Sydney's Aboriginal Heritage


Aboriginal Sites: South West

Sandy Point: Numerous Aboriginal cultural sites occur around Harris Creek in Sydney's south west off Heathcote Road. At Sandy point there is a rock shelter with red hand stencils. There were originally over 20 but erosion and vandalism has resulted in most of them becoming damaged or erased.


Holsworthy Military Area

Holsworthy Military Area: The Holsworthy bushland retains many indigenous sites and has been referred to as "Sydney's Kakadu". There are more than 500 significant Tharawal sites in the area including campsites, tool making sites and rock art. The art is mostly engravings of hands, boomerangs and animals. The main difference between the Holsworthy art samples and others in the Sydney region is that red and white pigment appears to have been used equally for hand stencils while in other samples red clearly dominated. Charcoal, however, was the most commonly used pigment for artwork. The area also features a number of engraving sites. All of these are well preserved and appear to be telling a story.

The presence of the firing range since 1912 has restricted public access and urban development, resulting in most of the sites having been preserved in pristine condition. The majority of sites are located around the many watercourses which pass through the area. Located on a key travel route for trade purposes between the Cabrogal clan of the Dharug Tribe, which was centred on the Cumberland Plain, and the Tharawal on the south coast. The sites recorded at Holsworthy include rock shelters, ochre stencils and carvings of animals and spirit figures. They are contained in 219 shelters with art and/or deposit, one shelter deposit, 69 axe grinding groove sites, five engraving sites, eleven grooves and engravings sites and one open site. Featured motifs include red and white stencilled hands, feet, boomerangs, wombats, macropods, fish, eels, turtles, bats, emus, birds, lizards and other animals.

The open campsite is where tools were made and exposes an indigenous industry with artefacts from the coast and up to the mountains having been found there. Of particular interest is an Aboriginal carving of a four-masted sailing ship, believed to depict James Cook's Endeavour, a rare record of exceptional interest relating to the earliest contact between the new arrivals and the indigenous Australians.


Bull Cave

Bull Cave, Kentlyn: As well as kangaroos, human figures and 11 mundoes (footprints) in red ochre, the cave paintings here depict a group of large mammals which resemble bulls. Researchers believe the paintings are genuinely Aboriginal, that they were drawn after 1788 and depict the progeny of cattle which escaped from the colony of Sydney in 1788. These cattle were found at Cow Pastures, which is close to Bulls Cave, by the first white settlers in the Macarthur district 15 years later after their escape. Sadly, the art in this and other overhangs in the area has been badly damaged by vandals, however it is now heritage-listed and protected by a steel fence.


Bull Cave

Campbelltown region: 184 items at 27 sites have been recorded in the Campbelltown region, particularly around Georges River, Harris Creek and Mt. Gilead. A further 95 items at 20 sites have been recorded on the east side of the Georges River around Williams Creek and Punchbowl Creek. These include people, bulls, lizards, dogs (dingoes), mythological figures, birds wallabies, humans and emu tracks.

Wedderburn: Cubbitch Barta National Area and the O'Hares Creek National Estate Area have both been recognised for their rich Aboriginal heritage value. There is at least one scarred tree. It is unusual for such a tree to survive in the Sydney Basin, especially in an area where agriculture has been practised for over one hundred years. Seven rock art caves, three grinding groove sites and one dwelling cave have been found.


Broughton Pass memorial

Broughton Pass Aboriginal Massacre Site, Appin: By July, 1813 Europeans had begun to encroach on Dharawal land, having established farms in the Appin area. While the Dharawal tried to continue to live peacefully, Aborigines from other areas were also in the vicinity, having been displaced from their traditional lands, placing pressure on food supplies and increasing tension. Gov. Macquarie had endeavoured to abide by the British Government's instructions to ensure that British subjects attempt to live in 'amity and kindness' with the indigenous population. However, between 1814 and 1816 relations between Aborigines and Europeans in the Appin area became hostile, perhaps exacerbated by a severe drought which further increased pressures on the scarce food supplies.

In May, 1814 three members of the militia fired on Aboriginals on two farms at Appin, killing a boy. This led to retaliation by the Aborigines, followed by further violence by whites. Over the next two years hostilities escalated and came to a head in March 1816, when members of the Gundangara attacked settlers, killing some and destroying property. It was in response to these attacks that Macquarie felt compelled to 'inflict terrible and exemplary punishments' on the Aborigines. He ordered three military detachments of the 46th Regiment, under the command of Capt. Wallis to be dispatched to Windsor, Liverpool and the Cowpastures to deal with the 'Natives' by 'punishing and clearing the country of them entirely, and driving them across the mountains.'

Early one morning he and his men came across the Dharawal men's camp at Appin. They slaughtered the men and cut off the heads of fourteen elders to take back to Sydney. While Wallis returned to Sydney, civilians, including stockmen, remained and continued to hunt down the Dharawal. They found the camp where women and children were staying, shot or trampled them under their horses' hooves and drove them over the cliffs of Broughton Pass.

The massacre annihilated the Dharawal people destroying their way of life and social structure. There numbers had already been decimated by disease and hostilities since European occupation but after the massacres of 1816 it is estimated that there were less than 30 remaining. Broughton Pass is located 5.5 km south west of Appin on the road to Picton.

The Kurrajong and Dooligah Trees, Mt. Annan Botanic Gardens: Two trees of significance to the Dharawal Aboriginal people are situated in the Yandel'ora area of Mt. Annan Botanic Garden. The trees formed a strong association with the way of life, customs, traditions and philosophies of the Aboriginal population of south-eastern Australia. The location of the trees within the traditional lawmaking area of Yandel'ora demonstrates their role in teaching children the laws of their group. The Dooligah tree is a particularly rare example because it is over 500 years old and demonstrates the survival of a story dating from long before European contact, being associated with the Watun Goori legend of the Dharawal people.


Lake Nadungamba

Lake Gilinganadum and Lake Nadungamba, Mt. Annan Botanic Gardens: Located in the north-west section of Mt. Annan Botanic Garden, these artificial lakes, created from dams remnant from the pastoral era and created in a creek and wetland system, have significance in local Aboriginal culture in that the site has deep associations with the lawmaking and dispute resolution practices of the Aboriginal peoples of south-eastern Australia. It was the only major inter-tribal lawmaking site in South-Eastern Australia and was a meeting place for Aboriginal groups from all over that region. The Aboriginal names of the lakes mean, 'lake of the frog' and 'lake of the child' respectively. The area in which the lakes are located is known by the Dharawal people as Yandel'ora, meaning 'the Land of Peace between Peoples'.

Menangle Eel Farm: 2 hectares of systematic pondage on Lyre Bird Creek, a minor tributary of the Nepean, the Menangle eel farm was used for eel farming by the local Aborigines. It is a rare example of sustainable farming practised by Aboriginal people, as opposed to hunting and gathering activities, their normal practice, which represented by sites such as the Brewarrina Fish Traps. The eel farm provided an essential food supply for the large cyclical population which took up extended residence in the area over 3 to 4 year cycles and is thus associated with the traditional way of life of the Aboriginal population and their occupation of the area. While the activity of eel farming is no longer practised, the site is important to descendants of the Dharawal because of its association with their ancestors and as evidence of their way of life and occupation of the land.

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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