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Mullawallah (c. 1821–1896)

by Bonnie Chew and Janice Newton

This article was published:

Mullawallah, (centre), with young footballers at Ercildoune, n.d.

Mullawallah, (centre), with young footballers at Ercildoune, n.d.

Gold Museum Ballarat, 252391

Mullawallah (c. 1821–1896), Wadawurrung ancestor and ambassador, and Burrumbeet Balug Arweet, also known as Mullywallack, Mr Mulla, King Billy, William Wilson, and Frank Wilson, was probably born in the early 1820s in western Victoria. Part of the Kulin confederacy, the Wadawurrung’s traditional boundaries are along the coastline from the Werribee River to the Lorne peninsula and then inland towards Ballarat. Mullawallah was most likely from the Burrumbeet Balug clan, associated with Mount Buninyong and Black Hill, and part of the Bunjil (Eaglehawk) moiety. At least two other Aboriginal men were called King Billy: Bullip Bullip (King Billy of Buninyong) and Boni yo yarrum (King Billy of Borriyalloak/King William). Mullawallah may have been a cousin/brother to Bullip Bullip, also a Wadawurrung man, and therefore an uncle of Yarley Yarmin (Johnny Phillips). His sister, Katty, married Thomas Jerusalem of Buangor.

A massive invasion of sheep and cattle led by settler colonists occurred in the Port Phillip region in the decade after Mullawallah’s birth. During the 1830s and 1840s, violence against Aboriginal people and property was common, as was Aboriginal resistance. Aboriginal fighters targeted sheep, cattle, and colonists: one offensive reported in the Port Phillip Gazette in 1843 allegedly involving up to six hundred Aboriginal warriors. It is likely that Mullawallah would have been aware of such events because they were widely talked about.

In about 1850 Mullawallah participated in a gathering of some two hundred Aboriginal people on a site close to what would become Sturt Street, Ballarat’s main thoroughfare. The corroboree involved dancing and feasting on roast bullock. The gold rush to the region a year later denuded the landscape, destroyed or permanently changed water sources, and saw the influx of thousands of migrants from many nations. Some Wadawurrung took the opportunity to act as guides and to engage in trade or employment on the goldfields and in the towns that grew up to service the miners.

However, colonisation had a devastating impact on the Wadawurrung, resulting within a decade in massive loss of life due to constant violence, introduced diseases, and the harmful effects of tobacco and alcohol. The colonial government’s response to this growing crisis was to encourage survivors to relocate to reserves under the protectorate system. There is no indication that Mullawallah ever lived on a reserve. By the late 1870s his home base was Ercildoune, a 73,000-acre (29,542 ha) property claimed initially by the Learmonth brothers, then purchased in 1873 by Sir Samuel Wilson, a wealthy pastoralist whose surname Mullawallah adopted. Among local settlers he became known as Frank Wilson; in the wider non-Indigenous society he was known as William Wilson. At Ercildoune, Mullawallah was given rations and access to shepherds’ huts, but he also had his own shelter and continued to hunt for food. He formed a close friendship with the family of the manager, Archibald McCook. After McCook’s wife nursed him through an illness, he carved a walking stick with two intertwining snakes for her as a gift. One of two surviving photographs of Mullawallah shows him at a picnic with Ercildoune football players and the McCook children in 1886.

Not tall, Mullawallah was athletic and sprightly. He walked widely across his country visiting lookout sites, including perhaps King Billy’s seat at Waubra, Lake Burrumbeet for eel fishing, and Ballarat for Christmas festivities. Skilled at riding and passionate about horse-racing, he walked all the way to Melbourne to view the Melbourne Cup. He stayed at campsites and with colonist friends, such as John Comrie, the keeper of the Ballarat Common, where he enjoyed damper, hospitality, Scottish dancing, and fishing trips with the Comrie family.

With the demise of so many Wadawurrung and the relocation of others, Mullawallah appeared to live his life in isolation from his people. Yet the colonists with whom he engaged saw him as an ambassador and representative of his people and Country, a role he seemingly assumed with earnestness, dignity, and awareness of the loss suffered by the Wadawurrung and neighbouring nations because of colonisation. In his interactions with settlers at Ballarat, he framed his requests for money as a form of rent to compensate for the land taken from Aboriginal people. When Lord Hopetoun, the governor of Victoria, visited Ercildoune in 1893, he was introduced to Mullawallah. The governor presented him with blankets and a sovereign. Later, Mullawallah was planning to visit the new governor, Lord Brassy, to persuade him to issue a proclamation against the slaughter of kangaroos and possums in the Burrumbeet area, but he was too sick to travel. Found suffering from illness at Burrumbeet, he was taken to the Ballarat Hospital where he died in September 1896. He was buried in the Wesleyan section of the new cemetery, Ballarat.

