Gawa Trail 0

Plaque #0 (Welcome) WOMIN JEKA!

— the Woiwurrung words for ‘Welcome’

The GAWA WURUNDJERI RESOURCE TRAIL offers you a burra burra yan, a bush walk of discovery through Wurundjeri country. Rich in natural resources, this land sustained the Wurundjeri people for more than 40,000 years because their lore ensured sustainable care of the country.
Imagine this place before white settlers arrived: the land looked different because fire-stick farming methods encouraged open grassland between the trees.
Wurundjeri men, women and children would have camped right here on Watsons Creek.
Imagine that time, when everything you might need was provided by the land. Wurundjeri lore and all knowledge were taught through stories and observation.
So as you take this burra burra yan go respectfully. You are a visitor here, welcomed by the Wurundjeri, and you have a responsibility to care for this place.



The Tanderrum was a most significant Wurundjeri ceremony. It protected and provided hospitality to visiting clans when they met for trade, ceremony and dispute resolution.
The Ngurungaeta (spokesman for the Elders) would instruct the Wirrigirri (messenger) to convey invitations on a message stick.
The Wurundjeri would form a large circle, men on one side and women on the other. Visiting Elders were invited into the circle.
They were given water and local vegetation, which symbolised permission to use all resources on Wurundjeri land, and reed spears were snapped assuring the safety of the visitors.
Leaves were placed on burning coals to produce smoke – those who passed through it were symbolically cleansed and this reinforced their respect for Wurundjeri culture and lore.
The Wurundjeri people still practise the Tanderrum today to welcome you onto their country. In return they ask you to respect their people, culture and all that is in their land.


A Tanderrum was an important diplomatic ritual and ceremony involving the exchange of gifts conducted by the various Kulin nations allowing foreign people safe access and temporary use of land and resources. This is a description of a ceremony in 1845 by William Thomas, Assistant Protector of Aborigines for the Port Philip region of Victoria, Australia. See Tanderrum in Wikipedia.

Ceremony of Tanderrum, or Freedom of The Bush

There is not, perhaps, a more pleasing sight in a native encampment than when strange blacks arrive who have never been in the country before. Each comes with fire in hand (always bark), which is supposed to purify the air – the women and children in one direction, and the men and youths in another. They are ushered in generally by some of an intermediate tribe, who are friends of both parties, and have been engaged in forming an alliance or friendship between the tribes; the aged are brought forward and introduced.

The ceremony of Tanderrum is commenced; the tribe visited may be seen lopping boughs from one tree and another, as varied as possible of each tree with leaves; each family has a separate seat, raised about 8 or 10 inches from the ground, on which in the centre sits the male and around him his male children, and the female and her sex of children have another seat.

Two fires are made, one for the males and the other for the females. The visitors are attended on the first day by those whose country they are come to visit, and not allowed to do anything for themselves; water is brought them which is carefully stirred by the attendant with a reed, and then given them to drink (males attend males and females females); victuals are then brought and laid before them, consisting of as great a variety as the bush in the new country affords, if come at able; during this ceremony the greatest silence prevails, both by attendants and attended. You may sometimes perceive an aged man seated, the tear of gratitude stealing down his murky, wrinkled face.

At night their mia-mias are made for them; conversations ensue. The meaning of this is a hearty welcome. As the boughs on which they sit are from various trees, so they are welcome to every tree in the forest. The water stirred with a reed means that no weapon shall ever be raised against them.

On Saturday, the 22nd March 1845, at an encampment east of Melbourne, near 200 strangers arrived. The sight was imposing and affecting, especially their attendance upon that old chief Kuller Kullup, the oldest man I have ever seen among the blacks; he must have been near 80 years.


NRG received these suggestions from Bill Nicholson, Wurundjeri Elder and Cultural educator:

I am a bit uneasy about using the word ancient when talking about our fire stick farming – maybe words such as sustainable or similar words; ancient sounds like it does not happen anymore but we still use fire to manage country. Also the word lore could be put down the bottom corner and a short description saying this represents Aboriginal law or something like that. 

Concerning the text and design for the Tanderrum sign.

I think the Tanderrum on the first plaque will be a great idea as it will introduce people to the information and to Wurundjeri lore and practice.

I think the design for this plaque should have symbolism of fire and smoke, manna gum leaf or leaves, tarnuk (wooden bowl) some sort of images of people gathering in a joyous occasion. And maybe water as these ceremonies were conducted around water sources.

For the description it could go something like this:

The Tanderrum ceremony was one of the most significant ceremonies held on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, the ceremony gave participants access to the water, plant and animal resources as they visited the Wurundjeri. This was only on the provision that the visitors would respect the people and lore of the land and in return the Wurundjeri would be exceptional hosts not letting any harm come to the visitors or for them to go without. 

The tribes would meet for the purpose of trade, kinship and ceremonial obligations, dispute resolution and as all cultures on earth enjoy catching up with family and friends.

The ceremony was initiated by the elders and the orders sent out by the ngrungaeta (elders spokesperson) to the wirrigirri (messenger) to convey a message on a message stick.

The ceremony was conducted on ceremonial grounds near water sources most likely tribal boundaries. A large ceremonial circle was formed with all females with matriarch centred with here female family members around her. The other side of the circle was for the males with patriarch centred central with his male family members around him.

An invitation to the visiting elders into the circle. If you had not been on country before you would do your own personal introduction of your family connection. An offering to the visiting elders of vegetation to symbolise the use of the resources on country, a tarnuk (wooden bowl) was produced and water sipped by Wurundjeri to show that it was safe and reed spears snapped to symbolise that the visitors were safe. Then the sipping of the water by the visitors with a reed straw. This symbolised no harm to the visitors.

Leaves were thrown on the fire to produce smoke. By passing through the smoke you were symbolising your spiritual cleansing which reinforced your respect to Wurundjeri culture and lore. Then a large gathering of dancers of both tribes would perform there traditional dance.

Wurundjeri People today like to welcome people to their traditional lands but reinforce that respect must be maintained.

Bill Nicholson

**Special thanks to Judy Nicholson for Gawa Trail artwork**

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