So begins Mr. Bennelong, the unpublished sequel to my book Bennelong:The coming-in of the Eora (2001)
I will add snippets from this manuscript from time-to-time.
Keith Vincent Smith
Two Australian Aboriginal men are leaving their country. They are the first to cross 10,000 miles of ocean to the other side of the world in a sailing ship. It will be an epic journey, taking six months to reach England, evading ‘ice islands’ in the pre-Antarctic, rounding Cape Horn, stopping for three weeks at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and confronting Neptune, God of the Sea, at the Equator.
On 10 December 1792, Woollarawarre Bennelong and his young kinsman Yemmerrawanne board the 422-ton capacity convict transport Atlantic, moored at the Governor’s Wharf on the eastern side of Warrane (Sydney Cove).
The two men, who are said to be ‘much attached’ to Governor Arthur Phillip, embark ‘voluntarily and cheerfully’, says Lieutenant David Collins, withstanding ‘the united distress of their wives, and the dismal lamentations of their friends, to accompany him to England, a place they well knew was at a great distance from them’.
They soon pass the brick house the governor had built for Bennelong on the eastern point at Dubuwagulye (now Bennelong Point) and leave Warrane.
Arthur Phillip, returning home from five years of solitary leadership as the first Governor of New South Wales, takes with him a portfolio of watercolour drawings of nondescript plants and animals and portraits of the Indigenous ‘savages’.
Aboriginal spears, shields and fishing tackle, specimens of timber, plants, animals and birds, four live and nervous kanguroo and some howling dingos have been loaded on board. A week earlier, Lieutenant John Poulden had marched the returning marine detachment on board as fires swept through the heights of The Rocks on the western side of the cove.
Officers and oarsmen in small boats shout ‘Huzza’ as the ship slips her ropes from the jetty. They give three farewell cheers for Governor Phillip, but the Reverend Mr. Johnson’s boat is staved in when it rams the side of the ship.
By English reckoning, Atlantic clears the Port Jackson Heads at 9 o’clock on the morning of 11 December 1792.
Wind fills the sails. From the Look Out Post high on South Head, the Indigenous burial ground of Wollara, keen eyes still sight the sails at midday. The Eora detect a white speck on the horizon well into the afternoon.
Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne have sailed out of the Eora world into a new Dreaming.
In this extract from his journal, John Easty, a private of marines, who sailed to New South Wales on board the First Fleet transport Scarborough, records his own punishment for ‘bringing a feameale Convict into Camp’, for which, on 12 March 1788, he received ‘150 Lachess’ of the cat o’ nine tails.
CHRISTMAS DAY 1792
Two weeks out from Sydney the ship’s passengers celebrate the festive season.
‘Tuesday Decbr 25 this being Christmas day, His Excellency the Govr gave Evry mess in the Ship a joint of fresh pork and some punkin [pumpkin] and ½ pint of Rum to Each man,’ writes Marine Private John Easty. Neither handwriting nor spelling come easily to Easty, who torturously pens his ‘memarandom’ throughout the voyage.
1793: NEW YEAR AT SEA
For the first time in their lives Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne catch sight of rocky snow-covered peaks as they approach the cold southern ocean. Battered by gales, squalls and strong winds, Atlantic sails by shimmering blue-streaked icebergs on New Year’s Day, 1 January 1793. Easty writes:
… this Morning att 4 oclock a very Heavy Squall att ½ past 5 Saw ae large Rock of Ice to the Southerd very high very Cold Heavey weather all day Shiped Several very heavey Seas duren the day att Night at ½ past 9 Saw a very Large Iland of Ice’ …
While forced to avoid ‘a great many Ilands of Ice’ in the days that follow, the ship makes rapid progress, running 4500 miles in one month to 8 January 1793.
Nine days later Private Easty sights the ‘west part of the Iland of Terry dele fugo [Tierra del Fuego], very high mountainous Rockey barren place although in the Midts of Summer yet the land was Covred with Snow’.
On 17 January the ship rounds the menancing Cape Horn at the extremity of South America and enters its namesake, the Atlantic Ocean. Next day Phillip allows every man on board half a pint of spirits and issues a joint of fresh pork to each mess to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.
The Atlantic passes the mountainous ‘States’ or Staten Island (Isla de los Estados). Here be penguins, seals and seagulls.
‘Very pleasant this Iland’ writes Easty on Sunday 20 January 1793. Sailing in clear weather, crew and passengers see the hillocks and green patches of the ‘faulkland Iland’.
[With thanks to John Easty – stay tuned for Rio de Janeiro]
The inspired and inspiring language notebooks compiled by Marine Lieutenant William Dawes have returned to England a second time.
This precious cargo first sailed away with Dawes when he boarded HMS Gorgon,leaving Sydney Cove on 18 December 1791 and arriving at Portsmouth on 18 June 1792.
