Melbourne has a rich Indigenous culture that can be experienced today via immersive tours and attractions in the city.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong Boon Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin. We pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Welcome to Melbourne
Wominjeka / Womindjeka means ‘welcome’ in the Woi Wurrung language of the Wurundjeri people and Boon Wurrung language of the Bunurong people of the Eastern Kulin.
The Wurundjeri-willam people of the Kulin Nation are the Traditional Owners of the land that is now known as Melbourne. Their relationship with the land extends back tens of thousands of years. Back to when their creator spirit ‘Bunjil’ formed their people, the land and all living things.
Today, Indigenous culture continues to adapt and evolve, 60,000 years after it began.
The state of Victoria is home to ancient rock art and the world’s oldest aquaculture system at Budj Bim. Visitors to Melbourne can experience Indigenous culture through immersive experiences in the city.
Read on to find out how you can experience Australian Indigenous Culture in Melbourne.
Experience Indigenous Culture in Melbourne
In Melbourne you can uncover some of the city’s most revered places of Indigenous significance. You can also engage with the locals who were, and still are, central to Aboriginal existence.
Learn more about their stories by dining at the Mabu Mabu eateries. Tour the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Heritage Walk, or exploring the Koorie Heritage Trust.
In addition, you can visit Melbourne’s many art galleries, which showcase Aboriginal art, both traditional and contemporary.
Big Esso by Mabu Mabu / Mabu Mabu Tuck Shop
Head chef Nornie Bero of the Torres Strait Islands, has two eateries in Melbourne. It’s here that you can dine on food made using native Australian ingredients. At Mabu Mabu Nornie perfectly blends Indigenous ingredients with contemporary cuisine. You can even buy from her range of small batch native spices and sauces to use at home. Visit the Big Esso by Mabu Mabu at Federation Square, or the smaller restaurant Mabu Mabu Tuck Shop in Melbourne’s west.
Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Bunjilaka at the Melbourne Museum is an immersive exhibition. It gives you an incredible experience and valuable insight into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. You can take the self-guided tour and visit the Milarri Gardens to discover plants significant to the First Peoples of Victoria. Also, you can watch eels being fed in the garden pond. These were an important food source for local Indigenous people. The Birrarung Gallery also features temporary and touring exhibitions of Indigenous art.
Royal Botanic Gardens – Aboriginal Heritage Walk
Take a cultural tour with a First Nations Guide in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Explore the Heritage Walk and gain a unique insight into the history of the Gardens (ancestral lands of the Kulin nation) and its Traditional Owners. The tour includes a traditional smoking ceremony and a guided walk through the gardens. In addition, there is a discussion about the traditional uses of plants as a source of food, tools and medicine. You can finish off the tour with a delicious cup of lemon myrtle tea.
Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Walk
The Koorie Heritage Trust is an excellent place to discover an authentic and immersive Indigenous experience. The Indigenous-owned and managed organisation is located in Fed Square in the city centre. It houses a collection of art works and artefacts, that reveal the culture and history of the Koorie peoples. In addition you can join a guided cultural walk along the Birrarung (Yarra River). Here you’ll visit art installations and significant Indigenous sites.
Discover Indigenous Art in Melbourne
To view Indigenous art in Melbourne and learn about the Indigenous culture and history through art, you can visit one of Melbourne’s many galleries.
Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
The Ian Potter Centre, part of the National Gallery of Victoria, has a range of Indigenous art and artefacts from many of Australia’s cultural regions. The Indigenous gallery is categorised into four different architecturally designed sections: fire, water, earth and wind, each with Dreaming associations and ancestral narratives.
Birrarung Gallery At Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre
As mentioned, you can learn about the lives of Victoria’s Aboriginal people at Birrarung Gallery at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The gallery’s incredible feature piece ‘Wurreka’ contains 74 panels of etched designs along a wall that each reflect imagery from the Indigenous heritage and landscapes of Victoria.
Koorie Heritage Trust
The Koorie Heritage Trust Gallery at Federation Square has artwork from traditional to contemporary Indigenous works. Because of this, you can view pieces from carved emu eggs through to photography and ceramics. Its picture collection features around 900 paintings including those of Melbourne’s First Nations leaders Tommy McRae and William Barak.
Aboriginal History of Melbourne
The Wurundjeri-willam people of the Kulin Nation are the Traditional Owners of the land now known as Melbourne.
European settlement had, and still has, a vast impact on the lives of Indigenous people in Australia – including the Wurundjeri people.
In opposition to the European sense of land ownership, the Wurundjeri did not ‘own’ the land. Rather they belonged to, or were ‘owned by’ the land.
They were nomadic, camping where food was plentiful, and moving on when the land needed to rejuvenate. The land provided all the Wurundjeri needed – food, water, medicine and shelter. As such, they treated it with the utmost respect.
However, European settlement changed the land and the lives of the Indigenous people.
For the majority of settlers, the driving force was land ownership and with respect to the Indigenous people – a desire to ‘civilise’.
Because of this, the Wurundjeri people experienced dispossession of land, dislocation, frontier clashes and introduced diseases. All of this led to a dramatic decline in the population.
Despite these impacts of colonisation, the strong bonds between Wurundjeri families and clans could not be broken. Today the Wurundjeri remain active in Melbourne’s community. They practise their culture, perform ceremonies and pass on knowledge to younger generations.
Read More: Learn about the Indigenous Culture and History of the Great Ocean Road
Written by: Leah Furey – Digital Content Coordinator @gowest.com.au