The History of Sydney

Pre-Colonial Sydney:
The First Inhabitants

It is believed that the Aborigines of Australia first arrived on the continent some 25,000 years ago from southeast Asia, either by canoes, or by the now submerged Saul Shelf which once joined Australia to mainland Asia. At the time of the arrival of the first white explorers, the Aboriginal population was in the vicinity of 300,000. Scattered across the face of the continent, there were some 500 semi-nomadic tribes and sub-tribes, each of which was made up of clans or families. Each tribe had its own language, with dialects of a common language being common where a tribal area was vast. Each clan, comprising of between 20 and 300 people, had its own territory through which it wandered, hunting animals and collecting food before moving camp as the seasons changed and the food supply diminished. Communication between clans was common, particularly for initiation ceremonies and social gatherings, but tribes rarely came together.

The aboriginal people did not have homes. To them, the land itself was their home and everything in it within the bounds of their territory belonged to their tribe or clan as a whole. Caves and overhangs were used as shelters against the elements, and if huts were built, they were not viewed as permanent dwellings, rather as temporary shelters from wind, rain and the sun, built because no natural shelters such as rocks or caves existed in the place where they were. A village of about a dozen such huts stood near the mouth of the Cooks River when Watkins Tench first surveyed the area. He described them as being constructed out of stringybark in the shape of a triangular prism, not tall enough to stand up in but big enough to accommodate four people lying down. The huts were unoccupied but would have been inhabited when their owners revisited the area. Similar huts were found near Lachlan Swamp (Centennial Gardens) where there are also no rock shelters. To them, their fire and their environment had great spiritual significance, and had the same meaning as the home does to today's Australians.

With the exception of pockets of communities in the Northern Territory, the Aborigines had no form of cultivation. Their diet consisted mainly of small animals such as kangaroos, snakes, grubs. etc., supplemented by plant roots and fruits like berries and lilli pilli. The Kuring Gai-speaking tribe which inhabited the Sydney district were blessed with a plenteous supply of seafood. Cockles, crabs and oysters were collected from the rocks and larger fish including stingrays were speared from rocks around the foreshore. Their staple diet of seafood was supplemented by meat from ducks, goannas, possums, wallabies and other small mammals, and a variety of foods derived from the local flora including lilli pill fruit, found in abundance in the rainforests of the harbour foreshores, berries and nectar from banksia flowers. The centre pith of cabbage tree palms were used as a vegetable and orchid tubers were roasted and eaten. Native sarsparilla vines had a double use - as twine in the construction of boats, and brewed for a kind of tea. Grevillieas were also soaked in eater to make a sweet drink. Seeds from various plants were ground on rocks to make flour. The palm-like burrawongs were a great food source and the women took care in soaking, grinding and baking of the nut to remove the poison, and extracted nutritious starch, grubs and resin for glue from grass trees and wattle gums.

The Port Jackson and Broken Bay Aborigines had developed considerable skills in canoe-making, utilising the bark from Bangalay trees to make canoes. The bark was scorched, stripped in one piece, then glued and tied together at both ends. Though effective in the harbours, they were not sea-going craft as they sat very low in the water and could not cope with the rough seas of Broken Bay and the Pacific Ocean. So low did the canoes ride that the first whites saw them, they thought the natives were sitting in the sea as their craft were not visible.

Less aggressive and warlike than some of their inland counterparts, the Kuring Gai-speaking Aborigines used their weapons more for hunting than defense. The boomerang, first described by an amazed Captain Watkins Tench as being 'a large heavy piece of wood shaped like a sable and capable of inflicting a mortal wound', was used to kill or stun small mammals and ducks. A variety of sticks were used in hunting, including the wad (thick stick) and bandy (knob headed club). Guiding (spears), made from the shaft of a grass tree or the long spiral shoot of a yellow gum, were used to catch smaller animals and fish. The nuding was a 3 prong harpoon, the golana a 4 prong fishing gig barbed with bone from a kangaroo or prickle of a stingray glued to the shaft with eucalyptus gum.

