Time Capsule opening and Pinkerton family reunion in Pinkerton Forest 8th November 2017

On 8th November a time capsule placed in a memorial cairn in Pinkerton Forest was opened.

The Pinkerton family were the original European pioneering family to settle here

As part of redevelopment of Surbiton Park, there was major archeological excavation to relocate the pioneer graves and historic cairn of the Pinkerton Family to Pinkerton Forest, a reburial of the bodies and a rededication of the cairn.

During the reburial process in 1992 the original time capsule was retrieved at a community event. A new time capsule was buried and had input from the local community on the undertaking that it was to be retrieved on 8 November 2017.

A new plaque was placed at the entrance to Pinkerton Forest, replacing one that had been placed there twenty-five years ago but was now severely faded due to decades of exposure to the sun, making the inscription increasing difficult to read.

The new plaque, composed by Western Water’s Nicole Bovezza reads:

“Pinkerton Forest Project

Indigenous Heritage

For thousands of years before European settlement, this area was a place of particular importance to local Aboriginal people. In the Aboriginal world the boundaries between social groups were commonly marked by natural features such as streams or mountain ranges.

The area on the eastern side of the Werribee River was divided between two clans. Most of the river’s margin was territory of a clan called Kurung-jang-bulluk whose language was Woi wurrung. The name of this clan refers to the red earth of their estate, which was an area between the Werribee River and Koroit Creek, taking in parts of Wyndham, Mount Cottrell and Melton. The urban centre of Kurunjang, within the City of Melton, takes its name from the clan that lived in the locality.

The people of this clan and others belonged to the Kulin Nation which stretched from the Murray River in Echuca to Bass Strait. The Kulin view of the world was that it was created by two main spirits – Bunjil (eagle) and Waa (crow) and lesser ancestral spirits in the Dreamtime.

Evidence of aboriginal occupation of the Pinkerton Forest can be found on some of the native trees located in the forest. Scarred trees which have had bark removed by indigenous Australians for the creation of bark canoes, shelters, shield and container are evident throughout the forest. These trees have been heritage listed by the state government and are protected by law.

Pinkerton Forest Project

In 1992, the Melton City Council acquired Surbiton Park, a 692-hectare property adjacent to the Melton Recycled Water Plant, for recycling of wastewater and sewage by irrigation on land.

The land was mainly used for farming but also contained Pinkerton Forest, a remnant Grey Box Woodland, home to indigenous plants and animals and a site of Aboriginal significance. Since European settlement, the forest had been degraded by humans, stocks, vermin and introduced vegetation.

A pioneer grave site and cairn belonging to the Pinkerton family, some of the earliest European settlers in the area was on land threatened with water inundation.

In 1992, a local voluntary community group, ‘Friends of Pinkerton Forest’ was formed by the Shire of Melton to manage the Pinkerton forest.

As part of redevelopment of Surbiton Park, there was major archeological excavation to relocate the pioneer graves and historic cairn of the Pinkerton Family to Pinkerton Forest, a reburial of the bodies and a rededication of the cairn.

In 1995, Western Water acquired the land from council when it became the responsible authority for water and wastewater services in the Melton region. Friends of Pinkerton Forest continued its partnership with Western Water in managing Pinkerton Forest.

In 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Western Water and PLEG.  The MOU is not a legally binding document, but it represents Western Water’s commitment to enhancing biodiversity.

Surbiton Park includes two areas of environmental significance

  • Pinkerton Forest – 35 hectares
  • Werribee River Volcanic Gorge – 54 hectares

 PLEG continue the process of restoring the woodland reversing the damage that grazing, wood harvesting, weed invasion and ringbarking had caused over 180 years of farming, self-sown wildflowers, rare native grasses, trees and shrubs have flourished creating conditions where threatened birds such as the White-bellied Sea-eagle and Diamond Firetails are now breeding.

Members of BirdLife Werribee have undertaken quarterly bird surveys in Pinkerton Forest in association with PLEG for thirteen years.

In 2010, Western Water signed an agreement with Melton Shire Council to permanently protect Pinkerton Forest under the Planning and Environment Act 1987.

With State Government funding, Western Water and PLEG are creating a habitat corridor for native species, linking Pinkerton Forest to nearby Bush’s Paddock.

Known as the ‘Pinkerton Link’, the habitat corridor is being created from the old sludge paddock. The sludge paddock was full of weeds, due to high nutrient levels in the soil, but it is slowly recovering its natural biodiversity.

Time capsule

During the reburial process in 1992 the original time capsule was retrieved at a community event. A new time capsule was buried and had input from the local community on the undertaking that it was to be retrieved on 8 November 2017.

On 8 November 2017, the 1931 and 1992 time capsules were salvaged at a special community event held in the Pinkerton Forest hosted by Western Water and City of Melton.

During this event a new 2017 time capsule was interred along with both the original time capsules, with the undertaking that they be removed in 50 years (8 November 2067).”

Opening of time capsule

The plaque was removed by Western Water prior to the opening event and the concrete chamber cut open, supervised by Western Water Environmental Engineer William Rajendram. This was done prior to the official event as it was a time-consuming, noisy and messy procedure as concrete dust flew into the air from the grinding tool. The memorial cairn had been erected beside the family graves.