After a brief visit to Sydney for the Living Language exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney,the notebooks are back at the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
Dawes himself never returned to Australia. ‘The Aboriginal people’, wrote Indigenous linguist Jakelin Troy, ‘lost one of their most valuable allies and the colony a fine scientist who had hoped to settle there and continue his research’.
AN EARWITNESS ACCOUNT
Spoken words and sounds jotted down in English handwriting from his informants preserve Dawes’s earwitness account of their unwritten language through encounters, conversations, dialogues and exchanges of knowledge that remain, in the words of historian Paul Carter in The Calling to Come (Museum of Sydney, 1996) ‘a source of revelation’.
The trio of the two Dawes notebooks and a third wordlist kept by Governor Arthur Phillip and his aides, which I call the ‘Governor’s Vocabulary’ (Book C 1791), were soon in the hands of William Marsden (1754-1836), an associate of the influential Joseph Banks. Much later, they passed to the SOAS from Kings College, London.
The three SOAS notebooks were the basis of an accessible dictionary of cross-cultural communication in early Sydney by historian and linguist Jakelin Troy, first published in Canberra in 1993-4 in The Sydney Language.
Her work was the genesis of the revival of the classic language spoken by the Indigenous people who inhabited coastal Sydney.
Professor Troy writes:
The earliest and best records of the Sydney Language document the coastal dialect which was spoken in the immediate vicinity of the first British settlement at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson.
There are wordlists with phonetic translations for body parts, kin terms, language, mythology and ceremony, food, cooking and fire, weapons and artefacts (many illustrated in line drawings by Shirley Troy), water, elements, mammals, reptiles, birds, marine and aquatic life, plants and fruits and insects and spiders.
She points out that this wordlist
… is by no means a complete list of all the words in the Sydney language. It only contains the vocabulary which I was able to recover from the published and unpublished notes of known eighteenth and nineteenth century writers who recorded information about the Sydney Language. … In spite of the limitations of the wordlist it is a window onto the world of the Aboriginal people of Sydney.
Indeed, these words, sentences and placenames reveal traces of the past, a cultural memory and insight into the way Indigenous people viewed their spiritual and physical life before (and during) European settlement. This includes words they invented to describe the foreign technology, for example na-muru for a compass, from naa ‘to see’ and muru ‘the way, or a path’.
In September 1994 Dr. James Kohen, later my supervisor at Macquarie University, Sydney, gave me photocopies of these manuscripts taken from microfilm. I still have them, slightly out of focus and held together by rusty paperclips.
Dawes’s words opened up new research possibilities. They were the stimulus that would take me through BA, MA and PhD degrees in Indigenous Studies and Anthropology.
The next year I was fortunate to obtain a copy of the first edition of The Sydney Language, which was reissued in June 2019 by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra with the help of funds raised by the Australian band, The Preatures.
Referring to the decade of the 1840s in Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales (Sydney 1892, page 7), George Thornton wrote:
An old Sydney aborigine named “Krooi” had his camp at the point known as “Lady Macquarie’s Point,” the N.E. end of the present Botanical Gardens. He used to fish from a small detached rock a few feet distant from the N.E. part of the point. It was known as ”Krooi’s Rock.”
Thornton, sometime mayor of Sydney, was the first chairman of the Aborigines Protection Board.
The Indigenous fishermen at ‘Krooi’s Rock’ wear cut-off trousers, but still prefer to use their pronged fishing spears. I selected the image for the EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850 exhibition which I curated with Anthony (Ace) Bourke at the State Library of new South Wales in 2006.
German-born Charles Rodius worked as a draughtsman and engraver in Paris before being sent to New South Wales for theft. He was assigned, without salary, to the Department of Public Works. Rodius frequented the nearby Domain, where he sketched many Aboriginal people.
Cruwee (Crewey), probably a Kameygal man, claimed to be at Kundal (Kurnell) when HM Bark Endeavour entered Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. He told Obed West: ‘they thought the vessels were floating islands’.
I have often conversed with Cruwee, who was an intelligent fellow … It was very amusing to hear him describe the first impression the blacks had of the vessels, and although very fearful, they were curious and would, with fear and trembling, get behind some tree and peep out at the monsters which had invaded their shores.
West said Cruwee also pointed out the spot where the French priest Father le Receveur, from the ill-fated La Perouse expedition, had been buried.
[Edward West Marriot (ed.), Memoirs of Obed West, Sydney,  1988, pages 42-43]
Judge Advocate David Collins, who recorded ‘Boo-roo-wang — An island’ in his ‘New South Wales’ Vocabulary, added in a footnote: ‘This word they applied to our ships’.
They often Come on board our ship, which they call an Island … [David Blackburn to his sister Margaret Blackburn, 17 March 1791, Mitchell Library MS S 6937/1/1]
In late December 1808 ‘old Crewey’ threw the first spear in a revenge combat opposite the ‘new Military Barracks’ in George Street, Sydney. The shaft penetrated his opponents’s shield and his hand became ‘rivetted to it’ before ‘two gentlemen of the Faculty’ (probably doctors) relieved it.
