Sydney's Aboriginal Heritage
Hundreds of sites have been recorded in the Sutherland district but those within the National Park's boundaries are the easiest to find and access. Middens are visible at Curracurrang Cove and Era and Garie beaches.
Jibbon Headland engravings site
Jibbon Headland: Engravings are visible on the walking track from Bundeena to Marley Head and numerous whales and sea creatures are carved into rock on Jibbon headland. The latter are well signposted with descriptions and interpretations of the art. They include a wobbegong sharks, fish, a whale, boomerangs and shields.
Jibbon Headland engraving
Audley: alongside the road from Audley to Fishermans Bay 100 metres south of turnoff to Costens Bay are engravings a flat rock surfaces scattered throughout the scrub on the ridge. These include a man with a three-pronged head-dress and circles and ovals 20 metres to the north. 130 metres west of the road on the southern edge of a large, level rock surface are two whales facing each other. 80 metres north is another whale in the centre of a large rock surface sloping down to the north. Both sites have commanding views to Port Hacking and South West Arm.
Hand stencils in a rock shelter in the Cabbage Tree basin catchment. Photo: R.J. West
Cabbage Tree Creek: There is considerable evidence of Aboriginal occupation along the banks of this creek and The Basin. It is believed that the members of the Dharawal people lived here as late as the 1870s, making it one of the last areas in the Sydney region to have been occupied by the Aborigines in their pre-colonial lifestyle. This area was once rich in mddens, rock engravings and cave paintings, but many have been lost or are disappearing through vandalism, pollution or erosion by the elements. Axe grinding grooves and engravings of fish and animals are still visible. Numerous overhangs were used as campsites, as evidenced by their smoke-darkened roofs. Hand stencils are now rare but middens are plenteous on the shores of The Basin.
Engraving of two spirit beings, 50 metres from Sir Bertram Stevens Drive near Wattamolla
Wattamolla: Sites at Wattamolla Beach have been excavated by archaeologists and show it to have been a specialised fishing site. Between Wattamolla Road and Curracurrong Creek are two kangaroos. On the north side of the camping area overlooking the Wattamolla Inlet is a 1 metre long fish and the remains of human figures that have been defaced by vandals. 50 metres west of the coast road at a point 2.6 km south east of the Wattamolla turnoff are a number of rock faces with carvings. These include 3 male figures, 6 men in a line, and very faint axe grooves.
Life size engraving of a kangaroo near Bundeena turn-off
Curracurrang: The Curracurrang area has eight rock shelters, some of which have been excavated, revealing evidence of occupation, and two small groups of engravings, both sign posted, are located on a small outcrop at the extreme north-western end of a large rock platform about 150m west of the fire trail. A shelter at Curracurrang is one of the oldest sites found in the Sydney region, showing evidence of Aboriginal habitation up to 7,500 years ago.
A shelter at Curracurrang is one of the oldest sites found in the Sydney region, showing evidence of Aboriginal habitation up to 7,500 years ago. Engravings are visible on the walking track from Bundeena to Marley Head and numerous whales and turtles are carved into rock on Jibbon headland. Rock engravings can also be found near Blue Pools and Peach Trees.
Engraving of a spirit being, near Uloola Falls
Uloola Track: Today the Uloola track is used to get to the get Uloola Falls and Campground. The number of Aboriginal engraving in the area indicate the Aborigines used the path too, and that the waterhole was as popular campsite for them as itb is for bushwalkers and hikers today.
Engraving of a giant snake, about 5 metres in length, thought to be the Creation Serpent, intersecting a kangaroo at a major engraving site. The engraving is 500 metres off the Uloola Track.
These 'mundoes' (footprints) found near the Bushfire Fighters Memorial along the Uloola Track, suggest a pathway that needs to be followed, probably during an initiation ceremony. Nearby is a rare engraving of a turtle. Unfortunately the slab of rock it is carved into is very soft, and because the image has not been re-grooved over the last 200 years, it is now barely visible and needs perfect light to be seen. It will probably be gone completely within a century.
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.
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.
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.