Sydney's Aboriginal Heritage


Aboriginal Sites: Northern Suburbs and Hawkesbury

Hornsby: Over 100 Aboriginal sites have been recorded in the Hornsby region. These include engravings on sandstone ridges; rock shelters on the valley slopes containing cave paintings or drawing sites and archaeological deposits; open campsites and grinding grooves on valley floors; shell middens along tidal waterways; and scarred trees.

West Gordon: A rock shelf in the garden on Bolwara Avenue has a wallaby and 2 curved lines.

Ryde: Some 43 Aboriginal sites are recorded within the Ryde region. The building of roads and residences has seen most destroyed. Cave paintings were once common, but were few in number compared to other areas of Sydney. Few rock engravings have been found or recorded in the Ryde district though it is believed more existed before recording of them first began in the 1860s .

A site at Settlers Park near Ryde bridge has a carving of a single flying duck which is rare for the Sydney area, and another carving representing a throwing weapon.

Winston Hills: An open campsite has been excavated and studied, the results suggesting an occupation date of between 5 000 and 6,000 years. Clan of the Dharug tribe occupied the Darling Mills Creek valley where the campsite is located.



Westleigh: A set of engravings are to be found on the Great North Walk bush track near the end of Quarter Sessions Road. Mainly fish and kangaroos, they are located off the main track on a rock face close to the corner of a backyard. Another group, on a large slab of rock, was removed from a nearby housing development site to its present location to save it from destruction. It has an observation ramp leading up to it from Quarter Sessions Road.


West Head engravings, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park

Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park: This Park contains the largest collection of aboriginal art in the Sydney region. Over 200 groups of engravings are recorded. Most of the 1,110 individual figures have been carved onto horizontal sandstone slabs and vary in size from a few centimetres to 15 metres long. They include animals, fish, artefacts, people and ancestral beings.


West Head engravings, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park

Three main sites - The Echidna Engraving Site, The Basin Engraving Site and The Elvina Engraving Site - are located off West Head Road between Elvina Nature Trail and West Head are all easily accessible and well signposted.


A man, a woman and the moon, Basin Track, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.

The art at the Basin Engraving Site is the easiest to view and recognise, the objects carved there include fish, a whale, male and female humans, boomerangs and a row of jumping wallabies.

A large midden can be seen on the Sphinx track to Bobbin Head. Engraving may also be seen on the Bobbin Head Road 200m inside the North Turramurra park entrance.



Red Hands Cave, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park: Head out from Resolute picnic area on an easy bush track to see Aboriginal ochre rock paintings at Red Hands Cave, near West Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Arriving after a short walk through the red gums, you ll discover the cave with ochre hand-prints.

Berowra Waters: On the eastern shoreline on vertical rockface are a wallaby and a circular object on the wall of a small rock shelter. 10 metres upstream are a shark, an eel, part of a kangaroo, parts of other worn figures at a place known as Shark Rock. 100 metres upstream on a vertical rock face are figures of headless men with 5 fish superimposed on the body and part of another worn object.

Mooney Mooney Point, Hawkesbury River: Flat rock surfaces extending 200 metres along the edge of the water on the west side of the point within the grounds of Peat Island Mental Hospital is a 3 metre long kangaroo. It has been damaged by road construction. A pipe has been laid across it. The main group 250 metres north is of men, an emu, an eel, 2 small wallabies (now worn away) and a kangaroo. A partly covered stingray is one of many carvings mainly covered over by road construction. On he west side of Big Bay on Moonie Moonie Point on a flat rock are a 12 metres long long, part of a kangaroo and unidentified lines that are all weathered.


Brisbane Water National Park

Brisbane Water National Park: There are over 350 sites recorded in the Gosford region, mostly engravings of animals, birds, marine creatures, animals, bird tracks, human footsteps, male and female figures, hunting weapons and ancestral beings.


Bulgandry engravings site

Bulgandry: 17 engravings and numerous axe grinding grooves are visible 2 km south west of Kariong off Woy Woy Road. The site is well sign posted.


Woman in a crinoline dress, Devil's Rock, Maroota

Devil's Rock, Maroota: In an area near Wiseman's Ferry and adjacent to the extreme north-west corner of Marramara National Park are 12 groups of engravings. These include a ceremonial stone arrangement, 4 sets of axe grinding grooves, 3 rock shelters, 2 scarred trees and an open air campsite. Access to the site, via Laughtondale Gully Road, is restricted, and subject to special arrangement with the local National Parks and Wildlife Service office. Main rock platform includes 83 engravings and 54 axe grinding grooves. Engravings include boomerangs, fish, eels, human and bird tracks, a shield and boomerangs. Also of interest are motifs of European contact, which are rare in the Sydney region. These include a sailing ship, a man in a top hat and a woman in a crinoline dress, believed to have been carved during the colonial era.