Crewey was ‘dreadfully wounded’ when the same opponent then struck him in the head with a sharp, heavy waddy. Another man named Cudgear was struck to the ground by Punmaima and fled, leaving his wife behind.
The Australian, Sydney, announced the death of ‘Crui’ on 16 February 1826, page 4.
One of the oldest of the Aboriginal Natives named Crui lately died. This man is well known by the early settlers.
The majority of figures are … probably drawn by eye, and exhibit a considerable amount of ability, being either true to nature, or to some adopted design of a deity or spirit. William Dugald Campbell, Government Surveyor, Aboriginal Carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay, 1899
Aboriginal culture and spiritual life is most often revealed through history, anthropology and archaeology. In this inspirational book we learn through art and artefacts that survive in the landscape, principally engravings in sandstone, cave paintings and carved and scarred trees.
It is a novel and rewarding approach.
In Cage of Ghosts Jon Rhodes, highly regarded as a photographer, captures, connects and interprets the timeless Indigenous presence through his own eyes, his camera lens and in stories about the pioneer surveyors, anthropologists and historians who obsessively recorded these sites.
It is meticulously researched and compiled, with relevant images, some that crop up in the explicit and sometimes lengthy footnotes, often as absorbing as the text. In one footnote, correspondence by the late Spike Milligan tells us about his efforts to save rock art near Woy Woy, New South Wales, now the Bulgandry figures in Brisbane Waters National Park.
Jon Rhodes probes the puzzle surrounding the red ochre and white pipeclay painting of Bunjil with his dogs (or dog!) in a granite shelter in the Black Range, near Stawell in central western Victoria, now protected from grafitti by a welded mesh cave. Has one dog been added or moved since the cave became known?
Bunjil, the Eaglehawk, a sky-hero of the Kulin, created mountains, rivers and people before he was swept into the sky with his sons in a whirlwind created when Bellin-bellin the Crow opened his sack. Now Bunjil is Altair, principal star in the constellation Aquila. The Wurunjeri gave the names of Bunjil’s sons to the fingers of the left hand.
I became familiar with Australian rock art and the better known rock engravings in the Sydney area through the works of Fred McCarthy in Australian Rock Art (Australian Museum, Sydney 1967) and Peter Stanbury and John Clegg, A Field Guide to Aboriginal Rock Engravings, (Sydney University Press, 1990).
Jon Rhodes examines sites like Bantry Bay, first seen by First Fleet Surgeon John White in April 1788; Gumbooya Reserve, Allambie Heights, once called ‘Flat Rocks’; regrooved images at Bondi Golf Course, and the sad disappearance of more than 80 art works that once covered the rocks at Willara / Point Piper. He reveals that the last remaining carving – a whale or sunfish – from the Point Piper group is now permanently protected under the immovable floorboards of a garage. See ‘Designs made by the Natives’ – my post for May 16, 2018.
Cage of Ghosts was deservedly winner of the 2019 New South Wales Regional and Community History Prize. The judges remarked:
Cage of Ghosts … is a subtle exploration of the way that thousands of years of Indigenous history are both visible, and hidden, in Australian landscapes. It is a formidably documented study with the power to reshape how we see the places where we live. Jon Rhodes evokes a multilayered country whose meanings have been shaped by the ancient cultures of First Nations peoples, but also by the complex, tragic history of settler colonialism.
At 2 p.m on 8 October 1769 a 12-year-old cabin boy named Nicholas Young shouts ‘Land’ from the masthead of HM Bark Endeavour. James Cook names it ‘Young Nick’s Head’. The English ship has reached the north island of the country named New Zealand in 1642 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who never attempted a landing.
Next morning the ship sails into an open bay and anchors off the mouth of a small river, the Turanganui, near present Gisborne. Cook goes ashore without Tupaia.
The coxswain fires twice over the heads of ‘natives’ who threaten four ship’s boys guarding a yawl. The third shot kills Te Maro, a Ngāti Oneone leader who is probably making a ceremonial challenge which the Europeans think is an attack.
Joseph Banks writes :
The native was shot through the heart. He was a middling-sized man, tattowed on one cheek only in spiral lines very regularly formed. He was covered with a fine cloth of a manufacture totally new to us … His hair was also tied in a knot on the top of his head, but with no feather stuck in it. His complexion was brown, but not very dark.
After his experience in the Polynesian islands Cook intends to barter iron goods for food and water. He takes Tupaia and a troop of red coated armed marines with him when he lands the next day.
A hostile group of Maori assemble on the far side of the river, heavily armed with lances, spears and pata (stone clubs). They perform a haka, poking out their tongues in defiance. Tupaia calls out in Tahitian and finds that he is able to understand them, as ship’s surgeon William Monkhouse recounts.
