Local Aboriginal people in bark canoes on Sydney Harbour, depicted by the Port Jackoson painter c1790 (image courtesy Thomas Watling Collection, Natural History Museum, London - 012643)

mubaya – speak an unknown language / yuridyuwa – sit near (to sit near anyone) / berewalgal – people from a distant place

Aboriginal people have always lived in Sydney. Following the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the British encountered Aboriginal people around the coves and bays of Port Jackson. The Aboriginal communities here were both generous and combative towards the colonisers. Many places around the harbour remained important hunting, fishing and camping grounds long after Europeans settlement, and continue to be culturally significant today.

Darlinghurst Gaol entrance

Darlinghurst Gaol

Author: Paul Irish Darlinghurst Gaol began construction in 1822 and was opened in 1841 to replace the ageing and overcrowded Sydney Gaol on George Street near Circular Quay. It took 50 years to complete, with new buildings being added to Read More

Barcom Glen

Author: Paul Irish The dense forest of houses below St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst obscures the landscape that existed there for nearly a century after the arrival of Europeans in Sydney. Rushcutters Creek, which flowed through pools and cascades down to Read More

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Elizabeth Town

In the mid-1810s, at the same time as Governor Lachlan Macquarie was waging war on the Aboriginal people of south-western Sydney, he tried to encourage Aboriginal people along the coast to adopt a more settled existence. In 1815, Macquarie established a Read More


Richard Hill’s House

Author: Paul Irish From the 1820s to the 1920s, a red brick cottage existed on Bent Street between Macquarie and Phillip streets. The house was built by the family of Francis and Frances Cox. From the 1850s until the 1890s Read More

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The Rushcutters Bay settlement

Author: Paul Irish Most of the harbourside bays of Sydney’s eastern suburbs contained Aboriginal settlements at different periods throughout the 19th century. Bayside reclamation works since that time have removed or covered over many of the physical traces of this Read More

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St Mary’s Cathedral

Author: Paul Irish When Australia’s first two Catholic priests arrived in Sydney in 1820, many Aboriginal people around Sydney had already been exposed to the ideas of the Christian religion. One of the priests, Father John Joseph Therry, quickly got Read More


Woolloomooloo Bay

Author: Paul Irish Woolloomooloo is the name given to the Yurong Creek valley located immediately east of Sydney Town and the Domain, which later became Sydney’s first suburb. In 1793, when Commissary General John Palmer was granted 100 acres at Read More

View of the Parramatta River from Observatory Hill

Observatory Hill

At over 40 metres above sea level, Observatory Hill is the most elevated point in Sydney. It’s at the crest of the rocky ridge that separates Sydney Cove to the east and Darling Harbour to the west. It was known Read More

Approach to Sydney Terminus showing Blackwattle Swamp

Blackwattle Creek

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward Blackwattle Creek was originally a tidal watercourse that flowed from swampy lands that are now within the grounds of the University of Sydney. The creek flowed from this swamp through a valley thick with Read More

Goat Island midden

Aboriginal sites on Goat Island

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward Goat Island is a small rocky landmass in the waters of Sydney Harbour. It was inhabited by early colonial Aboriginal identity Bennelong and his wife Barangaroo, and was said to have belonged to Bennelong’s Read More

Looking south along Botany Road

Moore Park Campsite

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward An Aboriginal campsite was discovered in 2014 beneath the car park of the Moore Park Tennis Centre. It was unearthed during archaeological excavations brought about by the proposed construction of a light rail line Read More

Aboriginal camp at Cockle Bay c 1812

Tinker’s Well

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward All people depend on fresh water to live, and so it is usually the case that reliable sources of water known to Aboriginal people were later used by Europeans. The most permanent of these Read More

Stone artefacts from the Moores Wharf midden

Moores Wharf Midden

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward In the late 1970s, the NSW Maritime Services Board began to redevelop the Moores Wharf area at Millers Point on the end of the eastern shore of Cockle Bay (Darling Harbour). The board decided Read More

Detail from an illustration of the engravings

Moore Park Engraving

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward On a slab of sandstone just outside Centennial Park there were once some Aboriginal engravings. Rock engravings were produced when Aboriginal people carved them onto level sandstone platforms, ledges or small rock exposures. They Read More

