Yoorrook land hearings to start with ceremonial hearing at sites of first recorded massacre and land theft

For media enquiries, please contact Evan Schuurman 0408 847 385 or [email protected]

March 21, 2024

On Monday, the Yoorrook Justice Commission will begin hearings into injustices against First Peoples related to land, sky and waters with a ceremonial hearing on Gunditjmara country near Portland, where the colonisation of Victoria began.

The ceremonial hearing will be followed by three weeks of public hearings between March 26 and April 29. Witnesses will include the premier, government ministers, senior bureaucrats, organisations and associations, the descendent of a coloniser and Traditional Owners.

The ceremonial hearing on March 25 will take place at Tae Rak Aquaculture Centre in the Budj Bim UNESCO World Heritage site. Gunditjmara Elders will then take Commissioners to the Kurtonitj Indigenous Protected Area, the Convincing Ground massacre site, and Portland’s Ploughed Field, home to memorials celebrating the colonisation of Victoria.

Portland was the first permanent European settlement in Victoria. The Convincing Ground massacre is the first recorded massacre of First Peoples by colonisers in Victoria.

On April 24 the Minister for Water, The Hon. Harriet Shing MP, will appear before the Commission in Robinvale, on the Murray River.

On April 29 the Premier, The Hon. Jacinta Allan MP, will give evidence on Wurundjeri country near Healesville on land that was previously part of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Mission.

All other hearings will take place at the Yoorrook hearing room at 54 Wellington St, Collingwood. Hearings are open to the public and media to attend in-person. With the exception of the ceremonial hearing, they will also be streamed via the Yoorrook website.

The hearing schedule will be available later this week on the Yoorrook website.

Commissioner Travis Lovett, who is leading Yoorrook’s inquiry into land, sky and waters, said:

“We are starting our land hearings on Gunditjmara Country at the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape where Gunditjmara people created some of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids. The global importance of this site was recognised with World Heritage status in 2019 after years of advocacy from Gunditjmara Traditional Owners.

“First Peoples have cared for country for thousands of generations. When Europeans arrived, they took our lands, massacred our people and forced us onto missions and reserves.

“We will hear evidence about how European colonisers illegally and forcibly took First Peoples’ land, water and resources and enforced strategic policies depriving them of the ability to practice language, culture and traditions. Tens of thousands of years of unbroken connection and deep love for this land almost wiped out seemingly in a blink of the eye.

“We will also hear evidence about how First Peoples have continually resisted and maintained our connection to Country and how we are caring for Country today.

“We invite all Victorians to engage and deepen their connection and understanding of our shared history by listening to the evidence presented through these hearings.”

Chair of the Commission, Professor Eleanor Bourke AM, said:

“Yoorrook’s inquiry into the land, sky and waters goes back to the beginning of colonisation. It is an opportunity for all Victorians to learn the truth of Victoria’s shared history, as well as the diversity, strength and resistance of First Peoples.

“I urge all Victorians to take the time to listen and learn, and to try and see history from First Peoples perspective. It’s an important step to creating a better future for everyone.”

All Victorians are welcome to make submissions about ongoing or historic injustice through Yoorrook’s online submission portal until November 2024.

Free, confidential, and wellbeing support and legal advice is available for First Peoples wishing to tell their truth to Yoorrook.


Media enquiries: Evan Schuurman, [email protected], 0408 847 385.

Notes to editors:

  • Media are invited to attend the ceremonial hearing on 25 March 2024, starting at Tae Rak, Vaughans Rd, Breakaway Creek VIC 3303 at 9:30am. The ceremonial hearing will include a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony followed by remarks from Yoorrook Commissioners and Gunditjmara Elders. B-roll footage and photographs from the ceremonial hearing will be available on request.
  • Over the past 5 months, Yoorrook Commissioners and staff have spoken with over 850 Traditional Owners on issues relating to land, sky and waters, including at 29 information sessions and 18 Traditional Owner Roundtables in over 30 locations across the state.

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