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Clash Of Two Cultures

1830s – 1850s

The arrival of Europeans dramatically affected both the Barmah Forest and its traditional Yorta Yorta custodians.

Explorer Charles Sturt and his party were the first Europeans to pass through the Barmah Forest in 1838. The Murray Valley track became a popular route to bring stock from the east to the Adelaide markets.

Encouraged by high English prices for wool and reports of excellent pastures in Victoria, squatters came from other areas to claim choice land with permanent water in the Barmah Forest region. By the mid-1840s the first large runs such as Upper Moira, Lower Moira, Yielima and Strathmerton were established, with stock grazing in the forest.

The squatters’ occupation was legalised in 1847, by a ruling from the Colonial Office in London. They were allowed 14-year leases and the right to buy one square mile (259 hectares) of the property.

Gold discoveries were made in Victoria from 1851 and in 1853 paddlesteamers proved the Murray was navigable. These developments intensified food production and trade. The colony’s population rose from about 37,000 in 1852 to about 500,000 in 1861.

Yorta Yorta clans were denied their inherent rights and prevented from entering traditional hunting and fishing grounds and spiritual sites. In effect, it had become illegal for them to practice their own laws, beliefs and customs. Some European arrivals reported friendly contacts and others experienced serious conflicts, some resulting in white and Aboriginal deaths.

The colonial administration forcibly re-located many Yorta Yorta families away from the forest to other parts of Victoria and New South Wales, and established legal guardians and ration depots.