The story of an ancient sheoak in Williamstown – significant to the Boonwurrung indigenous people and known as The Message Tree to European settlers – is being brought to life.
Indigenous community members, historians and police are searching for descendants of historical figures who tried to save the tree, which stood at the foot of Thompson Street between the Old Customs House and Williamstown police station.
The tree was used by Europeans to post messages and share news, while the Boonwurrung conducted formal ceremonies at the site.
The Message Tree project is being led by Williamstown police and Hobsons Bay reconcilation group Get Up Out West, who have partnered with consultant company Yalukit Marnang, owned by descendants of the Boonwurrung.
Yalukit Marnang’s Greg Thorpe said the tree stood in Nelson Place until 1856, when it was removed to build the roadway.
Local residents fought to save the tree, partly because of its ancient association as a ceremonial place for the first people of Hobsons Bay, the Yalukit willam clan of the Boonwurrung language group.
“This story is important to Boonwurrung people who want to meet the descendants of those who fought to save the tree or record its history,” Mr Thorpe said.
“The project is really about rediscovering a story about a tree that was special to the Boonwurrung people and then it was special to the first colonists in Williamstown.
“In 1856, in the first year of Williamstown council, it was removed to make way for Nelson Place to be built.
“One of things that comes out in the history very strongly is that one of the things that’s valued about the tree by the colonists is its strong association and connection to the Boonwurrung people.”
Senior Sergeant Chris Allen of Williamstown police said the story, which unfolded virtually on the station’s doorstep, struck a chord.
“Respectfully sharing first peoples’ histories stands to contribute to the sense of wellbeing in our community, especially for First Nations Australians,” he said.
Descendants of the following historical figures associated with the tree are being sought: James Wallace, Cr James Moxham, Captain Langford, William Hall jnr and Ann Morgan, nee Jordan. People who can help are being asked to contact Senior Sergeant Allen at Williamstown police station on 93939546.
Yalukit Marnang will lead a Message Tree history walk in Williamstown, for Heritage Hobsons Bay, on Saturday, May 4, from 3pm. To book, visit eventbrite.com.au/o/heritage-hobsons-bay-15832480968