Photo: Australian Museum

The yarung was a wooden shield, hardened with fire, that had been cut in one piece out of a section of tree trunk. The yilimury was a bark shield and the dawarang, a smaller parrying shield. Mug (stone axe heads) had a variety of uses - lighting fires, grinding seeds, chopping wood for fires and carving rock art. While the hunting was left to the men, the women collected fruit, dug roots with a Minoan (scraping stone).They also fished, but their fishing was done with a line made by tightly twisting together two evenly laid strands of bark, which was dark in colour and as fine as silk.

Other than their tools and items of clothing worn during winter, their personal belongings were few, among them being the gallium, a contained made from the knot of a tree; the Bangalay, a basket made from a single piece of bark; ngangung, nose and hair ornaments, usually made from bone of shells.

Like all other Aboriginal languages, Kuringgai was not a written language, so there is no tribal record of their history. The only record of Aboriginal culture by the Aboriginal people themselves is contained in their art, found on rocks and in caves across the country. In the Sydney region, some 600 rock art sites have been recorded with over 4,000 separate figures mainly of plants, animals, fish and people, which recall the dreamtime and events from the past.What is recorded about them by the white settlers is very limited since their society quickly broke down after the arrival of white man, and in the perilous early years of the Sydney colony, the focus was on survival rather than recording the culture of the native people. Captain Hunter and Captain Tench made one-on-one word lists, but it is the contribution of Lieut. William Dawes, whose The Vocabulary of the Language of N.S. Wales give the greatest insight into the Kuringgai language and the people who spoke it. Prepared in 1789, they consist of a series of unpublished field notes which document a number of conversations Dawes had with Patyegarang, a native woman.

The Aboriginal clans or bands of the Sydney Region

Whilst anthropologists have followed the pattern of other countries and categorised the various groups of Aborigines as tribes, the tribal names by which the Sydney district Aborigines are known refer more to the localities where the language or language group was spoken rather than ancestry. Around Sydney there were three main groups - Dharug, Kuringgai and Dharawal - each comprising of a number of smaller units called clans or hordes who claimed a common ancestry had their own land area with its sacred sites.


The largest of the groups, the name being spelt in a variety of ways, including Daruk (the name of the land council), Dharug (the National Park) and Dharruk (the suburb). Their territory extended from the Blue Mountains to the coast, but were predominantly in the area we now know as Western Sydney. The name Dharug is actually the native word for Yam, which were an important part of the group's diet. These yams were particularly common on the plains of the Hawksbury-Nepean River system, which is why there was so much trouble between the natives and whites in the 1800s when the new arrivals began clearing the river flats, wiping out the yams for their crops. The coastal Dharug became known as the Eora, not because it was their name, but because of a cross cultural misunderstanding, a situation which still exists. When asked by the whites to identify themselves, the answer given was 'eora', which means 'here'. Capt. Phillip took that to mean that their tribal name was eora, not realising he was being told that they were the local residents from 'around here'! The name Eora is used in historic documents and books to describe all the Aborigines who lived in the area from Broken Bay to Botany Bay and inland as far as Liverpool and Parramatta.

Dharug Clans or Bands

Cadigal / Kadigal - North Head to Five Dock Wangal / Wanegal - Iron Cove, Concord Burramattagal / Burramedigal - Parramatta Wallumattagal / Walumedegal - Milsons Point / Ryde Mura-ora-dial - Maroubra Kurrajong - Sackville / Portland / Kurrajong Muringong (probably Muringal) - Camden district Kameygal - Rockdale / Kyeemagh / Botany Bay Bool-bain-ora - Wentworthville Mulgoa - Penrith Birrabirragal - Watsons Bay / Vaucluse Bediagal - north of Georges River Toogagal - Toongabbie Cabrogal - Cabramatta / Fairfield Burruberongal / Boorooberongal - Richmond / Windsor Cannemegal - Prospect Gomerrigal-Tongara - South Creek Bidjigal - Castle Hill Cattai - Windsor / Middle Hawkesbury