Driven by an ill-informed nostalgia, the Bendigo Independent described Mullawallah as ‘the last of his tribe’ (1896, 1). Such public memorialisation had already begun in other regions of Victoria. While, for some colonists, this may have answered a need to assuage guilt over the forcible acquisition of Aboriginal land, for most it served as a convenient way to mark the tragic, but apparently inevitable, end of the Aboriginal race. Scores of colonists viewed Mullawallah’s open coffin at the hospital and more attended his funeral, which was organised by the settler community. Those who knew Mullawallah or had met him shared stories and ensured that his breastplate and walking stick were preserved. Members of the local historical society and the Australian Natives’ Association raised funds to place a monument at his grave, a granite obelisk surrounded by iron spears, bearing the inscription: ‘The resting place of Frank / The last of the Ballarat tribe of Aborigines’ (Newton 2001, 78).

During the 1980s the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative nominated Mullawallah’s grave as a significant site and upgraded the surrounds. Since 1988 Indigenous residents of Ballarat and Wadawurrung descendants have marched to the grave during the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’s (NAIDOC) week to reflect on loss and survival. It has been part of Ballarat’s Koori Heritage Trail since 2003. In 2014 a young Wadawurrung man, Sean Fagan, proposed the name Mullawallah for a new suburban development in Ballarat. The State government and the Ballarat City Council supported the proposal, but an active and angry residents’ group strenuously opposed it, claiming that the name was too difficult to spell and pronounce and too similar to other town names. The suburb was ultimately named Winter Valley after an early colonist. The following year Winter’s Swamp, also in Ballarat, was developed and renamed Mullawallah Wetlands. Originally held by the Ballarat Historical Society, Mullawallah’s walking stick is now held in a collection at the Gold Museum, Ballarat.

 

Bonnie Chew is Wadawurrung and a descendant of Queen Mary of Ballarat and Mary's son John Robinson.

Janice Newton is of Anglo-Celtic descent and has lived on Wadawurrung country since 1987.

Research edited by Kiera Donnelly

Select Bibliography

  • Bendigo Independent. ‘Last of His Tribe: A Wesleyan-Roman Catholic.’ 25 September 1896, 1
  • Cahir, Fred. Black Gold: Aboriginal Peoples on the Goldfields of Victoria. Canberra: ANU E Press, 2012
  • Clark, Ian D. Aboriginal Languages and Clans: An Historical Atlas of Western and Central Victoria 1800–1900. Melbourne: Monash Publications in Geography, 1990
  • Clark, Ian D. ‘“Of One blood”: An Appreciation of the Life of Yarley Yarmin, Aka Johnny Phillips, Son of Bullip Bullip (King Billy of Ballarat) 1848–1901.’ In Pay Dirt! Ballarat and Other Gold Towns, edited by Clare Gervasoni and Dorothy Wickha, 46–61. Ballarat, Vic.: Ballarat Heritage Services, 2019
  • Comrie, Roy. Personal communication, 2002, 2006
  • Newton, Janice. Mullawallah: The Last King Billy of Ballarat. Ballarat, Vic.: Ballarat Heritage Services, 2014
  • Newton, Janice. ‘Remembering King Billy.’ Journal of Australian Colonial History 3, no. 2 (October 2001): 61–80
  • Port Phillip Gazette. ‘Domestic Intelligence.’ 9 September 1843, 2

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bonnie Chew and Janice Newton, 'Mullawallah (c. 1821–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mullawallah-30097/text37345, published online 2022, accessed online 1 December 2022.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022

Mullawallah, (centre), with young footballers at Ercildoune, n.d.

Mullawallah, (centre), with young footballers at Ercildoune, n.d.

Gold Museum Ballarat, 252391

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mullywallack
  • Mr Mulla
  • King Billy
  • Wilson, William
  • Wilson, Frank
  • Mullywaliach
Birth

c. 1821
Victoria, Australia

Death

23 September, 1896 (aged ~ 75)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation
Key Places