Five initiates at Wogganmagully, 1795
Engraving by James Neagle after Thomas Watling, 1798

Keith Vincent Smith

The engraving shows five Aboriginal boys among fifteen who have just graduated as men after facing the final ordeal in an initiation ceremony that took place in February 1795 at Wogganmagully, a shallow bay in Sydney Harbour we now call Farm Cove.

Initiation, the core of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual life, marked the entry of boys into the adult world through a series of rituals which, in the Sydney coastal area, reached a climax when the upper front incisor tooth of each boy was knocked out.

The new made men could now add to their name the title kebarrah , meaning a fully initiated man whose tooth has been knocked out by a stone, derived from the word kebba or gibba, a stone or rock.

58. Kangaroo & Dog Dance
Detail from Panorama of Sydney N.S.W. in the year 1829,
as painted by Robert Burford and Exhibited in Leicester-Square, London
Robert Burford (engraver) after Augustus Earle (1793-1838)
Hand-coloured engraving

At the end of January 1795 Aboriginal people began to gather at a place they called Yourong or Yoo-lahng, at the eastern side or bank of Farm Cove, close to the present Mrs. Macquarie’s Point.

The site of these ceremonies was identified by the young roving artist Augustus Earle, who in February 1827 painted a series of eight overlapping watercolour views of The Town of Sydney, New South Wales; the harbour of Port Jackson and surrounding country. These pictures were shipped to England and assembled and exhibited by Robert Burford (1791-1861) at his Panorama in Leicester Square, London, in 1829 and 1830.

No trace, alas, remains of the original great canvas circle in which Earle captured Sydney’s beautiful harbour vista,  including 48 Government Stables, the prominent castellated building designed by the convict architect Francis Greenway, built for the horses and carriages of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It now houses the Conservatorium of Music in Macquarie Street, adjoining Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

This hand-coloured engraving is from the folding frontispiece of the sixpenny printed key to the Panorama, Description of a view of Sydney, published by Burford in 1829. It locates the site of the 1795 initiation bora ground as 58. Kangaroo & Dog Dance

The ceremonial ground selected for this ‘extraordinary exhibition’, wrote Collins, was a space which had been prepared for some days by clearing away grass and tree stumps. ‘It was of an oval figure, the dimensions of it 27 feet by 18, and was named Yoo-lahng.’ It occupied the peninsula at the top of the ridge (now Mrs. Macquarie’s Road in the Domain) from which the land sloped gradually to sandstone rocks, giving way to flats that in 1795 were tidal mangrove swamps.

There were no movie cameras or sound recorders in those days, but this Eora gathering is vividly evoked through the written account of Judge Advocate David Collins, an eyewitness at the ceremony, and the visuals of James Neagle (1760-1822), whose engravings appeared in Collins’s book An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, published in London three years later.

The black and white prints that follow were copied by Neagle from a series of watercolours by the artist Collins described as ‘a person well qualified to make drawings of every particular circumstance that occurred’. That person was the Scots artist and convicted forger Thomas Watling, who arrived in Sydney in October 1792.


‘Several youths well known among us, never having submitted to the operation, were now to be made men,’ wrote Collins. In all, fifteen youngsters were to be initiated by garadigal (clever men) and gooringal (elders and guardians) from the Gamaragal or Cameragal, who occupied the north shore of Sydney Harbour.

Among the boys were Nanbarry, nephew of the Gadigal leader Colebee, Boneda (Bundah or Punda), younger brother of Colebee’s wife Daringa, Caruey or Gurrooee (also Gadigal), called Carraway by the English, Yerinibe (a Burramattagal) and a canditae aged about twenty three, who was not known in Sydney.

‘Pe-mul-wy, a wood native, and many strangers, came in’, Collins remarked. No attempt was made to detain the Bijigal resistance leader Pemulwuy, who was responsible for spearing John McEntire (or McIntyre), game shooter to Governor Arthur Phillip, near Botany Bay in December 1790. Pemulwuy might have been the guardian of the older stranger.

While they waited impatiently for the Gamaragal ‘operators’ to cross from the north shore, the south harbour Eora spent the evenings singing and dancing, which was customary. One man Collins described as ‘all together a frightful object’ was painted white to his waist, except for his beard and eyebrows, while others had painted white circles around their eyes ‘which rendered them as terrific as can well be imagined.’


At nightfall on 2 February 1795 twenty Gamaragal beached their nawi (canoes) at Wogganmagully / Farm Cove. Their bodies were painted up and they carried shields, clubs, spears and womeras (spear-throwers). Each is wearing the waistband of an initiated man.

Collins named the senior carradhy or garadji (clever man) as ‘Boo-der-ro, the native who had throughout taken the principal part in the business’. Booderro is obviously the thin, white-bearded older man seen in Neagle’s engravings holding an ornamented shield, usually standing apart and giving directions.

Whenever they spoke about the ceremony, said Collins, his Aboriginal informants always used the words Yoo-lahng erah-ba-diahng.

The term Yoo-lahng erah-ba-diahng [sic] must therefore be considered as applying solely to this extraordinary occasion; it appears to be compounded of the name given to the spot where the principal scenes take place, and of the most material qualification that is derived from the whole ceremony, that of throwing the spear. I conceive it to be the import of the word erah-ba-diahng, erah being a part of the verb to throw, erah, throw you, erailley, throwing.

With hindsight this speculation has proved to be inaccurate.

The name of the ceremony is given as Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang in the captions to the illustrations but as Era-bad-djang, translated as the ‘ceremony or operation of drawing the tooth’, in the handwritten wordlist collected by Governor Phillip and his aides, which I call the Governor’s Vocabulary (Anon 1791:17.17).  Its literal meaning, from yirra ‘tooth’ and badiang ‘hurt’, would mean ‘tooth hurting or wounding’.


At the start of the ceremony, the Gamaragal elders stand at one end of the ceremonial ground facing the novices. Abruptly, they advance towards them with a shout, rattling their spears against their shields, stamping their feet and sending up a thick cloud of dust.

In the uproar, each boy is seized by his guardian and thrust into the circle of gooringal where they are prevented ‘by a grove of spears from any attempts that his friends might make to rescue him’. The boys then sit at one end, their heads bowed, hands clasped and legs submissively crossed beneath them.

Collins was told they were forbidden to look up or to drink anything. In initiations in the Brisbane area about 1834, described in his Reminiscences (1904) by Tom Petrie, the boys were warned that ‘the sky would fall and smother them’ if they looked up. Bundjalung initiates at Woodenbong in northern New South Wales in 1898 were frequently ‘forced to hold down their heads so that they cannot see’.

In a ritual resembling a Balinese or Haitian trance dance, one garadji lay on the ground, writhing and gesturing as though in pain. He ‘appeared at length to be delivered of a bone, which was to be used in the ensuing ceremony’, wrote Collins. While this was going on, a crowd of men danced around the medium, singing loudly. One man beat the garadji on the back until he produced the bone, leaving him exhausted and bathed in sweat. Another man produced a second bone in the same way. Collins astutely noticed that the bone had been concealed ‘in the girdle [waistband] that he wore’.

In his published account, Collins was at pains to point out that he had not been deceived by these ‘mummeries’. At the same time he realised that the antics of the Aboriginal doctors were meant to ease the suffering of the initiates. The more the elders suffered, the less pain the boys would feel.

When Collins left at nightfall the boys were sitting silently in a position of subjection ‘in which they were told they were to remain until morning’.

The next morning (3 February) Collins found the Gamaragal operators sleeping apart in a group. Physical and mental exhaustion had overtaken the boys, who slept outside the circle and did not stir until sunrise. One by one the garadigal arrived, shouting on entering the circle, then running around it two or three times. The boys were brought in, again with their heads bent and hands clasped together, and seated on a low mound at the edge of the circle.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang.1.]

The first plate illustrates the ceremony that Collins understood gave initiates ‘power over the dog’ (tungo : dingo) and endowed them with the good qualities of the animal. The late Dr. Frederick David McCarthy characterised this as the ‘dingo taboo rite’, which licensed men to hunt and kill dingoes. Six initiates, heads bowed, watch as the twelve operators run around the ring on hands and feet ‘imitating the dogs of the country’. Two older men supervise. Twelve men have curved wooden ‘sword clubs’ stuck in their waistbands to represent dingo tails. Each time they pass, the dancers throw up sand and dust with their hands and feet over the boys, who sit still and silent.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang. 2.]

In the second scene the fifteen initiates sit together in a semicircle around some cut bushes. Two garadigal inside the circle approach the boys. The first, wrote Collins, carries on his shoulders ‘a pat-ta-go-rang or kangaroo made of grass’ (though it looks more like a big lizard), while the second, who bears ‘a load of brushwood’ also has a flowering branch thrust through the hole in the septum of his nose. Six men with clubs in their belts squat in a circle around Booderro, who sings as he beats his shield with clapsticks.

Limping and halting, the two actors give the impression that they are weighed down by a heavy burden. Finally, they drop their load at the feet of the young men.

Collins thought the brushwood might symbolise the haunt of the kangaroo. At the back of the circle, six spectators watch from a slight rise next to a large fallen log, where a dozen spears are stacked. A smoking campfire burns between the two groups.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang.3.]

‘The boys were left seated at the Yoo-lahng for about half an hour,’ wrote Collins, ‘during which the actors went down into a valley near the place, where they fitted themselves with long tails made of grass, which they fastened to the hinder parts of their girdles, instead of the sword [club], which was laid aside during this scene.’

Here the dancers mimic kangaroos ‘now jumping along, then lying down and scratching themselves, as those animals do when basking in the sun.’

In this scene, nine initiates, huddled on a raised mound, witness the traditional Eora kangaroo hunt, involving nineteen Gamaragal operators. A songman at right beats time with a club on a shield while fourteen ‘kangaroo men’ hop along the pathway in a line, knees bent; arms and hands held out like paws.

