Keith Vincent Smith

Based on the evidence of surviving First Fleet journals and vocabularies, the Indigenous people of Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour), the Pacific coast and the Parramatta River, whatever their clan, referred to themselves in whole or in part as Eora (yura).

This word clearly meant ‘people’ in some sense, but whether it was the name for the whole of the inhabitants of the Sydney district is uncertain.

The curious British officers might have asked, but not one of them recorded a collective name for these people or for the language. I am always careful therefore to state that the language of coastal Sydney was that spoken by the Aboriginal people who called each other by that name.

In his published vocabulary (1798) Judge Advocate David Collins listed ‘Eo-ora – The name common for the natives’ and, questioning Bennelong, Collins remarked in the Appendix of his Account of the English Colony in New South Wales: ‘I then asked him where the black men (or Eora) came from?’

The clever linguist William Dawes recorded ‘Eoora  – – – Men, or people’ and coined his own version: ‘eoras’, noting ‘Yenmaou mullnaoul naabaou eéora’, which means, he wrote, ‘In plain English: I will go tomorrow morning to see the people (before spoken of).’ He quotes a young Aboriginal girl called Wåriwear: ‘Nabaouwi ngalia naba eora widadwara’ – – – ‘The eoras shall see us drink [sulphur].’ 

In two further entries Dawes credits his principal informant, a fifteen year old girl named Patyegarang, saying ‘He gave pork (and) bread to the eoras’ and ‘The eoras gave fish to him.’   

In his journal Philip Gidley King gives ‘Eo-ra — Men, or People’, while ‘Eo-ra (or) E-o-rah’ is the translation for ‘People’ in the vocabulary kept by Governor Phillip and his aides. ‘Yo-ra. A number of people’ occurs in the vocabulary enlarged by Captain John Hunter (1793).

Daniel Southwell recorded ‘People — E-o-rah’. Similarly, about 1805 Musquito and Bulldog, the two Aboriginal convicts sent to Norfolk Island by Governor Philip Gidley King, told the Reverend Henry Fulton that ‘Yea-warrah’ meant ‘black men’.

In a letter to Dr. William Farr, physician at the Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth in 1791, Captain of Marines James Campbell described the Indigenous people as ‘Ioras / Natives’.

The anonymous compiler of a list of ‘Aboriginal names and meanings’ in the journal Science of Man (Sydney, 1908) stated: ‘Ea-ora—Name of tribe inhabiting the Sydney District’.

In the 1930s, Eora was adopted by Dr Frederick David McCarthy, curator of anthropology at the Australian Museum, Sydney, who drew on wordlists published in the journal Science of Man.  In New South Wales Aboriginal Place Names and Euphonious Words, with their Meanings (3rd edition 1943), McCarthy gave ‘EORA: Black fellows of Sydney District’.

Quoting McCarthy as his authority, Norman B. Tindale (1974) wrote in Aboriginal Tribes of Australia that ‘The name Eora is accepted for the tribal group around Port Jackson.’ Tindale adopted Eora to replace the ‘hordal term Kamaraigal used in my post 1940 work’.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2022