Reconciliation MoU

Reconciliation MoU
Barengi Gadjin Land Council and the National Trust’s heritage partnership formalised

The future of one of the Wimmera’s most significant cultural and heritage sites, Ebenezer Mission, is closer to being secured with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Barengi Gadjin Land Council and the National Trust of Australia (Vic).

Barengi Gadjin’s Chief Executive, Jim Golden-Brown, said that the MOU marked a significant turning point in his organisation’s activities.
“It shows that an organisation like the National Trust has confidence in our work and our future and we are very pleased to partner with them to make sure Ebenezer Mission is preserved for future generations. “We will be working with the National Trust to preserve the joint heritage of Ebenezer Mission, a site of great significance for Traditional Owners and the broader community alike. The National Trust is just as keen as we are to make sure this important part of our shared history is respectfully maintained.”

The ownership of the Ebenezer Mission is currently shared by the National Trust and Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative. Barengi Gadjin Land Council is currently maintaining the site on behalf of Goolum Goolum, as cultural and land management fits in well with BGLC’s core business.

National Trust Chief Executive, Martin Purslow, said the signing was an important event for the National Trust. “We are delighted to have signed our first MOU with the Barengi Gadjin Land Council,” Mr Purslow said. “It represents our commitment not only to working with the BGLC, but more broadly with the Aboriginal community in Victoria. “Under the MOU, the Trust’s new Wimmera Branch and BGLC will work together on local heritage advocacy, developing programs to celebrate local heritage and support reconciliation within the local community.”

Under the MOU, the National Trust and Barengi Gadjin Land Council have agreed to start discussions around preserving the built and natural landscape at Ebenezer mission, including exploring options for the future transfer of ownership to Traditional Owners, through Barengi Gadjin Land Council.

As part of its preservation efforts, Barengi Gadjin Land Council, Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative and the National Trust have agreed to close the Ebenezer Mission site to allow for restoration work to be undertaken. “We regret having to close the site to the public, even for a short time,” said Jim Golden-Brown. “But there are a number of safety issues for visitors that we need to fix, and we need to do some work to some of the buildings which have deteriorated in recent years. We will post updates on the restoration on our website,” he said.

The Ebenezer Mission was established by Moravian missionaries in 1859 on what, in 1861, was gazetted as the Lake Hindmarsh Aboriginal Reserve on Wotjobaluk country along the Wimmera River.

The missionaries tried to convince the local Aboriginal people to adopt mission life, but while the missionaries were conducting Church services, the local Aboriginal people continued to hold corroborees at Ebenezer. In 1861 Ebenezer was reported as having a permanent population of 22 Aboriginal people attending the school and church services and a further 140 coming on site when the Board distributed rations.

The Board eventually placed conditions on the rations they provided, demanding recipients attend church service twice a day – morning and evening – follow instructions given by the managers, attend school and forgo their cultural practices. These demands lead to the development of a large permanent Aboriginal community at Ebenezer. The missionaries tried to develop a farm but it was found that the soil was only suitable for grazing. Attempts at dairying and intensive agriculture were failures. However the village grew and an 1866 report to the Board details the construction of twelve new buildings including a kitchen, school house, store and four houses for residents.

In October 1900 the Board decided to close Ebenezer and hand the land back to the Lands Department. This happened in 1904. A number of residents moved to the nearby Antwerp Aboriginal Reserve while other families were forced to move to far away Lake Tyers.

The National Trust and the Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative now own the old Ebenezer village area. They have rebuilt the stone church and preservation work is under way on other existing buildings and the cemetery.

With thanks to the ABC and Koorie Heritage Trust