Kuringgai is used to describe the Aborigines who lived between Port Jackson and Broken Bay. For many years it was believed that the Kuringgai were a different tribe and spoke a language different to the Dharug, however today there is considerable doubt about this, the origin of the name Kuringgai having given the biggest clue to the truth. The name Kuringgai is derived from two words; kuri, the name by which the Aboriginal people of South Eastern Australia still refer to themselves; and nggai, which is the possessive suffix. Thus, it seems likely that the name Kuringgai would have been recorded as a result of the Aborigines being asked 'What place is this?' and the whites being given the answer 'belonging to us' or 'our land'. The name Kuringgai was recorded, and in time it would have become a common belief that their language was also Kuringgai. It appears that the naming of the people and their language as Kuringgai could well be the result of another cultural misunderstanding. As recorded history indicates that the Kuringgai communicated freely with the Eora, it seems logical that they were in fact Dharug and spoke the same language, if not a different dialect to the Dharug.

Sydney boys; Joseph Lycett's painting of Natives and the North Shore of Sydney Harbour. Courtesy Mitchell Library

Kuring-Gai Clans or Bands

Cammeraigal / Kameragal - Chatswood / Cammeray to Lane Cove River Terramerragal - Turramurra / St Ives / Terrey Hills. Carigal - Barrenjoey Peninsula / West Head Cannalagal - Mona Vale / Dee Why / Manly Goruaigal - Fig Tree Point Kayimai or Gayimai - Manly Borogegal - Manly area Gorualgal - Crows Nest / Neutral Bay Borogegal-yuruey - Bradleys Head


These people occupied the area between Georges River and Jervis Bay. The tribespeople who encountered Lt. James Cook when he visited Botany Bay in April 1770, were of the Gweagal Clan which was part of the Dharawal language group.

Dharawal Clans or Bands

Gweagal - Kurnell / Caringbah Norongerragal or Nongerragal - Menai / Bangor Threawal - Bong Bong / Southern Highlands Tagary or Tagarai - Royal National Park Illawarra - Wollongong

Many of the following have been recorded over the years as being the sub-clans and tribes which lived in the Sydney basin. In most cases, they were probably not tribal names, rather they described where they came from. The writings of George Proctor, protector of Aborigines in the 1800s, refer to a number of previously unrecorded groups, including the Bidgimangora and Bulladeersyallaway. These were not tribal names, rather descriptive names made up from words of different languages. Bull is Dharug for two; deers is a Scottish originated corruption of days which was in common use at the time; Yalta is Dharug for walk; and away is English. Bulladeersyallaway was in fact not the name of a tribe, but simply identified them as a people who lived two days walk away. Baja in Dharug means flat, ova indicates a place or district, therefore Bidgimangora simply refers to people from the plains, rather than it being a tribal group name.

The Burramattagal, from which the name Parramatta was derived, lived at the head of the Parramatta River. Their name is derived from Burra, meaning beginning; and matte, used to identify a locality in a similar way in which Europeans add suffixes like ton, town and ville to the name of a location. Burramattagal were literally people from the head of the river. The Boorooberongal were people who lived where Richmond is today. An area that was once plentiful with kangaroos, the name describing the people from there refers to them as being 'from the kangaroos'. Bidgigal was a name to describe anyone from flat country (it was used to describe a number of peoples from different areas); the name of the Mulgoa of the Nepean River refers to the black swan found on the river; The name Cannagal, used to describe the North Head people, literally means people of fire. History indicates they burned their environment more often than Aborigines from other areas, perhaps because the nature of the flora in their area, which was scrub and heath, required this be done to keep it habitable.

