When the Wattles Bloom
Judy Williams, a librarian at the Koorie Heritage Trust, discusses Shirley W. Wiencke's book '"When the Wattles Bloom", about the life of William Barak.
“When the Wattles Bloom” is a book by Shirley Wiencke. It’s about the life and times of William Barak who was born about 1823 to the Wurundjeri clan, a group of the Woiwurrung people. The title refers to Barak’s prediction that he would die when the wattles bloomed. He saw a lot of the history of the early times of the Port Phillip settlement. He was a witness to the signing of the Batman treaty. His father was a Ngurungaeta, an Elder, of the Woiwurrung people and was a signatory to the document. Later Barak was attending the George Langhorne Mission School for a few years and then, as a boy of nineteen, he joined the Native Police. He has an amusing story to tell about this, in that they were searching for the Kelly Gang and had them, they thought, in some scrub and they suggested that William go in, but he told them that they should go in first because they had the guns. They decided not to do anything an’ called back for reinforcements. Shirley Wiencke also refers to a recording by Barak entitled “My Words” which tells of his life and times. This was done up at Coranderrk under the supervision of the Superintendent who had someone record this for him and it gives quite a few details of his early life. Barak was also in demand by historians and anthropologists, as he had a store of knowledge about the Aboriginal people’s law and their stories, myths and legends, some about the beginning of the Yarra River, others, Creation stories. The Protectorate, which was operating at the time, bought land at Healesville and decided to set up a Reserve for the Aboriginal people. After serving in the Native Police, Barak joined his people there and lived there for the rest of his life. He was to become a Ngurungaeta himself, as his uncle, father and cousin Simon Wonga, had been before him and he took this very seriously. He walked many miles to Melbourne from Healesville to see the authorities on the concerns of his people and became a well known figure, in fact, Governor Loch gave permission for him to be admitted to Government House at any time he arrived at the gates. He followed up his peoples concerns as a Ngurungaeta and he also spoke with visitors to Coranderrk quite freely. He was married twice and both his wives predeceased him. He had one son David and it broke his heart when David died at fourteen. He had a long life serving his people but he died in 1903, when the wattles bloomed in August.