Western Water Environmental Engineer William Rajendram supervising opening of time capsule

The graves had originally been placed in what is now irrigated pasture land. The grave site was originally in the middle of the Grey Box Woodland, giving the forest its early alternative name of Forest of the Five Graves. However over the succeeding century or so much of the original forest had been cleared to create grazing land. After the farm had been acquired by Western Water the land became irrigated as recycled water became available from the water treatment plant.

Original site of Pinkerton family graves in what is now irrigated farmland

Pinkerton descendents at Pinkerton graves site in Pinkerton Forest (photo by Rosemary Fethers)

It was soon after decided by the family to relocate the graves and cairn to the remnant Pinkerton Forest.

Official opening of time capsule

On Wednesday 8th November 2017 the time capsule placed in the memorial cairn in in 1931 and 1992 beside the family graves in Pinkerton Forest was opened in a ceremony attended by many dignitaries, reflecting the importance placed on the environmental, cultural and heritage values of Pinkerton Forest by Melton Council, Western Water and the State Government. Over forty people participated in the event. There was even a coffee cart!

Participants included:

  • Bob Turner (Melton Mayor)
  • Don Nardella (State MP for Melton)
  • Neil Brennan (Western Water CEO)
  • Melton councillors
  • Pinkerton family descendants
  • Members of the local community
  • Children representing several local primary and secondary schools
  • Local media

Melton Mayor Bob Turner

Western Water CEO Neil Brennan

Frances Overmars (PLEG Environmental Restoration Co-ordinator) Don Nardella (Melton State MP) Kel Tori (Melton CEO)

Pinkerton family reunion and picnic

On Sunday 12th November descendants of the Pinkerton family met at the ruins of the old Pinkerton family homestead beside the Werribee River. Over sixty people participated, some fifty family members and ten environmental workers (Pinkerton Landcare & Environment Group and Werribee Wagtails). Some came from as far afield as Sydney. The reunion picnic followed the historic opening of the time capsule placed in the forest by the family in 1931 and 1992.

Numerous people of several generations, many of whom had never met, shared a common descent from the original Pinkertons who made the long and arduous trip from Glasgow to settle here beside the Werribee so many years ago.

This was possibly the largest group of people to gather at the old homestead site for over half a century. Descendants of the Pinkerton family have gathered at the site from time to time in years past to celebrate the family’s settlement in Australia. Several old photographs attest to periodic large family gatherings both beside the homestead site and in the forest beside the old original grave site.

The family also invited the people who had contributed to the environmental restoration of the site over several years, including members of Pinkerton Landscape & Environment Group and Birdlife Australia (formerly Bird Observation and Conservation Australia)

Bird observers quickly noted the old Wedge-tailed eagle nest in the old Red Gum standing over the river and just in front of the old building. They were also quick to notice the sharp cries of a pair of Sacred Kingfishers that were nesting in the tree immediately beside the eagles’ tree. One family member even described seeing a Wombat burrow beside the river! There have been anecdotal reports of a Wombat in the region and only a few years ago Western Water staff reported seeing Wombat droppings by the river. Wombats are found in the Pyrete Forest between Gisborne and Toolern Vale, and are sadly frequently seen as roadkill on Gisborne Road; usually where the road crosses the gully near the intersection of Gisborne and Coungalt Roads. We would not expect to see them so far from the Pyrete Forest but with these recurring reports, who knows?

The site is still known as Pinkerton Flat as a memorial to the Pinkerton family.

The old homestead remains flanked by some of the original Robina trees planted so many years ago to shade the homestead. The bright green foliage stands out against muted olive green and greys of the Australian bush, and against the stark basalt of the volcanic gorge. A week or so earlier the trees were festooned with long racemes of ivory-coloured flowers but these were now only visible as faded petals surrounding newly-forming seeds. When in flower, they present an impressive sight against the bright green foliage of the Robinia trees and the background of the dark basalt slope of the volcanic gorge. As family and visitors sheltered from the hot sun in the shade cast by the trees we were reminded why they were planted around the homestead in the first place.

The large permanent waterholes that form the river in this part of the gorge would also have been an attractive feature in this dry landscape. Permanent water would have been a crucial pre-requisite for settlement here.

Dry stone-waller David Long was present to describe the construction of the homestead. David had been contracted by Western Water to tidy up and define the outline of the old homestead. He observed that the rocks used in the construction did not appear to have been worked or shaped in any way. It seemed that the rocks had been gathered then placed together, jigsaw fashion, to form the house structure. He thought that the house may have been constructed rather quickly, perhaps in anticipation of building a larger house in the near future. David believes that this may be one of the earliest buildings in Victoria to have been constructed in this manner. He compared it to several similar stone houses in St Kilda (Scotland!).

Archaeologist Gary Vines, who completed the original Surbiton Park Archaeological Survey of the property in 1992 also participated in the reunion.

Campbell family

Old Pinkerton homestead shaded by Robinia trees (photo by Rosemary Fethers)

Many thanks to Rosemary Fethers and Bryan Campbell for organising the event and reunion.

Also, many thanks to Western Water and City of Melton for facilitating this historic event. Also, many thanks to Peter Sell and his team at Western Land Services for their efforts in cleaning up the site the previous week, as well as David Long for his renovation of the old homestead itself. Thanks also to Western Waters’ Nicole Bovezza for composing the plaque inscription. Many thanks to Pinkerton Landcare & Environment Group members for many hours planting, weeding and cleaning up the site over several years!





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