But what was the significance of the river to the region before the arrival of white settlers in 1836, specifically to the Aboriginal inhabitants who had lived in the region for more than 40,000 years before European settlement? The Barwon River was just as important to these original inhabitants as it was to the whites. In fact, the word "Barwon" comes from the local Wathaurong phrase "Barra Warre N Yallok" which, somewhat grandly, means "the great river which flows from the uplands (aka the Otways) to the sea".
Known collectively as the Wada Warrung or Wathaurong, meaning "People of the Water", twenty five separate clans occupied land which extended across the Bellarine Peninsula and as far east as the Werribee River to areas north of Ballarat. In the west, their territories included the Otways and the headwaters of the Barwon. The Wathaurong people were one of five tribes which formed what was known as the Kulin Federation. It is probable that those who lived closest to what is now Geelong were the Wada Warrung balug Clan which was located near the Barrabool Hills. It was estimated that they numbered around 300 people in 1837, but with the arrival of white settlers in the district and with them sheep and cattle, food supplies were significantly reduced as their hard hooves killed off many native plants. This, along with an influenza outbreak in 1839 decimated the indigenous population around Geelong, leaving only 17 clan members by 1853. The last tribal member of the clan - known as King Billy or Waurn Bunyip (Baa Nip) - died in 1885.
|William Buckley meets John Batman's party, 1835|
Prior to this, the Barwon Valley provided many important food sources for the local indiginous population who moved along the river following seasonal routes. Almost all parts of the river were utilised.
|Water Ribbon near Breakwater|
|Bulrushes on Belmont Common|
|Kangaroo Apple fruit near|
|Bindweed at Fyansford|
Plants were also used for medicinal purposes, to treat a range of ailments. Old Man Weed was used to treat hair loss and skin irritations whilst the leaves of the Hop Goodenia plant were given to infants to suck to pacify them, especially during travel.
|Wathaurong man in bark canoe on the Barwon at Geelong|
The remains of a tree (now dead) which had part of the bark removed to make a canoe can be seen at Queen's Park.
|Remains of a heritage-listed|
Canoe Tree at Queen's Park