Bungaree's family drawn by Pavel Mikhailov, 1820



The clan which inhabited the area around Middle Harbour from Clontarf to Manly are recorded as being the Comma, however it is likely they were part of the Cammeraigals (see below), their name being similar, perhaps a shortened version of Cammeraigal. Numbering between 50 to 100 in 1788, they used the caves around Grotto Point and Washaway Bay as shelters, and the beaches from The Spit around to Manly were their seafood hunting ground. Middens can be found at Fisher Bay and Reef Beach. Little else is known of the Comma people except that they were the most hostile of the Port Jackson natives towards the new arrivals. Within 12 months of Phillip's landing at and naming Manly Beach, half of the clan had died through smallpox, a disease introduced by the newcomers to which they had no natural resistance. Within 7 years, the tribe had all but vanished. Collins Beach, in the heart of Comma territory, is where Gov. Phillip was speared by an aborigine. Phillip and Capt. Collins had 7 arrived at the beach to visit their friend Bennelong, who had just returned from walkabout. Three men had died when a whale had overturned a boat in the harbour. The whale had then been washed up on the beach at Manly and killed by the local Aborigines.

As was their custom, the locals had passed the message on to neighboring tribes that a whale had been beached and hundreds of aborigines had arrived to share the feast. As Bennelong was introducing Gov. Phillip to his fellow tribesmen, a West head tribe leader named Wil-le-me-ring mistook Phillip's outstretched arm as a hostile gesture and speared him above the collarbone. Phillip, not wanting to retaliate and cause problems, calmly moved away, and asked Bennelong to take whatever action he felt appropriate. After the incident, the beach was known as Collins Bea ch, after Judge Advocate George Collins who had accompanied Phillip on this occasion. Arabian, a Comma, was reluctantly captured at Manly Cove by Gov. Phillip. He died of smallpox within six months of capture, and appears to have been infected himself when caring for his 'brothers' infected by the disease.

As more and more whites settled the area around Manly, Welling Reserve, designed to protect the local Aboriginal people, was established. Though the shelters at the reserve were familiar to them, being forced to stay in one area was totally foreign to the aborigines, and the idea of a reserve was totally unsatisfactory to them. Within a few years, they were wiped out by the diseases of the white man.


Also spelt Gamaraigals. The north shore suburb of Cammeray, which is in the heart of their tribal territory, is named after the Cammeraigal. Though their main territory was the western side of Middle Harbour from around Bantry Bay to Mosman, the Cammeraigal were a very mobile people and were often seen in other parts of Sydney Harbour looking for shellfish which were in more plenteous supply on its southern shores than Middle Harbour, which was their territory. The Cammeraigal were a large and powerful group whose members included clever men or courageous, who had an important role in the spiritual and ritual side of life. Their name in fact means 'people of the clever men'.

The last surviving male Cammeraigal was named Tarpot, an old man who lived in a cave near the Barn at the head of Mosman Bay. Records indicate he was still alive in 1888 but there is no account of when he died. He was one of the few to live to old age and survive the smallpox epidemic which wiped out his tribe.


Found on the lower North shore and the west bank of Lower Middle Harbour, they were a very small clan who numbered no more than 30 in 1788 when their tribal details were recorded by the white colonists. They lived in the same area as the Cammeraigal, and were commonly found around Mosman Bay. Numerous middens of the clan can be found on the shores of their territory, such as a cave on Little Sirius Point and the shores of Mosman 1 Bay, Tailors Bay and Chowder Bay which are dotted with middens. it was at Chowder Bay in the summer of 1788 where they first met white man in a friendly encounter.


The Garigals had populated the area around Kuring-gai Chase, Broken Bay and the Hawkesbury River for thousands of years. The largest of the Kuringgai clans, it is believed that well in excess of a thousand occupied this territory before white settlement. After the smallpox epidemic depleted their numbers, they regrouped as the Broken Bay tribe.

With the arrival of the colonists, the number of fish harvested from in Sydney Harbour increased and the supply rapidly depleted. Consequently, many of the tribes from the Sydney Harbour region moved up around Broken Bay where the arrival of the white man had yet to make an impact, but wa Qsn't long before it did. Governor Phillip made first contact with the Garigals at Resolute Beach in March 1788 where he was greeted by a friendly old man and a boy. They showed him the land, offered him a cave to shelter in overnight and on the following day, followed him around in the rain. It was on this visit that Phillip learnt that all the women of the Port Jackson region all were missing the first joint of their little finger on their left hand to help them perform one of their more important domestic chores in later life - catching fish. The joint was removed soon after birth in a process called meal gun. A piece of string was tied tightly around the little finger and kept there until the joint eventually fell off.