We found they understood his language. A long conversation ensued, which seemd to consist on their part of inquirys whence we came, of complaining that we had killed one of their people, and of many expressions of doubt of our friendship – their pronunciation was very guttural, however Tupia understood them …
One brave Maori swims across the river and greets Cook with a hongi (pressing noses). Soon a crowd around the strangers attempt to snatch their weapons and Joseph Banks wounds a man with small shot when he seizes a ‘hanger’ or short sword from astronomer Charles Green. Te Rakau, a powerful chief of the Rongowhakaata, is killed by a musket ball fired by Surgeon Monkhouse, while others are wounded.
Later that day Endeavour crewmen open fire on a waka (canoe), intending to capture the men on board to gain their friendship. Four Māori are killed during this incident and three youths are captured, taken on the ship, fed and given gifts, but later landed ashore.
In the six months it will take to chart the two islands of Aotearoa, Tupaia becomes a vital interpreter and negotiator between the English and the Maori, who revere him as a tohunga or high priest from their ancestral homeland Hawaiki.
HM Bark Endeavour sails out of the bay on Thursday 12 October. Cook names Tūranganui-a-Kiwa ‘Poverty Bay’ because ‘it afforded no one thing we wanted’.
In two days and 14 hours Cook’s crew have shot and killed six Maori warriors and wounded many more.
Living Language: Country, Culture, Community State Library of New South Wales, Macquarie Street, Sydney The Dawes notebooks are no longer on display The exhibition is open from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. until Sunday 3 May 2020 Free admission
The bright shining stars of this exhibition for me were the two small notebooks in a glass case, dating to 1790-1791. They left Sydney in 1792 and returned briefly in the Living Language exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales.
When they first became widely known, after a lapse of 180 years, these handwritten records of the coastal Sydney Language by William Dawes caused great excitement.
In November 1790, one month after Woollarawarre Bennelong and the friendly Eorabegan to frequent the English convict settlement at Warang / Sydney Cove, Dawes, a young marine officer from Portsmouth, took a small notebook and began to write down Indigenous words andphrases given to him by his informants.
The first notebook, titled (in another hand) Grammatical forms of the language of N.S. Wales, in the neighbourhood of Sydney is catalogued as MS 4165 (a) in the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
From internal evidence, Dawes began his second notebook, MS 4165 (b), Vocabulary of the Language of N.S. Wales, in the neighbourhood of Sydney in 1791. It is the only source for what is known about his relationship with his principal informant, an Aboriginal girl named Patyegarang (Grey Kangaroo).
Dawes’s notebooks were located by Australian librarian, later Mitchell Librarian, Phyllis Mander-Jones and included in her publication Manuscripts in the British Isles relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, ANU Press, Canberra in 1972.
Living Language charts the strong revival of dozens of First Australian languages – among the 250 once spoken throughout Australia – which were previously suppressed by government policies of removal and assimilation.
This major exhibition is built on years and months of research and consultation with many Aboriginal communities by the library’s Indigenous Engagement (IE) Branch. I was privileged to collaborate with both Ronald Briggs (Gamilaroi), Curator, Research & Discovery and Melissa Jackson (Bundjalung) in two exhibitions at the State Library: EORA in 2006 and MARI NAWI in 2010.
Damien Webb (Palawa), Manager, Indigenous Engagement and Marika Duczynski (Gamilaroi), IE Project Officer, were also involved in the exhibition, which was backed by the State Library of NSW Foundation.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald (14 July 2019), Matt Bungard quoted Melissa Jackson:
Lieutenant Dawes was just really interested in not just the culture, but getting to know the people and their nuances. The notebooks are incredibly important to Aboriginal people because they retain the conversational context which is crucial for contemporary language revival work today.
WHO GAVE THE WORDS?
Dawes often acknowledged his Indigenous informants – in his first book principally Warreweer (who provided names of Indigenous plants), then Bennelong (her brother) and his second wife Barangaroo. In ‘Book B’ Patyegarang, who knew Dawes for just three months, is mentioned more than fifty times, but also Colebee, his wife Daringa, a girl named Gonangoolie, and others.
Dawes’s little language notebooks help to inform much of the ‘back story’ about this group, which fleshes out and confirms details about their lives not found in First Fleet journals. How much would we know about the Gweagal man Wárungin, Wángubile (‘Botany Bay Colebee’) in the profile that follows without Dawes’s records?
For more information about the Dawes notebooks see ‘The Language of Port Jackson’ under the heading Language in this blog.
Wárungin, Wángubile Kólbi was the son of Mety,headman of a family group of Gweagal (Fire Clan), based on the south shore of Kamay (Botany Bay).
He was known to the English colonists as ‘Botany Bay Kolbi’, having exchanged names with Colebee the Cadigal, who they called ‘Cadi Coleby’. David Collins explained: ‘The natives themselves, when distinguishing between this man and another of the same name at Botany Bay, always styled him Cad-i Cole-be; Cad-i being the name of his district’.
