Sydney's Aboriginal Heritage


Aboriginal Sites: Eastern Suburbs

Point Piper: A set of carvings, being one of the last remaining 6 of 74 such sites known to have existed on the point, have been preserved through property owners in Wunnulla Road building their house around them. Still in pristine condition, they include a whale, fish and several men. Access is gained through a trap door under the house, however, being on private property, they are not open for inspection to the public. An engraving of a man wearing a ruff around his neck, and armour on his knees and elbows, may still exist on a neighbouring property. Australian inventor and pioneer aviator Lawrence Hargraves, who once lived on the property containing the site, did extensive studies of the carvings and concluded the engravings proved that Spanish sailors, possibly from the "Lope de Vega" which sailed for The Great Southland from Jakarta in 1524 never to be heard of again, visited the Sydney area long before James Cook (1770).



On the extremity of the point 6 metres above water level there was a section of undulating surfaced rock which terminated with a large bounder-like rock. Across the surface of this rock was a 8 metre long whale. In its centre was a small circle with badly weathered fish on the north and south side of it. Two other fish were near the whale's tale, then a shield and another fish. 15 metres south east on a boulder like rock was a carving of a man with arms and legs outspread dance fashion with a figure of a deity. On a flat surface 10 metres further on was a kangaroo. 2 metres south east are two fish with footsteps across them (partly covered by soil). Below the rock in a shelter is a midden and the carving of a kangaroo.

Milk Beach, Vaucluse: Fish, shields and human figures have been carved into the rocks near the waterline. Often covered by sand, they are best viewed after heavy rain or at low tide. The remains of two hand stencils and a painting of a boomerang are situated in an overhang between Shark Bay and Bottle & Glass Point. They are not sign posted and due to weathering, are hard to find. Various engravings in the area surrounding Greycliffe House are known to National Parks & Wildlife rangers located there, but they do not divulge information on their whereabouts and rock art hunters must find them for themselves.



South Head: Cut on the expanse of flat bare rock at the top of the cliff on which the Hornby Lighthouse and cottages were built is the remnant of a group of carvings, possibly damaged by building operations. At the north end of the group is a fish, towards the middle of the group is a small whale, a 2 metres long fish and fragments of a wallaby. Only a fish remains on the rock facing North Head alongside the pill box next to the lighthouse. On the south east side of the lighthouse is a kangaroo and a fish. South of the lighthouse was a swordfish, the original pathway cut off its snout. The path has since been widened and the remainder of the fish has been buried under section of the path and grass.

Towards the harbour side of the headland cut on several small patches of rock and level with the surface of the ground are two skates and a small shark. Lady Bay, South Head: On a ledge of rock extending across the head of Lady Bay a few feet higher than the top of the masonry wall are the engravings of 2 large fish and several, very weathered ones on the rocks above the water to the south. On top of the rocky point at the south end of Lay Bay are portions of a kangaroo, other animals and a shield. All are badly weathered.

Watsons Bay: On the low ridge on the south side of Vaucluse Bay on a small patch of rock are weathered images of kangaroos. On the northern side of the small bay at the end of Keele Street is a boulder-like rock with the remnants of a fish engraved on it. 180 metres south on a narrow surface of rough rock nearly level with the ground, some 40 metres from the beach was the figure of a man. In a rock shelter to the south and on the beach, 40 metres from the figure of a man was two figures cut into an overhanging face of rock, one being a turtle, the other a man or deity.

Rodney Reserve, Dover Heights: On a small patch of rock 14 metres from the sea cliff in the area of the reserve off Raleigh Street was the figure of a man in warlike or corroborree gesture.


Merriverie Rocks engravings site

Murriverie Rocks, Williams Park, North Bondi: Located beyond the golf course on the rocks above the ocean, the site features a number of Aboriginal engravings, including sharks, fish, men and women. Many of the carvings were re-grooved at the local council's request in 1951. To their north-east is another group, some of which appear to be of non-Aboriginal origin.

One carving in this group is of a Spanish sailing ship. Aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave extensively researched the engraving and concluded it is of a Spanish caravel and not a British sailing ship as was once thought. He believed it was made 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. Many historians view this explanation as more fanciful than likely, but whatever its origin, the carvings are definitely not Aboriginal.



Ben Buckler, North Bondi: 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 complete. It was re-grooved by was re-grooved by the Waverley Council in 1964, as were the engravings further north behind the Golf Course). A whale and three elongated figures have either been buried by silt or destroyed when the path and staircase were built.


Ben Buckler

Signal Hill, Watsons Bay: On south side of Signal Hill Fortifications on the sea cliff at its highest point is the carving of a fish. At the lower portion of The Gap, on a ledge commanding views right up the harbour to Garden Island in the area where the land slopes gently towards the harbour are the remnants of a series of engravings. These included a hammerhead shark (a characteristic inhabitant of Port Jackson), a bandicoot, wallaby and fish to the north. Near them were a large kangaroo and four wallabies, two of which have been completely weathered away.

Centennial Park: On a flat rock in the saddle of the ridge between Fox Studios and Centennial Park on an old cart crossing (now Darwall Street) below a quarry was a group of engravings comprising of 2 boomerangs, a kangaroo or wallaby and a waddy.


Queens Park

Queens Park: Queens Park, part of Sydney's Centennial Partklands, is both a parkland and a suburb. In the parkland there is a lage rock overhang where scatters of campfires and artefacts have been found. These include bones of mammals, birds and fish, charcoal and stone artefacts. These indicate the overhang was used as a camp by the local Aboriginal people long bgefore the arrival of Europeans. The roof of the overhang has been blackened by smoke from the fires of Abnorigines.


Mackenzies Point engraving

Mackenzies Point, Tamarama: A large sea creature, possibly a whale, is carved into a large rock above the cliffs. UBD Map 258 Ref P 6.

Coogee Bay: On rock in about the middle of the recreational reserve on the north of of the bay were four small fish.

Long Bay: On the north side of the bay 140 metres from the sandy cliff at the head of the bay was a carving of a sunfish. The carving was on rocks on the foreshore.

Little Head, Little Bay: On the top of Little Head north of the point and 15 metres from the trig station was a small wallaby and a fish. 200 metres to the south east on a low flat rock above the sea beach were carvings of a shoal of bream.

Bumborah Point, Phillip Bay: behind Botany Cemetery on a smooth rocky surface 6 metres above the high water mark are 2 large fish 5 metres long and several small fish. Only remnants of one of the large fish remain today.

Maroubra Bay: On the hillside on the north side of the bay on the coast where a foot track passes 200 metres south of Athol Park House was a 6.5 metres long shark, a man and a human footprint on the west side of the shark.

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.


Engravings site, Grotto Point, Balgowlah

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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