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Project Background






  1. Identify and record sites of acts of heroism by Aboriginal people towards non-Aboriginal people across Victoria from 1790 to 1930 - specifically relating to fires (including bushfires and other types of fires), floods (including safely crossing rivers and or rescuing from shipwrecks) and famine (including the guiding and tracking of people and animals).
  2. Establish a coherent methodology to interrogate the wide array of sources.
  3. Provide a reliable resource for communities, researchers, teachers and heritage tourism providers.
  4. Inform public discussion about the pivotal role of Aboriginal people in Victoria’s history.
  5. Provide open access knowledge to the public and invite contributions.



Project Stages

  1. July 2021: Invitation to public to contribute
  2. December 2021: Launch of book and Digital Map
  3. Open/ongoing invitation for public to contribute
  4. Documentary storytellers Wind & Sky Productions are working with the Aboriginal Heroes of Fire, Food and Flood team to explore some of the stories unearthed during research for this mapping project. A short documentary film is in production and is due to be released in 2022.






In this project, an act of Aboriginal heroism is defined as the attempt (whether successful or not) by Aboriginal people in what is now known as Victoria in the period 1800-1930 to come to the assistance of non-Aboriginal people in the event of danger to that person’s health, life or livelihood – with specific reference to fire, flood and food.

This definition embraces heroic acts which involve:

  • waterways - including acts of heroism on or near the coastlines of Victoria;
  • all types of fires - including bushfires and general fires
  • and heroic acts involving the assistance lent to people (in the form of tracking, guiding and or sustaining) non-Aboriginal people at risk of injury/death and or the recovery of animals/livestock.



Data Collection

The evidence for heroic acts by Aboriginal people towards non-Aboriginal people in Victoria is usually found in archival sources (both print and visual) – but is not restricted to these sources. The sources of heroic acts are also sourced from oral histories that have been passed on in verbal accounts. The list below identifies the kinds of sources that were consulted for the project. The bibliography identifies each source in detail, many of which are now available online.



  • Australian Newspapers on Trove
  • British Parliamentary Papers
  • Colonial Parliaments: Select Committee Reports, Votes and Proceedings
  • Historical Records of New South Wales (Victoria was part of NSW until separation in 1850)
  • Historical Records of Victoria
  • Explorers’ and surveyors’ journals
  • Shipping logs
  • Settler diaries, correspondence, memoirs, biographies
  • Papers from agricultural and pastoral companies
  • Missionary correspondence, diaries and reports
  • Visual accounts in paintings and drawings
  • Travel books and guides
  • Published Aboriginal accounts, oral and visual
  • Articles in scholarly and local history journals
  • Local, community, regional, state and national history publications
  • Government Archival sources: they include unpublished governors’ despatches, correspondence from settlers, reports from magistrates, leaders of military and police parties, native police, Crown Lands Commissioners, Protectors of Aborigines and Surveyors
  • Court reports



Data Descriptions
Field Description
Coordinates The geographical coordinates locating the site. This point is imprecise to around 250 metres and is a best estimate. It may also be inaccurate due to the vagueness of historical records, because the event took place over a large area, or is simply unknown.
Latitude The Latitude of the incident in WGS 84, rounded to 3 decimal places.
Longitude The Longitude of the incident in WGS 84, rounded to 3 decimal places.
Location The nearest town, locality or geographical identifier where the heroic action occurred. If we cannot be accurate to a locality/region. Eg: if records indicate ‘Murray River’...
Estimated number of non-Aboriginal people saved A number will be provided where the data provides for an estimate of the number of non-Aboriginal people saved
Names or number of Aboriginal rescuers A number (or the names of rescuers) will be provided where the data provides for an estimate.
Type of heroic action Brief general descriptor of type of heroic action will be provided
Short summary Where possible, a narrative of the heroic action describing the nature of the action, how the heroic act took place and any other relevant information.
Sources Historical sources for heroic actions.
Hyperlink to image Where possible a hyperlink to an image associated with the heroic action will be provided
Hyperlink to
Where possible a hyperlink to the text associated with the heroic action will be provided



Data Updates

This is an ongoing project and the information is subject to change. Data is uploaded to the digital map and information on the site adjusted at regular intervals, with a stage number in the footer of each page. The project will formally conclude with Stage 4 in 2022, but will remain open for contributions. Data will be updated accordingly. Ongoing maintenance may include corrections and some additions thereafter.




The full collection of sites are stored in the common standard datum of WGS84, but are projected in the online map using WGS 84/Pseudo-Mercator (EPSG:3857).

Points showing heroic sites were located using a variety of sources and tools, cross checking sources against each other, nearby sites, old maps and within GIS systems. Each point has purposefully been made imprecise by rounding to 3 digits (approx. 250m) for 2 reasons:

  • Sources often only roughly identify locations (eg: 'on the Murray River', 'in the region of…', etc.)
  • Heroic acts sometimes took place over large areas of ground (eg: a bush fire would cover a significant area). The area over which some heroic acts took place is occasionally larger than any margin of error in the accuracy and precision of points and areas marked on the map.

The map and 3D terrain visualisation is implemented using the ESRI ArcGIS Javascript API.



Stage 1: Preliminary Findings

Information on this site represents the best evidence available to the research team. It remains subject to change from ongoing feedback, community consultation and research. The research team invites suggestions and corrections.



Preliminary Analysis

The data is indicative rather than definitive. The data is a starting point only, and are not representative of the full extent of heroic acts. Compulsory and free education in Victoria was not introduced in Victoria until late in the 19th century and subsequently literacy levels were lower in this period. It is likely that many more heroic acts occurred than were reported and recorded and for which we can find evidence.



Project Acknowledgments

The Aboriginal Heroes of Fire, Food and Flood project was funded by the Telematrics Trust.

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