May Lecture – Dr Roslyn Otzen

The Bengalat of the Wadawurrung

Dr Roslyn Otzen spoke about the impacts of the collision that occurred on the Bellarine Peninsula after the European settlers landed at Indented Head in 1835.

Her work on the Wadawurrung arose after a request by the Baptist Church to research that institution’s engagement with Victoria’s indigenous population.

This photograph from 1852 shows the impact of this event. In 1841 a census was conducted in Geelong that listed 451 European settlers and 275 Wadawurrung from the Bengalat clan living on the Bellarine Peninsula. Just 10 or so years later this photograph captured the last family unit of that clan.

Dr Otzen noted that smallpox had reached the Wadawurrung prior to 1835 and devastated the population. The loss of access to their land and the impacts of ready access to alcohol ravaged the population. By 1885 the last of the clan had perished.

Whilst many of the stories of interactions between the Wadawaurrong and the settlers fitted a depressingly common stereotype of alcohol and abuse, Dr Otzen was also able to highlight numerous acts of common decency and concern for their welfare by ordinary people towards them.

Review written by Michael O’Donnell

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