Gunai/Kurnai People

“Gunai/Kurnai” is the name of the tribal group which inhabited the Gippsland region for at least 18,000 years. “Koorie” or “Koori” is a term widely used by Aboriginal people living in south eastern Australia as an expression of shared identity.

Borun (the pelican) and Tuk (the musk duck) are the Dreamtime ancestors of the Gunai people. The five clans are Bratwoloong, Brayakooloong, Brabuwooloong, Tatungooloong and Krowathunkooloong.

Mostly the people lived in harmony with one another, meeting for corroborees which involved marriages and initiation ceremonies, dancing, feasting and trade of goods such as stones suitable for axe making. Occasionally there were battles over tribal land and women.

The area around Cann River and Mallacoota was the country of the Bidawal. People from tribes all over what is now Victoria and southern NSW who had breached tribal law were sent into Bidawal country for a period of exile.

The Aboriginal people of East Gippsland fought against the European invasion of their land. However technical superiority in weaponry gave the Europeans an absolute advantage. It is difficult to be certain about the real death toll as so few records still exist or were even made at the time.

Diseases introduced from the 1820s by European sealers and whalers also caused a rapid decline in Aboriginal numbers.