At left are two ‘kangaroo hunters’ armed with spears and shields, one with a barbed spear poised in his womera, ready to throw. Two supervisors stand on an embankment just above the first kangaroo dancer, who looks towards them. The hunters stalked their quarry, said Collins, ‘pretending to steal upon them unobserved and spear them’. The boys being made men are now authorised to chase and spear kangaroos for the rest of their lives.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang. 4.]

The dancers stand erect and quickly remove their grass ‘kangaroo’ tails. Each seizes a boy and places him on his shoulders. None of the boys’ friends and relations attempted to interfere or ‘molest these north shore natives in the execution of their business,’ Collins noted.

In the engraving, six initiates, arms outstretched, are carried on the shoulders of the Cameragal, who hold their hands to steady them. The men have put their clubs back into their waistbands.

Three men brandish flat-topped clubs like wooden mallets, probably used in tooth evulsion. Two quite small men at the front appear to be chanting.

The spearman standing on one leg to the right of Booderro is most likely Pemulwuy.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang. 5.]

The boys are taken a short distance to a flat area, let down from the shoulders of the men and placed in a group, their heads lowered and hands clasped.

At this stage some of the operators disappeared for ten minutes ‘to arrange the figure of the next scene’ and Collins was excluded from this part of the rites. ‘I was not admitted to witness this business, about which they appeared to observe a greater degree of mystery and preparation than I had noticed in either of the preceding ceremonies,’ he wrote.

This was a significant and deeply spiritual part of initiation.

When Collins and Watling were allowed to return they saw the scene recreated in the fifth engraving.

Here two men sit on tree stumps, each with a man balanced on his shoulders; all four with their arms extended. The boys are guarded by men armed with spears. A dozen gooringal lie huddled closely together on the ground, some on top of others. Only the back of their heads and bodies can be seen.

As the boys and their attendants approach, the two men on the stump begin to move from side to side, ‘lolling out their tongues, and staring as wide and horribly with their eyes as they could open them’. The boys are guided over the bodies of the men on the ground, who writhe as if in agony, ‘uttering a mournful dismal sound, like very distant thunder’. The men on the second stump pull grotesque faces as the novices pass. Collins wrote:

A particular name, boo-roo-moo-roong, was given to this scene; but of its import I could learn very little. I made much inquiry; but could never obtain any other answer, than that it was very good; that the boys would now become brave men; that they would see well, and fight well.

In the language spoken by the Eora boo-roo-moo-roong literally meant ‘thunder in the clouds’, a good description of the ‘mournful dismal sound, like very distant thunder’ heard by Collins. In nearby coastal initiations, bullroarers, called variously boo-ro-wa or mooroonga, were sounded continually during this secret part of the ceremony.

The bullroarer, a flat piece of wood or hard animal skin used in sacred ceremonies, emits a low, humming sound when whirled through the air at the end of a string. Bullroarers might have been sounded at Farm Cove after David Collins had been led away.

This is a serious and shocking psychological moment for the initiates. As they slide over the prone and apparently bloody mass of bodies on the ground they are filled with dread of the unknown, fearing they are about to be eaten by a strange creature whose voice like rumbling thunder has been simulated by the moaning of the men (or the whirr of bullroarers). At this moment of transformation, the boys have been killed and reborn as men.

An old Aboriginal woman told A.W. Howitt: ‘All I know about Tharamulun (Daramulan) is that he comes down with a noise like thunder, to make the boys into men, We call him Papang (father).’ In some clans, the young initiates believed they would be eaten alive by Daramulan, who would restore them to human shape with their upper incisor tooth missing. Around Brisbane, the bullroarer or buggaram was said to be the noise made by the ‘great men’, who, it was thought, swallowed the boys and vomited them up again.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang. 6.]

Having survived this ordeal, the boys, at the threshold of manhood, are seated in a semi-circle under a tree, their heads still averted.

Booderro has his back to them, facing a circle of Gamaragal officials armed with spears and shields as he rhythmically strikes his shield with his club. At every third beat, the warriors thrust their spears at Booderro, touching the centre of his shield.

‘It appeared significant of an exercise which was to form the principal business of their lives, the use of the spear,’ commented Collins.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang.7.]

The moment had come for the great final shock of initiation: the removal of the upper front incisor. ‘The first subject they took was a boy of about ten years of age,’ Collins recorded. This boy, restrained by a man on each side, balances on the shoulders of his guardian who sits in the grass.

A throwing stick is first cut about 8-10 inches from the end, by placing it upon a tree.  A sharpened bone magically produced by a carradhy the previous evening is used to loosen the boy’s tooth from his gum. The narrow end of the prepared stick is then placed against the top of the tooth. A goringal strikes the stick with a large stone,  pretending to hit it three times before the actual blow, repeating the operation as often as necessary. Another man holds the boy’s head in place. Collins:

They were full three minutes about this first operation, the tooth being, unfortunately for the boy, fixed very firm in the gum. It was at last forced out and the sufferer was taken away to a little distance, where the gum was now closed by his friends.

One by one, the teeth of the remaining initiates are knocked out in the same way, except for a ‘pretty boy about eight or nine years of age’, he could not endure the pain after one blow, broke free and escaped. This might have been Nanbree or Nanbarry, a Gadigal.

As each tooth was removed, the assistants ‘made the most hideous noise in the ears of the patients’, crying loudly and repeatedly ‘e-wah ewah, ga-ga ga-ga’. This, said Collins, was to distract the boys’ attention and to drown out any cries, but they ‘made it a point of honour to bear the pain without a murmur’.

[Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang. 8.]

Fourteen newly initiated men sit together along the trunk of a fallen tree the evening following the tooth evulsion ceremony. Each graduate wears a headband, with white blades of the base of the grass tree (Xanthhorea) thrust into it to make a headdress like a small crown. Each has a wooden club in his initiation waistband and carries a waddy in his right hand. His left hand is placed over his mouth to stop him speaking. He is not permitted to eat any kind of food that day.

At right, Nanbarry is comforted by his uncle Colebee, who applies a cooked fish to quell the pain in his gum ‘which suffered from the stroke more than any others’.

Immediately afterwards the new men jump up and rush into Sydney Town ‘driving before them men, women, and children, who were glad to get out of their way’. Wherever they went, they set the grass on fire. Collins concluded:

They were now received into the class of men; were privileged to  wield the spear and the club, and to oppose their persons in  combat. They might now also seize such females as they chose for  wives. All this, however, must be understood to import, that having submitted to the operation, having endured the pain of it without a murmur, and having lost a front tooth, they received a qualification which they were to exercise whenever their years and their strength should be equal to it.

Sketch of Bora Ground 1823
Robert Hoddle
Field Book 2/8093
State Archives NSW

David Collins described only one large oval shaped ceremonial ground at Farm Cove, but elsewhere in southeastern Australia, initiation were traditionally staged within two circles connected by a pathway. Collins, who did not witness some parts of the ritual, might have missed these features.

In the Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri cultures to the north and west of Sydney, the initiation rite was called bora and the circles bora rings, suggesting two circles rather than one.

Bora – – – A Testicle
David Blackburn 1791

In a vocabulary titled ‘Native of New South Wales’, sent in March 1791 by David Blackburn, Master of HM Storeship Supply, to Richard Knight at Devizes in England, bora is given as meaning ‘testicle’, again suggesting two circles.

However, the Reverend Charles Greenway (1878) interpreted bora or boorrah as the Kamilaroi name for the boorr or ‘belt of manhood’ given to initiated men.

Look more closely and you will see that Watling had drawn two circles, clearly shown in Neagle’s engravings. For instance, the circle in Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang 1 is surrounded by a low ridge of earth formed by scraping off bushes and topsoil. This is not seen in Plates 3 to 8, in which the circles are surrounded by vegetation.

Plate 3 shows the muru or path running between steep banks with trees on a ridge in the background and low shrubs on the downhill side.

Bora grounds in what is now south-east Queensland  usually had two rings, with a path between them, said to symbolise the transition between childhood and manhood. Initiates there, aged 14 to 15, were called kippas. The placenames Kippa-Ring, 24 kilometres north of Brisbane and Keparra, meaning ‘young man standing’ were named for bora sites.

In Plate 8, the initiated men sit on a long log, which is otherwise only seen in Plate 2. A small creek or cove can be glimpsed in the background of these two views.

Reviewing the initiation at Farm Cove, David Collins said he would consider the ceremony as a tribute to the Cameragal (Gamaragal), except for the fact that ‘all the people of Cam-mer-ray, which were those who had extracted the tooth, were themselves proof that they had submitted to the operation. I never saw any among them who had not lost the front tooth.’

The practice of tooth evulsion in Australia is ancient. Archaeologist Dr. Alistair Campbell examined skulls of Aboriginal males, dated to 8000 years before the present, in which the upper right incisor teeth had been removed. Tooth evulsion was the central focus of initiation throughout southeastern Australia. While in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) during 1792 the French botanist Jacques-Julien de Labillardière (1755-1834) observed some men ‘in whom one of the middle teeth of the upper jaw was wanting, and others in whom both were gone’.

Watkin Tench (1793) described the method used by the gooringal to extract the front tooth of initiates.

The tooth intended to be taken out is loosened, by the gum being scarified on both sides with a sharp shell. The end of a stick is then applied to the tooth, which is struck gently, several times, with a stone, until it becomes easily movable, when the coup de grace is given, by a smart stroke.

Thomas Watling drew a pencil sketch of one of the 1795 initiates Gur-roo-ee – that is Caruey or Carraway (garawi : white cockatoo) – clearly showing the gap where his incisor was knocked out during initiation. The portrait is in the Watling Colletion at the Natural History Museum in London.

Caruey, a Gadigal, exchanged names with a fellow initiate, Yeranibe, a Burramattagal, who was afterwards called Yeranibe Goruey. Caruey died from a spear wound in December 1805 and was buried, wrapped in paperbark, at the Brickfields (present Chippendale).


There are astonishing parallels between the initiation rites described by David Collins in 1795 and  ceremonies observed by anthropologists in much later years and  in places a long way from Sydney.

