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King Billy and the Ballarat Tribe
Burial of Mullawullah at the Ballaarat New Cemetery, 1896

Wadawurrung people are the Traditional Owners of the country that now includes towns such as Ballarat and Geelong. The Wadawurrung people have looked after and cared for the land for thousands of generations, and are still caring for it today through the Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation (trading as Wadawurrung) representing Traditional Owner interests at all levels of government and community. The corporation has a statutory role in the management of Aboriginal heritage values and culture within our region, under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act, 2006.[1]


The People

Mullawullah (AKA King Billy)

William Wilson, better known as "King Billy of Ercildoune," died at the Ballarat Hospital this morning from senile decay. As reported by the Ballarat correspondent of the "Age," the sable monarch was found in a moribund condition under a hedge; near Burrumbeet. For some timepast the "King"' has been in failing health, and it was felt by the residents of Ercildoune, Bur-rumbeet and Learmonth, through which districts he roamed, that his days on earth were rapidly drawing to a close. On this account the surrounding sheep farmer's and agriculturists showed special kindness to "Billy," but he preferred sleeping in the open air under a gum tree to being housed in a barn or wool-shed. When found yesterday under the hedge the blackfellow was being guarded by his dog, whose whining was heard by the railway stationmaster at Burrumbeet. Mounted-constable Perkins, on being summoned to attend the dying "ruler," offered him a small nobbler of whisky in the hope of reviving him, but the stimulant was refused by Billy, who, holding up his head, said, "No more drink; put me under a gum tree, please." As It was seen, however, that the aboriginal's condition was critical, Constable Perkins placed him in the guard's van of the Stawell to Ballarat train. As he was being removed on a stretcher to the railway station, the dog, Nero, howled piteously, and the policeman, in order to keep it from the railway station, tied it to a post and rail fence. The animal, however, broke loose from its fastenings, and as the train was about to start for Ballarat it jumped into the guard's van and fawned at the feet of the dying black. At the hospital an official suggested that the dog should be poisoned, but Constable Perkins refused to sanction the destruction of the faithful brute, which was taken to the city police station, where it whined nearly all night for King Billy. This morning the dog disappeared from the police station, and it has probably gone to the mia mia at Burrumbeet in search of the blackfellow. King Billy was supposed to be about 80 years of age.[2]

From early in the morning of Saturday there were many callers at the Ballarat Hospital to before it was closed in the coffin prior to being removed to the cemetery. The coffin, which was of black and gold, and gilt with representations of the spear, the boomerang, and the waddy, was placed in the Morgue where Mr E. Stone, the hall porter, stood for some time as the chief watcher. The body looked well preserved, but from the unmistakable brands of age and weather which marked the countenance one could hardly realise that the neatly shrouded corpse was once, as Billy has been described, the fleetest and most active human being who roamed over the heights of Blowhard and Hollowback or wondered through the forests of the west. Upon his breast lay the boomerang of wattle blossom, so feelingly and thoughtfully contrived by Mr John Ross, while the coffin was decorated by beautiful wreaths of camellias and garden flowers sent in by those who had known the dead monarch. Some of them were brought to the hospital by children, who perhaps had been amongst the score of youngsters who had wonderingly followed him from place to place when he visited the city, and one was forwarded by a lady, whose carriage had been driven past the old man when he was on one of his tramps from the city to Burrumbeet. The inscription upon the last mentioned read:— “ Poor King Billy! Last of an old race. Left sorrowful and lonely. The last of an old race — to mourn.” By 11 o’clock, the time arranged for the starting of the funeral, hundreds of people had gathered outside the institution, and it was with difficulty that the coffin-bearers could make their way from the gate to the hearse. The funeral cortege consisted of two cabs and three buggies, there being, of course, no mourning coach. Many scores of people, including a large number of children, awaited the arrived of the funeral at the New Cemetery, where under the shade of a gigantic pine tree in a corner of the No. 3 section of the Wesleyan burial ground, near where the late Mr Martin Hosking lies buried, the grave had been hewn out in the solid reef of the hill. The more thoughtful were left to compare and to speculate upon the circumstances attaching to the resting place of the last of “the race primeval" and those of the generations whose life’s history is recorded upon the stone tablets in the vicinity. It perhaps would have been more in keeping with the eternal fitness of things had the old man been buried in a shady spot beneath the gums and wattles in the hollows of the extensive ground, but there was a consensus that in choosing the site those who interested themselves in the matter had selected one that “was quite fit for a king.” The words of William Clarence Kendall, upon “The last of his tribe,” seemed particularly appropriate in this instance “The Wallaroos grope through the tuffs o grass, And turn to their covers for fear; But he’ll sleep in the ashes and let them pass, Where the boomerangs sleep with the spear: With the nullah, the sling and the spear.” The Ven. Archdeacon Mercer, who was to conduct the service, arrived at the grave shortly before 12 o’clock, and by that hour the the hearse, which was followed by a very large number of people was driven up to the grave. The coffin was borne by Messrs T. Blackith, J. Monaghan. J. Greenway, and J. Nankervis; and Messrs J. W. Kirton, M.L.A.; H. Glenny, J.P.; Surman (Burrumbeet), Chalmers, Steel, J. Lowther, and J. Morris were the pall-bearers. As the coffin was placed upon the supports prior to being lowered into the earth every head was bared and the clergyman’s voice solemnly recited portion of the Church of England burial service — “Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His great mercy to take unto Himself tho soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Addressing those present, the rev. gentleman said that on Wednesday last the British people had joined in celebrating the accomplishment, of the longest reign known to British history — that of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. That day they met to commit to the earth the body of anothor monarch, who in his way had been as great as the much loved Bri tish sovereign. Although the white men had made much better use of King Billy’s country than he or his people had made or could ever have made, still they were usurpers, and had met that day to bury the last of his people in the Ballarat district. “Mulla wallah “ or “ King Billy ’’ was not of the social or intellectual status of those present, but he was a child of the same great Father, was their brother, and was bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh. In what respect, he asked, did there exist the great difference between Her Majesty and King Billy? It was not a question of color, for Solomon, the wise, was almost biack, and Augustine, one of the greatest members of the Christian Church, who provided for us models in art, literature, civil engineering and culture generally, practised infanticide and other terrible crimes, held human beings as slaves and treated them was of the same hue. It was not a question of civilisation, for they knew that ancient peoples, shamefully, and considered their women as so many goods and chattels, to be at the disposition of their lord and master—man—as he deemed fit. It was in the power of the Gospel, which had proved a blessing to all the English speaking race. What an answer was this to the sneers of those who held that it was use less to carry tho Gospel to the heathen, and who thus denied to others the great blessings which they themselves enjoyed. After the pronouncing of the benediction many took a last look into the grave, and when the earth was filled in a large number of wreaths, in which wattle blossom predominated, were laid upon the mound. Thus King Billy was sent to “the happy hunting grounds"” in a way in which no other aboriginal was perhaps honored. Mr Morris gratuitously carried out the funeral arrangements, and the cemetery trustees gave the piece of ground in which the grave was made. Mr T. Chuck, of the Queen Studio, Sturt street, obtained several excellent negatives of the scene at the grave, and copies may be obtained at his establishment.[3]

Also See

External Sites

Indigenous Tools & Technology

External Sites





  1. https://www.deadlystory.com/page/service-directory/cultural-and-language/Wathaurung_Aboriginal_Corporation_WAC, accessed 28 June 2020.
  2. Weekly Times,03 October 1896.
  3. Ballarat Star, 1896.
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