North Bondi Rock Carvings

There are numerous examples of Aboriginal rock art on the cliffs above the ocean at North Bondi. At Ben Buckler, five examples once existed, but a representation of a turtle about 1.5 metres long is the only one that remains. It was re-grooved by was re grooved by the Waverley Council in 1964. A whale and three elongated figures have either been buried by silt or destroyed when the path and staircase were built.

Located beyond the golf course on the rocks at Williams Park, North Bondi, above the ocean is an Aboriginal rock carving site which features a number of Aboriginal engravings, including sharks, fish, men and women. To their north-east is another group, which today are quite worn, and appear to be of non-Aboriginal origin. One carving in this group is of a Spanish sailing ship. It was in 1912 that Hargrave, Australia's 'father of aviation'  and a historian of some repute, examined these carvings which depict letterings and two outlines of a carrack, a vessel steered by a sweep, like an ancient Greek trireme. The ship resembles the Santa Maria, in which Columbus sailed to America in 1492. The letterings in capitals beside the ship, are 'BALN'  in one line and beneath are the letters 'ZAIH. ' The letter 'W'  is beside the symbol of a cross within an elongated circle, which is the symbol of conquest by Spain. It was emblazoned on the sails of the Spanish Armada and the ships of the conquistadors on their voyages to the Americas. Post colonial era carvings are also visible but have no consequence.

Hargrave believed the letterings to be ancient Spanish Latin 'doodles' (a form of Latin shorthand used during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries). He believed them to say, "We in the Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel conquered W from point to point by the sign of the Cross."  The letters AIH  could have been the rock signatures of witnesses to the declaration, he said. Near his home on Pt. Piper, Hargrave also took interest in two stout ring bolts leaded into solid rock near the waters edge, far enough apart to hold ropes attached to the mast of a small ship. Nearby, was an ancient excavation that could have been a dam.

It is a commonly believed that the ring bolts were placed there by convicts to allow the mooring of boats belonging to Captain John Piper (1773-1851), a military officer who arrived in Sydney in 1792 and built a mansion there. Hargrave extensively researched the North Bondi engravings and concluded they were of a Spanish caravel and not a British sailing ship as was once thought. He believed they were placed there by the crew of the Santa Yzabel which left Spain in 1595 to establish a colony in the Solomon Islands and is evidence that Spanish vessels sailed the east coast of Australia long before Captain Cook visited our shores in 1770. Hargraves finding caused a storm of controversy among university historians of his day. Many still view this explanation as more fanciful than likely, but whatever its origin, the carvings are definitely not Aboriginal.

Historians speculate whether the names Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel were the same two ships of those names which were lost from Alvaro de Mendanas second Pacific expedition to establish a colony in Australia in 1595. The names were common in Spanish shipping. Belief in the existence of a Great South Land already was widespread in Spain. In 1567, Mendana and his chief pilot, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, sailed from Callao, Peru, to search for this land. He sailed too far north and discovered the Solomon Islands. On the second expedition, while passing through the Ellis Islands, the Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel were separated in bad weather from the rest of the fleet and were not seen again. After a fruitless search for the lost ships, Mendanas expedition discovered Santa Cruz island where a short lived colony was established. When Mendana fell ill and died, the colonists abandoned the island and sailed for the Philippines.

The theory is that if the Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel were not sunk, they may have sailed 3000 km off course and found the east coast of Australia, entering Botany Bay 175 years ahead of James Cook and at least 10 years before the Dutch explorer, William Jansz, reached our shores in 1606. Supporting his theory, Hargrave spoke of Aboriginal rock carvings in the Sydney region depicting human figures clad in garments similar to Spanish soldiers in breastplates and helmets.

In 1967 skindivers recovered a bronze cannonade from a reef off Cape York. On the barrel was engraved Santa Barbara 1596.  After the conquest of Peru, the Conquistadors joined the search after hearing tales from the Peruvians of a great west land  (to the west of Peru) rich in gold. This west land  could be the meaning of the letter W  found by Hargrave.

In 1936, an old Spanish helmet was dug up near the Georges River at East Hills. In 1968 workmen digging a deep trench for a pipeline at Macquarie Fields, south of Liverpool, unearthed at a depth of three meters, a dozen old Spanish doubloons of the Mendana-de Quiros period. Rex Gilroy, Director, Museum of Natural History, The Butterfly Farm , Wilberforce, discovered Latin-type doodlings  on a rock near Wollongong, south of Sydney in 1961. At nearby Shell Harbour in 1953, a resident recovered a 16th century Spanish rapier with silver embossed hilt from an old Aboriginal shell midden. A fishermans net bought up a 16th century Spanish wine jar off Gabo Island, Victoria. Local skindivers have claimed that a Spanish galleon lies nearby but this claim has never been verified.

