The old Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission Reserve is situated on the
volcanic plains of south-west Victoria, where the local Aboriginal
tribes lived for possibly 30,000 years, long before the volcanoes
stopped erupting. Their most recent eruptions, dated between 10,000 and
4,000 years ago, produced the basalt that has made this a most fertile area.
Conditions became so good that the indigenous people of the area were
among the few to build permanent houses—out of stone—and carry out
a form of fish farming in the wetlands. They developed the practice of
making woven fishtraps that caught eels as the waters rose and fell, and they
then preserved the eels by smoking them in hollow trees. Their way of life
continued unchanged until European settlement in the early 1830s.
When the European settlers arrived, there was an inevitable clash over
the use of the land. Sheep and cattle were brought to graze where the
Gunditjmara had hunted and fished. Their land was enclosed and they
were killed if they hunted the new animals for food. Many massacres
took place before the Europeans eventually overcame the opposition,
and the indigenous people were defeated by starvation. As the European
farmers prospered, they were prepared to employ the men from the much-
diminished tribes whose way of life was now irretrievably destroyed. In
1860, the Victorian Government appointed a Board for the Protection of the
Aborigines (BPA) to save lives, and the Anglican Church was encouraged to
set up Christian missions to save their souls.
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