A visitors guide to Aboriginal Melbourne

Womenjika! That’s welcome in the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung language groups of the Kulin Nation. The Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung are the traditional owner groups of the area we now call Melbourne. Find out more about the Kulin Nation’s rich, living culture through these places and events.

Hands holding a small didgeridoo

An exhibit at the Koorie Heritage Trust

Art and history

A great place to start getting a better understanding of Melbourne’s Aboriginal heritage and culture is at the Koorie Heritage Trust. Based at Federation Square, it’s home to an ever-expanding collection of art, cultural artifacts and oral histories, revealed in regular exhibitions. Ask about their workshops and educational walks, and check out the shop. There are books, clothing, jewellery and even traditional handmade possum-skin marngrooks, which inspired today’s Aussie Rules footy.

Their latest exhibition, Blak Design Matters showcases leading Aboriginal designers from across Australia, exploring fashion, interiors, and product design to landscape, architecture and town planning projects.  Curated by award-winning architect Jefa Greenaway, you can view the exhibit as part of Open House Melbourne.

A large wire chair with a fur seat and back rest, on a marble floor with a white wall behind it

Nicole Monks, Marlu Collection, 2015. Created for the Australian Design Centre. Photographer: Boaz Nothman.

A few steps away is the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. It showcases the National Gallery of Victoria’s homegrown art, including an impressive collection of works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. See visions of the past, such as 19th century drawings by William Barak and 20th century paintings by Albert Namatjira. Contemplate the present through contemporary artists such as Reko Rennie and Brook Andrew.

Just around the corner is Birrarung Marr, meaning ‘river of mist’ in the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung language. This pleasant park by the Yarra includes the Birrarung Willam (‘Birrarung camp’) installation, which celebrates Victoria’s Aboriginal culture. A major feature is a ring of five metal shields, representing the five language groups of the Kulin Nation.

Melbourne Museum’s Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre is named after Bunjil, the eagle creator deity of the Kulin Nation. Under his metaphorical wing, the centre presents permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as events and activities, including in the Milarri Garden.

A family looking at display wall and exhibits in a museum

Bunjilaka at Melbourne Museum

Bunjil’s story is revealed in the centre’s First Peoples exhibition. From the story of creation stretching back many thousands of years, to the stories of today, this permanent exhibition celebrates Victoria’s Aboriginal people.

Walking tours

Run by the Koorie Heritage Trust, the Birrarung Wilam Walk takes you through Federation Square and down to the Birrarung Wilam Aboriginal art installations. Experience the history of the Birrarung Marr and Aboriginal peoples of the Kulin Nation. Learn how the land on which Melbourne is located has changed over time and the significance of the Birrarung Wilam to the local Kulin peoples.

Find out about the indigenous flora that once thrived along the Yarra on a Royal Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Heritage Walk. Led by an Aboriginal guide, this tour reveals plants used for food, tools and medicine by people of the Kulin Nation. Explore their ancestral lands, and experience a traditional smoking ceremony.

Two Aboriginal men preparing for a smoking ceremony

Royal Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Heritage Walk