained, for when he died the dialect died with him. Having been lately elected to the council of the Historical Society, I shall see to it that this matter receives the attention of that body
Nov. 16
To the Editor of The Argus
The Argus, 1931, 17 November

3. Favourite Bunurong Campsite

THOMAS PATTERSON was born on 16th May, 1853, and educated at Cranbourne.

The vicinity of St. Germains homestead was a favourite camping ground of the Boonerang tribe of blacks.

He has a memorable early recollection of them, through having been taken for a walk by his mother, who had no ordinary courage, along the ferny ridge past the stockyard, to their mia-mias, when many blacks were there, and in later years, when they were few in number, he was very often about with them and learned a good deal of their tribal dialect, and gained some knowledge of their customs and legends.

Their native name for the place was Barnibyrnong, a composite word, its rendering being, the haunt of the ring-tailed opossum.

The Patterson Family of St Germains, Westernport"
T. Patterson, The Patterson Family of St. Germains
(Pamphlet sent to James Lecky 14 Feb, 1936, from Thomas Patterson, East Malvern)

4. Interview at the Royal Melbourne Show

A Patriarch
Pioneers of the early days of the Melbourne Royal Show are prone to refer to them as "Patterson's Days," and others may use such phrases as "in the 'nineties" or "before the war."

I met Mr. Thomas Patterson in the members' luncheon-room. He was proudly wearing a steward's badge. At 84 he is still hale and hearty, but perhaps not anxious to return to the hurly-burly of the days when he was honorary secretary of the society, as was father was before him.

His home, Barnibyrnong, at East Malvern, was named after title family property at Westernport. It means the ‘place with ring-tailed possums all about.’
"I got that Information from King Billy himself," Mr. Patterson told me.
"And he was the only black left in Victoria who could have told me. He was the last of the Yarra tribe."
Mr. Patterson has always had kindly feelings for the black. The homestead on which he spent his youth was one of the favourite camping grounds of the Boonerang tribe.
"But I wasn't born among them as some people appear to think," he said. "I was born in Melbourne."
“Round the Show” by Tom Tidler
The Argus, 28 September 1937

Editor's comments.
Based on Thomas Patterson's writings these observations took place some time between 1856 - 1881, from the time of him being a toddler (approx 3 years old) to the time of his marriage at 25 years of age in 1881.

1. TROVE Online Digitized accounts from "The Argus" newspaper
2. “The Patterson Family of St Germains, Westernport" by Thomas Patterson
3. "The Australian Aborigines" Paper by Thomas Patterson presented at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria c 1931