THERE aren’t any signs and the walkway just ends. Seagulls hover above us. We are on the edge of a burial place. Out of sight, over that ridge, people laid down their dead and sang the songs of mourning. Bunurong Land Council’s cultural heritage manager, Rob Ogden, points to the top of the dune and talks about what he knows and what he understands.
We walk slowly back to the bus.
Where once 50 campfires burned through the summer nights, now there are none. Even the seagulls are quiet. No one is far from tears. We learn about sealers, traders and stolen women; can’t quite feel the shots and hear the screams in the sounds of the sea. Bloody story needs to be told.
On the bus we talk about definitions. Sealer, trader, pirate, slaver.
We know the names and dates, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, 1841. Murderers or freedom fighters? The story was written by the mob that tied the nooses. Safely hidden in the pages of a book, alongside many others. We like our history that way. The truth is in those sands, illegible, indelible, over there on the edge of the tide. Is it blood?
Further down the road there’s a midden being blown back to the sea. More than a dozen thousand years old, it holds the crumbs of a million family meals. Interpretative signs are no use when only the wind knows their names. They all had names.
It’s not my place to tell the stories of Bunjil, but I offered my respect on the last wet and rainy day in April when I crossed his country in the spartan luxury of an air-conditioned coach that took around 40 of us to sights of cultural and historical significance across Bass Coast. Rob Ogden guided us through these places as he told the stories.
We had lunch next to the Bunurong Environment Centre in Inverloch. This enabled a quick tour of glass cabinets guarding stone tools and fragments neatly labelled Harmer's Haven, Cape Paterson, almost everywhere in Bass Coast, actually. Across the room there are dinosaur bones. One of this day's revelations was the unfamiliar closeness of the middens and the makers. We pass them daily and there are many things that need to be said.
"Council … recognises that we are situated on the traditional lands of the Bunurong/Boon wurrung, members of the Kulin Nation who have lived here for thousands of years.”
These words are part of the formal acknowledgement that are spoken at the start of every Bass Coast Shire Council meeting.
The next time I hear them, they will mean more than the abstraction of “the Bunurong/Boon wurrung”. They were just people like us, out there in the sand barefoot with their friends and family worrying about the next meal and whether it would rain and when the tide would next be low.
That's why they aren't like the dinosaurs in the museum. We can still see and hear the people who were here before us, if we trust our senses.
This study tour was organised by the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation's Growing Connections project which is supported by the Australian Government. Bunurong Land Council’s Rob Ogden chose the itinerary. Geoff Ellis went on behalf of the people of Bass Coast and, along with council officers, represented the council.