Dja Dja Wurrung Cultural Landscape
2016. [6m x 1.8m] Currently on view at Northern Arts Hotel, Castlemaine.

Eliza Tree – artist and expeditioner, community activist and environmentalist. I combine my creative passion, academic historical research, and deep concern for the climate crisis, to explore culture, ecology, and landscape.

My visual arts practice is of multi-disciplinary enquiry, drawing upon historical documents, contemporary sources, images, maps, and journals, to challenge the meta-narrative of colonialism in early Australia, particularly Victoria.

Acknowledgment of Country
I wish to acknowledge that I live and work on Djaara Country, the homelands of the Dja Dja Wurrung Peoples, who have lived on and cared for this Country since time immemorial. I pay respect for their elders past, present and emerging. I pay respect and appreciation for the Peoples and ancestors, their lands and water, birds, plants and animals who have lived in harmony for millennia, and we will continue to respect and protect. Sovereignty was never ceded. As was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Latest News
September 2022

Looking forward to presenting at Castlemaine Art Museum – Conversation, this Sunday 18th September 2022, at 4pm. Hope you can make it along to hear about my journey of Art, History, Ecology and Nature!


Recent Studio Exhibition :  

Making the Invisible Visible 

Arts Open: 12-14 & 19-20 March 2022.
More details here which also links to photos from the current exhibition.

The Dawson Series: 16 drawings based upon information drawn from James DawsonAustralian Aborigines: The Languages and Customs of several tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, Australia.  George Robertson Press 1881

Eliza Tree, Campsite and utensils, 2022

Guns, Germs and Steel

‘Peaceful settlement’ or Invasion ?’

Questioning whether the First Fleet’s Commission, arrival and invasion of Australia, was seeking a convenient ‘dumping ground for convicts’, or a Military and trade outpost in the Pacific?

Revealing a political, economic and maritime environment in late 18th Century Europe, hungry for expansion of Empire and trade. With the premise of the “Doctrine of Discovery” giving permission for invasion and exploitation.

Believing the words of Colonial Narrative, to be truthful : Author and Authority.

Personal correspondence and Public Narrative.

Hot on the heals of losing the American Colonies, and the unpopularity of Slavery.

And whether the mysterious outbreak of Smallpox 14 months after arrival / invasion was actually deliberate?

So many questions, along a fascinating journey, reading between colonial lines and lies.


Some thoughts on work over recent years.

‘At the Frontier’ 

Questioning the meta-narrative of peaceful settlement.

“Pastoralism required huge stretches of land, the same land that was at the heart of Aboriginal society. The squatters’ sheep and cattle ate up the pastures on which native game fed, and demolished the yams and mirr-n’yong roots which traditionally served as a staple of the Aboriginal diet…

Around Melbourne and in rapidly settled areas, eeling spots, rivers, traditional camping places and sacred sites were fenced off, and the Aborigines forbidden entry. In the interior, waterholes that had previously provided fish, duck and eels were spoiled by sheep or closely guarded by hutkeepers.

Aboriginal campsites, chosen for the availability of water and seasonal food supplies, were taken over by squatters who were attracted to them by the same advantages… Wherever the white man went, the native game was eaten out by sheep or shot for sport.

Deprived of their former food sources, the Aborigines either starved… or obtained food in some way or other from the whites.”

M.F. Christie: Aborigines in Colonial Victoria 1835–86. p41

From Invasion to Recognition 

Revisiting Indigenous Cultural Landscapes, before the gold rush: 1835 -1851

Paintings, Audio Visual, Maps & Text

In 1835 John Batman established an illegal settlement in Port Phillip Bay.

In 1836, Major T L Mitchell’s Expedition journeyed through Dja Dja Wurrung Country, the Castlemaine region – describing it as the “Australia Felix” -the happy & abundant Australia.

Home of the Djaara Peoples, for many millennia,
Living rich Cultural and Spiritual lives,
in abundant cultural, cultivated and created Landscapes.
Within a diverse & extraordinary bio region.

It’s time to revisit this forgotten Chapter: Exploration, Invasion, Land rush to Gold rush. 1836 – 1851.

It’s time to broaden the grand narrative of the colonial gold rushes, to reveal Indigenous Cultural landscapes, enjoying a temperate climate within a well watered and abundant geological & ecological region;
Land Grab and Pastoral Invasion of an unprecedented scale;

Dispossession & dislocation of Indigenous Peoples and Culture.