The explorer and ethnologist Alfred William Howitt, who witnessed a Burbung ceremony among the Wolgal (or Walgalu)  observed that the ceremonies usually lasted two or three days and new dances were shown and taught to others.

Howitt wrote:

While the people are waiting for the arrival of the contingents there is singing and dancing each evening. 

Howitt said that during the Burbung, the boys were repeatedly threatened by men with weapons ready to strike if they disclosed anything they had seen to the uninitiated.
 [See A.W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of south-east Australia, Macmillan, London, 1904]

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Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2018


Lawrence Hargrave
with box kite at
Woollahra Point, c 1910
P1/710 Mitchell Library

Lawrence Hargrave
and the Spanish ships

Keith Vincent Smith

Lawrence Hargrave (1850-1915) is justly famed in Australia and throughout the world as a brilliant inventor. His pioneering experiments with light framed box kites, aeroplane models and compressed air engines strongly influenced those ‘magnificent men in their flying machines’, Wilbur and Orville Wright, with whom Hargrave generously shared his discoveries.  

In 1870, at the age of twenty, the English-born Hargrave strapped on a pair of experimental ‘shoes’ and walked across the water at Rushcutters Bay, where, a century before, Gadigal men and women paddled and fished from the stringybark canoes they called nawi.   

Nesta Griffiths, writing in Point Piper, Past and Present in 1947 recalled:

I can well remember the talk when I was a child of Mr. Hargrave walking on the water from Darling Point to Point Piper on some form of inflated water-wings like snow shoes, and the matter-of-fact people who found it all very ridiculous and amusing.

Lawrence Hargrave with box kites at Stanwell Park

In 1889 Hargrave perfected a three cylinder radial rotary engine to power model aircraft. On 12 November that year at Stanwell Park beach on the south coast of New South Wales he successfully ‘flew’ 16 feet (about 5 metres) into the sky on four linked box kites.

Hargrave’s solar kettle

In December 1912 Hargrave built a ‘solar water kettle’ with a conical surface that concentrated the sun’s rays on a central tube containing water. My wife Irene and I featured this far-sighted invention in ‘Solar 1’ – our first story on solar energy in our magazine Earth Garden No. 6 in 1973. This photo is much better than the one we took at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, now the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

He was certainly a genius, but – how shall I put this? – in later life, like many bright people, Lawrence Hargrave was dominated by an irrational obsession with no connection to reality. He was flying a different kind of kite in 1909, when he claimed that two Spanish ships, the Santa Ysabel and Santa Barbara and their crews had moored in Sydney Harbour from 1595 to 1597. He went to ridiculous lengths to ‘prove’ this assertion.

It is true that in 1595 four Spanish ships commanded by Alvaro de Mendaña Barreto left Callao in Peru and sailed across the Pacific Ocean. They ‘discovered’ the Marquesas and attempted to make a settlement at Santa Cruz believing that they were in the Solomon Islands. The colony was abandoned after two months and Mendaña and many other died. One of his galleons, the Santa Ysabel, was separated from the fleet and lost. Lope de Vega, the captain, and his wife Mariana de Castro, Mendaña’s sister, were not heard of again.

Hargrave imagined that rusted iron ring-bolts in the rocks at Woollahra Point were placed there to moor the Santa Ysabel. More likely they were used by the boats that in earlier days brought guests to Henrietta Villa, where they were lavishly entertained by Sydney’s Naval Officer Captain John Piper in its domed ballroom and banqueting hall.

He cited as evidence of the Spanish presence the figures of men and animals carved on sandstone rocks by the waterside near his home in Wunulla Road. He became convinced that the vast gallery of images of kangaroos, shields, sharks and fish carved into the flat surfaces between Point Piper and Woollahra Point were not made by Aboriginal people but had been ‘cut on the rock by metal tools, not grooved or rubbed into being with flint or other hard stone’

These Aboriginal engraving sites were noted as early as July 1845, when Cora Gooseberry, widow of the Broken Bay leader Bungaree, conducted the travelling artist and writer George French Angas and Police Inspector William Augustus Miles on a tour of Aboriginal carvings at North Head, where they both sketched the figures in the rocks.

Aboriginal Carvings
George French Angas
Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand … London 1847

Angas’s drawings of ‘Aboriginal Carvings, or Outline Tracings upon the Rocks and Headlands in the vicinity of Port Jackson’ were reproduced as Plate 1 of his book Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand, published in London by Smith, Elder & Co. in 1847. The artist, who had been staying at the Point Piper mansion of Daniel Cooper (see ‘Who was Ricketty Dick’ on this website), wrote (page 204):

At Lane Cove, at Port Aiken [Port Hacking], and at Point Piper, we also met with similar carvings. Whilst on a visit to the latter place, it occurred to me that on the flat rocks at the extremities of the grounds belonging to the estate where I was staying, there might be carvings similar to those at the Heads; and on searching carefully I found considerable numbers of them in a tolerably perfect state of preservation. Of all these I took measurements and made careful fac-simile drawings on the spot.

Lawrence Hargrave, ‘Lope de Vega’, Royal Society of New South Wales, June 1909

In the Postcript of his long, rambling, speculative and breathtakingly ignorant paper ‘Lope de Vega’, read on 2 June 1909 and published in Vol 43 of the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales in Sydney (pages 34 et seq), Hargrave identified the engravings of the figure of a man with his arms extended (Angas No. 2) and of a male kangaroo,  remarking on page 53: ‘Both are within a few yards of my front door, and in all probability will soon be reduced to sprawls.’

He maintains the fantasy that these works could not have been done ‘by the aborigines of Australia’, who did not possess metal tools such as picks, gads and hammers and infers they had ‘no knowledge of perspective’. He continues: ‘I cannot see any better reason for the existence of these markings than to say they were made by Peruvian slaves at the command of their Spanish masters.’

By this time Hargrave had seen the illustrations and text by W. D. Campbell, who surveyed the Woollahra Point-Point Piper area and in 1899 published ‘Aboriginal Carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay’ in Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Ethnographic Series No. 1, Sydney. It was obvious, Hargrave explained, that the slaves had dropped their metal tools — ‘the sharp-eyed aborigine finding every one of them and mimicking their use’.

It suited Hargrave’s story in Part 2 of Lope de Vega, read before the Royal Society of NSW in December 1909, to miraculously transform the obviously male Aboriginal figure (above left), with outstretched arms but no mouth into his conception of Mariana de Castro (at right), with neck ruff, headband, shirt, trousers and clogs.

In 1910 the surveyor and anthropologist Robert Hamilton Mathews, also a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales, disclosed the technique used by the Aboriginal artists in an essay in the Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris (5th series, pages 531-35).

Firstly, a row of holes was pierced with a piece of pointed stone, establishing the outline of the drawing, after which the intervals between these holes were cut in such a way as to produce an uninterrupted groove.

Apart from one vivid example (above), the Aboriginal engravings that dotted the rocks around Point Piper were destroyed when houses were built on top of them. The exception, that of a large fish, survives under the floorboards of a home close to where Hargrave lived in Wunulla Road.

Writing about the Point Piper engravings in 1893, in ‘Idiographic Carvings of the Aborigines at Point Piper, Rose Bay, Port Jackson, and at Hawkesbury’ in Records of the Geological Survey of New South Wales (Vol. 3, pages 80-85), another member of the Royal Society of NSW, the palaeontologist Robert Etheridge Junr, wrote:

The first object to attract attention is the large fish, twenty-two feet long, by twelve and a half wide, and within its outline are other subordinate carvings. This fish is remarkable for the roundness of its anterior outline, great bulk, and a small well separated tail-flipper.

Etheridge described the ‘Male figure, with outstretched bent arms, and eyes, but no mouth …  ‘The figure is five feet high, and has the knees and elbows typically angulate after the usual aboriginal manner.’

Carvings on the rocks near Rose Bay
Photograph by Lawrence Hargrave
Sydney Morning Herald
9 August 1912

Although he described them as ‘savages’ and even used the ‘N-word’, Lawrence Hargrave was no more a bigot than most other Australians of the period. His one-eyed racial attitude towards the Aboriginal people of the Sydney area is plainly revealed by his own words in the article ‘Carvings on the rocks’ which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 9 August 1912 (page 5).  See the printed extract below.

Hearing that some curious markings on the rocks near Carrara, Rose Bay, were visible, Mr. Hargrave repaired thither, and after several hours’ hard work with pick and shovel laid bare what he considers was  shelving grid, upon which the Spanish vessel was drawn up for repairs. There were curious carvings on the stone, and other evidences of human handcraft.  

Carrara, in modern Vaucluse, is now called Strickland House .

Hargrave wrote:

There is an inclined grid above high-water mark, which would be very suitable for hauling up a small vessel to effect repairs … five of the panels of the pavement, separated by grooves, have Spanish symbols of conquest carved thereon. 

Anyone familiar with Aboriginal rock engravings on high ground around Sydney will recognise that these ‘symbols’ represent shields, usually decorated with a vertical line crossed by one or two lines. See the shield illustrated inside the fish in Angas’ Fig. 9 above and the drawings by W.D. Campbell and my photo of a shield engraving at Bantry Bay (below).

Shields or Spanish ‘victory symbols’? Reproduced from W. D. Campbell
‘Aboriginal Carvings’ 1899
Shield engraving at Bantry Bay
Photo: Keith Vincent Smith

In all these excursions of Governor Phillip, and in the neighbourhood of Botany Bay and Port Jackson, the figures of animals, of shields, and weapons, and even of men, have been seen carved upon the rocks … Fish were often represented.
Arthur Phillip, The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay … 1789

The Indigenous people of Port Jackson and coastal Sydney, who called themselves Eora (‘people’) did not read or write, but they left an eloquent witness to their artistic expression, culture and spiritual beliefs in hundreds of galleries of figures outlined and engraved in sandstone, which included ancestral heroes, shields, whales, sharks, fish, eels, kangaroos, echidnas and lizards, that were often clan or personal totems.

