Long before European settlers came there were other inhabitants of Gunbower Island. Indigenous tribes lived on both sides of the Murray River between Echuca and Koondrook. They included clans of the Barapa Barapa and Yorta Yorta. They were very acutely adept at managing their environment in a manner which was highly sustainable and driven by intricate knowledge processes.
Scientific research into archaeological human remains has in fact revealed the indigenous inhabitancy of this area beyond 20,000 years. In 1969 the fragmentary remains of more than 40 people were uncovered at an ancient burial site at the edge of nearby Kow (Ghow) Swamp. The Kow Swamp remains are the world’s largest single population of human remains from the late Pleistocene era (120,000-120,000) years). Thus the indigenous history of the Gunbower area is indeed viewed as a very monumental one indeed.
The Murray River (Dungulu) and the Gunbower Creek (Kanbowro- meaning twisting and torturous like the neck of the black swans and long neck turtles) were a rich source of food of all descriptions including fish, water and other birds, yabbies, mussels, tortoises, frogs, possums, kangaroos, insect, grubs, cumbungi reeds and waterlilies.
Both Barapa Barapa and Yorta Yorta made canoes from the bark of the trees to travel the river and swam with ease to gather their food. If they moved away from the river it would be in winter when the river level rose and inundated the flood plain. The construction of fish traps showed their knowledge of the rivers ways; by trapping fish in the shallow water courses when the river levels dropped they ensured a continuing supply of fish with as little effort as possible.
First Expedition into the interior by whites
Major Thomas Mitchell explored this area in 1836, discovering the Patho Plains. Squatters soon took up Grazing Leases known as “Runs” on either side of the Murray River.