Moe, Australia and our history

This article started off as a book review of Settlement to City – A History of Moe & Newborough by Graham Goulding but has morphed into a collection of thoughts and reflections on Moe’s and Australia’s history. Photo by S W Kane: Moe, Gippsland.


A white history

If you are interested in white people’s  history, then you may enjoy Settlement to City – A History of Moe & Newborough, which has just been revised and republished by Moe & District Historical Society.

It is a history of the white people who have lived in the Moe district from 1846 until about the 1970s. The author, Graham Goulding, also gives a brief summary of white people’s activities in Moe and Newborough since the late 1900s. There are  interesting photos and excerpts from articles and letters from the 1800s and 1900s, all about and by white men and to a lesser extent, white women. There are stories about the different farms that the white people cleared of trees, the buildings they built and the cricket teams they played in, and the lake – now Edward Hunter Reserve – that white people swam in.

The ‘ravages of change’

In Settlement to City – A History of Moe & Newborough there are two paragraphs about the Gunaikurnai people; they appear on page 3.

Goulding states that when the first settlers arrived in the ‘Mowie Swamp district in 1846, ‘the Gunaikurnai peoples… had been in the area for more than 20,000 years’. The swamp ‘provided an endless supply of food’ and ‘plenty of evidence of aboriginal camps was found’. Goulding goes on to state that the Gunaikurnai population ‘declined’ by 90% between the 1830s and the 1860s and that in the 1860s that the Gunaikurnai people began to experience the ‘ravages of change’ caused by European settlement on their lands.

The author tells us the remaining Gunaikurnai people were sent to missions far away in eastern Gippsland in the 1860s. That is the last mention of Gunaikurnai people in this history of the Moe area.

Let’s talk about the hard stuff

The real history of Moe

Moe has been the home of Gunaikurnai people for over 40,000 years. The land on which I live, on the southern end of town, was a paperbark swamp until 50 years ago. The name ‘Moe’ means ‘swampy country’ in Gunaikurnai langauge. European, Asian, African, Pacific Islander, New Zealander, Tiwi Islander, Aboriginal people from other areas and white people live in Moe. So do Gunaikurnai people. Still.

Australians, black, white and in-between, whether conscious or not of the genocide of Aboriginal people in the 1800s and 1900s, share a collective memory. We all have shame and sadness, although for different reasons. The need to not talk about the history that happened under our feet finds release in compassion, anger, racism, grief, trauma, superficiality, mental illness and/or creativity.

There has been no national mourning, no funeral, no burial. No recompense. None of this has been possible because there has been no formal acknowledgement of either the genocide or the theft of Aboriginal land.


Genocide. Say it out loud and most Australians will run a mile.

Most people don’t want to hear about the policy of shooting Aboriginal people on sight; the massacres in the 1800s and, in northern Australia, the 1900s; the thousands exterminated during our great-grandfathers’ generation. Most people in Australia don’t want to talk about who did the killing, who stole the land from Aboriginal families, who now owns that stolen land, and who is now left without any land.

Historians – Peter Gardner, Timothy Bottoms, Henry Reynolds – have been writing books about the hard stuff for years. Some Aboriginal people have published accounts about what happened. In 2002, people started calling for the federal seat of McMillan in Gippsland to be changed to a more appropriate name than that of Angus McMillan, the squatter who was apparently involved in several massacres and who later became known as the ‘butcher of Gippsland’. The electorate is still called McMillan.

Past, present and future

All of us who live in Australia, regardless of our heritage or skin colour or how long our families have lived here, have a right and responsibility to know about Australia’s history. We need to understand what happened and why. We need to acknowledge what happened, shameful and sad as much of it is for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. If we don’t talk about it now, it will come back and bite us in the bum later on.

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