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Jim Poulter Author of Books on Aboriginal Culture and Child Protection
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Simon Wonga - the Master Mimic

Many early settlers observed with amazement at how accurately Aboriginal people could mimic the calls and movements of animals, and the voices and mannerisms of people, -but Simon Wonga was something else.

Simon Wonga

The son of famed Wurundjeri Ngurungaeta (Headman) Billibellari, Simon Wonga was himself destined to become Ngurungaeta in 1846 at just 25 years of age. Five years later in 1852 and following the discovery of gold at Warrandyte in 1851, members of the Wurundjeri were forcibly relocated from their Reserve in Warrandyte and sent to the Police Paddocks at Dandenong on Bunnerong land. Many spent the next seven years there before Wonga achieved a grant of land for his people at the Upper Goulburn in Taungerong country. However within four years they had been cheated out of this land by settlers. So in 1863 Wonga and his cousin William Barak, who ultimately succeeded him as Ngurungaeta, led their people across the Black’s Spur Songline to the Upper Yarra and established Coranderrk Station.

Apart from these achievements as a leader, Wonga had as a young man demonstrated his amazing skills of mimicry to the Aboriginal Protector, William Thomas. On one occasion in 1840 the pair camped at Bolin-Bolin Billabong in Bulleen, where there were some dozen settlers huts nearby. Near midnight 19 year ols Wonga said to Thomas, ‘You like to hear ‘em fowl crow? When Thomas said yes, Wonga crowed twice like a cockerel and a gained and immediate response from the other side of the river, but that was not the end of it. ‘In less than half an hour Wonga had awoken the whole of the fowls. They were crowing in all directions on both sides of the river to Wonga’s great amusement and I may add mine.

On another occasion while traveling to a station in Yarra Glen, Wonga said to a disbelieving Thomas that he could call all the horses nearby to him. Wonga began neighing and within a quarter of an hour Thomas’ party was chaotically surrounded by upward of fifty horses. Thomas asked a laughing Wonga to make some other noise to drive them away, but Wonga simply ‘…took off his opossum skin. And whirling it on top of his spear and ceasing neighing, soon drove them from us to my hearty satisfaction.’

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