As part of NAIDOC Week, local historian and geologist Honorary Professor Barry Golding, led a Great Dividing Trail Association guided walk to the site of the original, ill-fated Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate at Neereman, on the Loddon River north of Baringhup.
The Protectorate was established by Assistant Aboriginal Protector Edward Parker in 1840. The intent was to gather and protect remnants of Indigenous Nations and Clans under threat from squatters and concentrate them a small area where they would be protected, ‘civilized’ and learn farming. The name, Neereman, (originally ‘Neura mong’) is literally Dja Dja Wurrung for “hide here”. The hope was that the Protectorate would become self-sufficient, ironically in a place where that the local Learka bulluk Clan had been self-sufficient for tens of thousands of years.
Parker brought European seeds and agricultural implements and tried to establish a garden in poor soil on a sandy hill in mid-summer where there was no water. Down below, deep pools in the Loddon supported abundant fish including giant Murray Cod. The site was suggest by John Hepburn which he referred to as ‘the fishponds on the plains’. With a severe drought during a protracted El Nino, the garden soon failed. Diminishing food supplies and vindictive squatters forced the Protectorate and 130 mainly Dja Dja Wurrung people to relocate to the foot of Mount Franklin (Larni barramul) in June 1841.
The site was essentially lost and forgotten and received little mention in histories of the area aside from by Edgar Morrison in the 1960s and a contemporary account by Bain Atwood in ‘The Good Country’. Professor Golding meticulously researched the diaries of Chief Protector Robinson and Assistant Protector Parker and maps of early surveyors to confidently locate the site of the Protectorate as well as to unravel how the site was chosen and why it was abandoned. This historic site, now on private land, has few post-contact features to identify it.
Over 80 walkers joined Barry Golding for the walk on July 3. Walkers were warmly Welcomed to Country with a Smoking Ceremony by Jaara Elder, Uncle Ricky Nelson, assisted by Albert playing didgeridoo beneath a magnificent pre-contact, strap-grafted ring tree near Hamilton’s Crossing. The walk followed the north bank of the Loddon to the Protectorate site. The deep pools and remnant riparian vegetation along the Loddon River are particularly beautiful, including ancient River Red Gums, one likely used as a birthing tree, as well as Buloke trees clinging to the incredibly high, sandy banks.
Along the way, Barry and guest historian Associate Professor Fred Cahir from Federation University, introduced walkers to the woeful fate that befell the Dja Dja Wurrung in just three short years of pioneer invasion. Only a few of the many massacres in Dja Dja Wurrung Country between 1838 and 1841 have been documented. On top of all else, by 1841 tens of thousands of sheep decimated the once plentiful Myrniong, previously an abundant staple food of the local people.
Very few people have previously visited this remarkable historic site now on private land. It is notable at a time of increased ‘truth telling’ in Australia that this remarkable site and what happened here has remained unknown and almost forgotten, without a proper site management plan, signage or interpretation. It was indeed a privilege for walkers to stand on the Loddon riverbank and reflect on what happened here just 181 years ago. The generous Welcome to Country at the start was an important reminder that Dja Dja Wurrung people have survived here against all odds, as Australia finally embraces a national conversation about ‘The Uluru Statement from the Heart’.
For more information about the Great Dividing Trail Association, visit their website.