Phillip was always given great respect by the Garigals, perhaps because, like them, he was missing a front tooth. It was part of their custom to remove a young boy's front tooth as part of their initiation ceremony, a ritual they insisted other Kuringgai speaking natives followed, so they probably believed Phillip had also been initiated into his tribe in that manner. Phillip and subsequent governors responded warmly to the gentleness of the local tribes, and attempted at all times to keep relations between the two cultures friendly and open. When their survival became increasingly threatened by white man fishing what for centuries had been their waters, the Aborigines successfully petitioned Governor Hunter for their own fishing ground.

Evidence of the area's occupation by the Garigals abounds. Middens can still be seen along the shores of Pittwater and rock art featuring hand stencils and pictures of kangaroos, dolphins and fish decorate the rock and caverns in which the Garigals sought shelter from the elements at night. Hand stencils were painted with a mix of white clay and water which was blown on from the artist's mouth. Sometimes red clay was used to create read paint, at other times they used human or animal blood.

The Garigals have long since vanished from the Kuring-gai Chase and Pittwater regions, but their memory is kept alive by their rocks art and by the national park after which bears their clan name and the Kuring-gai Chase National Park, which recalls their language.


The area between the southern shores of Port Jackson and Botany Bay, including the area that is now known as Sydney's central business district, was populated by the Cadigal and a sub-group, The Birrabirragals. Their territory extended east to around Petersham.

Phillip had his first encounter with the Cadigal people when exploring Sydney Harbour in search of a site for his colony. As the new arrivals pitched the tents at Camp Cove, a row of spear-shaking natives positioned themselves on the overhangs of the cliffs and shouted 'warra-warra-warra' which means 'go away'. Determined to establish a peaceful relationship with them, Phillip forbade his men to retaliate and maintained a similar attitude throughout his governorship. This attitude no doubt defused a lot of problems which might have arisen had the colonists been encouraged to follow their natural instincts and fire their guns in the event of conflict which is inevitable when two cultures meet and try and share a common domain. The peace was short-lived, however, as the influx of more colonists with the second and consecutive fleets of new arrivals put more pressure on their survival.

The middens found in just about every bay of Sydney Harbour from Balmain to Watsons Bay are evidence that the Cadigal loved their seafood and spent many a balmy summer evening feasting on oysters, crabs and cockles by the harbour shores. Caves and overhangs at Milk Beach, Parsley Bay were all used as shelters, and according to early colonial records, the beaches of Rose Bay, Parsley Bay, Milk Beach at Watsons Bay were places of embarkation for excursions up and down the harbour in canoes made from the bark of trees. The rock carvings at Milk Beach are some of the best preserved in the area, due to the fact that they are often protected by water and sand and only are exposed after heavy rain and at low tide. The Cadigal and Birrabirragals were not tall, but stocky and very strong. They wore fur coasts made from possum skins in winter, but discarded them in summer, to wear only their belts and weapons. The women wore kangaroo skins in winter, and carried over-the-shoulder bags containing flint stones to make fires and paperbark for holding water.

The land in the vicinity of the Macquarie Lighthouse was a sacred site used for burial of the dead. It was here where their elderly dead were cremated and their younger dead placed in grass-lined graves and covered with soil. Believing that the spirits of the dead roamed the burial grounds, these sites were kept well away from where they lived, hence this burial ground's isolated location.

Because of the close proximity of their tribal lands to the white settlement, the Cadigal were one of the first Aboriginal clans to be infected by smallpox. At the end of 1788, records indicate the Cadigal clan numbered 60. Within three years, their numbers were more than halved. By the mid 1800s, the whole surviving aboriginal population from the Sydney area has been forced south into their territory as year by year the white settlement encroached further and further onto tribal lands. In 1880, there were just 26 aborigines living at a mission established by the whites above Frenchman's Bay at La Perouse, the sole survivors of the Cadigal and Birrabirragal peoples.


