Koorie Victoria and State Library of Victoria collections

Guide to sources in the Library collection, with links to external collections and digitised collections.


Maps from the early days of Port Phillip trace a story of encroaching white settlement and the consequent dispossession of Aboriginal people from their lands.  Traditional life was damaged as relocation diluted or destroyed connection to country.

Aboriginal guides helped colonists through this new landscape, as part of expedition parties, and also as trackers

The maps generated by anthropologists such as Alfred Howitt and Norman Tindale attempted to locate and define distinctive language and cultural groups.

More contemporary maps, published by the Victoria Archaeological Survey produced meticulous records of Aboriginal habitation.  The protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage - objects and places is administered by First Peoples-State Relations, through the administration of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2016.

Researchers Ian D.Clark and Sue Wesson  have created maps using a wide range of nineteenth century material including government records, manuscripts and published sources to compile as detailed a picture as possible of Aboriginal settlement and language. 

To access the collection, contact the Library.

For more information look at the research guides Maps for local and family history and Victoria's early history 1803-1851.

Journal article
Gareth Knapman. Mapping an ancestral past: Discovering Charles Richards’ maps of Aboriginal south-eastern Australia. In Australian Aboriginal studies. No.1 2011.
Available inside the Library and offsite to Victorian registered users.

Notes on some maps in the State Library of Victoria collections

Map of New South Wales & South Australia: shewing the principal sites referred to in the correspondence relative to the Aborigines. 
1844. This map accompanies the House of Commons Parliamentary paper: Aborigines (Australian colonies), No.627, 1844, p.349.
(Available inside the Library and offsite to Victorian registered users)
Indicates the level of expansion of white settlement.

Robert Brough Smyth. Map showing approximately some of the areas occupied by the Aboriginal tribes of Victoria. 1878
This map shows “petty nations” and tribes. A striking feature is the density of white settlement, and extent of exploration, evidenced by named geographical features. By 1881 the Victorian population was 862,346 – including 780 Aboriginal people. A digitised copy is available through the National Library website.

Alfred W.Howitt. Natives tribes of south east Australia.
First published in 1904, this book continued the methodology of Brough Smyth and Curr in relying on the contribution of a network of anthropologists, settlers, missionaries, and others who lived and worked with Aboriginal people to include in their publications.  The map section includes a map of Victoria, no lines are drawn, but names of tribes are placed on the map. A digitized version of this book is available inside the Library and offsite to Victorian registered users.

Norman B.Tindale. Map showing the distribution of the Aboriginal tribes of Australia 1940; Aboriginal Tribes of Australia - their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names 1974

The work of Norman B Tindale covered a range of disciplines including entomology, paleontology and anthropology. Phillip Jones, commented in his obituary for Tindale that his tribal map of Australia, (1940, revised 1974) “together with his encyclopaedic catalogue of Aboriginal tribal groups, was radical in its fundamental implication that Australia was not terra nullius.”   The 1940 map shows tribal boundaries.  Topographical features are largely limited to the Great Dividing Range.

The 1974 map is on a much larger scale (4 sheets).  The boundaries are drawn by Winifred Mumford on a base map from the Division of National Mapping, Canberra.  Contours are shown by shading and spot heights. The online version includes links from each tribal area to a brief description of the location, alternative spellings, area and references to published sources.  Tindale's collections are held at the Museum of South Australia

Stephen L.Davis. Australia's extant and imputed traditional Aboriginal territories
This map was developed from fieldwork carried out 1978-1993. There are no identified traditional territories in Victoria – the closest to the west is Ngarindjerri, near the Coorong, and to the north, Barranbinya in western NSW, near Brewarrina.The map represents the “political geography of current Aboriginal groups in Australia which have retained a primary responsibility for their traditional territory.”

David Horton. Aboriginal Australia. 1994
This map was produced as part of the Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia. It includes larger language groups, not clans, dialects or individual languages.

Location of protected Koorie sites. 1999
This map identifies protected sites, scattered remnants in suburban Nunawading, Melbourne.  This map is illustrative of the work produced as councils combine with local history groups and Aboriginal organizations to record remnants of habitation.

Victoria Archaeological Survey
The Victoria Archaeological Survey functioned within the Ministry of Planning and Environment, and later the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.  Their work covered archaeological research more generally, recording sites of historic and/or maritime significance.  The library holds a comprehensive collection of their publications – many of which include maps. 

The Willaura plan for example, identifies remnants principally focused along the Hopkins River. The maps plot evidence of habitation - providing a picture of the density, complexity and mobility of life within traditional lands.

Macquarie atlas of Indigenous Australia : culture and society through space and time.
The atlas illustrates the spectrum of Indigenous life and culture from historical through to contemporary perspectives.

Local government area maps

These maps produced by Aboriginal Affairs Victoria identifies Aboriginal cultural heritage places within Local Government Areas. The maps indicate survey areas and identify features where found including burial sites, art sites, eel traps, artefact scatters, grinding grooves, hearths and mounds, middens and stone remnants, including quarry sites. In addition towns and roadways are identified but not named.

Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1930

Indigenous populations of Australia and the Torres Strait actively resisted British colonisation from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.  Massacres of Indigenous Australians were designed to eradicate opposition.  They were carried out secretly with few perpetrators brought to justice.   

This site presents a map, timelines, and information about massacres in Eastern Australia from 1794 -1872.  It is the result of a project funded by Australian Research Council and undertaken at University of Newcastle.

Native Title maps

From the National Native Title Tribunal, maps showing boundaries of claimant applications.

Map collections in other Australian libraries

Map of Indigenous Australia - AIATSIS resources, including "Whose country am I on? - a guide to identifying traditional owners of a particular area.

Koorie Heritage Trust collection includes maps.

Trove holds records for items held in libraries across Australia.


From first contact, the naming of places in Australia has followed conventions that allow for the use of both Aboriginal and European words.

In 1828 the Colonial Secretary issued a communication: "Native Names should be continued or adopted when it can be conveniently done." [1]

The NSW Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell, established guidelines for naming places that gave preference to Aboriginal names, to assist in navigation by a shared system of placenames - he mentions how convenient it is when exploring to use Aboriginal placenames for confirming ones position.[2]

More recently the recognition and inclusion of Aboriginal placenames seeks to acknowledge the connection of Aboriginal people to their country and as being part of Australia's heritage.  Dual placenames have also been negotiated for places such as Grampians-Gariweird and Uluru-Ayers Rock.

Further reading:

1. Millin, Origins of place names in Port Jackson. Journal and proceedings. Royal Australian Historical Society. Vol.31,No.5 p.313.
2. T.L.Mitchell. Three expeditions into the interior of eastern Australia. Vol.1 p.174.