Sydney's Aboriginal Heritage


Aboriginal Sites: Middle Harbour

There are 76 known Aboriginal sites on the shores of Middle Harbour. A combination of rock shelters, middens and rock art, they appear around Castle Cove, Castlecrag, Middle Cove and Northbridge. The hand stencils above, some of which are not genuine Aboriginal art, are in an overhang near the Roseville Bridge.


Bantry Bay engravings site

Bantry Bay: The most extensive single group of carvings in the Sydney metropolitan area are located on a rocky outcrop on the hillside above Bantry Bay and accessed via the Engravings Track alongside Wakehurst Parkway 400m south of the end of Bantry Bay Road. There are some 82 figures, including two mundoes, people, animals, fish, shields, a canoe, a basket and bag, boomerangs, circles, stone axes and clubs, snakes and a whale. One group of figures shows two men, one of whom is carrying bark canoes. As they are on flat open ground, sadly these carvings have suffered greatly from exposure to the weather and many have faded so badly there are only recognisable to the trained eye. Other engravings occur in the surrounding bush land but they are not easy to find as they are not marked and often in locations where fallen leaves and other bush debris have covered them. Middens and rock shelters can be seen on the shores of the bay. Tool sharpening grooves have been found near the engravings and creek beds.

Manly Vale: A large selection of carvings can be found on flat rocks beside a creek which runs into the Manly Reservoir halfway along its length. They depict a whale, fish, human figures, kangaroos, a man wearing a body belt (believed to represent a spiritual being) and another man spearing a fish. These and other sites, including campsites and axe grinding grooves are featured on the Gulgadya Muru Grass Tree Self Guided Walking Track around the dam.

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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