Engraving of a whale, Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Muogamarra Nature Reserve: Numerous examples of rock art, including whale feasting, can be found on rock faces beside Muogamarra Creek. Access is via a section of old convict built road on the Great North Walk beyond Berowra Waters on a large, flat rock shelf above Bird Gully near where the road meets the Bird Gully Track. Bouddi National Park, Broken Bay: There are many sites throughout the park, particularly around Hardys, Rileys, Fisherman and Empire Bays.


Mangrove Road South

Mangrove Creek, Spencer: Many sites have been recorded within Dharug National Park. Those around the lower and middle reaches of Mangrove Creek between Mangrove Creek and Spencer beside or off the walking tracks are the most accessible.


Spectacle Island rock art

Spectacle Island: Spectacle Island, in the Hawkesbury River near its junction with Mooney Mooney Creek, was listed on the Register of the National Estate in 1978 for its scientific importance as a remnant of the natural environment of Sydney, for the abundance of aboriginal sites it contains, and particularly diverse vegetation. It is managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

WARNING: These sites contain irreplaceable examples of the art of the indigenous peoples of the Sydney region. The engraving and rock paintings found at these sites are a reminder of a people who once lived in the Sydney region and as such are valuable part of their history and the history of Sydney that will be lost forever if it not treated with respect. Please do not deface or add to the art, as it is part of our heritage. All such sites protected by law, and to deface, modify or remove them in part or in whole is a criminal offence.

Protecting Aboriginal Art Sites
It is believed that over 6,000 drawings, most of which are carved into sandstone rock faces, once existed throughout what is now the Sydney metropolitan area, but many have been destroyed, bulldozed or blasted out of existence to make way for farms, bridges and later, suburbs. In most cases, those clearing the land or responsible for it did not know about the art's existence, nor did they have any inkling as to its value as either the last remaining evidence of a new vanished culture, its spiritual and religious importance to the survivors of that culture or as a part of Sydney's heritage. As there has been no one to maintain them for over 2 centuries, many of the examples of rock art which have managed to escape the onslaught of the bulldozer and pick axe have suffered the onslaught of wind, sand and sea erosion, being walked on, driven on and vandalised.

To protect what is left, the Government has wisely brought all Aboriginal sites in New South Wales under the protection 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. Though they have been given legislative protection, there is little known about the best way to manage Aboriginal sites. To western eyes, the ideal would be to turn the maintenance of sites over to the Aboriginal people. This sounds good in theory, however, under Aboriginal law, only select people are permitted to maintain the art at these sites. Where those select people cannot be found, or if there are no survivors from a particular tribe, no one can touch the art created by and for that tribe. Even so, the art is considered sacred to the Aborigines, so there is reluctance among the Aboriginal communities to maintain the art if it is to turned into something to make money from by showing it to tourists.

Consequently, the authorities have adopted a policy of keeping the public in the dark about the location of much of Sydney's Aboriginal sites. The thinking behind it seems to be "what the people don't know about the people can't damage". As the damage caused in the past has occurred mainly as a result of ignorance, some would argue that education of the public is a better way to deal with the problem than maintaining their ignorance. When the public do come across it, and can be vandalised, even unintentionally, as it has no relevance, hence no value to them.


Jibbon Head Aboriginal art site, Bundeena

Below are links to a few of the thousands of sites in and around Sydney which have been recorded as containing evidence of occupation by the indigenous people of the Sydney region. In the main, those listed offer easy access to visitors, are often sign posted and/or contain explanations as to what they represent.

The list includes sites which have been obliterated through the ravages of time, road and building construction etc. Though no evidence of their existence can be seen today, they are recorded here as they represent the types of sites which existed in their respective locations. For the same reason, some sites which are on private or government property have been listed, however there is no access to these sites. Attempts should not be made to view them other than from the roadside as they are on private property which, if entered without permission, is trespassing. Please respect the privacy of the owners of the properties.



Sydney's Aboriginal Heritage

About Aboriginal Culture
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. Each tribe had its own language, with dialects of a common language being common where a tribal area was vast.
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  • Clans and Bands of the Sydney Region
    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.
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    • Aboriginal Sites

      What Is An Aboriginal Site?
      It is believed that over 6,000 drawings, most of which are carved into sandstone rock faces, once existed throughout what is now the Sydney metropolitan area, but many have been destroyed, bulldozed or blasted out of existence to make way for farms, bridges and later, suburbs.
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