Sydney's Aboriginal Heritage
Longueville Park, Longueville: Engravings of a fish and an emu are to be found on the left hand side of the park near the waterfront at the end of Stuart Street. The engravings, which have been touched up and painted in recent times, are situated on a flat rock face above the water and have a timber barrier erected around them. The emu motif is thought to have been a totemic figure to the Dharug clan inhabiting this area. It occurs only in a small band along the foreshore on the northern side of the harbour and in the Lane Cove and Parramatta River Catchment areas, and then disappears until re-emerging in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park.
Glades Bay Native Gardens, Gladesville: A campsite of the Cammeraigal Aborigines, it contains 11 carvings, the easiest to identify being two jumping kangaroos which are among the best preserved of the few remaining examples of Aboriginal rock art east of the Sydney central business district. Axe grinding grooves can be found on rocks beside a nearby creek. Evidence of Aboriginal occupation can also be found at Looking Glass Bay, Looking Glass Point, and Bill Mitchell Park.
Lane Cove National Park: Over 40 sites have been recorded within the park, however it is known that many of these were on the river bank and were flooded by the building of the weir in 1938. Those that remain include shelters, cave art, engravings, middens and axe grinding grooves. A sunburst motif which survives is the only known example of its kind in the Sydney metropolitan area. Kangaroo or wallaby tracks, etched into a rock face above Browns waterhole, are the only such examples of animal tracks surviving in the Sydney region. A walking track through Fairyland cross a midden. A wombat, a sea creature and axe grinding grooves are carved into rock at the headwaters of Carters Creek.
North Sydney: The area around North Sydney is rich in Aboriginal culture and history. The original occupants of this region, the Cammeraygals of the Kuringai Tribe, lived along the foreshores and in the surrounding bushland prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The landscape of Balls Head, Berry Island, Kirribilli, Cammeray and Cremorne is dotted with the cultural remains of the Cammeraygals and tells their story even though the people who once lived here were displaced many years ago.
Balls Head, Wollstonecraft: It is the foreshore areas of Balls Head and Berry Island that have some of finest examples of Aboriginal cultural sites on the lower north shore. Large caves and rock shelters along waterways and trade routes were another popular location for local tribes and bands, and remnants of their occupation can still be found scattered throughout North Sydney today. Rock engravings such as the large one near the entrance to Balls Head are special places which had strong significance to the Cammeraygals and would have related to the Sydney Dreaming. There are other smaller engravings located around this site but they are covered by the roadway. They were first surveyed and recorded in 1899.
The outline of a 10m long whale-like creature is carved into rock on the left of the road leading into HMAS Waterhen. The engraving, which is fenced off, includes a man within the shape of the creature. Numerous other large engravings are located on other sections of the rocky outcrop upon which the creature is carved, however these are partly covered by the road, with sections of them having been destroyed when the road was built. During the early days of white settlement, the Wollstonecraft / Waverton area was well populated by Aborigines and this location appears to have been a sacred site, being high on a hill and offering commanding views of the harbour in both directions. These views are now obliterated by the nearby buildings and non-natural vegetation which covers the area.
Smaller engravings, six shell middens, two rock shelters and axe grinding grooves are located near the waterline towards the eastern and western tips of the headland but are not sign posted and may prove difficult to find. One of the shelters contains stencils of small fish and a hand, though they are barely visible these days. Alongside the lookout at the eastern end of the car park is a rockpool used to collect drinking water, and axe grinding grooves beside it.
In 1964 a woman's remains were found in a cave on Balls Head in 1964. At the time murder could not be ruled out but authorities believed the discovery "was of considerable antiquity". The skeleton was incomplete but parts of the woman's skull and teeth, leg, arm, foot and hand bones were intact, plus a small tooth was found nearby. It was enough for the scientists to surmise quite a bit about her. Some 450 artefacts were also recovered in the shelter during the dig and a subsequent visit in the early 1970s. A 1971 report based on the findings of archaeologists indicated the mystery woman had lived there perhaps as long as 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. There was no mention of any decay on the teeth, so that combined with the wear on the teeth suggested that she lived in the period before British colonisation in 1788.
In a strange twist some years later, police confiscated some remains associated with Balls Head from the home of convicted killer Michael Guider, who is serving a jail sentence over the manslaughter of missing nine-year-old Samantha Knight. Guider considered himself an amateur archaeologist and surveyed some Aboriginal sites around Sydney.
Berry Island Reserve, Wollstonecraft: Follow the Gadyan Track and learn the story of the Cammeraigal who used the area as a campsite. Sites include numerous middens and a carving of a giant sea creature, a waterhole and axe grinding grooves. Regular walking tours of the Gadyan Track are conducted by the North Sydney Council (Tel 02 - 9936 8100), the guide being the Council's Aboriginal Heritage Officer.
Joseph Bugler Playing Field, Waverton: Traces of hand stencils and engravings are located on the rocks and overhangs above and around the path leading up from the reserve to Larkin Street. As they have been badly eroded and defaced, the inexperienced rock art explorer may have difficulty finding them.
Mosman: 79 known sites within the Mosman municipality have been catalogued though more are believed to exist. These are occupation sites (shelters, middens), religious or ceremonial sites and rock art sites. Many of course have been destroyed or lie under buildings, but many others are assumed by archaeologists to survive in the foreshore bushland. Ashton Park contains rock carvings of animals which are located near the steps going down to the beach on the eastern side of Bradleys Head.
Neutral Bay: next to sandstone cottage in Ben Boyd Road are rock carvings.
Taylors Bay: Rock carvings of kangaroos are visible on the rock face at the head of the bay. These are rare examples of carvings on a vertical face in the Sydney area.
Obelisk Bay: Rock carvings of fish and hunting implements have been found near the remains of a shell midden.
Dobroyd Head: Axe grinding grooves and rock carvings of footprints, known as mundoes (pronounced mun-doe-eez), have been found on the rocks below Scenic Drive.
Engravings site, Grotto Point, Balgowlah
Washaway Beach, Grotto Point: Engraving site contains numerous illustrations of a small kangaroo, a large kangaroo with tail buried, a large fish, a dolphin and an emu. The engravings are marked by heavy timber guard rails which make them easy to find. The engraving of the large kangaroo with its tail buried is not considered to be a genuine Aboriginal carving.
Reef Beach, Clontarf: Fish and shields have been carved into the tessellated rocks. These carvings are badly weathered and may only be visible only after a storm. A midden stretches the whole length of the beach. Visitors are warned that this is used by locals as a nudist beach.
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.
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.
Jibbon Head Aboriginal art site, Bundeena
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Protecting Aboriginal Sites
The only surviving 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.