A totem is an emblem or image from nature, and the Eora regarded these as part of their identity. In Aboriginal society totems link the human, natural and supernatural worlds.

There are more than 1000 Aboriginal rock engraving sites in the Sydney area. In Gamaragal territory on the north shore, for example, they occur at Bantry Bay, Grotto Point, Balls Head, Berowra, Berrys Island, Bobbin Head, Gumbooya at Allambie Heights, Terry Hills, Wheeler Creek, West Head and other areas in Kuringgai National Park.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2018


Welcome to 2018!

Dr. Keith Vincent Smith in the centre with The Hon. George Souris AM (at left) and NSW
State Librarian Dr. John Vallance.

On Tuesday 5 December 2017 I was delighted to receive the honorary title of Emeritus Curator from The Library Council of New South Wales. It was presented by The Hon. George Souris, President of the Library Council and Dr. John Vallance, the State Librarian, who has wonderful plans for improvements at The State Library of New South Wales in Sydney.

The collections of the Mitchell and Dixson Libraries at the State Library of NSW have been my happy hunting ground for research in Australian Aboriginal History for almost 30 years.

The award was given for ‘exceptional contributions in enhancing the story of Indigenous encounter in the nation and the use of the State Library of its collections.’

This refers to the two exhibitions in which I was involved at the SLNSW – EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850, which I co-curated with Anthony ‘Ace’ Bourke in 2006, and MARI NAWI: Aboriginal Odysseys 1790-1850 which I curated in 2010.

I am deeply honoured by this recognition of my work.





Benjamin Bowen Carter
Francis Alexander (1800-1881)
Oil on Panel, Brown University, Rhode Island, USA

Keith Vincent Smith

On 23 October 1798 an Aboriginal youth, called variously ‘Musketer’, ‘Musquetoo’ or ‘Musquito’, met Dr. Benjamin Bowen Carter, aged 26, surgeon aboard the American trading ship Ann and Hope from Providence, Rhode Island, bound for China. Carter was returning from Port Jackson (Sydney) to Botany Bay, where his ship was forced to put in two days earlier to shelter from constant squalls and thunderstorms.

Carter set out with a party that included Thomas Laycock, Quartermaster of the New South Wales Corps, one of Laycock’s sons, Dr. John Harris, Provost Marshal Thomas Smyth and surveyor Charles Grimes. He wrote in his journal:

Several of the natives of Botany accompanied us, also a native of Owhyhe one of the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii] … At length we arrived at the Beach about 5 miles from the Ship – we travelled along the Beach till we came to the watering place where our people were watering, with about 20 savages round whom they kept in awe by a single small arm. Here a Boy about 15 years of age who called himself Musketer offering voluntarily to conduct me to our party at Frenchmans Garden I accepted his service and rewarded him for his good behaviour with a present of a red waistcoat and some biscuit with which he was highly pleased.

William Bradley
Map no. 9
A Voyage to New South Wales, 1786-1792
Trustees of the Public Library of NSW, Sydney, 1969

The ‘watering place’ where they met was probably Long Bay, about three miles north of ‘Frenchman’s Gardens’ , as La Perouse on Botany Bay was then called. Long Bay on the coast, called Boora by the Aboriginal people, is marked (lower right) as ‘Good water’ by William Bradley on his chart No. 9  in 1788. Click to enlarge the map.


The youthful ‘Musquito’ or ‘Musquetoo’ who met Dr. Carter might have been a Kameygal from the north shore of Botany Bay or an ally or relative of Moorooboora, whose name can be interpreted as muru-boora, meaning ‘pathway to Boora (Long Bay)’. His Aboriginal name is not known, though a ‘mosquito’ was called tewra or teura in First Fleet vocabularies. 

He is not the older ‘Musquito’ from Broken Bay north of Sydney, also called ‘Bush Muschetta’ or ‘Mousqueda’, who in 1805 was sent by Governor Philip Gidley King to Norfolk Island as an ‘Aboriginal convict’ with his young relative Toulgra, called Bulldog. These two men were later transported to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), where the Broken Bay Musquito was hanged for murder in February 1825. See Chapter 5 ‘Mosquito and Bulldog’ in my book MARI NAWI: Aboriginal Odysseys (2010).

An Aboriginal man was killed in a ritual punishment combat in Sydney in September 1803 ‘in consequence of two wounds in the body from jagged spears … Ten spears were thrown at him, five at a time, one of which at each flight pierced his body’, said the Gazette (2 October 1803, page 2). ‘Mr. Jamieson [sic] rendered every surgical assistance the poor creature was capable of receiving, but he expired shortly after they were extracted.’ The surgeon who tried to help the unknown dying man was Thomas Jamison.

There is no known image of the young ‘Musquetoo’, now aged 20, who was involved in a brutal ritual revenge battle in Pitt’s Row (now Pitt Street, Sydney) when, according to the Sydney Gazette (16 October 1803, page 2a), he fended off 64 spears thrown at him ‘with rancour and malignancy’, of which 17 pierced his shield. ‘The 65th and last thrown at him entered the calf of his right hip and penetrated six inches through’, but the shaft was cut off and extracted.

Young Mosquito took part also in the clash at Wogganmagully (Farm Cove) in which the Broken Bay leader ‘Bungary’ (Bungaree) was the first Aboriginal man seen throwing a returning boomerang in the Sydney area. At midnight an enemy (‘a villain of the darkest hue’) crept up and discharged a spear among the sleeping combatants, wounding Mosquito in the arm (Sydney Gazette, 23 December 1804, page 3a). The assailant was identified by his spear and ran off. He was chased to the Brick Fields and was ‘at length severely wounded in his turn’. From later evidence, he was probably Blewit or Blueit, also, called Ploge.

Blueit, Native of Botany
Bay, New South Wales, 1810
[Blewit or Ploge]
John William Lewin
British Museum, London

The younger Musquito from the south can be separately recognised by the reports of a series of ritual revenge battles and his eventual death in 1806, reported by The Sydney Gazette (SG). As earlier stated, the older Broken Bay Musquito and his relative Toulgra Bulldog were sent to Norfolk Island on HMS Buffalo, which sailed from Sydney Cove on 22 August 1805.

In a ‘fit of intoxication’ (SG 12 January 1806, page 1), Musquito badly wounded young Pigeon (Warroba), a ‘boy’ from the Shoalhaven, in a face-to-face combat with clubs outside the Military Barracks in George Street (now Wynyard Station). Musquito knocked down Boatswain Maroot and split his head open with a crushing blow from a tomahawk. That night an ally of Pigeon ambushed Musquito outside the General Hospital at The Rocks and speared him in the chest. Surgeon Thomas Jamison gave orders for him to be taken into the hospital for treatment.

The Gazette (SG, Sunday 19 January 1806, page 2) detailed the events surrounding young Musquito’s death:

The native Musquito, who was treacherously wounded on the night of yesterday se’nnight [two weeks earlier], lingered until Wednesday evening, and then expired. The humane attention shewn him by the Principal Surgeon he seemed to entertain a proper sense of, as did all his friends and relatives likewise. Their ceremonies, on this occasion are said by the oldest residents to be more singular and extravagant than ever before witnessed. The whole of Thursday was devoted to mourning, and the lamentation of the female friends and relatives of the deceased were at intervals very loud and general, and even tumultuous whenever it was necessary the body should be disturbed. Three natives of a tribe not at all interested in the event of Mosquito’s departure were attacked with repeated flights of spears for presuming to land near the scene of mourning: and in fact every thing denoted the general esteem in which the deceased was held.

At night the corpse, closed in bark, was conveyed by two into Mr. Jamieson’s yard, two others carrying a coffin that had been provided […] Early next morning the internment of the body took place, at which the collected friends assisted, exercrating the assassin, whom they threatened with persecuting vengeance […]

The coffin provided for Musquito’s body would have come from  the Lumber Yard, a large open roofed trades ‘factory’ facing Bridge and George Streets, Sydney, reaching down to the Tank Stream, a workplace of convict blacksmiths, carpenters, sawyers, wheelwrights and shoe makers. It was also a warehouse for storing logs, sawed timber, shingles, barrels, bricks, tiles, coal, nails and bolts. There were sawpits, forges and a tannery for curing leather to make hats and shoes.

Towards the end of the January 1806, Blewitt and Pigeon faced punishment for the killing of Mosquito. Nanbarry, a Gadigal, speared their Gweagal kinsman Colinjong. Old White threw a spear that penetrated Blewit’s shield, struck him near the left eye and deeply gashed his nose, while Pigeon was speared through the leg. (SG 2 February 1806, 2b-2c).

Blewit died not long afterwards and was buried in a bay near Woolloomooloo, probably Rushcutters Bay.

Thomas Jamison (1753-1811)
Unknown artist
GPO1 – 18963
State Library of NSW

Thomas Jamison (1753-1811) was surgeon’s first mate on the First Fleet flagship HMS Sirius. After a period on Norfolk Island he sailed back to England on leave in 1800 but returned to Sydney in June 1802 on the ship Hercules, where he became principal surgeon, naval officer and magistrate. He was granted 1000 acres (405 hectares) of land on the Nepean River near Penrith in 1805 and acquired farms at Georges River and South Creek. See the online Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) entry on Thomas Jamison by Vivienne Parsons, 1967.

Jamison left Sydney again in June 1809 on Admiral Gambier to appear as a witness at the trial in London of Major George Johnston who deposed Governor William Bligh in 1808. He died in London in 1811.

His son, John Jamison (1776-1844),  was educated at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and became a doctor in 1808. He arrived in Sydney on the Broxbornebury in 1814. In time he became an influential landholder with a town house in Sydney and Regentsville, his country estate at Penrith.

Thomas Jamison received a land grant running from George Street uphill to the Military Barracks. He built a two storey stone mansion with a return verandah at the corner of George and Grosvenor Street. On his return to London he sold his colonial property to his son Sir John Jamison, who came to New South Wales in 1814 to take it up.

