Mount Gambier - History


There are many different spellings of the name of the people of the Mount Gambier region. Booandik, Buandik, Boandik are some popular ones while scholars use Bunganditj and Buanditj or similar variations.

The South East has always been an area rich in resources and Aboriginal people have lived here for at least 20 – 30,000 years.

Within a 30 km radius of Mount Gambier there are many caves which contain very ancient examples of finger fluting and engravings made by some of the early people to live here.

Some Aboriginal history has been captured in the many legends that have been written, the most relevant to our area being the Craitbul story, which gives an insight into the volcanic activity in the Mount Gambier area.

The Craitbul Story tells of the giant ancestor of the Booandik People who long ago made an oven at Mount Muirhead to cook for his wife and family. In hearing the groaning voice of the bird spirit "Bullin" warning them of the evil spirit "Tennateona", they fled to another site where they built another oven (Mount Schank). Again they were frightened off by the threat of the evil spirit and moved to "Berrin" where they again made their oven (Mount Gambier). One day, water rose and the fire went out. They dug other ovens, but each time water rose putting out the fires. This occurred four times (the Valley Lake, Blue Lake, Browne’s Lake and Leg of Mutton Lake). Finally Craitbul and his family settled in a cave on the side of "Berrin’s " Peak.

Mount Gambier was named after James Gambier, Lieutenant Governor at New Province in the Bahamas. He joined the R.N. aged 11, reached Post-Captain at 22 and Rear Admiral at 39. In 1802 he became Governor of Newfoundland and in 1807, Lord Gambier. He died in 1833 aged 76.
In June 1839 Stephen Henty, a pioneer of Portland, Vic saw Mt Gambier and the lake, climbed it, and described it as "..a sight i can never forget". Around 1840 he returned with a small party and built 2 huts on a 'squat', one at Valley Lake and one near Cave Gardens. soon others arrived and one, the brother of explorer Charles Sturt, Evelyn, took a lease over property which included Henty's 'squat', thus forcing him off his pioneer claim. Over the next decade a steady stream of settlers arrived, mostly from Tasmania, Victoria and Adelaide. By 1860 there were some 2,000 people and the first Government land sale was held.

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