After a battle with his enemy Mety, the Wangal leader Woollarawarree Bennelong abducted Wárungin’s ngarángaliang or younger sister, Mety’s daughter Kurúbarabúla or Go-roo-bar-roo-bool-lo (‘Two Firesticks’), from Botany Bay in November 1790. She became Bennelong’s third wife and therefore Wárungin was his brother-in-law.
According to William Dawes, Wárungin Kolbi was aged about 28 in 1791 while his wife, with a string of names: Karangarang, Wadigabú Murianang Kurut Kurut, was about 25 years old. [Book B 1791:45.4-6]. It is likely that she had exchanged names with Bennelong’s sister Carangarang.
On 13 November 1791 Lieutenant William Dawes trekked from Sydney Cove to Botany Bay accompanied by his friend Captain Watkin Tench and three Aboriginal guides: Kolbi (probably the Gadigal, Cadi Colebee), Tarabílong (Terribilong), a Kameygal and Beriwáni (Bereewan), a Boorooberongal man Cadi Colebee had met in April that year on an expedition to the Hawkesbury River, who became his ally.
In his journal, Sergeant James Scott wrote:
Port Jackson – July – Sunday 17th  Lt. Daws. [sic] & party made an Excurtion to. Georges.River &.c.—
Dawes had previously, but reluctantly, gone to Botany Bay in December 1790. At first he refused to join the punitive expedition commanded by Captain Watkin Tench ordered by Governor Phillip to capture the Bijigal garadji (doctor or clever man) Pemulwuy, who had speared his game shooter John McEntire (McIntire).
McEntire, who admitted he had once fired at Aboriginal people, died suddenly on 20 January 1791.
After a talk with chaplain Reverend Richard Johnson, Dawes agreed to go, but then changed his mind. Threatened with a court-martial by the governor, he told Phillip he was ‘sorry he had been persuaded to comply with the order’.
His refusal, wrote South Australian curator and historian Philip Jones in Ochre and Rust [Wakefield Press, 2007: 342] ‘may represent the first documented act of conscience in defence of Aboriginal interests’.
At Botany Bay the English troops met Cadi Colebee, who told them Pemulwuy had fled to the south and, said Tench, ‘eat, drank and slept with us, from ten o’clock until past noon’.
In his account Tench nowhere mentions using firearms. According to David Collins, however, the marines fired on Aboriginal people they saw ‘at the head of Botany Bay, but without doing them an injury’.
But the handwritten caption to the portrait by the unknown ‘Port Jackson Painter’, now in the Natural History Museum in London, refutes this view, stating ‘Native named Ben-nel.long As painted when angry after Botany Bay Colebee was wounded’ and points to another incident concerning Warugin Kolbi that was not recorded by the First Fleet authors.
Private John Easty provides some intriguing detail.
The Morning of the 24 [December] … we went Down the Beach for abought 3 miles whaare we Saw Several of the natives by thier fires.
This might refer to another art work by the ‘Port Jackson Painter’, which seems to provide a pictorial sequel to the wounding of Botany Bay Kolbi. The watercolour is captioned ‘Mr. White, Harris & Laing with a party of Soldiers visiting Botany Bay Colebee at that Place when wounded.’
It shows the three English surgeons standing in a group of Aboriginal men and women who recline around their campfire by the sea, with a detachment of armed redcoats in the background. At right, one Aboriginal man sits apart on a log, holding a spear. Written under the log in pencil is the word ‘Colebee’, probably denoting Cadi Colebee.
As Dr. Grace Karskens points out in The Colony [Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW, 2009, page 396] Surgeon White, the tall figure, is nudging an Aboriginal person with his musket . That person, a woman, is nursing a man lying on the ground, who might be the wounded Wángubile Kólbi. A child peeks out behind the couple.
There is a problem here, because Surgeon’s Mate Edward Laing arrived in Sydney long after this incident, on 14 February 1792 aboard the convict transport Pitt, bringing Major Francis Grose, commandant of the New South Wales Corps. It makes me suspect that the artist, whoever he was, might have painted this incident later, perhaps while returning to England by ship.
The ‘Port Jackson Painter’, or whoever wrote the caption to this image, possibly substituted Laing’s name for surgeon’s mate John Lowes, who certainly took part in the punitive expedition. Watkin Tench wrote on Tuesday 14 December 1790:
At four o’clock in the morning … we marched … the detachment consistedbesides myself, of captain Hill of the New South Wales corps, lieutenants Poulden and Dawes, of the marines, Mr Worgan and Mr Lowes, surgeons, three sergeants, three corporals, andforty private soldiers.
Lowes returned to England in 27 March 1791 on the chartered Dutch vessel Waaksamheid, bound for Batavia (Jakarta). Also on board were Arthur Phillip’s aide Henry Waterhouse, his game shooter Henry Hacking, Captain John Hunter, Lieutenant William Bradley, Surgeon George Worgan, the artist and midshipman George Raper, midshipman Daniel Southwell, Ship’s master James Keltie and crew members of the crew of HMS Sirius, which had been wrecked at Norfolk Island.