Before the wild and heroic Victorian Gold Rush(s), beginning in 1851.

My aim is to connect viewers and communities with our local environment and history, acknowledging and re-imagining Indigenous presence, lifeways, and cultural heritage.

My works combine my passion for nature and history, travel and pre-colonial landscapes in my narrative. I seek to reveal Indigenous Cultural Landscapes, to revisit with new eyes, our region of central Victoria – Djaara country.

Following Major Mitchell’s ‘discovery’ of “Australia Felix” (the happy or abundant Australia) and the explosion of colonial settlement, I explore and reveal the pastoral invasion, Indigenous Dispossession, environmental degradation and cultural change, leading up to the gold rushes.

Dja Dja Wurrung Country Multimedia Click Here

Utilising maps, text, images and archives, my paintings create a ‘Visual Narrative’ of my insights into the cultural and natural environment of Jaara Country – the lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung.

The original inhabitants, the Dja Dja Wurrung, lived in this area of central Victoria for +- 30,000 years  before exploration brought word of the ‘Australia Felix’ – the happy / abundant Australia.

Re-evaluation of indigenous culture and lifestyle through images, maps and wider reading, reveals a different picture than previously painted. Aboriginal land management, cultivation and hunting techniques rewrite the story: not subsistence nomads but many highly evolved and organized family groups, living in an abundant environment, practising complex social, cultural and religious traditions. The indigenous ‘nomadic’ life carefully and respectfully managed the clans’ territorial country and ensured abundant resources.

The availability of a range of maps and texts, provides an opportunity to discover and examine the resistance of the Jaara people, the rapid and violent dispossession of the land from the Jaara, in one of the fastest expansions of Empire on the newly settled continent. Major Thomas Mitchell first explored and mapped this region in 1836 on his homeward journey through the Australia Felix, in anticipation of informing the Colonial Government of new pastoral lands. Despite evidence of the longevity of indigenous habitation and their continuing presence, Mitchell’s reports favoured the Colonial narrative of settlement and spurred a land rush from the north. “Certainly,” he wrote, “a land more favourable for colonisation could not be found. Flocks might be turned out upon its hills, or the plough set at once to the plains.” He described the area in glowing terms. “No primeval forest require first to be rooted out, although there was enough of wood for all purposes of utility, and as much as even a painter could wish.”

By 1837 and into 1838, overlanders began to travel southwards with their herds and flocks. This caused changes in the Colonial policy with the annexing of Crown lands and the selection of pastoral lands, enormous tracts for squatters to graze. The settlement of Port Phillip and Mitchell’s 1836 expedition were followed by a pastoral invasion ‘of unprecedented scale’. William Barker selected a run of 30,000 acres, with 7,000 sheep and Donald Cameron established himself across 20,000 acres with 5,000. Together, these two pastoral runs subsumed the traditional lands of the Galgal Gundidj clan of the Dja Dja Wurrung, including the Forest Creek watershed.

The narrative of pastoral invasion is significant, complex and overlooked, despite spanning the fifteen years immediately prior to the 1851 gold rush. Vast flocks of sheep and cattle were introduced into cultivated Indigenous landscapes, and they thrived. The waterways, previously described as a meandering chain of ponds, changed over fifteen years of use by squatters, to rushing and eroded creeks. The squatters selected and took up areas of land, always with the best access to water. The luscious verdure of grasses and herbage was rapidly diminished. This unpredictable, rapid and violent invasion was overshadowed by heroic stories of colonial hardship and by the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of gold rush settlement beginning in 1851.

The history of this region is written in its landscape and the land sets a stage for stories, myths and spiritual connections to be made. Forest Creek was the heartland and home range of the Galgal Gundidj clan of the Jaara tribes, who inhabited this region for millennia. Traditional stories include the local legend of giants throwing rocks at each other and creating Leanganook (Mt. Alexander) and nearby peaks. Volcanic eruptions can be traced geologically, to as recent as 10,000 years ago. The indigenous peoples created and transformed the landscape. They were the original ‘affluent society’ and the Dja Dja Wurrung were members of the oldest living culture on Earth. Their spirits inhabit the landscape, and their People and Culture continue.

http://www.elizatree.com/gallery/Tree_Eliza_Castlemaine State Festival Exhibition_20150329_0033a