Two hundred years ago this month, Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his party passed through the Goulburn Plains on their way to Bundong and Weereewa (Lake George). On his return to Sydney, Macquarie declared that the area was open for pasturage.
Goulburn 2020 - a program of plays, workshops, and talks - commemorates that event.
'Commemorates', not 'celebrates'. Organiser Jennifer Lamb, a local historian and former director of the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, is adamant.
"That visit in 1820 marked the beginning of European settlement in the Goulburn region," Ms Lamb said. "It also meant the arrival of a whole lot of new people who dispossessed the people who were already here, and who had been here for a long time."
The Goulburn 2020 festival was originally planned to extend throughout October; COVID-19 has compressed many of the events into the next fortnight. Although much has been curtailed or even cancelled, there is still plenty to enthral amateur historians.
The standout event is the performance on Saturday of a play, Journey Through Country, dramatizing Macquarie's visit. The Lieder Theatre players will perform beside the Mulwaree River. The event was originally meant to be performed in the Lieder Theatre, but has been moved outside due to social distancing restrictions. The event is booked out, but rehearsals have been filmed.
Although based on Macquarie's own travel diary, Ms Lamb explained, the work also considers Indigenous dispossession. The Europeans are watched by (but never notice) an Aboriginal Woman and Children, who represent the invisible presence of Aboriginal people in the region.
"Too often we think the Goulburn area started two hundred years ago, but people lived here for thousands of years before," Ms Lamb said. "While Goulburn flourished into the future, it must have been really tough for the people who were here. We wanted to commemorate those people, their legacy, and their ongoing presence."
Those Aboriginal people gave their names to the landscape: Cookbundoon, Mulwaree, Wollondilly, Weereewa, and Marulan (based on 'Mooroowoolen'). "Macquarie," Ms Lamb wryly notes, "loved renaming places after either his family or the British powers that be."
Although some people once claimed the Plains were too cold for Aboriginal people to live, the area was a bountiful food source. Evidence suggests that Aboriginal peoples practiced firestick farming in the area, resulting in the "treeless plains" Macquarie admired.
Too often, however, Indigenous people have been reduced to historical footnotes. "The successful explorers were always accompanied by Aboriginal guides," Ms Lamb said. "As often as not, these people were barely named. Macquarie was bad with this. He named his horse, but didn't name 'the two natives' who were travelling with him, which is pretty amazing."
Goulburn 2020 is working with the Mulwaree Aboriginal community to acknowledge and pay respect to those Aboriginal people, including Coocoogong, Bian, and Duel who guided Charles Throsby through the region; Nagaray and his son Bhoohan, who met Macquarie on the Cookbundoon: Taree who showed Throsby the way to the Murrumbidgee River; and Onyong who was at Weereewa.
"We're looking into those early reports of the explorers, which are available through online diaries, and finding out the names of the people who were here then, and identifying them," Ms Lamb said. "That will happen over a period."
Rocky Hill War Memorial and Museum will host an exhibition this month about local Indigenous soldiers in World War I, including William Punch, who fought on the Western Front, and died of pneumonia in 1917. Ms Lamb wrote a play about Punch in 2015; a film of that play will be screened at the museum.
Next Friday, October 23, Ronnie Jordan, a Kalkadoon woman from Mt Isa, will run online traditional weaving workshops for school children. The kids will make traditional dolls and animals - and learn how Indigenous culture is alive and relevant. The event is presented by Southern Tablelands Arts.
Schools interested in setting up an Indigenous garden can also receive free lomandra seedlings - an Australian native plant used traditionally for weaving and food.
Also that weekend, two talks will be held at the Goulburn Mulwaree Library. Professor Patrick de Deckker, the geologist who pioneered the study of the Quaternary oceans bordering Australia, will speak on Saturday, October 24, about the history and myths of Weereewa / Lake George.
On Sunday, October 25, Nadia Johnson (née Koschenow) will discuss post-WWII migration to the region; she came with her parents from war-torn Europe to the Goulburn area in the Fifties. Both events are booked out.
On the Saturday, October 25, the heritage-listed Riversdale homestead will hold an exhibition focusing on the property's significance as part of the original Goulburn town, including historical maps and documents related to the area, and objects from Riversdale's collection. The exhibition was supposed to run for six weeks, Ms Lamb said, but has been curtailed radically because of COVID.
Macquarie's successor two centuries later, NSW Governor H.E. the Hon. Margaret Beazley, will visit Goulburn 200 years to the day after her predecessor. She will plant a tree and unveil a plaque, revealing words Macquarie wrote about the Mulwaree Plains. This event is not open to the public.
At the end of October, Jennifer Lamb and Jenny Gordon will run a historical walk and talk along the Mulwaree River, around the Lansdowne Bridge. This event will take place on Saturday, October 31, at 2pm. Book via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I'll talk as a non-Aboriginal person about how this area was written about in those very early reports from 1818 through to Macquarie's reports in 1820, and how that has changed from what they saw," Ms Lamb said. "Jenny Gordon - who is a Ngunnawal person - will talk about the importance of these areas to Aboriginal people."
History Goulburn will publish an 1820 commemorative bulletin, featuring articles about the first European records of the region, and on the building of the Macquarie Road over the Cookbundoon. It also features six biographies - including three of the Aboriginal people who were part of Macquarie's expedition.
The bulletin will be available from the Goulburn History Research Centre, next to the St Clair Villa on Sloane Street, open Fridays to Sundays, 10am to 4pm.
One event has had to be postponed: a symposium featuring Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe. Unfortunately, since Mr Pascoe lives in Victoria, it is not feasible to hold the event now.
"We hope to hold it at a later date when all this is cleared away, and we can get a few hundred to come to a conference," Ms Lamb said.
For further information, contact Jennifer Lamb 0458 028 003, email email@example.com or refer to the Goulburn 2020 Facebook group and the website goulburn2020.com.au.
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