Henry (‘Harry’) Waterhouse was charged with Phillip’s gift of ‘a Squirrel [possum] and parrot’, sent to Lady Chatham, Mary Elizabeth Townshend, daughter of Lord Sydney and wife of John Pitt, second Earl of Chatham. The ship reached Portsmouth in April 1792.
A GWEAGAL FAMILY
Probably through the good offices of Cadi Kolbi, William Dawes identified and recorded his family of ‘Gwíagals’ [men] and ‘Gwíagaliangs’ [women] living on the south shore of Botany Bay
Dawes had been awaiting the departure of HMS Gorgon from Sydney Cove to England which was delayed until the arrival of Major Robert Ross from Norfolk Island. With Tench, Ross and other members of the First Fleet marine corps, Dawes boarded the ship, which sailed from Sydney more than a month later, on 18 December 1791, arriving at Portsmouth on 18 June 1792. [See Keith Vincent Smith, ‘Death of a Game Shooter’, Chapter 12 in Bennelong, Kangaroo Press / Simon & Schuster, East Roseville, 2001, pages 81-90]
Dawes had applied to stay another three years in New South Wales. ‘Left to himself, I wonder if he would every have left,’ asked Inga Clendinnen. ‘His departure cost us access to the local language as it was spoken at the time of contact. It possibly cost us a brilliant ethnography …’ [Dancing with Strangers, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2003, page 157]
His close friend Captain Watkin Tench wrote that Dawes had ‘advanced his researches beyond the reach of competition’.
‘Mr. Dawes knows something of the language of N.S. Wales’, wrote the anti-slavery philanthropist William Wilberforce to Henry Dundas in August 1794, when he recommended Dawes as the head of a school to educate both Aboriginal people and convicts in New South Wales. Dawes never returned.
THE LOST SOLDIER
In John Hunter’s An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson … (London, 1793, page 532), Governor Arthur Phillip tells the story of a soldier lost in the bush who was rescued by Wárungin, Wángubile Kólbi.
A soldier of the New South Wales corps, going from Parramatta with some of his comrades for the purpose of procuring sweet tea [Smilax glycyphylla], left them to go after a pattegorong [kangaroo], and lost himself in the woods. After roving about for some time, he saw a number of the natives, who fled on seeing his gun, except one that had frequently visited the settlement, and was known by the name of Botany-Bay Colebe. This man joined the soldier, and was followed by one of his companions. The soldier, to gain their good-will, and in hopes of inducing them to shew him the way to Parramatta, offered them some of his cloaths, which were not accepted. He made them understand where he wanted to go, but they were on the point of leaving him till he offered his gun, which the native, who was known at the settlement, took, and then conducted him to Sydney, making him understand that Parramatta was a great way off. When they drew near Sydney, Colebe returned the soldier his gun, and, bidding him tell Beanah(the governor) that he was Botany-Bay Colebe, he left him, without even taking what the soldier had first offered him as a present.
On 13 July 1769 the Polynesian polymath Tupaia (Tupai/ Tupia) and his young servant (Taiato /Taiyota) sailed aboard HM Bark Endeavour as the ship left Tahiti.
I wanted to mark that event, 250 years ago, on the EORA• PEOPLE blog, but that day I was myself on a very different and much larger vessel in the Gulf of Finland, approaching Russia’s northern city of St. Petersburg.
Tupaia, born on the island of Raiatea about 1725, was a high priest of the Polynesian god ‘Oro, a skilled navigator, map-maker, scholar and artist. He had voyaged widely and would become a vital informant to the wealthy Joseph Banks and Lieutenant James Cook as he guided their ship through the Society Islands.
Cook navigated with his sextant, and often questioned Tupaia, who divined the path through the ocean by natural signs: movements of currents, the sun, wind, clouds and birds. Throughout the voyage he could always point in the direction of Tahiti.
Cook wrote in his journal that day (his spelling):
For some time before we left this Island several of the natives were daily offering themselves to go away with us, and as it was thought that they must be of use to us in our future discoveries, we resolved to bring away one whose name was Tupia, a Cheif and a Priest : This man had been with us the most part of the time we had been upon the Island which gave us an oppertunity to know some thing of him : we found him to be a very intelligent person and to know more of the Geography of the Islands situated in these seas, their produce and the religious laws and customs of the inhabitants than any one we had met with and was the likeliest person to answer our purpose; for these reasons and at the request of Mr Banks I received him on board together with a youg boy his servant.
In his journal, published in 1789 as A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, the young Scots artist Sydney Parkinson observed on 15 July 1769:
Toobaiah [Tupaia] praying in the afternoon, in the stern-windows, called out, with much fervor, O Tane, ara mai, ora mai matai ; which is to say, Tane (the god of his Morai) send to me, or come to me with a fair wind ; but his prayer proving ineffectual, he said Wooreede waow, I am angry. However, he told us that we should have wind when the sun arrived at the meridian, and so it happened, though we did not impute to him the gift of prophecy or foresight.
