MOYJIL, Point Ritchie Warrnambool

Point Ritchie or in local Gunditjmara language, Moyjil, is a rocky headland at the mouth of the Hopkins River in Warrnambool, Victoria. For thousands of years Aboriginal people visited the area to gather food including eels from the Hopkins River and shellfish from the ocean.  For decades much of the focus of Australian archaeology has been directed at finding the oldest sites of Aboriginal occupation.  The archaeological discovery of Aboriginal remains at Lake Mungo in the 1970s created considerable excitement because it pushed the date at which Australia was colonised by humans to beyond 40,000 years ago.

Pt Ritchie researcher and renowned geologist Professor Jim Bowler, who discovered “Mungo Man” in the 1970s, has been examining the geological layering that provides an indication as to when the shells were deposited.  “The shells are sitting below a very thick soil, a thick layer of calcrete. That calcrete in Australia takes at least 20,000 to 30,000 years to form. That’s sitting underneath the Tower Hill tuff at 35,000 years. So we’ve got Tower Hill at 35,000 plus a minimum (for the calcrete) of 25,000 to 30,000 which takes you back to 70,000 for the soil evidence, 80,000 from the shell evidence … so we have come up with an age of 70,000 to 80,000 for the shells with a preference for the 80,000."

Professor Bowler says the dates and evidence of human activity remains amongst  “ Australia’s natural, cultural heritage as one of the most precious sites in the country.  It’s one in which the sequence of environmental change, climate change, seismic change, volcanoes, it all comes together at Point Ritchie. You’re sitting on this incredible dynamic of culture and natural history, so it’s that that makes it special both to the traditional owners whose heritage is being examined here, and to Australians generally.”

Indigenous Australians from this region recount stories of their ancestors having owned and occupied this part of Victoria. Robert Lowe Snr, a Peek Whurrung Elder explains that it was not only the sea that was a source of nutrition.  “The reefs were a very significant part of the culture and the food source sites for the old people and then if you continue on back towards Port Fairy you’ll find an abundance of food source sites, of midden sites, because of the reef structure. And it’s not only the sea food or the freshwater eels coming out at certain times of the year, it’s all because of the plant life too.  So it’s a great, say, supermarket our old people knew and used to their advantage when they needed food. You take modern non-indigenous people or even indigenous people down there and a lot of them wouldn’t see that, what’s there and available for them to use on a daily basis." .

To enjoy and partake in the ancient local indigenous culture, Joel Wright a Gunditjmara man and researcher for the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, the peak body for Aboriginal language research and reclamation in Victoria, carried out an investigation that revealed Moyjil was the traditional place name for Point Ritchie.  For adults and children alike he discusses the languages of the Gunditjmara.

The mouth of the Hopkins widens dramatically before it reaches the sea and the stretch of the river, flanked by walking tracks and sandy beaches is the Bluehole - a popular place to walk, swim, fish or all of the above!  Point Ritchie faces a high energy stretch of Victoria’s south-western coastline with wild wind and waves battering the point constantly so, parts of the site are fragile and fenced off. Accordingly, in August 2013 the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Jeanette Powell announced that an Ongoing Protection Declaration had been made for the site – including shell middens. This is the highest level of protection available of Aboriginal heritage protection available.