Sir John Jamison

Sir John Jamison (1776-1844) was the son of Thomas Jamison (1745-1811). He had been ‘Physician to His Majesty’s Fleet’ on HMS Gorgon in the Baltic and helped to suppress an outbreak of scurvy, for which he received a Swedish knighthood. When Jamison arrived in Sydney in July 1814  it was eight years since Young Musquito had been buried on his father’s property, which covered the triangular block of land bounded by the present George, Jamison, Lang and Grosvenor Streets. 

In 1821 John Jamison built a mansion, usually referred to as ‘Jamieson House’, at the corner of George and Jamison Streets. Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald (10 February 1940, page 14), Sydney author John O’Grady called the house, then in a bad state of disrepair and plastered with ‘For Sale’ signs, ‘one of the earlier examples of colonial architecture’. Jamison Street was created when Dr. Jamison subdivided his property in 1831. He built the mansion ‘Regentsville’ on his huge country estate fronting the Nepean River at Penrith in 1826. He died in 1844, aged 68 and the house was destroyed by fire in 1869.

In Elements of the anatomy of the human body in its sound state … published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1825 (page 23), the anatomist Alexander Monro noted:

My friend Sir JOHN JAMISON sent me some years ago the skeleton of a young man, a native of New South Wales.

It seems highly likely that these skeletal remains were those of the ‘other’ Musquito, whose body had been buried on the estate of his father Thomas Jamison.

Alexander Monro tertius (the third doctor in his family) continued his description of the Indigenous People of ‘New Holland’ (page 224) in what we would now consider a racist tract. Monro wrongly believed that ‘the aborigines of New Holland’ were ‘totally ignorant of agriculture’ and did not practice any of the arts of civil life’ and ‘not one of them has been induced to avail himself of his education’ and that they held ‘a much lower place in the scale of being’. All of which have been proved to be wrong in recent research.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2017



Gebhard von Blücher

Keith Vincent Smith 2017

Mystery surrounds the visit to London in 1814 by an Aboriginal mariner who saw the leading European commanders of the Napoleonic Wars.

He claimed to have talked to ‘King Biukher’, the Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher (1742-1819), who asked him if he was an American. This man often came to the tents pitched by the Russian expedition commanded by Captain Fabian von Bellingshausen at Kirribilli, opposite Sydney Cove, in 1820.

The Broken Bay leader Bungaree introduced him to the Russian astronomer Ivan Mikhailovich Simonov, who recorded the encounter in detail but did not give his name. Professor Glynn Barratt translated the interview with Simonov in The Russians at Port Jackson 1814-1822, published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra in 1981.

This individual spoke English better than the others for he had been in London with Captain Flinders and had lived there for some time. In London, he told me, he had seen the Russian Emperor, the Austrian Emperor, the King of Prussia, King Blücher, and King Platov.

‘Did you talk to them too?’, I asked him.
‘I talked to King Biukher.’
‘What did he say to you?’
‘He said, “Are you an American?” And I said, “Yes, American.” ’
‘And why didn’t you stay there? After all, it’s a lot better there than it is here.’

‘Oh, incomparable better! But I started to miss my people and came back to see them.’
‘So will you go back to London?’
‘They wanted to take me off there, and I was all ready; but just before the ship sailed, I ran into the bush. I suddenly wanted to stay around here some more.’

There is no corroborating account of an Australian Aborigine in England at this period, but it is unlikely that the Sydney voyager could have given these specific names and details of events if he had not been on the spot. This makes Simonov’s story an intriguing puzzle.

In June and July 1814, von Blücher was in London with the Russian Czar Alexander 1 and ‘King Platov’, or Matvei Ivanovich, Count Platov, Atman of the Don Cossacks, at the invitation of the Prince Regent. The Austrian Emperor had sent Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich as his representative. Their captured enemy Napoleon, they all thought, was safely detained on the island of Elba.

The European commanders were feted in London by the Prince Regent (later George 1V). They often appeared to the cheering British public in open carriages and took part in a procession of boats on the Thames and a grand review of troops, to which they were welcomed on 20 June 1814 by Lord Sydney, the appointed ‘Ranger’ of Hyde Park.

Blücher sailed to Dover from Paris on the ship Impregnable on 5 June 1814 and left Britain from Harwich on 11 July. Some of the Allied leaders attended the review of navy ships at Plymouth, the major destination of vessels from New South Wales, on 25 June 1814.

Who was this Aboriginal voyager?

Simonov’s account echoes the experiences of Bennelong in London during 1793-4, but Bennelong had died in 1813.

George Suttor, who looked after Daniel Moowattin, recalled the ‘Jubilee Days’ of 1810-11, when they were both in London. Suttor said that at that time the King of Prussia, Frederick William 111, offered to purchase the reptile collection of Sir Joseph Banks’s botanist George Caley, who took Moowattin to London, but Caley would not allow his collection to leave England. Moowattin returned to Sydney where he died in 1816.

Matthew Flinders, who had been detained by the French in Mauritius from 1803 until 1810, does not mention a visiting Aborigine in his personal journal. Flinders was gravely ill while the anti-Napoleon heroes were in London and died on 19 July 1814.

Nanbarry (c.1780-1821), nephew of the Gadigal headman Colebee,  is a possible contender. He learned some English as a boy in Governor Phillip’s house and was treated for smallpox by Surgeon John White, who adopted him. When White returned to Europe, Nanbarry became a sailor on HMS Reliance. He made several trips to Norfolk Island, but his name does not appear on muster rolls of ships bound for Europe.

In 1802 Nanbarry sailed in HMS Investigator with Bungaree and Flinders as far as the Great Barrier Reef, but boarded the Lady Nelson to return to Sydney on 18 October 1802. Nanbarry died at Kissing Point in the City of Ryde on 12 August 1821 and was buried in James Squire’s orchard in the same grave as Bennelong and his wife.

See my entry on Nanbarry online at The Dictionary of Sydney and ‘Nanbarry becomes a sailor’ in my book MARI: NAWI: Aboriginal Odysseys, published by Rosenberg Publishing in 2010.


To confirm the identity of this mysterious Aboriginal voyager we need to know the names of ships that left Port Jackson to arrive in Dover or Plymouth by early June 1814 and then search the appropriate ship’s musters, logs, and journals or newspaper ‘Claims and Demands’ advertisements for his name.

Let me know how you go –  and watch this space.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2017


View of the Heads at the Entrance to Port Jackson New South Wales, 1824
Joseph Lycett (c1775-1828)
Hand-coloured aquatint
Dixson Library
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

Charley or Charlie Tarra (or Tara), a young Aboriginal man from the inland Gundungurra near Goulburn, New South Wales, adopted his name from Charles Macarthur (called Charley or Charlie), a son of Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur and his wife Anna Maria, daughter of Philip Gidley King, Australia’s third Governor.

According to Macarthur’s sister Emmeline de Falbre, Charley Tarra had never seen the sea. She told the story of his first visit to the Macarthur home ‘Clovelly’ at Watson’s Bay near South Head and The Gap in her Recollections and letters 1860-1894, written at Cheltenham, England, in 1909 and now in Sydney’s Mitchell Library.

Emmeline wrote:

One incident is of interest; an aboriginal named Charlie Tara devoted himself to my brother Charlie, who he heard had arrived by water, but he had never seen the sea.
He was brought to Clovelly after dark & next morning, Blind-folded, & led to the edge of the cliff. He simply gazed upon the Pacific Ocean with a puzzled air, & said ‘baal me make light Charlie’s tracks’ (I don’t see Charlie’s track) & that was the only remark his instinct led him to make.
Charlie Tara was the Black Fellow who went with Count Strzelecki & James [Macarthur] to Gippsland.

‘Clovelly’, named by Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur, who acquired it in 1840, is the blue-roofed building in the centre of View of the Heads, painted by Joseph Lycett in 1824. It once stood in the northeast corner of the present Robertson Park at Watsons Bay (heartland of the Gadigal clan). It was demolished in 1803 and became a public park in 1912.

Charley Tarra was an Aboriginal guide and bush tracker, who from 1838 was employed by James Macarthur, another son of Hannibal Macarthur. Although he was said to be from the ‘Goulburn Plains Tribe’, Charley belonged to the Burra Burra clan of the Gundungurra, whose territory, wrote Charles MacAlister in Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South (Goulburn, 1907 page 82), ranged over the area ‘from the Abercrombie to Taralga and Carrabungla’, straddling the Great Dividing Range. More specifically, A. L. Bennett, whose informant was Werriberrie or Billy Russell, called the Burra Burra ‘the “Richlands or Crookwell tribe’.

This information is from Jim Smith’s recent and comprehensive work The Aboriginal People of the Burrangong Valley (2016), available from the Blue Mountain Education and Research Trust at Lawson, NSW. Jim and I graduated as history PhDs, wearing our Medieval floppy hats at Macquarie University, Sydney, in 2008.

North East view from the top of Mount Kosciusko
[Jargungal] Eugene von Guérard 1860
Coloured lithograph
University of Melbourne
… I am off to Snowy Mountains …

Jargungal or Jargangii, the highest mountain on the Australian continent, has been there for a long time and was well known to the Indigenous people who lived for thousands of years in the nearby foothills and plains. They called the north-east top of the mountain Munyang, the name of tall grass.

On 12 March 1840, Paul Edmund Strzelecki, a Polish explorer and geologist, climbed to the summit alone and named it Mount Kosciusko, after Tadeuz Kosciusko, a Polish hero of the resistance against Russia. Strzelecki had adopted the spurious title of ‘Count’, but was knighted, as Sir Paul Strzelecki, when he became a British citizen in 1845.

Strzelecki could not have reached the top of this 2228 metre peak without the help of his two Aboriginal Australian guides. Charley Tara or Tarra accompanied Strzelecki’s party with their pack horses from Camden Farm, south of Sydney, through 346 kilometres of bush to the cold mountain ranges. A second guide, Jackey, was a local Djilimitang man who directed the party through the high country to the Rams Head Range. He had previously climbed the mountains in search of Bogong moths.

