The Wurundjeri-willam clan, a large clan of Woiwurrung speaking Aboriginal people was divided into 3 smaller ‘sub-groups’. Their clan head or ngurungaeta distinguished these groups from each other; at the time of white settlement around in Melbourne in the late 1830s Billibellary was one of the most respected of these men. Billibellary’s clan’s lands extended from the Merri Creek Yarra River junction north to the origin of the Merri at the foot of the Great Dividing Range, thereby encompassing the current day city of Darebin.
The arrival of white settlers caused great upheaval in the traditional lives of Billibellary’s clan. The Wurundjeri-willam felt the changes of white settlement as much as any tribe, some falling victim to lures of the new culture like alcohol. Some of his fellow ngurungaeta succumbed to this temptation, but never Billibellary. He established a strong, positive, although at times strained, working relationship with William Thomas, the Assistant Protector of Aboriginals. Billibellary recognised the value of the relationship, as he knew it would help him influence policy relating to his people. Like Thomas, he was a tolerant man at a time when intolerance of other races and cultures was the norm. He realised that the white settlers were staying for good, so he negotiated as best he could to acquire introduced products like food, blankets and guns. He constantly strove to improve the conditions of his people. As their relationship developed at the Merri Creek Station in the 1840s, Billibellary would become a valued friend and confidante of William Thomas.
Billibellary was well known and well respected, not only in his own tribe but well beyond as well. The support he gave to the Merri Creek Aboriginal School was a key factor in its initial successes in the mid 1840s, but when he withdrew his support in mid 1846 the effect on enrolment and attendance was swift and dramatic. Billibellary had been suffering the effects of influenza for some time, which had gone unaided by use of Western medicine. He returned to traditional medicines but sadly he was beyond help and he died in August of 1846, aged 47. His cause of death was likely to have been inflammation of the lungs and influenza. His death was a further blow to the Merri Creek School as his people soon left the site and would not return for years, such was the reverence in which he was held, and the depth of grief felt by his death.
Clark, Ian D. and Heydon, Toby (2004). A bend in the Yarra: A history of the Merri Creek Protectorate Station and Merri Creek Aboriginal School 1841-1851. Canberra (A.C.T.): Aboriginal Studies Press.
Lemon, Andrew (1983). The Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne: Hargreen.