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A tanderrum is a ceremony enacted by the nations of the Kulin people and other Victorian aboriginal nations allowing safe passage and temporary access and use of land and resources by foreign people. It was a diplomatic rite involving the landholder's hospitality and a ritual exchange of gifts, sometimes referred to as Freedom of the Bush.[1]

Visiting people were presented to elders by an interim group known to all parties. Eucalypt leaves were used in the ceremony to indicate visitors were free to partake of the resources. Water was shared from a tarnuk, sipped through a reed straw, with the hosts partaking first to reassure the visitors that the water was not poisoned.[2]

Batman's Treaty signing in 1835 was likely to have been interpreted as a tanderrum ceremony by the Wurundjeri and Boon wurrung peoples, according to some historians. Certainly the Wurundjeri and Boon wurrung people continued to act with hospitality to the settlers in the first years of the Foundation of Melbourne while other aboriginal nations engaged in resistance over dispossession of their lands.[3]

William Thomas, the Assistant Protector of Aborigines for the Port Philip region, described a tanderrum ceremony enacted by the Wurundjeri in 1845.

Tanderrum ceremonies are still performed today by Wurundjeri elders sometimes as part of a welcome to country protocol.

Indigenous artist Ellen Jose has a sculpture called Tanderrum (1997) on Herring Island Environmental Sculpture Park, done in conjunction with Wurundjeri elder Joy Murphy. National Parks describe the sculpture:

Tanderrum (coming together) brings together concepts of pride, culture and spirit and the work symbolises the coming together of the Kulin nation as one people. It links the symbols and Legends of the Dreaming with ancestral bird spirits and totems of the five clan groups.[4]


  1. ^ Ian D. Clark & David A. Cahir, Tanderrum. 'Freedom of the Bush', Friends of Mount Alexander Diggings, 2004. ISBN 0957930828
  2. ^ Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Education Service, Teachers Kit Accessed June 8, 2009
  3. ^ Kenny, Robert. 2008. Tricks or treats?A case for Kulin knowing in Batman’s treaty. History Australia 5 (2): pp. 38.1 to 38.14. DOI: 0.2104/ha080038.38.14
  4. ^ Parks Victoria, Herring Island Environmental Sculpture Park, accessed June 8, 2009

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Tanderrum Ceremony, from Letters from Victorian Pioneers, Public Library Melbourne, 1898.
by William Thomas
A Tanderrum was an important diplomatic ritual and ceremony involving the exchange of gifts conducted by the various Kulin nations allowing foreign people safe access and temporary use of land and resources. This is a description of a ceremony in 1845 by William Thomas, Assistant Protector of Aborigines for the Port Philip region of Victoria, Australia. See Tanderrum in Wikipedia.

Ceremony of Tanderrum, or Freedom of The Bush

There is not, perhaps, a more pleasing sight in a native encampment than when strange blacks arrive who have never been in the country before. Each comes with fire in hand (always bark), which is supposed to purify the air - the women and children in one direction, and the men and youths in another. They are ushered in generally by some of an intermediate tribe, who are friends of both parties, and have been engaged in forming an alliance or friendship between the tribes; the aged are brought forward and introduced.

The ceremony of Tanderrum is commenced; the tribe visited may be seen lopping boughs from one tree and another, as varied as possible of each tree with leaves; each family has a separate seat, raised about 8 or 10 inches from the ground, on which in the centre sits the male and around him his male children, and the female and her sex of children have another seat.

Two fires are made, one for the males and the other for the females. The visitors are attended on the first day by those whose country they are come to visit, and not allowed to do anything for themselves; water is brought them which is carefully stirred by the attendant with a reed, and then given them to drink (males attend males and females females); victuals are then brought and laid before them, consisting of as great a variety as the bush in the new country affords, if come at able; during this ceremony the greatest silence prevails, both by attendants and attended. You may sometimes perceive an aged man seated, the tear of gratitude stealing down his murky, wrinkled face.

At night their mia-mias are made for them; conversations ensue. The meaning of this is a hearty welcome. As the boughs on which they sit are from various trees, so they are welcome to every tree in the forest. The water stirred with a reed means that no weapon shall ever be raised against them.

On Saturday, the 22nd March 1845, at an encampment east of Melbourne, near 200 strangers arrived. The sight was imposing and affecting, especially their attendance upon that old chief Kuller Kullup, the oldest man I have ever seen among the blacks; he must have been near 80 years.

PD-icon.svg This text was created in Australia and is now in the public domain because its term of copyright has expired. See Australian Copyright Council (ACC), (How Long Copyright Lasts) (Apr 2009).


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