Back to the Beginning: Walkin’ Birrarung in Melbourne

Federation Square, Melbourne
Federation Square, Melbourne

“I don’t care where you are from—in Melbourne, you will find your cultural group,” Mayor Doyle said last night at a welcome event held at the industrial chic Alto event space in Melbourne’s central business district. His words echoed through our offbeat band of buyers and media this morning as we ventured out on our last day in Melbourne with a guide from the MCB for an “essentially Melbourne” day. Prior to Dreamtime, we were given the choice between a day of millinery, coffee, cricket, culture or a helicopter flight along Great Ocean Road. Five minutes into a smoking ceremony along the Yarra River’s north bank with Dean Stewart, education manager at the Koorie Heritage Trust, and I was sure the Walkin’ Birrarung culture walk was the right move.

“As a visitor coming into this area, you wouldn’t only be cleansed and purified,” Dean says. “What was actually happening as you’re walking through the smoke was a physical merge of the old and the young and the entire community.”

Stewart’s tale of the indigenous Kulin people unravels through a comparison of the landscape and people then and now. The story breathes life into Dreamtime, which is based on an Aboriginal creation story that speaks of a time when the ancestors emerged from deep within the earth and sky, taking the form of plants, animals and humans.

The 2-hour tour winds along the river, shedding light on Colonial Melbourne before dropping anchor in Federation Square, a hub for architectural flair and history. The tour is a great way for groups to get their feet wet on Melbourne’s history and historical faux pas—we learned of the misnaming of the Yarra River by 19th century surveyor John Wedge.

Fed Square is like a city unto itself and a trendy spot made for design aficionados with tons of galleries, shops and restaurants. My group explored Aboriginal exhibits at the Ian Potter Centre, which when combined with the walking tour, made for some pretty intricate personal crest paintings in an upstairs classroom later. The center houses 20 museums with customizable classes, workshops and tours.