Hannibal Macarthur gave £500 towards the cost of the exploration of the Australian Alps.

Pawel (Paul) Edmund Strezelecki

This account is based on James Macarthur’s Field Notes, sent to Leslie Macarthur and published by Charles Daly in  The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol.X1X, No. 2, in December 1941, pages 41-53.

Strzelecki’s party including James Macarthur, James Riley, aged 18, a stockman who worked for Macarthur and two convict servants, with pack horses carrying supplies left Ellerslie Station near Adelong, New South Wales, on 5 February 1840.

They arrived at Welaregang on 7 March 1840, where Jacky was hired to guide them to the High Country and the two servants were left behind. On 9 March they made their first camp at a ford called Nowrang by the local Aborigines.

March 11. – Count Strzelecki, myself and two natives started at 7 am, in high spirits to accomplish our object, the weather was intensely hot. We marched on with our blankets and provisions “au militaire”. The Count carried in addition a heavy case of instruments for scientific observations.

Riding through gullies and steep descents they came to the Hume River. James Macarthur continued the narrative of their progress through the Alps:

We crossed to the right bank, and passing the junction of another branch of tributary recrossed to the left bank, reaching the spot at which our actual ascent of the mountain was to commence.
The thermometer ranging upwards of 90 degrees during the day, we determined after refreshing ourselves to accomplish as much of the ascent as we could during the cooler hours of night, and only camped when the bright moonlight failed us. A fine Lyre-Bird furnished an ample supper and consoled us for the want of water.


The early dawn of the 12th found us again on our way, and after 5 hrs of tedious ascent we reached a small open spot. A fine spring afforded us the means of making a hearty breakfast.
The only water we had had during these many hours of toil was a single quart afforded by our guide Jacky descending over some perpendicular rocks to a roaring torrent which we could hear far below us but could not see.
The spot we had now reached was the favourite camping ground of the natives during their annual visit to feast on the Boogan Moth [sic]. Traces of their camps were visible in all directions. Our sable friends arrive here thin and half starved –  a few weeks surviving on this extraordinary food clothes their skinny frames in aldermanic contrast.

The annual spring migration of Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) at night to the Snowy Mountains of south-eastern Australia provided a major seasonal feast for Aboriginal people. Clans gathered at the foot of the ranges in noisy groups, shouting and swinging bullroarers. They climbed the mountains to hunt and eat the moths and to hold ceremonies and initiations supported by this rich diet.
The name Bogong is said to come from the Dhudhura word Bugung. After lying dormant throughout summer, the moths migrate to warmer inland places where their larvae or black cutworms feed on seedlings of wide leaved plants.
Moth hunters used a stick to knock off masses of moths clinging to rocks and caves and collected them in fine meshed nets. Sometimes they smoked out moths from rock crevices. They roasted the delicious nutty tasting and nutritious moths in hot ashes on flat river stones and ground them into a paste using stones like a mortar and pestle.

Charcoal in the Bogong Cave has been dated to 1000 years before the present, so we can say that Indigenous people had been collecting, cooking and eating Bogong moths for at least that time.


Macarthur, who acknowledged his Aboriginal companions as ‘our guides’, continued:

Being on the margin of the timber we determined to leave our blankets calculating of the thick brush wood and secondly by belt of dead timber we reached the open summit clothed with a peculiar gigantic grass called by the natives “Monnong” [Munyang]; it is from 2 to 3 feet high – bright green and succulent. It was very difficult to travel through. Flying mist occasionally enveloped us accompanied by a keen freezing air. After 2 hours of toilsome ascent we found ourselves still far from the highest point. After consultation we determined to send our guides for the blankets and provisions and directed them to form a camp on the spot where we then stood.
Strzelecki and I then proceeded towards the extreme summit which we reached after a very laborious climb. The air was bitterly cold. We found the actual summit divided into six or more points. The Count by aid of his instruments quickly detected one of these as being in fact considerably higher than where we stood. A deep ravine separating us from this did not deter my adventurous friend; he determined to reach it. – As the day was far advanced I thought it more prudent to return towards the point where I had ordered the natives to await our return.
– Before leaving the Count he told me of his intention of recording his visit to the highest point in Australia by associating the name of Kosciusko with our successful ascent. I could not but respect and feel deep sympathy with my friend when with his hat off he named the Patriot of his Country.


After the ascent of Mt. Kosciusko, Strezelecki and Macarthur and their two Aboriginal guides returned via Omeo and Ensay along the Tambo River. They were soon bushed in swamps and thick scrub and abandoned their exhausted horses in a valley 20 kilometres past Moe. On 6 April 1840 rations were reduced to a slice of bacon and a biscuit each per day.

Many reports link the survival of the explorers to Charley Tarra’s bushcraft and ability to provide food, including kangaroos and ‘monkeys’ or koalas .
In Recollections of an Australian Squatter, 1809-1886 (Sydney 1978)William Brodribb wrote:

Fortunately, they had with them an Aboriginal of new South Wales  – a rare character, called Charley, who procured them their animal food, by climbing the large gum trees and catching, whilst asleep, the Australian monkey, or sloth … For several days the party lived on these animals.

In A History of Victoria (Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2006), Geoffrey Blainey comments:

On the banks of the small Tarra River, their Aboriginal helper Charley Tarra killed a kangaroo which was too heavy to carry away.

James Riley, who described Charley as ‘the native’, wrote:

In the country through which we passed there was but one animal, it is the size of a small dog and lives in trees, it is called the monkey or native bear. These we procured sometimes by shooting, sometimes by the native climbing the trees after them. We ate them raw when we could not make a fire …

They eventually reached Western Port and walked on to Melbourne which they reached on 25 May 1840. From Melbourne Riley went back to Gippsland with Charley Tarra, John Rutledge and Pigeon, a Shoalhaven Aboriginal man John Batman had taken to Melbourne. They recovered one horse and Strezelecki’s specimens.  Once again Charley Tarra supplemented the tucker, catching koalas almost every day, as well as possums and bandicoots. They left in June and returned by August 1840.

In Votes & Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, Sydney 1849, James Macarthur paid his personal tribute to Charley Tarra, who had died from a lung disease (tuberculosis) in 1847.

Charley Tann [Tara] a native of Burra Burra, near Goulburn, attached himself to my service for several years before his death, he accompanied me in the expedition I undertook with Count Strzelecki in the exploration of Gipps Land — he accompanied the first party of settlers who entered Port Albert from Melbourne by sea; on his return he accompanied me to Sydney, and assisted me with the overland journey with sheep. He then accompanied Mr Surveyor Townshend through his survey of Gippsland and overland through Manaroo [Monaro] to Sydney, while in my absence he remained at Parramatta; his former companions frequently came down urging his return to his tribe at Burra Burra, and to which place he shortly afterwards accompanied them. A cough that the unusual exposure quickly increased, settled on his lungs, and then rapidly led to his decease.
He died at Richlands on the farm belonging to my cousins Messrs James and William Macarthur, where he received every attention that kindness could bestow. On his death bed he was surrounded by many of his old friends on the Establishment; his last moments were devoted to kind messages to myself  and family, and his last words were — ‘God bless you all.’
It gives me pleasure to place that man on record to whose devoted fidelity I in more than one instance owe my life.  I feel confident that the present enquiries will multiply similar instances and thereby place the native aborigines character in a very different light from that in which it is usually held.

Charley Tara or Tarra’s memorial is the Tarra Valley National Park  of 303 hectares in South Gippsland near Balook, 200 kilometres east of Melbourne, Victoria which was declared in 1909. Since then it has merged with Bulga National Park and is known as Tarra Bulga National Park. 


My great-grandfather Thomas Bugden was born in the the small village of Donhead St. Mary in Wiltshire in England in 1811. He was aged 26 when he was recruited and bonded to James and William Macarthur, sons of John Macarthur of Camden, as a farm labourer.

He sailed to Sydney on the ship John McLennan in 1837, one year before Charley Tarra joined James Macarthur,  and worked on their Richlands Farm for 10 years. After that he was the Pound Keeper, in charge of stolen or strayed horses, at Taralga. He afterwards settled at May Farm near Mt. Hunter, now the site of the University of Sydney Experimental Farm.

Thomas Bugden must have known Charley Tarra, who died from tuberculosis in 1847 and was buried at Richlands.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2017


Dooich (King Billy), 1908
Herbert Beecroft
‘From a pencil portrait made at La Perouse in 1905’
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

Keith Vincent Smith

Popularly called ‘King Billy’ he was a well-known identity, often seen in the streets of Sydney. His Aboriginal name was Dooich and he was born William John Wentworth in the Braidwood district on the south coast of New South Wales.

Dooich said he preferred to be known as John or Jacky Wentworth. He was sometimes called Billy Timberry (or Tumbery) and said (wrongly) to be the father-in-law of Queen Emma Timbery.

The artist Lawrence Herbert Beecroft (1864-1951) was born in Reading, England and emigrated to Australia with his wife Dulcie Julia in 1905. He afterwards lived (and died) at his home in Woollahra in Sydney’s east.

I came across Beecroft’s posthumous portrait of Dooich several years ago, strangely at the Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand. Beecroft, who painted three portraits of ‘King Billy’, knew him when he lived quietly in a two-roomed hut in the Aboriginal Reserve at La Perouse south of Sydney.

In the 1860s ‘King Billy’ was employed to collect tolls from horseback riders and drovers taking domestic animals from Sydney to La Perouse at the Randwick tollhouse of the Centennial Parklands, now Centennial Park.

In the 1890s, according to Peter Proudfoot in Colonial Global City (2000, page 165), ‘King Billy’ used to talk with the composer Isaac Nathan at his home ‘Byron Lodge’ at Randwick and might have given him some of the Aboriginal songs that Nathan collected. One of Dooich’s deathbed memories was of singing when he lived at Braidwood.

