Truth-telling book examines University of Melbourne’s relationship with Indigenous people

Dhoombak Goobgoowana editors
L-R: Dhoombak Goobgoowana editors Dr James Waghorne, Dr Ross L Jones and Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Marcia Langton AO. Image credit: James Henry

A scholarly work which examines the University of Melbourne’s troubled and complex historical relationship with Indigenous people was released today.

The book, entitled Dhoombak Goobgoowana: A History of Indigenous Australia and the University of Melbourne, includes chapters on the University of Melbourne’s colonial and eugenics history and complicity in scientific racism.

Dhoombak Goobgoowana means “truth-telling’’ in the Woi Wurrung language of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people, on whose unceded lands several University of Melbourne campuses are located.

The book is written and edited by Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Marcia Langton AO and historians Dr Ross L Jones and Dr James Waghorne and published by Melbourne University Publishing. The first of a two-volume series, more than 60 authors contributed content.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell said the book grew out of the vision, commitment and activism of Indigenous leaders inside and beyond the University.

“To move forward we must tell the truth about the University’s history and engagement with Indigenous Australia,” Professor Maskell said.

“We can no longer look away from this difficult history and its legacy, we need to face up to the effect this history has had and continues to have on the Indigenous community.

“These books are part of a wider process of truth telling for the University. It is crucial we listen to the Indigenous community and work with them to better understand what the University needs to do to acknowledge our past, change our culture and make the University a place that encompasses its history, acknowledges past wrongs and provides a welcoming environment in which to thrive.”

Volume One, called Truth, addresses the University’s relationship with Indigenous people through several lenses: Place, Human Remains, Settler-Colonial Knowledge, and Indigenous Knowledge.

It examines the early benefactors who were implicated in and/or benefited from the stealing of land, wealth and labour.  It also examines the human remains used by the University, the widespread interest in and promotion of eugenics and the research that was dependent on the unacknowledged expertise of Indigenous knowledge holders.

Professor Barry Judd, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous), acknowledged the significance of Dhoombak Goobgoowana and the University’s examination of its disturbing history of engagement with Indigenous people.

“While facing up to this history is important, it is just the beginning,” Professor Judd said.

“The actions that result from truth telling will be what transforms the University of Melbourne and its community.

“The University’s commitment to truth telling is outlined in Murmuk Djerring, the University’s Indigenous Strategy 2023–2027. This process, and the actions outlined will, I hope, lead to a more collaborative, productive and respectful future for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of our community and beyond.”

Volume Two, called Voice, will examine the presence of Indigenous people in the University and the experience, effort and activism of Indigenous students and staff. It will be published in early 2025.

Volume One of Dhoombak Goobgoowana was formally submitted to the Yoorrook Justice Commission, the first formal truth-telling process into injustices experienced by Indigenous people in Victoria.

The University is also planning to establish a Truth-telling and Dialogue Centre to support research, teaching and learning into the subject and which will support faculties in their existing and proposed projects addressing issues of truth and justice.

The book is available free as an ebook to download on a dedicated Dhoombak Goobgoowana website, which also includes commentary from the editors and links to a series of Pursuit articles and other resources.

The ebook will also be available for free from 28 May 2024 at and all major ebook providers. The print book will be available from 1 July 2024 from and select retailers.

Additional quotes

Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Marcia Langton AO

“I have worked at The University of Melbourne for almost a quarter of a century.  I heard in the corridors the whispered asides about aspects of the history of the institution examined in Volume 1 of Dhoombak Goobgoowana.

“For too long, those of us whose academic professions require that we understand the impacts of our scholarship on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have wanted our colleagues and students to be aware of the events, people, and intellectual forces of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that shaped our modern university.

“The profound influence of false scientism, eugenics and racism on our disciplines and public attitudes is poorly understood. Like me, many have wanted to rid the academy of racism, and in particular, recognise Indigenous knowledge and contributions to human knowledge by incorporating Indigenous knowledge into the academy.

“The authors of the chapters in Volume 1 have shone a bright light on the archives and assembled the historical facts that together gave a very different view of the past than the myth upheld by ignorance.
“Some chapters reveal the activities of those who reformed the institution and included Indigenous people and knowledge in our endeavours, slowly overcoming the traditional Western stance of supremacy over them.

“As far as I can ascertain, no other university in the world has produced a history of its engagement with Indigenous peoples. As the first of its kind, this volume is a truth-telling that will inform our community for generations, overcome the moral injury of the past and underpin just relations with Indigenous people.”

Dr Ross L Jones

“History is a way of remembering. Dhoombak Goobgoowana is concerned with forgetting – the forgetting of the foundation of the University of Melbourne on unceded land; the forgetting of the total absence of Indigenous Australians in its life in the first century; the forgetting of the racism that underpinned much of what the University studied, taught and preached and the forgetting of the basic humanity of the First People of this continent.

“Dhoombak Goobgoowana is concerned with remembering these forgotten matters and celebrating the path the University has begun to take to remedy the glaring absence of our Indigenous people.”

Dr James Waghorne

“The stories of the University have long been skewed. By admitting biases, past failures, expressions of intolerance or violence, the University can renew and grow again.

“This history gives a new perspective on the histories of universities, at least the official histories of universities, which have seldom found space for many of the topics that feature here.

“The project has parallels with the legacies of slavery projects undertaken by universities across the western world, particularly in its analysis of race, but the issues that inform the history of the Indigenous peoples of Australia are different, as is the contributions of Indigenous knowledge.”