The Wangal people occupied the area to the west of the Cadigal on the southern shores of the Parramatta River to around Rose Hill including the inner islands of Sydney Harbour. Bennelong, the Aboriginal friend of Gov. Phillip, was a Wangal.


This clan, believed to have numbered no more than 30 persons in 1788, made its home on the north shore from Parramatta to as far east as Mosman Bay but were seen predominantly on the north shore between Milsons Point and Lane Cove. In early records, their name was recorded as Whelmed and Wallumatta, means opposite shore, however, since the suffix 'matte' is translated as 'place of', the name Wallumatta most probably identifies the locality of the lower north shore as theirs.

During the 1800s, it became a tradition for the government to give each Aborigine a gift of a blanket each Christmas. Commenced by Gov. Macquarie in line with British Government policy to attempt to live as peaceably with the natives as possible, the aborigines from the whole north shore region used to congregate in the coastal caves and overhangs used by the Walumedegala for shelter during the rest of the year. The tradition stopped in the late 1800s when smallpox had so diminished their numbers, no one turned up for their Christmas gift one year.


The most hostile of the Aborigines of the Sydney area, their territory has never been clearly defined as early colonial records indicate they occupied territory around Castle Hill. Their hostility came about as a result of their yam crops being dug up and replaced by European cereal crops by the whites when they began moving into the Parramatta area. It was the Bijigals who, under clan leader Pummel, led numerous raids on pioneer settlements in the Parramatta region in the 1800s. Pummel was shot in one such battle, but escaped from hospital and was later seen around where the Gorges River enters Botany Bay.


This clan was first encountered by Governor Phillip in 1791 when he explored the Hawkesbury River. Dwellers of the Richmond/Windsor district, they differed greatly from the coastal groups in that they were skillful tree climbers, spoke a different language and did not observe the same tribal customs (Phillip recorded none of the males had lost a front tooth). Being infrequent visitors to the coast, their diet did not include seafood.


They occupied what today is the Cabramatta district. The name Cabramatta is literally translated as 'Home of the Cabra'. they were also known as the South Creek tribe.


The most northerly of the Dharawal who, as a language group, lived south beyond the Gorges to Jervis Bay. Occupying a territory which included the southern shores of Botany Bay and the Cronulla-Sutherland Peninsula, it was The Gweagals who witnessed Captain Cook's landing at Kurnell in 1770. Though they enjoyed a similar diet to the Port Jackson Aborigines with seafood at the top of the menu, the 200-strong clan were quite different in appearance, sticking resin in their hair to give it a mop-like appearance.


Aboriginal sites fall into four main categories:

1. Economic Sites: Generally campsites which show evidence of occupation. Often close to or within rock overhangs and caves used to give shelter, evidences of occupation include middens (piles of discarded shells at feasting sites), fish traps, scarred trees (where the bark of red river gums have been removed to form shields, or carved to indentify a burial site), cooking mounds, wells, watering holes (often depressions carved into flat rock surfaces used to catch the water), remnants of discarded tools, quarries and axe sharpening grooves.

2. Sacred sites: Areas set aside for religious ceremonies, initiations etc. Very little evidence of the use of such sites remain, the major tell-tale signs being the arrangement of stones in patterns or formations. Most sacred sites were located on hilltops which offered panoramic views of the tribal lands. Such locations were preferred as the women were not permitted at such sites and the chance of them coming across the sites by accident was lessened if they were located away from the tribal hunting grounds. A prerequisite for such sites was a large slab of flat rock upon which engravings recording tribal history and culture could be made.

3. Meeting sties: Places where different group of Aborigines met to trade and partake on corroborees together. In the Sydney region, such corroborees are known to have taken place on the shores of Camp Cove and where the Pymble reservoir now stands. Meeting places were usually marked by stone arrangements.

4. Burial sites: Senior members of the tribe or clan were buried or cremated at sacred sites from which their spirits were freed to travel skyward. Other family members were buried within the tribal area, often near campsites, in caves and beside middens. Often such sites were marked by earth mounds, stone arrangements and carved trees.