While sailing on the Endeavour Tupaia learned to draw and paint on paper in the European style. Through his eyes we see the first image of an Aboriginal man in his nawi (stringybark canoe) spearing a fish at Kamay / Botany Bay in April 1770. It is, in fact, the first known illustration of any kind of fishing in this continent.
Joseph Banks noted that, although he fished with a rod, Tupaia used an unbaited lure, similar to those he would see Aboriginal fisherwomen use with handlines at Gamay (Botany Bay) in 1770 to catch albecore or warm seas tuna fish (Thunnus germo).
Banks wrote in his journal on 12 August 1769:
Many Albecores have been around the ship all the evening. Tupia took one and had not his rod broke would probably have taken many. He usd an Indian [Polynesian] fish hook made of mother of pearl so that it servd at the same time for both hook and bait.
3 June 1769 was an important date for James Cook and Joseph Banks in mid-Pacific on board HM Bark Endeavour. The scientific observation of the transit of the planet Venus was a pivotal event in Australian history. It took James Cook to Tahiti, New Zealand and the east coast of Australia.
It resulted, in 1788, in the first European settlement in the continent and, in time, to the dispossession of its Indigenous inhabitants.
Venus Fort, Erected by the Endeavour’s People, to secure themselves during the Observation of the Transit of Venus at Otaheite, 1773
Samuel Middiman (1750-1831) after Sydney Parkinson (1745?-1771) Engraving
Plate IV in Sydney Parkinson, A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, London : Stanfield Parkinson, 1773
Rex Nan Kivell Collection NK2140/A,
nla.pic-an9308865, National Library of Australia, Canberra
On the afternoon of 28 April 1770, two Aboriginal warriors stood their ground to defend their Country when Lieutenant James Cook and an armed party of marines from the discovery ship HM Bark Endeavour landed on the south shore of a small, shallow harbour, now called Botany Bay.
They belonged to the Gweagal (‘Fire’) clan at Kundul (Kurnell) on the southeastern coast of the continent of Australia.
The English voyagers made signs that they wanted water, but the two men snatched up their fishing spears and shouted their defiance.
‘Their countenance bespoke displeasure; they threatened us, and discovered hostile intentions, often crying to us, Warra warra wai,’ wrote the young Scots artist Sydney Parkinson (c1745-1771) who accompanied Cook on his first landing.
These words, meaning ‘go away’ or ‘begone’, were the first ever spoken to the English colonists by the Indigenous inhabitants of southeastern Australia. And, it seems, spread widely.
1788 – KAMAY/ BOTANY BAY
The storeship HMS Supply, with Governor Arthur Phillip on board, went ahead of the convoy of ships that Australians call the ‘First Fleet’ and anchored at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788.
James Callum, surgeon on Supply, described the first meetings with the Indigenous people to his brother Alexander at East Smithfield, London, in a letter from ‘Port Jackson,Sidney Cove, New South Wales’ on 12 July, 1788.
On the Supply’s entering the Bay, the alarmed Natives ran along the Beach, shouting and hallowing, seizing their wretched Canoes, and carrying them to the Woods,— together with their Fishing-tackle and Children; we brought up pretty close to the North Shore, open to the Sea,—to be seen by the Fleet, which we daily expected.—Seven of them came opposite to the Ship, brandishing their implements of War, such as Spears of an amazing length, armed with Fish-bone, Lances, Clubs, &c. &c. throwing their bodies in threatening Postures, called out in harsh notes, Warraw! Warraw! Warrawi!
Next Morning we proceeded along with the Governor to examine two Rivers, one in a North-west direction, up which we proceeded about six Miles; the other in a South-west; as we advanced up the first, numbers of Natives seemed Fishing in their Canoes, while others were employed dressing them on its Banks; they retired on our approach, Howling and Crying. – Here we first observed them to have Dogs, they are of the Wolf kind, with long shaggy Hair. When they found we passed their Canoes, &c. without injuring them, on our return down the River, they frequently appeared abreast of the Boats, calling out as usual, Warraw! Warraw !
Captain John Hunter heard the same warning cries of the Indigenous inhabitants as HMS Sirius came into Botany Bay.
The Reverend Richard Johnson, first chaplain of the colony of New South Wales, wrote to his friend Henry Fricker in Portsmouth on Sunday, 10 February 1788, describing his first meetings with the ‘natives’ on the shores of Botany Bay.
[Safe 1/121 Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Sydney]
They came out of the water, joined in a Body together & stood till we came up with them. As we came near them they spoke to us in a loud dissonant Manner, principally uttering these words—“Warra, Warra Wai,” which we judged to be to tell us to go away. When we came up to them, I tied some bits of cloth &c. round their heads and necks & also gave one of them a comb, at which he seemed especially pleased & astonished. Some of them then began to dance, and one of them offered me one of his fishing giggs [a fishing spear], which I refused, the Governor ordering that nothing should be taken from them.
