Swampland

I’ve always had a uneasy relationship with Australian land.

I’m sure it’s got to do with my ancestors and their struggle with the land and the obvious question of what happened to the indigenous people of the area.

| Unknown, Aboriginal Australian shelter in bushland (Gippsland?), c1883, State Library of Victoria |

In 1892 my great-grandfather and family came to Iona in Gippsland with a whole lot of other people looking for a better life.

The Aboriginal Australians of Gippsland had burned their land regularly to more easily hunt for possums and wombats. This created a build-up of peat from decomposed reeds, rushes, and layers of burnt ti-tree which prevented the flow of water from about 10 surrounding creeks, which then led to the gradual creation of the swamp area.

So along come the settlers. They knew the land was rich and good, but they found it incredibly hard to cultivate because of the giant ti-tree stumps, and gums lying under the surface. Sometimes three layers deep.

Super Italian surveyor, Carlo Catani, drew up a scheme for draining the swamp area and the Government of the day gave all sorts of incentives for people to work on the project.

This dramatic wood engraving captures the terror of it all.

| Unknown artist, Henry Wallworth, from Gippsland, on horseback, as he is swooped upon by a large bat, vespertilio homo or man bat, 1877, State Library of Victoria |

Julia Ritson

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