Prior Use

General comments

It is now well documented that prior to European settlement Aboriginal people had permanent houses and settlements, cultivated land for food crops, and had a sophisticated broad scale system of land management, for production and for landscape health, that was integral to their culture. It is also documented that the broader landscape was managed for pastoral farming of kangaroos, and that food plants such as the Murrnong yam daisy were actively cultivated. Books such as Bill Gammage’s The Greatest Estate on Earth, How Aborigines Made Australia, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, are better known examples of this documentation.

Early European observers reported these pastoral landscapes as most closely resembling a ‘gentleman’s park’, seemingly oblivious to the human management that had created those landscapes. More specific observations of Aboriginal permanent settlement, food cultivation, and broad scale land management by European people were for many years suppressed from the historical record, as part of the fiction of terra nullius.

The broad scale landscape management in what are these days pastoral and cropping areas produced a pastoral landscape of grasslands and wooded grasslands, with a mosaic of densely wooded copses. Streams and rivers took the form of chains of ponds, discontinuous deep waterholes with shallow embankments formed by reeds that partially dammed high flow, causing stream flow to spill out of the stream bed onto the floodplain. Peter Andrews’ books attempt to explain this floodplain hydrology.

My ‘best guess’

I think the site of Violet Town would previously have been an Aboriginal settlement, for these reasons;

  • Many homesteads and towns were located at the sites of former aboriginal settlements, for the same landscape reasons.

  • Violet Town is located on a relatively narrow finger of well structured, relatively fertile fine clay loam soil of older volcanic origin, at a point where the Honeysuckle and Lamingunyah (Long Gully) creeks come to within 400m of each other before diverging again. The chain of ponds and marshy floodplains described by early Europeans created fertile conditions for settlement and indigenous food cultivation.

  • The site of Violet Town is centrally located within a day’s walking distance of about six distinct landscapes, making it ideal for the site of a permanent settlement.
    – more of the same well structured volcanic alluvium to the west
    – the sedimentary hills to the north and west
    – the heavier clay plains and swamps to the north and north east, Baddaginnie and beyond
    – the more sandy granitic origin flood plains to the south west, Balmattum and beyond
    – foothills, valleys and escarpment leading up to the Strathbogie plateau
    – and the landscapes of the Strathbogie plateau.
    Each of these landscapes would have yielded different food resources at different times of the year, thereby extending the range and quality of food resources through the seasons.

  • It is significant that Major Thomas Mitchell, following his ‘Australia Felix’ journey from Sydney to Portland on the western Victorian coast, and back again, recommended Violet Town as the site for a new inland town. Sure, he came through in October of a good season, describing the country as abundantly watered, crossing eight running streams in 14 miles. It was the same season elsewhere, also. There must have been something particular about the Violet Town site that stayed with Mitchell, for him to recommend it ahead of so many other possible town sites. In discussing this with David Holmgren, we thought about how those travelling parties would have been very closely connected to their horses which they depended on for their survival, to get home again. They needed to keep their horses healthy and strong, so would have taken a lot of notice of the feed that the horses preferred. In this way they would effectively have been reading the landscape through their horses.
    I speculate that the horses of Mitchell’s travelling party must have really liked what they ate at Violet Town, and perhaps the men also tried some edible greens or other food plants. Given the surviving records that aboriginal people did in fact cultivate food crops, it seems likely to me that it was a long established settlement amongst cultivated crops that impressed Major Mitchell. There would have been other established settlements too, of course, but he came through Violet Town on a good day and he had to choose somewhere!

    This property Murrnong is named after the widely cultivated yam daisy, Microseris lanceolata, an important indigenous food plant with an edible tap root something like a small carrot. As the closest parcel of naturally well drained loam soil adjacent to the town site, this piece of land suitable for cultivation just beside the town seems a likely site for murrnong cultivation. I have found many of what appear to be simple stone stools in the soil here, where there is no natural stone, suggesting relatively intensive aboriginal activity. It is said that the first plant that sheep will eat when turned into a paddock is the Murrnong yam daisy, contributing to its rarity today. Perhaps the horses of Mitchell’s party tucked into the tops of the yam daisies, akin to having horses get into the garden.

Prior use, some specific observations

At the time of purchase, the 8 hectare site was being managed for occasional grazing and hay fodder production as a disconnected small part of Reg Roach’s farming enterprise at Warrenbayne. 98% of the site was treeless grassland, mostly comprising cocksfoot, phalaris, flatweed, onion weed, silver grass (vulpa) and some rye and clover.

An early European cropping history is indicated by a slightly raised bank of soil around the fencelines, likely deposited by plowing with one way discs. With every pass of the one way discs, a handful of dirt is thrown about 20cm to the outside. By the volume of soil accumulated, there could have been 50 years of ploughing with one way discs. Off-set discs were more common for most of the 20th century.

Between 30- 50cm depth there are seams of charcoal, up to 2cm diameter, which look like the remainder of burnt former tree roots. Reports from elsewhere of settlers’ fires to clear tree stumps for cultivation are that the fires burned for days underground, burning soil humus, and along tree root pathways.

There is no natural stone in the soil, the coarsest natural particles being some seams of sandy clay along prior watercourses. Tens of stones 40-80mm across have been found when digging to plant trees or install irrigation, or occasionally just on the soil surface. All of these stones fit comfortably into the palm of a hand, and have one sharper edge. A local archeologist does not rate these stones as artefacts because they do not appear to have been ‘worked’ or ‘napped’, struck with other stones to develop the cutting edge. However I can see no explanation for these being here, other than that they were carried in by people, and left at a place where they might or did use them.