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In public museums as well as private art galleries all over Australia, you will find the highly prized works of William Barak. With good reason: they are beautiful. They also tell the story of the culture of Australia's indigenous Kulin people – before, during, and after the arrival of white European colonizers. It's a story Barak knew well because he lived it.
Beruk Barak was born near what is now Melbourne, Australia, in 1823, roughly 40 years after the British sailed into Melbourne Harbor. It wasn't long before the white settlers started pushing the native aboriginal people around, scamming them out of their land.
Barak's Wurundjeri clan was one of five tribes to form an alliance called the Kulin Nation. The Kulins referred to the land that had fed their people for millennia – 60,000 to 100,000 years – as the "Yarra." To them, the Yarra was sacred. At the time of Barak's birth, it was deeply under threat. So too, therefore, was Kulin culture.