Near Brisbane Water on the NSW central coast are old Aboriginal rock engravings which depict, at one site, several human figures bearing outlines of boots, trousers with spiked knees, spiked elbows and barrel shaped chests carrying wallabies - apparently a hunting party. This images are officially recognised as Aboriginal interpretations of the first explorers to the area from the colony at Sydney Cove, but the spiked elbows and knees and the barrel-like chests of the figures resemble more the outline of breastplates worn by Spanish soldiers than any clothing the colonists would have worn.

The eastern section of coastline of the Great South Land on a number of 17th century maps published in Dieppe, France, in the 1540s, is believed to be based on the charts of Portuguese navigator Cristovas de Mendonca, and indicate that Mendonca may have travelled the whole of the western seaboard from Cape York to Bass Strait and beyond in 1524, naming many of the bays that Cook named 248 years later. At the time, Ferdinand Magellan was making his famous first voyage around the world and Mendonca had been sent to the South Pacific to find the Great South Land and claim it for Portugal before Magellan arrived from the east to do the same for Spain. After returning to Europe, Mendonca is known to have visited Dieppe, presumably to sell his charts to the towns map makers. In 1536 the Portuguese gave one of these Dieppe maps, named the Dauphin Map, to the son of Francis I of France, the Dauphin who was afterwards crowned King Henry II. A copy of it was given to the King of England, who in turn entrusted it to the Royal Society. The President of the Royal Society, Alexander Dalrymple, gave James Cook a copy of it to take with him on his voyage into the South Pacific.

Though the detail on the Dieppe maps differs from one to the other, they all show a coastline which accurately represents the east coast of Australia after correcting longitude, the accurate calculation of which had still to be perfected in the 1530s. The illustration (right) shows how the Dauphin Map compares with a map of the east coast of Australia. On many of these Dieppe maps, an island where Lord Howe Island would be is called "Iihas de Magna" ("Saill" on some Dieppe maps), an indentation where Broken Bay would be is called "Bay Neufre", Cape Howe appears as "Cap de Fremos" and where Port Phillip Bay is, the maps show a sizable bay which on some Dieppe maps is named "Bay Gouffre". The place where Cook's Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef is marked as "Coste dangereuse", and shows a reef or shoals some distance off shore up and down the coast which follows the line of the Great Barrier Reef. Cooktown Harbour is shown as "Baye Perdue". But the most interestingly named coastal feature on the maps and one which raises the biggest question mark about whether or not Cook was the first European to navigate the east coast of Australia is in the vicinity of modern day Sydney. It was marked as "Baye de Herbes", or translated into English, "Bay of Plants". The corresponding bay was given that very name of "Botany Bay" by Cook in 1770.

South of Boydtown on the NSW south coast, sheltered amid dense scrub in a small inlet on Bitangabbie Bay are the remains of what appears to be a stone fort. It consists of a stone platform some 30 metres square, surrounded by heaps of rock which once formed a perimeter wall to the complex. In the middle are the remains of a building made of stone, roughly tooled, and mortared with seashell mortar. The badly weathered date 15?4 2 is engraved into a stone forming part of the wall. The remains of an old Spanish breastplate are said to have been dug up nearby many years ago. The ruins are at the site of an abandoned 19th century sealers camp, but it is unlikely that the stone fort was created by sealers.

These seafarers often made temporary camps, but they consisted of small shelters rather than anything of this size. Besides, a large team of men employed over a period of time would have been required to put this complex together. Sealers had neither the time, need or manpower to create something this elaborate. The theory that the complex may have been part of Benjamin Boyds Twofold Bay development project nearby have been disproved, as the building materials and methods are not the same as those employed by Boyd, and besides, the ruins were reported long before Boyd arrived in the area in 1842. The size and shape of the complex is in keeping with similar structures built in the New Hebrides by 16th century Portuguese travellers for the purpose of giving temporary shelter, or as a base while staying in an area for an extended period of time.

The theory that this was Mendoncas camp during the winter months is feasible, as he was sent to this area and if he did visit here, he probably would have built a camp on shore of this type at that time, particularly if he was laying in wait for the arrival of Magellan, which was part of his instructions. Sailing south from Pedir, Mendonca would have hit the coast of Australia within the space of a week. Having found the south land so quickly, the logical thing to do next would have been to find a sheltered bay somewhere close to where Magellan was expected to make his first landfall, build a home base hidden behind dense scrub so it can t be seen from the ocean, and then lay low until Magellan appeared. What better location could Mendonca have chosen than Bitangabbie Bay which fits the criteria perfectly? If the ruins are of Mendoncas camp, then it is reasonable to assume that the carvings on the rocks of North Bondi, though a considerable distance away, may well be his too.

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