In 1893 Thomas Fowlie of Granville met a dozen Aboriginal people travelling along Sydney Road. One man, carrying a tomahawk and billycan, wore a brass plate around his neck inscribed with the name ‘King Billy’.

‘Billy Wentworth’ was often in trouble with the laws imposed by the British colonists. The Sydney Morning Herald (30 March 1897) reported that ‘Billy Wentworth, an Aboriginal’ was charged with ‘frequenting Hyde Park with intent to commit a felony’ and was consequently sentenced to three months jail with hard labour. ‘Billy Wentworth’ was sentenced to one month’s hard labour at Biloela (Cockatoo Island)  the Sydney Harbour prison, for attempted theft (SMH 4 March 1899).

Reginald Obed McLachlan, a nephew of Obed West, a landholder at Barcom Glen, Rushcutters Bay, told the medical doctor and journalist Isadore Brodsky (The Streets of Sydney, 1962, page 114) that he once saw ‘King Billy’ buying tobacco at a grocery ship on Liverpool Street, Sydney towards the end of the nineteenth century.

‘King Billy’, said McLachlan, ‘used to walk in from South Head to get his tobacco and when he saw me he would say “You Obed West.’” McLachlan said that as a child his mother used to visit Oswald Lane (near Woomerah Avenue, Darlinghurst), to see ‘the Woomerah tribe’s corroboree’. She recalled watching Aboriginal people washing their clothes in the creek at Rushcutters Bay.

Mary Salmond, writing in the Evening News, Sydney (16 July 1904) said that about 70 Aboriginal people were then living at the mission station at La Perouse, ‘including “Jacky Wentworth” and the “Timbury family”’.

Dooich, alias King Billy Wentworth, died at La Perouse in 1906 and was buried with his wife in the Coast Hospital Cemetery at Little Bay.

The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages gave his age as 79. The New South Wales Aborigines’ Advocate (No. 63, 31 July 1906, page 3) said ‘King Billy’ passed away on the Sabbath morning of 22 July 1906.

He died peacefully in his sleep and his daughter Clara found him lying dead in bed at 6.30 a.m. that Sunday.

The late King Billy’s Residence
Herbert Beecroft
The Globe Sydney, 4 July 1914

Aboriginal people living on the reserve at La Perouse called King Billy’s house ‘The Royal Palace’. In ‘Dreaming Trees’, a section in La Perouse – the place, the people and the sea, published by Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra in 1988, Iris Williams recalled

There are three Moreton Bay fig trees on the old reserve and one stands alone just a few yards from the tin shack where King Billy died. His shack was painted red and it was the last house built of government tin to be demolished. It had been on the first reserve, so it would have been built about 1880 but it wasn’t demolished until around 1972 …

‘Clara daughter of the late King Billy’ 1908
Herbert Beecroft (1864-1951)
Alexander Turnbull Library,
National Library of New Zealand, Wellington


In 1901 Gunyee (also recorded as Gungee and Gunyeh)  or Clara, daughter of William Charles Wentworth, known as ‘King Billy’, was living at Port Kembla. In 1906 she married James (‘Joe’) Phillips and moved to La Perouse. She was friendly with the schoolteacher and linguist Mary Everitt, who asked to use her Aboriginal name Gungee as her nom-de-plume.

An article in the Sunday Times (Sydney, 28 June 1914) said Billy Wentworth’s daughter then occupied the ‘Royal Palace’ that once belonged to her father.  ‘Her chief interests centre round the Mission House, and one of her joys is to decorate the church  with bush flowers. Her shellwork, too, shows appreciable refinement and ability.’

When Clara died after a short illness in 1917 she was buried in the same grave as her parents in the Coast Hospital at Little Bay. The Shoalhaven Telegraph (4 April 1917) said ‘La Perouse Mission has lost one of its brightest and most popular figures. Her native name was “Gunyeh”, and, as far as is known, she was about 40 years of age … The Aborigines’ Protection Board, in consideration of her rank, and the respected name she bore, provided the hearse and coffin.’

The Methodist (Sydney, 2 February 1918) mourned the ‘passing away of Clara Phillips, whose beaming face and quaint talks enlivened many a meeting, where she was always ready to give her cheery testimony.’

Clara’s husband James ‘Joe’ Phillips died at the Coast Hospital in 1922 aged 65 years.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith


View at Rose Hill Port Jackson, c1791
Artist unknown
DG SV1A/24
Dixson Galleries
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

Parramatta, 24 kilometres west of Sydney, at first called Rose Hill, was  the second settlement of the colony of New South Wales and its first farming community.

The establishment of a military post at the head of the Parramatta River in November 1788 was a true invasion, undertaken with military planning and support. On 2 November 1788 David Collins in An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798, page 37) noted that

The month of November commenced with the establishment of a settlement at the head of the harbour. On the 2nd, his Excellency the governor went up to the Crescent, with the surveyor-general, two officers, and a small party of marines, to choose the spot, and to mark out the redoubt and other necessary buildings.

The first detachment of marines were commanded by Lieutenant George Johnson and consisted of a sergeant, a corporal and eight private soldiers and a convict. The surveyor was Augustus Alt. The crescent-shaped area, shown in the illustration, can still be seen behind Old Government House in Parramatta Park.

A group of convicts followed the military two days later, wrote Collins,  consisting of

… a party of ten convicts, being people who chiefly understood the business of cutivation, were sent up … and a spot upon rising ground which his excellency [Governor Arthur Phillip] named Rose Hill, in complement of G. Rose Esq. one of the secretaries of the treasury, was ordered to be cleared for the first habitations. The soil at this spot was a stiff clayey nature, free from the rock which every where covered the surface at Sydney Cove, well clothed with timber, and unobstructed by underwood.

‘This description’, as Dr. James Kohen pointed out in Uninvited Guests: An Aboriginal Perspective on Government House and Parramatta Park, a report prepared for the National Trust in August 1999, ‘strongly suggests that the Burramattagal were managing the area by burning it regularly’. We know this now to be the result of Aboriginal ‘firestick farming’, which resulted in areas with ‘trees which are well spaced, with a grassy understory and no brushwood’.

In A complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson, New South Wales (London, 1793, page 5) Captain Watkin Tench gives the date for the settlement as 3 November 1788:

A new settlement named by the governor Rose Hill, 16 miles inland, was established on the 3d of November, the soil here being judged better than around Sydney. A small redoubt was thrown up and a captain’s detachment posted in it, to protect the convicts who were employed to cultivate the ground.

The redoubt, an earthwork fort, was built on the Crescent, overlooking the river and surrounding country.

‘A Nother party Went. Up to Joyne Lieu’t. Johnstone-’, remarked Sergeant of Marines James Scott in his journal (now in the Dixson Library, Sydney) on Friday 7 November.

On Saturday 22 November, Scott wrote

Captt. Campbell. Lt. Sharp & The Remaining. part. of the Detachmt. prosseeded. to Rose Hill. Where there is a Settlement to be Made’.

The same day marine private John Easty wrote in his ‘Memarandom’ (page 107) that this detachment included a corporal, a drummer and 12 privates. He crossed out the name ‘orange cove’ and substituted ‘Rose Hill’.

These two seafaring soldiers had their own eccentric way of spelling and punctuation in their journals, which often contained information not included in official records or First Fleet books published in England.

Captain James Campbell was the officer in charge and Lieutenant James Sharp second in command.

Detail from
A View in Parramatta c1828
Augustus Earle
PXD 265 f3
Mitchell Library, Sydney

The establishment of the military post at Rose Hill forced the relocation of the Burramattagal family of Maugoran and his wife Gooroobera (Firestick), with their children Ballooderry, Boorong and Yerinibe, to Kissing Point (now Putney), about 8 kilometres further east on the river in Wallumedegal territory.

Maugoran and a second wife Tádyera, who William Dawes said had died of dysentery, were the parents of a daughter called Warreeweer Wogul-mi (One Eye) and a son Bidgee Bidgee, who might have been born at The Flats (Homebush Bay) as the literal meaning of Bidgee is ‘River Flats’.

One week after the spearing of Governor Phillip at Manly Cove on 7 September 1790, Lieutenant William Dawes, Chaplain Richard Johnson and Boorong met her father Maugoran with another man (probably Boorodel) who told them the spearman was Wil-ee-ma-rin. Maugoran (from maugro, meaning ‘fish’) had been wounded in a dispute over sharing the whale blubber. He told the surgeon who dressed his wounds that several men had been killed in this battle. Tench (1793, page 61) wrote

These two people inquired kindly how his excellency did, and seemed pleased to hear that he was likely to recover. They said that they were inhabitants of Rose Hill, and expressed great dissatisfaction at the number of white men who had settled in their former territories. In consequence of which declaration, the detachment at that post was reinforced the following day.

When Boorong spoke to her father about a young man at Kay-yee-my (Gayamay or Manly Cove) who wanted to marry her, he ordered her to stay away from the north shore. The Cameragal (Gamaragal), Maugoran warned, were ready to ‘throw spears’ and would attack any white man. 

In his despatches, Phillip gave Maugoran’s words a stronger emphasis: ‘If this man’s information could be depended on, the natives were very angry at so many people being sent to Rose-hill, [Parramatta],’ he wrote, admitting, ‘certain it is that wherever our colonists fix themselves, the natives are obliged to leave that part of the country.’


In April 1789 an outbreak of smallpox swept through the Aboriginal population, killing hundreds of men, women and children, whose bodies were found on the shores around Port Jackson. Maugoran and his family were linked to the English settlement at Sydney Cove by his daughter Boorong, at first wrongly called Abaroo, who was brought in by the Governor’s boat suffering from the contagion.  

