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Dharug Aboriginal History
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The Dharug Story
~ Our Local History ©

An Aboriginal History of
Western Sydney from 1788
By Christopher Tobin

People living here 200 years ago lived a traditional way of life - simple in it's material requirements yet rich in spiritual meaning. They were born into totemic kinship groups that marked a special relationship for the individual with the place or "Dreaming tracks" in which he or she was conceived. This relationship carried with it certain responsibilities in which they were schooled as they were 'grown up' by the Elders of the community. Aboriginal Law regulated much of the life in Aboriginal community. The customs, ceremonies and conduct of the Dharug were prescribed by laws believed to originate in the time of 'the Dreaming'. It was a way of life taught and practiced from generation to generation...a life accompanied by much singing and dancing. It was a life to change dramatically with the arrival of the Europeans.

"No houses 'tall. I member first White come here - all Blacks den, no houses, all gunyahs* - ev'ybody fight, black gins cry, black men shout and get boomerangs an' tings like for big corroboree. Oh lor' - I frightened - get in bush next memurrer [next to my mother}." - Nah Doongh "Black Nellie" circa 1886 * Gunyah - traditional Aboriginal abode made from sheets of bark.

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First Encounters

Actually, the first encounters recorded by the Europeans in this area were rather amicable ones. Captain Tench of the Marines records this experience of of one of his first encounters with the Dharug people of the Hawkesbury River. "We continued our progress until it was again interrupted by a creek, over which we threw a tree, and passed upon it. While this was doing, a native, from his canoe, entered into conversation with us, and immediately after, paddled to us, with a frankness and confidence, which suprized everyone.* ...he seemed to be neither astonished, or terrified at our appearance and number. Two stone hatchets, and two spears, he took from his canoe, and presented to the governor, who in return for his courteous generosity, gave him two of our hatchets and some bread, which was new to him, for he knew not its use but kept looking at it until Colbee shewed him what to do, when he eat it without hesitation... The ease with which these people behaved among strangers, was as conspicuous, as unexpected, they seated themselves at our fire, partook of our biscuit and pork, drank from our canteens and heard our guns going off around them, without betraying any symptom of fear, distrust, or suprize. On the opposite bank of the river, they had left their wives and several children, with whom they frequently discoursed; and we observed, that these last manifested neither suspicion, or uneasiness of our designs towards their friends... .... they bade us adieu, in unabated friendship and good humour. Colbee and Boladeree parted from them with a slight nod of the head, the usual salutation of the country; and we shook them by the hand, which they returned lustily."


* This man was Gomebeeree of the Boorooberongal - Father of Yarramundi whose daughter Maria was to later attend the 'Native Institution' and marry the carpenter/convict there Robert Lock.

However the good relations were short lived. "Galgala" the smallpox, had slain nearly half of the inland Dharug before the two cultures had even met. The Dharug were still reeling from this catastrophy when even further calamities were visited upon them...


In November of 1788 Governor Phillip had begun to establish a new settlement at Parramatta. More and more farms were to follow and soon the land of the Dharug was being eaten up by the land-hungry "visitors". Aboriginal people were to be prevented from travelling through their own land while much of their traditional food was being ploughed in or driven off to accomodate the needs of the new arrivals. The Dharug people continued to live on their traditional lands, though more and more they found themselves pressed to the fringes of these new estates. Battles were waged; often through misunderstandings and frequently as retaliations for particular offences. After two years of increased fighting in the district, Governor Macquarie dispatched a military unit into the Penrith area in May 1816 and issued a proclamation which deemed it an offense for any Aboriginal to carry weapons "within one Mile of any town, village or farm." Groups of six or more were prohibited from congregating around farms, and any Aboriginal could be legally driven off "by force of arms by the settlers themselves" if the settlers felt they were being 'pestered'. The Dharug were being systematically shut off from their traditional lands and way of life. In the latter half of 1816 the armed conflicts came to an abrupt end when an expedition of soldiers executed some fourteen men, women and children in retaliation for a particularly savage attack by some Aboriginals at Bringelly. Two of the corpses were hung in trees... a dark warning against any further reprisals. The Dharug people were effectively subjugated.


