I wanted to like Brambuk. I really did. Maybe it was just that my expectations were set too high.
I first learned about Brambuk during a bush tucker gardening class in St. Kilda. One of the presenters, Carolyn Briggs—a Boonwurrung elder and former restaurateur, served up wattleseed, quandongs and warrigal greens with delicious and informative aplomb. During the presentation, while waiting for wattleseed powder to arrive, we learned that Brambuk was one of the only places in Victoria where you could purchase indigenous foods and that our wattleseed was making its way from the distant Grampians to our plates as we spoke.
Brambuk is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. It showcases the history and culture of the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung—the Aboriginal communities that inhabited the Grampians. The Grampians, known as Gariwerd in local Aboriginal culture, is home to 80% of Victoria’s known rock art sites, though the significance of a number of the sites has been lost. I have mentioned before that didgeridoos are not a traditional instrument for aboriginal communities in this area (rather, they were played by the inhabitants of Arnhem Land). Boomerangs were, however, used by local tribes and Brambuk touts itself as the place to go to learn throwing technique. Local tribes also played the sport Marn Grook, which is said to the the inspiration for Australian Rules Football.
The name Brambuk means ‘belonging to the Bram-bram-bult ’, the two brothers of the creation story of the Gariwerd represented by the white cockatoo. The roofline of the cultural centre is laid out in the shape of a white cockatoo in flight.
You can see then that I was primed to love this place. The truth though is that the disappointment set in nearly immediately upon arrival. Although the cultural centre is free, it was virtually deserted. There was one woman manning the gift shop and two individuals operating the cafe. No one was at the actual cultural centre’s desk. There was no one to explain anything or even to buy tickets from to view the informative movie. As far as I could tell, the few workers were non-Aboriginal. It just seemed an empty place.
After the bushtucker gardening class, I was particularly interested in trying the cafe at Brambuk. The cafe features indigenous ingredients that aren’t often found in Melbourne restaurants. Unfortunately, I had already tried most of the items on the menu. I opted for the kangaroo mince pie, which was delicious. But, kangaroo is available at the supermarket next door and when minced and covered in sauce tastes much like any other red meat. I had been looking forward to learning and perhaps even tasting something new. It just didn’t pan out that way.
I hesitate at being too harsh. Because, to be fair, the Aboriginal community in Victoria was particularly devastated by the introduction of Europeans. And I can’t help but wonder if maybe the Brambuk is not the sort of place that you can just swing by and expect a deep cultural experience. There are several tours offered by the centre that require pre-booking. I would be willing to give Brambuk another shot in a much wished for trip with my husband this summer.
Brambuk Cultural Centre
Halls Gap, Victoria 3381
(03) 5361 4000