Billibellary was an influential and important ngurungaeta, or spokesman, for the Wurundjeri–willum people at the time of the first European settlement of Melbourne. He was known as a chief of the Yarra tribe. His land was on the north side of the Yarra, including Yarra Bend Park and up the Merri Creek.
He was one of the eight Aboriginal leaders with whom John Batman signed the Treaty in 1835 that lead to the settlement of Melbourne.
When the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate was established (1839-1849), Billibellary saw his relationship with the Chief Protector, Robinson and the Assistant Protector, William Thomas as a means of influencing the Protectorate and its policies that greatly affected his people. Similarly, Robinson and Thomas found that friendly relations with people such as Billibellary helped them influence the Aboriginal people.
The Protectors made various unsuccessful attempts to settle the Aboriginal people on reserves, for example in the early 1840s at Narre Warren, but then Thomas established headquarters in Yarra Bend Park near the Merri Creek. Billibellary enrolled in the Native Police Corps when it was based at the Merri Creek (1842-3) but never did active duty and changed his mind when he saw it was used against other Aboriginals.
Assistant Protector William Thomas developed a strong relationship with Billibellary. In one incident when Thomas had angered some Boonwaurrung people he was so fearful for his life he slept in Billibellary’s hut. Also Billibellary’s children were left by their mothers with Thomas when he was educating children by the Merri Creek in 1843 and 1844.
When a school for Aboriginal children was started near the Merri Creek in 1846:
Pupil numbers were high in the first six months of operation, and the school received support from government, church and public description. One reason for this was that Billibellary, gave his support to the scheme. For the second half of 1846, however, several factors contributed to a decline in attendance. Billibellary’s opinion of the school had radically altered. His opposition to the motives of the school and his death in August 1846 had important and far-reaching ramifications for the future of the Merri Creek Aboriginal School.
(Clark & Heydon, p2)
Billibellary died aged 47 at the encampment at the Merri Creek Protectorate Station and was buried there. The cause of his death is uncertain; he was not a drinker and the most likely cause was seen as influenza. However the Aboriginal explanation was sorcery. The Wurundjeri people then left the area and still four years later Thomas reported they would still not attend the confluence of the Yarra and the Merri Creek because of Billibellary’s death.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|c. 1799||Melbourne area before European settlement|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Konninggurrock||Seven children altogether including Simon Wonga (which mother uncertain)|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|10 August 1846||Merri Creek, Melbourne|
Clark, A bend in the Yarra: a history of the Merri Creek Protectorate Station and Merri Creek Aboriginal School 1841-51; Eidelsen, Melbourne dreaming.