View from the Government Domain

Yurong Cave and Yurong Midden

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward Yurong Point is known today as the site of Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a seat carved from stone in the 1810s so Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth could enjoy the view of the harbour. It Read More

William and Riley Street Hatchet

William Street

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward In 1925, a stone axe was found more than five metres below the surface during construction work at the corner of William and Riley Streets in East Sydney. Almost eighty years later in 2003 the Read More

St Mary's Hatchet

St Mary’s Cathedral Hatchet

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward An Aboriginal stone axe head, also called a ‘ground-edge hatchet’, was found in a road cutting behind St Mary’s Cathedral in 1876. The hatchet would have started its life as a large flat river Read More

Stone artefacts from the KENS Site

The KENS Site

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward In 2003, archaeologists discovered a large Aboriginal campsite in the western part of central Sydney. It was named the KENS Site after the surrounding streets (Kent, Erskine, Napoleon and Sussex). The earlier building had Read More


Junction Lane Campsite

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward In 1997, an Aboriginal campsite was discovered at Junction Lane in Woolloomooloo during archaeological excavations ahead of the construction of the Eastern Distributor motorway. Underneath around a metre of recent ‘fill’ (historically deposited material Read More

Conservatorium of Music

Conservatorium of Music

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward In 1998, some Aboriginal stone artefacts were found during archaeological excavations ahead of the redevelopment of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on Macquarie Street. The excavations were being undertaken to investigate an area of Read More

Stone artefacts from the Wynyard Walk Aboriginal campsite

Wynyard Walk campsite

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward During archaeological excavations associated with the construction of the Wynyard Walk pedestrian link in mid-2014, a small Aboriginal campsite was located. The campsite consisted of several Aboriginal stone artefacts located in natural soil underneath Read More

Aboriginal midden

Darling Walk Midden

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward In 2009 archaeologists found an Aboriginal campsite, or ‘midden’, on the eastern side of Cockle Bay (Darling Harbour) in an area known as the Darling Quarter, west of Harbour Street, between Bathurst and Liverpool Read More

Government Boatsheds

Government Boatsheds

The government’s Marine Board boatsheds were on the eastern side of Circular Quay at Bennelong Point, just to the south of Fort Macquarie and the Sydney Rowing Club boatsheds. Around 18 Aboriginal people were camped here from 1879 through to July Read More

Significant Aboriginal people in Sydney

Author: Anita Heiss Arabanoo In December 1788, not long after the landing of the First Fleet, Governor Phillip ordered the capture of Arabanoo (born c1758). Arabanoo was dressed in European clothes, trained in English and called Manly (after his place Read More

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Aboriginal people and place

Author: Anita Heiss and Melodie-Jane Gibson The Council of the City of Sydney acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of our land – Australia. The City acknowledges the Gadigal of the Eora Nation as the Read More

People Ricketty Dick_a824002_HERO

Ricketty Dick

Author: Laila Ellmoos Ricketty Dick (c1795-1863) was an Aboriginal man who lived in Sydney in the early to mid-19th century. He was also known as Warrah Warrah or William (Bill) Warrah, Worrell or Worrall. Ricketty Dick was a familiar and Read More

People Pemulwuy_nla34396_HERO


Pemulwuy was a courageous resistance fighter who led a guerrilla war against the British settlement at Sydney Cove from 1788 through to 1802. Because of his resistance to the invaders, he became one of the most remembered and written about Read More

People Cora Gooseberry a824006h_HERO

Cora Gooseberry

Cora Gooseberry was wife to King Bungaree and was an identity in Sydney for 20 years after his death. Her Aboriginal name was recorded as ‘Carra or Kaaroo’. She was known as ‘Queen of Sydney and Botany’ and ‘Queen of Sydney Read More

A portrait of Bennelong


Bennelong (who also went by the names Wolarwaree, Ogultroyee and Vogeltroya) was from the Wangal people and is regarded as one of the most significant and notable Aboriginal people in the early history of Australia. He became one of the Read More

People Bungaree_a1114017h_HERO


Known for being able to straddle both black and white societies, Bungaree was from the Garigal clan at Broken Bay and moved to the Sydney area. He was a diplomat, mediating between his own people and the government, and was an entertainer Read More