1788 – WARANG / SYDNEY COVE
Aboriginal people crowded the high cliffs on 26 January 1788 as the English ships sailed from Botany Bay and dropped anchor in the sheltered harbour at Warang / Sydney Cove, selected by Governor Arthur Phillip because of its trickling stream of fresh water, later called the Tank Stream.
‘The natives on shore hollered Walla Walla Wha or something to that effect, and brandished their spears as if vexed at our approach’, wrote Robert Brown, captain of the storeship Fishburn.
Lieutenant Philip Gidley King wrote in his journal:
All the natives which were seen when we first arrived at Port Jackson danced violently, shouting ‘woroo woroo, go away’.
THE WARRA WARRAS
In a letter dated 23 June 1788 Daniel Southwell wrote from Sydney Cove to his uncle, the Reverend Weeden Butler, who lived in Chelsea, London.
[Daniel Southwell, Journal, Historical Records of NSW, Vol 2, 692.17]
On June 23d, at 4 p.m. per log, there was felt the gentle shock of an earthquake, and the appearance of the country warrants an opinion that it has been subject to very severe ones. The King’s birthday was celebrated with great state and solemnity, and large bonfires— we had plenty of wood — were burning all night.
The ships saluted at sunrise, noon, and sunset, which must have frightened the warra warras, for so we call the blacks, from their constant cry of “warra warra” at everything they see that is new.
In a letter to his father from Port Jackson dated 12 July 1788, but referring to 21 January, Midshipman Newton Fowell said of the Indigenous People:
… they speak very Loud and mostly all together very often Pronouncing the Words Worra Worra Wea & seemed quite surprized at not being answered.
1791 – DRAY.TER / OYSTER BAY, TASMANIA
The 16-gun brig Mercury, 152 tons, commanded by Captain John Henry Cox (c1770-1791), anchored off Maria Island in north-east Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on 10 July 1789.
The deep, sheltered bay, called Dray.ter by the Indigenous clans of the Paredarerme, was renamed Oyster Bay by Cox.
Mercury Passage, between Maria Island and the Tasmanian coast, takes its name from the ship, then filled with a cargo of 1,000 seal skins obtained at Amsterdam Island (now Île Amsterdam, a French possession), an extinct volcano in the southern Indian Ocean, some 4180 kilometres southwest of Perth, Western Australia.
The story of Cox’s meeting with a group of men and women from the Oyster Bay Tribe (as they were later called) was told by Marine Lieutenant George Mortimer in this extract from his book Observations and Remarks made on a voyage to the north west coast of America, &c, published in London in March 1791. Yes, there it is, at the bottom of page 19 – Indigenous people repeating the words ‘Warra, Warra, Wai’ as they backed away from the strangers.
In 1802 Louis Claude de Freycinet, a naval officer and naturalist with the French Baudin expedition, saw and measured the unique water craft illustrated here. These canoes were four metres long and made from bundles of reeds tied with bark cord. The Oyster Bay people, who called them ningher, used them to cross from the mainland to Maria Island when the sea was calm.
Five or six natives (naturales) can get into these canoes but generally the number is limited to three or four at a time. Their paddles are simple sticks … We saw them crossing the channel only in fine weather … They always place a fire at one end of their canoes, in order to prevent fire from spreading, they place underneath it a sufficiently thick bed of earth or cinders … They use nothing but a kind of reed that grows in abundance at Oyster Bay.
1829 – DERBAL YIRRIGAN / SWAN RIVER
Captain Charles Howe Fremantle and his crew reached the Swan River in southwestern Australia aboard HMS Challenger on 25 April 1829. This was the country of the Noongar.
The ship’s boats set out to explore the river and crossed the sandbar near the entrance. They rowed on further before they saw (and were seen by) Indigenous people on both sides of the river. What did these people call out to them? Fremantle recalled:
[They] halload’d to us very loud and appeared to cry “Warra, Warra,” which I supposed to be “go away”. I took no notice.
Next day after a friendly meeting with a group of Noongar:
We saw a Native with a firebrand in one hand and two spears in the other, shouting Warra Warra and pointing to the shore where the boat was, desiring us to go away.
This time Captain Fremantle decided to go no further. He established a tent camp on the banks of the Swan River and in May there were friendly exchanges with the Noongar, who brought fire, spears, stone knives and some rather sandy fish which they exchanged for the foreigners ‘mutton, tongue, biscuit, and some fish which we had caught.’
In November 1829 the first free settlers arrived in the Parmelia and Fremantle and Perth were established not much later.
Walyalup (Fremantle) was named by the Nungar, perhaps for ‘the place of the Walyo or Woylie’, a tiny kangaroo rat once common in the sandhills there.
Thanks to Jeremy Steele for comments and corrections.
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020