Rock art is the common denominator in most Aboriginal sites - where there was no rock, tree carving was practiced. This art takes the form of paintings on rock surfaces and illustrations carved into rock surfaces. Most paintings occur in rock overhangs and caves, whereas engravings are most commonly found on the top of ridges of headlands, at water level around the bays and coves of the harbour or near a waterhole or campsite, they are generally horizontal rather than vertical. Every piece of art had a particular significance to the tribe, some told of their tribal ancestry, others identified the land as theirs. No art was created without a reason, therefore all art that remains today had tribal significance, though often that significance is no longer known following the destruction of the culture and breaking of the continuity of tribal religious and cultural activity.

The creation and maintenance of existing of rock art was the responsibility of select tribal members and no other person was permitted to become involved in rock artistry. Under tribal law, the rock art which survives today can only be re-grooved or re-painted by authorised triba l members. As many of the original tribes and clans were wiped out and have no survivors, their art cannot be touched by other tribe and clan members, which is why much of the rock art around Sydney is not being maintained.

Engravings are often shallow grooves less than 5mm deep formed through the pecking of a series of holes in the soft sandstone by a hard rock (often brought in from another area). These holes were then joined by scraping away the rock between them, possibly over time and repeatedly, at ceremonies. As few sites are maintained, weathering by wind and water erosion, cracking and flaking of the rock surface, people walking over them and pollution has caused irreparable damage. Much of the art has been weathered away completely, and only those sites that are protected from the elements and man, or are in areas where the rock is hard and resists erosion, have survived. As they are best seen in low light, early m orning or late evenings are the best viewing times. Viewing at night by torchlight, with a diverse rather than concentrated beam, is also recommended though this limits photography.

Rock engraving is most common near the coast, whereas inland, such as the Blue Mountains, painting is more prolific. The only colours used in painting were white, black and back, with yellow being used sparingly. White came from pipeclay; black from charcoal; red ochre came from nodules of laterite or ironstone; yellow was created from the dust of ant's nests, which might explain its rarity. A em painting of an eel in a cave near Bordeaux Dam, in which the eel is yellow with a black outline, is a rare example of the use of yellow in the Sydney region.

Motifs seen in rock art vary from animals (often recognisable only after you have disentangled the lines), hands, footprints (human footprints are known as mudoes, pronounced mun-doe-ees), small stick figures of humans and larger, more impressive figures of ancestors. Animals include fish, eels (the most common), kangaroos, emus, koalas, goannas, echidnas and dolphins.


Middens are the rubbish dumps at eating sites which, over thousands of years, take on the appearance of small hills than a pile of refuse. Archeological research has found that Berry Island on Sydney's lower north shore is one gigantic midden, and might have been nothing more than a sand bar or small rocky outcrop had the Aborigines not chosen it as a favourite camping site. Most middens on the water's edge are comprised of discarded shells of edible species such as oysters, whelks, clams, cockles and mussels. Being an essential part of any camp or feeding site, they can also contain stone implements, bones of fish, birds and marsupials and plant remains. The latter are rarely detectable by the human eye, and after they have rotted away give the appearance of a mound of earth. Middens are most common outside rock shelters on beaches, headlands, river banks and the tops of ridges and hills. Middens in open areas are the hardest to find as they are often covered with grass or vegetation or have been bulldozed. Rubble at a site can tell the size of the gatherings, what time of the year it was used by identifying the types of food eaten, and how man seasons the midden was used. The latter is determined by the number of layers.


All Aboriginal sites in New South wales are protected by the National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974. Under the act, it is illegal to disturb, damage, deface or destroy any relic, a relic being defined as any deposit, object or material evidence relating to indigenous & non European habitation of New South Wales (not being handicraft made for sale). By definition, this includes middens, habitation sites, rock carvings, rock paintings, scarred trees, stencils, stone arrangements, stone implements and tools.

Aboriginal Sites in the Sydney Region

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