People Colebee_012030_H_HERO


Colebee (also known as Coleby) was a warrior of the Gadigal clan at Port Jackson when the British First Fleet arrived in 1788. The customs and lifestyle of the local Aboriginal people were broken down very early as the colonisers began Read More



Arabanoo (c1760-89) was the first of Governor Arthur Phillip’s protégés. Phillip’s plan was to learn the language and customs of the local people. He believed that if some of them could be trained in English, they could be used to Read More

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Western science and Aboriginal people

Author: Steven Ross Imperialism has devastating effects on Indigenous peoples the world over, and science is often used to ‘prove’ western superiority over so-called ‘primitive’ Aboriginal groups. This justified the conquering of Aboriginal people by white invaders, resulting in the Read More

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First Contact

Author: Anita Heiss In 1770 Captain James Cook met few Aboriginal people on the Eastern Australian shoreline. Because they did not grow crops and because he assumed there were no inland fishable rivers, he concluded that Australia’s interior was empty. Read More

Parish Map of St Philip

Dawes Point / Tar-Ra

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward The Aboriginal name for the peninsula on the western side of Sydney Cove is Tar-Ra. It is also known as Dawes Point because it was the site of an observatory built in April 1788 Read More

Sydney Cove / Warrane

The Aboriginal name for Sydney Cove as recorded in a number of First Fleet journals, maps and vocabularies, was Warrane, also spelt as War-ran, Warrang and Wee-rong. This place is highly significant to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people as a Read More

A ceremony at Farm Cove

The Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens

Author: Paul Irish The Governor’s Domain has been a public space since the earliest days of the Sydney colony, and continued to be used for many years by Aboriginal people. It was proclaimed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1812 to Read More

A portrait of Bennelong

The site of First Government House

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward Sydney’s first Government House overlooking Sydney Cove was built for Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789. The building and its grounds were an important place of early contact and cross-cultural exchange between Sydney’s Aboriginal population Read More

1842 view of Hyde Park South

Hyde Park South

Until the mid-1820s, Aboriginal people travelled from all over Sydney, and as far away as the Hunter and the Illawarra, to gather at a ceremonial contest ground to the south of the city. The exact location of this site of Read More

Manly Hatchet

Australian Museum

The Australian Museum is Australia’s oldest natural history museum. It was established in 1827 when the British Colonial Office authorised a museum in NSW for the collection of ‘rare and curious specimens of natural history’. Today, it has a rich Read More

Prince Alfred Park 1850

Prince Alfred Park (Cleveland Paddocks)

Prince Alfred Park, earlier known as Cleveland Paddocks, was an Aboriginal camp site until the mid-19th century. Sydney’s Aboriginal people lived here, west of the city centre, until the coming of the railway in 1855 and the subsequent use of Read More

Lake Northam, Victoria Park, Glebe

Lake Northam

Blackwattle Creek was once a tidal watercourse that extended from its marshy headwaters at Glebe towards the suburbs of Redfern and Waterloo to the south. Lake Northam within Victoria Park is a remnant of this creek. It was one of a Read More

Bennelong Point / Dubbagullee, Sydney

Bennelong Point / Dubbagullee

Bennelong Point / Dubbagullee, the peninsula on the eastern side of Sydney Cove, was the site of a brick hut built for Bennelong by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1790. Within two years, Bennelong set sail for England with his young Read More

John Lewin, ‘Fish catch and Dawes Point Sydney Harbour’

Lilyvale Campsite

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward The Rocks area is mainly known as a place of early European history, but it was also used by Aboriginal people for many years before colonial settlement. Traces of an Aboriginal campsite have been Read More

Excavation at Sheas Creek

Sheas Creek (Alexandra Canal) Alexandria

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward At Beaconsfield in the 1890s, workers on the Alexandra Canal began cutting through the sediments of Shea’s Creek and made some remarkable discoveries. The sediments were several metres deep and contained layers of shell, Read More

Stone artefacts from the Angel Place site

Tank Stream Sydney

Author: Paul Irish and Tamika Goward Central Sydney is built in the Tank Stream valley. The Tank Stream now runs underneath the city, but its fresh water was one of the main reasons why Europeans set up camp in Sydney Read More