Stone hatchets were an essential part of the Aboriginal toolkit in southeast Australia. There was at least one stone hatchet in every camp. Hatchets were often attached to a wooden handle and used like an axe to cut off sheets of bark for huts or canoes; to shape wood into shields, clubs and spears; to cut open hollows in trees to catch possums; and to split open trunks to get honey or grubs or the eggs of insects. They were made from hard stone that was roughly shaped and then ground against another stone to make a cutting edge.
Mount William or Wil-im-ee Moor-ring (Woiwurrung for tomahawk place) in central Victoria was famous throughout south east Australia as the source of the highly valued greenstone hatchet heads. Mount William hatchet heads were prestigious items traded over much of southeast Australia creating social links and obligations between neighbouring groups.
The Traditional Owners of Mount William, the Wurundjeri, dug deep pits to reach the unweathered stone underground, or heated the surface of outcrops (above-ground boulders) to break away pieces of rock. They shaped the stone into a roughed-out hatchet head using a large boulder as an anvil. The traded hatchet heads were then polished and shaped by their new owners to meet their exact needs.
Mount William became one of the largest and most intensively-worked quarries. Today you can see the remains of hundreds of mining pits and the mounds of waste rock that surround the old work stations where the Wurundjeri made the greenstone hatchets.
In the 1880s William Barak, the prominent Wurundjeri leader, spokesman and artist explained Mount William's traditional ownership and access conventions to ethnographer, Alfred Howitt, in the following way:
"There were places in which the whole tribe had a special interest. Such a place was the "stone quarry" at Mount William... When neighbouring tribes wanted stone for tomahawks they usually sent a messenger for Billibellary [the main custodian]. When they arrived they camped around about the place. Billibellary's father when he was alive split up the stones and gave it away for presents such as 'rugs, weapons, ornaments, belts, necklaces".
Historic records of traditional ownership and traditional control of access to stone resources are rare in Australia, which contributes greatly to the historic and cultural significance of this place.
An important Aboriginal place
During the mid-1800s Mount Williams was recognised as a special site that had been used by Aboriginal people well before European settlement. Throughout the 1900s people from all walks of life were visiting the area - scientists, students and curious adventurers travelled to see the quarry firsthand. In 1917 it was described in the Victorian Parliament as
"...the great historic landmark of Australia, furnishing the only indication or proof that we have that this country was
inhabited for hundreds of years before the white man came here"
(Mr A. F. Cameron, Member of the Victorian Parliament 1917).
The Mount William Stone Hatchet Quarry is exceptional for its sheer size, intensity of quarrying and extensive work stations. The place showed that Aboriginal history in Australia extended back well before the arrival of Europeans.
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