Relations between the two cultures entered a new phase with the cessation of arms. Although traditional practices were kept in various areas, a great number of the Aboriginal people of western Sydney found themselves becoming more and more dependent on the Europeans for food, shelter and clothing as their traditional way of life was taken away from them. Many found themselves in dwindling numbers congregating on the fringes of the properties of sympathetic land owners ; often working on farms for little more than a dog's breakfast. Although mercifully there were some exceptions. An unnamed correspondent to the Sydney Gazette in 1826 reports ...

"The tribe of Mulgoa reaped upwards of thirty acres of wheat for me within the last fourteen days; the work was as well executed as if performed by my best English labourers. The blacks are willing to work if well fed; but the generality of settlers, I regret to say, think these unfortunate people are sufficiently renumerated for their day's labour by a gift of a small piece of tobacco and a drink of sour milk. I gave them and their wives three good meals a day, and a moderate quantity of weak rum punch (or what they call bull) in the afternoon. They went to their camp at sun down in high spirits, and were among the first in the wheat fields in the mornings."


Governor Macquarie was himself sympathetic to the plight of the natives. He took a number of radical steps to integrate the natives into the new society. He granted land to farm for a number of Aboriginals who lived there and in 1814 he founded the "Native Institution" at Parramatta (later relocated to 'Black town') where Aboriginal people were encouraged to board their children. An annual "Feast" was instituted at Parramatta to encourage social intercourse between the cultures.



In 1824 an estimated 400 tribal people attended the feast but in the years to follow numbers gradually declined until in 1835 Governor Bourke shelved the practice. The Native Institution which boarded Aboriginal children also began to suffer from lack of numbers. It soon became obvious that Aboriginal people for the most did not care to be separated from their children. As the century wore on, Aboriginal conditions worsened. Traditional skills and knowledge were being lost and while a number of Aboriginal families were making attempts into a more settled means of existence, the new diet (flour, sugar, tea, and alcohol) and unhealthy living conditions were killing many and demoralizing a good deal more. The new world which had broken upon them threatened the very existence of the Dharug people.



In 1883 the Aborigine's Protection Board was set up to address the 'aboriginal problem'. It created reserves on which Aboriginal people were 'encouraged' to live and where the powers of the Board effectively gave it control over the lives of all Aboriginal people living there. The land on which the Aboriginal community of Plumpton lived was declared a reserve and the extended Lock family who lived there by grant from Governor Macquarie ("to have and to hold forever") were gradually split up and moved on with the land being sold by the Aborigines Protection Board sometime in the early 1900's. In 1907 the Aboriginal Protection Act invested the board with even more powers which resulted in great numbers of Aboriginal children being removed from their families to be brought up in white society foster homes throughout the state. Aboriginal communities were severed,... and a generation of Aboriginal people were brought up in ignorance of their Aboriginality and cultural identity. The Aborigine's Protection Board was abolished in 1940, although the practice of removing Aboriginal children continued under it's successor - the 'Aboriginal Welfare Board' until that too was abolished in 1969.




In 1972 Commonwealth Policy changed from assimilation to self determination. Aboriginal people were encouraged to make their own decisions and in 1990 ATSIC, (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) replaced the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Elected Regional Land Councils and a Board of Commissioners were created to work together to give a voice to Aboriginal communities and their concerns. Organisations such as 'Darug Link', were formed to help reunite Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal people began to be encouraged to celebrate their cultural heritage.

In 1992, the Australian High Court rejected 'Terra Nullius'. This means that the law of the land no longer accepts that Australia was a land belonging to no one. To Aboriginal Australians, the end of ' Terra Nullius ' meant a great deal. Patrick Dodson, chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1994 explained it this way: "Australia faces a very important challenge to improve the relationship between the nation's indigenous peoples and the wider community. We need to show that we are capable of resolving the causes of disharmony and injustice that have so often marked this relationship, and to work towards a future based on justice and equity... We believe every Australian can take a positive step to better relationships and understanding. We believe we need to become better at working with what we have in common to better deal with what divides us... We invite all Australians to share our vision and to work to make it a reality."

Our Vision:

"A united Australia which respects this land of ours, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, and provides justice and equity for all."

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© 1997-99 Chris Tobin PO Box 204 Glenbrook NSW 2773
Second Edition October 1999

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