The Mount William stone axe quarry is a prehistoric aboriginal site; the greenstone quarry was an important source of raw material for the manufacture of greenstone ground-edge axes, which were traded over a wide area of south-east Australia.
The quarry comprises the remains of hundreds of mining pits and the mounds of waste rock where Aboriginal people obtained greenstone (diabase), and manufactured stone blanks for axe heads.
Chipped and ground stone axes or hatchets were an essential part of Aboriginal toolkits in southeast Australia, with the Mount William greenstone being one of the most prized and extensively traded materials
Willliam Bradley appears to have been the first to describe the exchange of Mount William stone on 12 November 1838:
“Today two groups of blacks met at the encampment by the deep hole in the creek. The stranger groups as I will call them had travelled from the south and they had carried with them a number [of] stone hatchets. Some of these hatchets were polished while others were still quite rough and I imagine still require further work. The group of blacks who are camped on the creek were eager to obtain these hatchets and in return for one polished axe they gave two of their opossum skin covers. For a hatchet still in a roughened state they gave in return a number of their light bamboo spears. This bartering as I shall call it went on for some time, but only amongst the menfolk.
(Bradley, 1838, in McBryde, 1984a:142)
In the 1880s prominent Wurundjeri leader and custodian of the quarry, William Barak (who probably witnessed the final operations at the quarry) described the traditional ownership and access conventions. “There were places in which the whole tribe had a special interest. Such a place was the “stone quarry” at Mount William… which had a network of leading men who jointly had custodial rights in the quarry… where the leading men of two intermarrying clans: the Kurnung-willam clan and the Kurnaje-berreing clan which were two of three clans that made up the Wurundjeri. There were four men who acquired the responsibility of ownership and control of the quarry: Ningu-labul and Nurrum-nurrum-bin of the Kurnung-willam clan and Billi-billeri and Bebejan of Kurnaje-berreing clan. Billi-billeri was the headman in occupation of the site…When neighbouring tribes wanted stone for tomahawks they usually sent a messenger for Billibellary [the main custodian]. When they arrived they camped around about the place. Billi-billeri’s father when he was alive split up the stones and gave it away for presents such as ‘rugs, weapons, ornaments, belts, necklaces. (Alfred Howitt 1904:311)
Mount William had long been recognised as a special Aboriginal place when the first attempt was made to provide some formal protection in 1910.
The site is now under the management of the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Compensation and Cultural Heritage Council, It has also been included on the Register of the National Estate and the Australian National Heritage List.
Tours of the quarry site are usually held as part of the Lancefield Agricultural Show or Lancefield Megafauna Festival