Go to the Natural History Museum, London to see a watercolour titled ‘Abbarroo a moobee after Balloderrees funeral’, painted in 1791 by the unknown ‘Port Jackson Painter’. A moobee (mubi) was a mourner at Aboriginal funerals in this period. Boorong is ‘painted up’ with ceremonial feathers and ochre on her shoulders and chest. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/art-nature-imaging/collections/first-fleet/art-collection/search.dsml?lastDisp=gall&keyword=635&stype=kword&notes=true&beginIndex=0&desc=true&
Boorong recovered after treatment by Surgeon John White and was placed in the care of the colony’s chaplain Richard Johnson and his wife Mary and lived with them in their hut near the Tank Stream at Sydney Cove. Estimates of her age ranged from 12 to 15.

Watkin Tench called her Bòoron.
Borong or birrong meant ‘star’ in the Sydney Language.

Reverend Richard Johnson

The English colonists at first thought Boorong was an orphan, but in July 1789 she met some of her relations at Manly Cove. On 17 September 1790 Boorong accompanied Governor Phillip to parley with Bennelong (who had escaped in May) at his camp opposite Sydney Cove. There she met her father Maugoran who was given an iron hatchet and some fish. In return Maugoran presented Governor Phillip with a short spear with an English knife blade at its tip, the first record of such an innovation.

On 7 April 1790, the Reverend Richard Johnson wrote to his friend Reverend Henry Fricker in Portsmouth:

Have a Native Girl under My Care. Have had her Now about 11 months—she was brought in here together with three others dreadfully afflicted with the small Pox … Have taken some pains with Abaroo (about 15 years old) to instruct her in reading, and have no reason to complain of her improvement—she can likewise begin to speak a little English, and is useful in several things about our little Hutt.—Have taught her the Lord’s Prayer &c.—and she comes better to understand My endeavours to instruct her respecting a supreme Being &c.

[Rev. Richard Johnson to Rev. Henry Fricker, Port Jackson, New South Wales, 7 April 1790, Safe 1/121/12, CY Reel 1397, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney]

‘We are now on a pretty friendly intercourse with the Natives.— Numbers of them are coming into the Camp daily, or rather are in Night and day,’ Rev. Johnson wrote to Fricker in March 1791. ‘This intercourse was principally brought about by means of a little girl [Boorong].’ The chaplain, who was teaching Boorong the Christian religion, continued ‘ For some time this girl made good improvement in her Book, and [I] began to be very partial to her.’

However, after the Eora had come into the settlement ‘in common’ after November 1790, Boorong no longer behaved ‘so well or so complyingly’ and had been ‘off in the woods’ several times. Significantly, Johnson sent Fricker a barrin, the kangaroo or possum fur tassel apron worn by young Eora girls, but discarded when they took a partner. In a box sent by William Dawes to his father at  the Portsmouth shipyards, Johnson also included a small kangaroo skin, fishing lines and shell hooks, presumably obtained from Boorong.

Jacob Nagle, Jacob Nagle his Book
A.D. One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Nine
19 May 1829, Canton, Stark County Ohio’
MLMSS 5954
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

It was Always the govenors Studdy to Cultivate
& Naturelise those Natives as Much as possible
we had One girl [Boorong] the goviner Clothed & kept her
at the hospittle With Docr White as he wished to
find Out their language …

Jacob Nagle was a 24-year-old American able seaman from Philadelphia aboard the First Fleet flagship Sirius. In Sydney he joined the crew of Governor Phillip’s cutter. Nagle compiled his manuscript in 1829 and died in 1841.


There is much more to Boorong’s story. You will have to wait until the publication of Mr. Bennelong to read the rest. However, there is one interesting episode I want to share with you.

HMS Sirius, named for the brightest star in the night sky of the southern hemisphere, and flagship of the convoy of eleven small sailing ships that Australians call ‘The First Fleet’, struck a reef and ran aground at Norfolk Island on 19 March 1790. leaving the convict colony at Sydney with one ship, the 8-gun brig HMS Supply.

Far away at Sydney Cove Boorong, whose name meant ‘star’, had a premonition of this tragedy when she was frightened by a falling star.  David Collins (1798) wrote:

To the shooting of a star they attach a degree of importance; and I once, on an occasion of this kind, saw the girl Boo-roong greatly agitated, and prophesying much evil to befal all the white men and their habitations.

Watkin Tench (1793, pages 184-5) described Boorong’s agitation.

I remember Abaroo [Boorong] running into a room where a company was assembled, and uttering frightful exclamations of impending mischiefs, about to light on her and her countrymen. When questioned on the cause of such agitation, she went to the door, and pointed to the skies, saying, that whenever the stars wore that appearance, misfortunes to the natives always followed. The night was cloudy and the air disturbed by meteors.—I have heard many more of them testify similar apprehension.

In April 1790 Philip Gidley King, a 32-year-old Navy lieutenant, returned for the first time to Sydney from Norfolk Island, where he had commanded since February 1788. In less than two weeks he recorded in his journal his impressions of the vast changes made during his absence. King said Boorong ‘at times is very angry & cannot bear to be thwarted’.

This is a facsimile extract from King’s journal for 9 April 1790:

The Sun, Moon & Stars they call Werè (Bad) The Girl once went into very violent Convulsions at seeing a falling star, & said … every body would be destroyed.*
[At side margin]
* some say
she particularly
alluded to the
Murry Nowey
Sirius —

Murry Nowey or mari nawi of course means ‘big canoe’. This  is an extract from the booklet EORA: A Sydney Vocabulary 1790, published by the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney to coincide with the exhibition EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney, curated by Anthony (Ace) Bourke and myself in 2008.

King’s original, MS C115, in the collection of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, includes the ‘vocabulary of the language which I got from Mr. Collins and Governor Phillip both having been very assiduous in getting words to compose it, which they compare … it is a very Correct Vocabulary’.

Philip Gidley King left Sydney on 17 April 1790 on HMS Supply with despatches from Governor Phillip but did not reach England until December that year. His Sydney Indigenous vocabulary was soon in the hands of linguist and Secretary of the Navy, William Marsden, a friend of Sir Joseph Banks, who wrote: ‘By Lieutenant King, who is just come from Botany Bay, we have the first specimens that have been procured of the language of the natives.’

In 1800 Philip Gidley King succeeded Captain John Hunter and served as third governor of New South Wales until 1806.

More later kvs

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2017


Sad news.

Robert ‘Bob’ Waterer, who found at the age of 81 that he was of Aboriginal descent, has died at the age of 92, at Collaroy on Sydney’s northern beaches.

In the last years of his life he became ‘Uncle Bob’ beloved by his wide family and revered by school children and adults he greeted with his characteristic smiling face and friendly manner.

Bob was able to trace his ancestry back through his great-grandmother Catherine Bens (1838-1920), often called the ‘Queen of Scotland Island’, to Sarah Lewis who lived at Marramarra Creek, a tributary of the Hawkesbury River, and a member of the Broken Bay clan led by the famous Indigenous personality Bungaree.

Biddy is reputed to have been the sister of Bungaree’s eldest son Bowen or Boin and therefore a daughter of Bungaree.

Bob spent those first 81 years in Brookvale near my childhood home at Dee Why where he worked for many years as a baker. At the age of 18 Bob enlisted in the Australian Army at the outbreak of World War Two and became a gunner, serving in Balikpapan, Borneo.

Bob’s life and the history of his relatives and antecedents were captured in The story of Bob Waterer and his family, edited by Nan Bosler and published by the Aboriginal Support Group in 2011, to which I contributed an article about Bungaree.

Vale Bob Waterer.

Keith Vincent Smith


Towwaa, native of Jarvis Bay, New South Wales, 1810
John William Lewin (1770–1819)
PRN PDB9630, British Museum, London

Keith Vincent Smith

A copy of this watercolour portrait of a naked Aboriginal man holding a waddy (club) by the colonial artist John William Lewin was exhibited in EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850 at the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street in 2006, curated jointly by Anthony Bourke and myself.

Many tales have been told to explain the placename Tom Uglys Point, the northern headland of the Georges River at Sylvania south of Sydney.

There are two main versions, that of ‘Tom Huxley’ and ‘Tom Wogul-y’.

In the Town and Country Journal (September 1878) ‘Sydney Cove’ said ‘Tom Wogul-ly’s Point’ was named ‘after a white man – with one leg or arm – who lived there many years ago’. The writer claimed the name was derived from wogle, the word for the numeral ‘one’ in the Sydney Aboriginal language.

‘MJM’ wrote in the St George Call (16 January 1904): ‘Years ago Tom Huxley lived at the point’. Local Aborigines could not pronounce the ‘x’ in his name and at first turned it into ‘Tommy Hugley, but they also found the ‘h’ sound difficult — Tom Ugly was the result.’

However, these and other explanations of the origin of Tom Uglys Point are spurious and can now be put to rest.

The real Tom Ugly was an Aboriginal man from the south coast of New South Wales who later lived, died and was buried under a gibber gunyah (rock shelter) on the point of the Georges River that bears his name.

Hoping to acquire the skeletel remains of an Australian Aborigine for his collection, Dr. Karl Scherzer (1821-1903), an Austrian scientist who visited Sydney on the ship Novara, went to ‘Coggera Cove’ (now Kogarah Bay) on the 1 December 1858, where he met an Aboriginal man named Johnny, described as ‘the last of the Sydney tribe’.

This man was probably Johnny Malone (died 1875), whose mother came from the Cooks River at Botany.

According to Scherzer, the real ‘Tom Ugly’ belied his nickname. He was a fine physical specimen of a man with both legs and arms intact. A translation of Scherzer’s German language journal, now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, states that ‘Tom Weiry, or Tom Ugly, as the English named him, was a very athletic man, whose skeleton was a real prize for the purposes of comparative anatomy.’

Johnny guided Scherzer to a burial ground in a shell midden, but after much digging unearthed only a few decayed bones from Tom Ugly’s skeleton, which were reburied.

An Aboriginal man called Tom Ugly received government issue blankets at Broulee near Batemans Bay in 1837-43. In August 1844, George Augustus Robinson, at that time the Port Phillip (Melbourne) Protector of Aborigines, recorded Tow.wy.er as the name of the Twofold Bay Aboriginal people.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith