Eora Clans


Captain Arthur Phillip, 1786
Francis Wheatley (1747-1801)
Oil on board
ML 124, Mitchell Library
Courtesy State Library of New South Wales, Sydney













Keith Vincent Smith

On 13 February 1790, just ten weeks after the capture of an Aboriginal man named Woollarawarre Bennelong, Governor Arthur Phillip addressed a long despatch from ‘Government House, Sydney Cove’ to Lord Sydney at the Home Office in London in which he outlined the circumstances of the capture of Bennelong and Colebee, the Gadigal leader. Phillip wrote:

In last November (1789), two Natives were brought up, one of whom made his Escape a Few Days after; the other lives with me, & will soon be able to inform me of their Customs, & Manners; but of which at present I can give your Lordship very little Information.

This despatch is written in the ‘fair hand’ of either Arthur Phillip or his secretary at that time, Lieutenant David Collins. Colebee had escaped within days and the ‘other’, their Indigenous informant, was Bennelong.

‘Tribes’, 1790
Arthur Phillip to Lord Sydney, quoting Woollarawarre Bennelong
Government House, Sydney Cove, February 13th 1790
MS CO 201/5, pp 42-43, National Archives, London

From the Entrance of the Harbour, along the South Shore, to the Cove adjoining this Settlement, the District is called Cadi, & the Tribe Cadigal — the Women, Cadigalleon.
The South Side of the Harbour from the above-mentioned Cove to Rose-Hill, which the Natives call Parramatta, the District is called Wann, & the Tribe, Wanngal.
The opposite Shore is called Wallumetta, & the Tribe, Wallumedegal.
The other Tribes which live near us, are those of Gweagal, Noronggerragal, Borogegal, Gomerrigal, & Boromedegal.

In this crucial historical document, now held in the National Archives at Kew in England, Governor Phillip records, from Bennelong’s lips, the first account of the names and locations of the major Aboriginal clans in the Sydney coastal area, which he called ‘Tribes’.

Before listing the clan locations, Phillip referred to the Cameragal (Gamaragal):

The Natives live in Tribes, which are distinguished by the Name of their Chief, who probably takes his Name from the District in which he resides. About the North West Part of this Harbour there is a Tribe which is mentioned as being very powerfull; either from their Numbers or the Abilities of their Chief. The District is called Cammerra — the Head of the Tribe is named Cammerragal, by which Name the Men of that Tribe are distinguished — a Woman of this Tribe is called a Cammerragalleon — the Natives never use the Letter S, & find some Difficulty in pronouncing it.

In exchanges enlivened by mimicry and fraught with misunderstanding, Bennelong and Phillip, who was twice his age, somehow found ways to break through the vast cultural barrier between them. They even talked together at night, when Bennelong told the governor his names for the Southern Hemisphere stars.

Inevitably there were some mistakes in communication. One obvious error occurred in Phillip’s despatch. Misinterpreting Bennelong, Phillip at first wrongly supposed the Port Jackson ‘Tribes’ were named after ‘chiefs’. He soon realised that ‘Cameragal’ or ‘Cammerragal’ (Gamaragal) was the name of a clan and not that of a ‘chief’.

This ‘chief’ was undoubtedly ‘Cammarang’, a tall, thin Aboriginal man, noted in the vocabulary compiled by Governor Phillip and his aides and painted by the unknown ‘Port Jackson Painter’. Phillip’s error was corrected one month later, in April 1790, by Philip Gidley King, who understood quite well that Cameragal or Cammerragal was the name of a social group and not one of their ‘chiefs’. ‘The tribe of Camerra’, King wrote, ‘inhabit the North part of Port Jackson which is somewhere named Camerra’.

David Collins, who spent three more years in Sydney than Phillip, wrote:

Those who live on the north shore of Port Jackson are called Cam-mer-ray-gal, that part of the harbour being distinguished from others by the name of Cam-mer-ray.

Collins later referred to this mistake in a note about the practice of tooth avulsion in initiation ceremonies. ‘I well recollect Ben-nil-long, in the early appearance of our acquaintance with him and his language, telling us, as we then thought, that a man of the name of Cam-mer-ra-gal wore all his teeth about his neck. But we afterwards found that this term was only the distinguishing title of the tribe which performed the ceremonies incident to the operation.’

The First Fleet officers viewed these indigenous social groups with names ending in –gal as ‘Tribes’. They were, in fact, extended families, related by kinship or marriage, now usually described as clans. A clan might number from twenty to sixty men, women and children. The term ‘Tribe’ today refers to a language group of several clans, sometimes called a ‘nation’.


The Gadigal (Cadigal) was a harbour-dwelling clan, inhabiting the area from Inner South Head at the entrance to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), through the present Eastern Suburbs to Woolloomooloo Bay, Farm Cove and Warrane or Warrang (Sydney Cove), terminating at the entrance to Darling Harbour-Barangaroo.

Watkin Tench’s ‘bay of Cadi’, the heartland of the Gadigal, was some distance from Sydney Cove. Lieutenant William Dawes recounted a conversation with his young female informant Patyegarang (Grey Kangaroo) about a convict who was speared ‘coming from Kadi [Cadi] to Warang’.

Anon. Vocabulary of the
language of N. S. Wales,
in the neighbourhood of
Sydney (Native and
English, but not alpha
Notebook C, MS41645 (c), School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS], University of London
I refer to this document as The Governor’s Vocabulary.

Where is Cadi or Gadi? The ‘Governor’s Vocabulary’ provides a clue, giving the meaning of Cad-dy as ‘below or under’ and Boor-a-wa, the placename of Inner South Head, as ‘above or upward’. Gadi, logically, was below Inner South Head at Camp Cove and Watsons Bay.

From early in the nineteenth century, Aboriginal placenames resembling Cadi or Gadi were linked to Watsons Bay: Kutti  (James Larmer 1832; Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld 1834), Cattai (Town and Country Journal 1878), Caddie (George Thornton 1901), Kooti (Captain JH Watson 1919) and Cutti (Science of Man 1910). The small beach at Watsons Bay near Parsley Bay is still called Kutti Beach.

Cadi, then, referred to the place where a freshwater creek (marked by Captain John Hunter on his 1788 Plan of Port Jackson) ran into Camp Cove, between South Head and Watsons Bay. It must have been a shock to the Cadigal when strangers in two cutters and a longboat commanded by Arthur Phillip spent the nights of 21-22 January 1788 on the beach at Cadi, which is how it came to be known as Camp Cove.

In his journal entry for 9 April 1790 Philip Gidley King recoded:

The tribe of Cadi are on the South side extending from the South head to Long Cove at which place the district of Wanne & the Tribe of Wangal commences, extending as far as Par-ra-matta, or Rose Hill.

In today’s geography, the territory of the Wangal or Wanngal then began at the western outlet of Darling Harbour (at first named Long Cove), passing Memel (Goat Island), rounding the Balmain Peninsula, and running west along the south shore of the Parramatta River, to The Flats at  present Homebush Bay, where the saltwater ends and freshwater begins.

The environment of The Flats –  salt marsh, reed swamps and mudflats -created a rich fishing ground and source of mud oysters, shellfish, crustaceans, ducks and other water birds. George Caley, the Yorkshire botanist sent to New South Wales to collect plants for Sir Joseph Banks, befriended Aboriginal people at Parramatta and wrote that The Flats was ‘a noted fishing place for the natives; the water there is shallow’.

‘Ben-nil-ong himself was a Wahn-gal’, wrote Judge Advocate David Collins in An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (App. V: 1798, page 560).

An entry in the vocabulary kept by Governor Arthur Phillip and his aides (Anon, Book C, 8.7-8, SOAS London) refers to ‘Tarra-merrigal the name of the tribe Weran belongs to, in the district of Wanne.’ Weran was obviously considered a Wangal.

MAKING TRIBES?  A rebuttal

In their speculative paper Making Tribes? Tasmanian authors Michael Powell and Rex Hesline assert that Wangal, the name of Bennelong’s Parramatta River clan, was a mishearing of the Sydney Language word for ‘where’.  This can easily be shown to be wrong.

The sub-title of their essay, first published in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (Vol.96 (Part 2), pp 115-48 is given as ‘Constructing aboriginal tribal entities in Sydney and coastal NSW from the early colonial period to the present’.  It is not difficult to detect the agenda: an all-out attack on decades of scholarship of the history of the Indigenous People of Sydney’s coastal area.

The only confusion belongs to Powell & Hesline, who conjecture that Acting Judge Advocate David Collins might possibly have mis-transcribed ‘wau’ (rather than ‘wan’). He did not.

This is shoddy research, based on a superficial reading of secondary sources. Why not consult the original source, which shows that Collins clearly gives ‘Wau, Where’ (not wan) in his Vocabulary in ‘An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales’, published in London in 1798 (page 613)? 

This is what you see.

David Collins, Appendix X11, 1798:613 (first edition)

All references in ‘First Fleet’ journals and vocabularies indicate that Wann was a ‘district’ or placename and that Wangal was the name of what the British observers called a ‘Tribe’. Bennelong was not responding with mimicry, but with the information sought by his questioners.

And this farrago was refereed!

As David Collins recorded in the same work, published in London in 1798, page 560):  ‘Ben-nil-ong himself was a Wahn-gal’. 

‘Bennelong [was] a Wang-Gal’, wrote John Turnbull, in A Voyage Round the World in the Years 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, and 1804 … published by Richard Phillips at Blackfriars, London in 1805.

Anon, Book C, 1791: 8.7-8, SOAS, London

An entry reading ‘Tarra – merragal the name of the Tribe Weran belongs to,
in the District of Wanne’ occurs in the vocabulary kept by Governor Phillip and his aides (Notebook C, School of Oriental and African Studies, London).

What are we to make of this? The Indigenous man named Weran did not live in wau or ‘where’, but in the district or clan territory of Wanne.

Further, in ‘The names of the Principal Winds’ Philip Gidley King, our third governor, wrote ‘West Wind – – – Bow-wan’, an indication that Wanne lay west of Sydney Cove (ML C115:409).

None of the First Fleet officers seem to have asked the Aboriginal people what they called their language or themselves

In criticising my suggestion and that of Sydney Language scholar Jeremy Steele that ‘Biyal-Biyal’ be adopted for the language spoken by the people who called themselves Eora (‘people’), Powell and Hesline (and their referee) missed or ignored the reference by linguist Archibald Meston to the ‘Beeal-Beeal’ dialect of Botany Bay’ in an article titled ‘Aboriginal Names’ in the Sydney Morning Herald of 19 October 1921 (page 11). Biyal-Biyal is the phonetic version.

Writing a few weeks later (SMH, 9 November 1921, page 16), Meston recalled:

‘On my first visit to the Narrabeen Lakes in 1872, they were covered with swans and dabchicks. Five aboriginals who were camped there called the honeysuckle (the “wallum”) “guarrabeen,” but they were not speaking the old Beeahlba dialect of the Sydney blacks. They knew more Kamilaroi, and the Awaba (Ahwabah) of Port Macquarie.’

This usage fits the pattern of many Aboriginal languages in southeastern Australia named for the word ‘no’. According to linguist RMW Dixon (2002:82) Aboriginal languages typically have a distinctive form for ‘no’ that might be emblematic of identity. Dixon wrote: ‘In several areas names involve reduplication of the word for no, eg the Gureng-Gureng, Gabi-Gabi and Waga-Waga [Waka] just north of Brisbane’.

‘Names used by us for tribes describe more the speech than the locality, and most of them are formed from the local word for “No,” while others are from distinctive local words for “man,” wrote Rhetta Dixson Long, for many years a missionary at La Perouse in Botany Bay in her book, Aboriginal Inland Mission of Australia (Sydney, 1950, page 10. 


The Boromedegal or Burramattagal (Eel place clan) inhabited the area around present Parramatta at the head of the river. Perhaps they extended to the river’s catchment, which would take in a wide area including the present West Pennant Hills, Baulkham Hills, Carlingford, North Rocks, Castle Hill and Blacktown.

Archaeologists digging in a gibber gunya (giba gonye) sandstone rock shelter on Darling Mills Creek, which feeds into the Parramatta River, found Aboriginal stone tools dating back 11,000 years.


The Wallumedegal shared the rich area of The Flats on the Parramatta River with the Wangal. In Phillip’s despatch, the Wallumedegal were said to inhabit Wallumetta on the ‘opposite Shore’. In his Journal (9 April 1790),  Phillip Gidley King noted:  ‘The tribe of Wallumede inhabit the North shore opposite Warrane or Sydney Cove & called Wallumetta.’ However, the French voyager Captain Louis de Freycinet, who was rowed along the Parramatta River in 1819, later wrote:

The Wallumedegal were distributed on the northern side of the Parramatta River, Starting from Lane Cove (dans le district de Field-of-Mars).

There is further evidence that the Wallumedegal did not occupy the north shore at Kirribilli-Milsons Point. After breakfasting with some officers at his brick hut at Dubowagulye (Bennelong Point) in November 1791, Bennelong crossed the harbour in their boat. ‘However, he was seen afterwards with some of the Cammeragals, who were collecting the wild fruits which were now in season,’ wrote Arthur Phillip.
[Phillip in John Hunter, An Historical Journal … , London 1793:486-7]

Bennelong’s information about the location of the Cameragal or Gamaragal was less specific: ‘About the North West Part of this Harbour … The District is called Cammerra’. He had previously told the English officers they were ‘bad people’ and asked the governor to kill them.

The Cameragal, wrote PG King, ‘inhabit the north part of Port Jackson which is somewhere named Camerra’. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald (6 June 1890), Richard Hill said ‘The north shore aboriginals were known as “Camaraggal,” their district being “Camaray”.The Sydney suburb of Cammeray is named after this clan, but its people were not confined to that area.

Historian HWH Huntington claimed in 1910 that ‘the Cammera tribe inhabited what is now known as North Sydney’. Norman B. Tindale, author of Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974), was convinced that the range or territory of the Cameragal, which he wrote as ‘Kameragal’, was the ‘North shore of Port Jackson including Manly Beach’.

David Collins
An account of the English colony in New South Wales
London, 1798:545-6


The boundaries that were defined by Bennelong did not extend to the remaining Eora clans. The territories or estates they held in 1788 must therefore be deduced from accumulated information derived from mixed original sources.

Arthur Phillip, quoting Bennelong, recorded ‘Gweagal’ as among ‘other tribes which live near us’. ‘Gweagal’ is the fourth entry, following Cammeragal, Cadigal and Wongal, in ‘a list of ‘Tribes’ in the Anonymous Vocabulary, Book C, kept by Phillip and his aides, which I call the ‘Governor’s Vocabulary’.

In A complete account of the expedition to Botany Bay … (London 1793, page 187) Captain Watkin Tench described the burial of a notable Gweagal:

A dead body, covered by a canoe, at whose side a sword and shield were placed in state, was once discovered. All that we could learn about this important personage was, that he was a Gwee-a-gal (one of the tribe of Gweea) and a celebrated warrior.

In a Letter to the Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald (6 June 1890), Richard Hill said that ‘The Botany aboriginals were the “Gweagal,” their country being known as “Gwea.” That was the name of the South Botany tribe’.

The language of the Gweagal differed from that spoken by the Eora. In Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales (1892) Hill noted ‘Those on the southern shore of the George’s River, across to the coast and the south shore of Botany Bay, spoke a different language to those at Liverpool.’ They spoke the Dharawal or Turruwal language, extending as far south as Jervis Bay. 


David Collins (1975:457) noted:

 The natives who inhabit the south shore of Botany Bay [the Gweagal] divide the hair into small parcels each of which they mat together with gum, and form them into lengths like the thrums of a mop.

A watercolour portrait by the unknown Port Jackson Painter (Watling 64, Natural History Museum, London) depicting an Aboriginal man with short, tangled ‘dreadlocks’ was captioned: A Native his hair matted with gum, call’d in the native Language Goonat.’

The elder Maroot told Benjamin Bowen Carter (1789:81) that goonut was the word for hair in his language, rather than the more usual Port Jackson dewara (Collins 1975:508) or duuwarra (Bennelong to Daniel Paine 1795).

Goonat or goonut, however, described the hairstyle rather than hair growing on the head.

Carter, a North American surgeon, whose ship was moored at La Perouse for three days in 1789, noticed that ‘Many of the natives had their hair matted up in small strings with gum in some the hair was ornamented with Kangaroo teeth, shells &c. fastened to it.’

A native camp near Cockle Bay, New South Wales, 1813
Philip Slaeger (1755-1815), engraver; after John Eyre
From Absalom West, Views in New South Wales, 1813–1814
PX*D 65, plate 8, Mitchell Library
Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Entries in ‘The Governor’s Vocabulary’
Vocabulary of the language of N.S. Wales in the neighbourhood of Sydney (Native and English, but not alphabetical), MS 41645 ©, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Dated to 1791 from internal evidence.


Governor Phillip did not include the Kamegal as a ‘tribe’ in his letter to Lord Sydney, but this social group is identified in two references in the Vocabulary kept by Phillip and his aides, which I call the Governor’s Vocabulary. The first is the placename for Botany Bay, given as Ka-may, while the second, Kamey-gal, appears under the heading ‘Tribes’ in the same manuscript.

The Kameygal lived on the north shore of Kamay or Botany Bay along the banks of the Cooks River from the west and south to Botany and La Perouse. In the language spoken by the Eora, kamey and variations, including kamai, kah-my, ka-mai, and camey, is the generic name for a spear. Thus the Kameygal were the ‘spear clan’.

They were the first Indigenous People in the coastal Sydney area to suffer from European firearms. Two French frigates, Boussole and Astrolabe, commanded by Jean Françoise de Lapérouse, entered Botany Bay on 26 January 1788 as the First Fleet ships were leaving for Port Jackson. They stayed for six weeks at ‘Frenchmans Bay’ in the vicinity of the present La Perouse.

Lieutenant William Bradley recorded that by early February the French had been ‘obliged to fire on the Natives at Botany Bay to keep them quiet’ and, one week later, to stop them stealing’
[William Bradley, A voyage to New South Wales … Journal, 9 and 16 February 1788; Facsimile edition, Trustees of the Public Library, Sydney 1969]

In a letter addressed to the French Minister for the Navy, Count Charles-Pierre de Fleurieu, La Pérouse said his sailors had built a timber stockade to protect their new longboats, fearing the ‘Indians of New Holland’ would burn them. ‘They even throw darts at us immediately after receiving our presents and our caresses,’ he wrote.
[La Pérouse to Fleurieu, 7 February 1788, quoted in John Cobley, Sydney Cove, 1788, Hodder and Stoughton, London 1963, page 63]

Captain John Shea told Lieutenant Ralph Clark after a visit to Botany Bay that the French ‘had often been obliged to fire on the Natives, for that they are become most daring and troublesome’. The French ships sailed out of Botany Bay bound for the Pacific on 10 March 1788 and were not heard of again for many years.
[The Journal and Letters of Lieutenant Ralph Clark, 1787-1792, Library of Australian History, Sydney,  1981; MS C219, Mitchell Library, Sydney]

Watkin Tench described an Aboriginal ‘village’ on the north-west arm of Botany Bay with ‘more than a dozen houses [bark huts], and perhaps five times that number of people; being the most considerable establishment that we are acquainted with in the country’. [Tench 1789, page 90]

While the convict transport Lady Penrhyn was moored in Botany Bay, the ship’s surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth commented:

Their Huts or Wigwams are dispersed abt.’ with ‘cat paths’  leading from one hut to another.
[The Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth 1788, MSAS 955, Mitchell Library, Sydney; PG Fidlon & RJ Ryan (eds.), Australian Documents Library, Sydney, 1979, page 58]

The huts occupied by this clan of some sixty people were on the north shore of Botany bay near the outlet of the Cooks River.


In 1835, James Backhouse, a Quaker (member of the Society of Friends) missionary, described Kameygal people fishing in their canoes at Botany in “A Narrative of the Visit to the Australian Colonies (London, page 288).

We walked to Cooks River and fell in with a party of Blacks, who were fishing. One of them had a canoe made of a large sheet of bark stretched open with sticks. The man and his wife were seated on their knees in the canoe, in which they had a fire, on a flat stone. The man propelled the canoe by means of a paddle… He used a spear in fishing, made of a long stick, with four long wooden prongs, attached to it by means of string and grasstree gum.

The western limits of Kameygal Country as they existed in 1845 were disclosed by Boatswain Maroot, who told the Select Committee on the Condition of the Aborigines’ at the Legislative Council in Sydney about the ‘Liverpool black fellow’, whose territory on the Georges River came up to the mouth of the Cooks River, where he was born.

Maroot was asked:
What extent of country belonged to your tribe — to your family — how much land did you walk?
Only as far as here [Sydney] to Botany Bay and around the sea coast, away from the heads at Port Jackson, to the heads at Botany and all inland.

How far inland?
Very little far inland, where I am now [at Botany]

How far was your country before other black fellow come and claim it?
Any other tribe claim it?
Liverpool, because Liverpool black fellow speak another language, and Five Islands speak another language again.

Then the Liverpool blacks’ land came up to where yours did at Cook River?
Yes …

Do you call the Liverpool black fellows any particular name?
There is a particular name for them, just the same as you call the French people.

What do you call them?

Does that mean anything?
Cobra means a kind of worm eaten into the wood.

Fanny Lock, an informant of the linguist and anthropologist RH Mathews, said gabura was the ‘Liverpool’ word for ‘grub in log in water’.

‘There is a tribe living inland, David Collins had written in 1798 (page 558), who, from the circumstance of eating these loathsome worms, are named Cah-bro-gal.’ The present Sydney suburb of Cabramatta is named for this clan, the Gabrogal or Cabrogal, who spoke the Dahrug or Daruk language.

The ‘Five Islands’ people of the Illawarra area of the south coast of New South Wales spoke a separate language called Dharawal.

On 16 February 1855 (page 6) the Sydney Morning Herald reported that there were still ‘a few gunyahs (bark huts) of the rapidly decreasing Cook’s River (Kameygal) tribe of aborigines’.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020

The Darling Harbour clan

Keith Vincent Smith

In his despatch to Lord Sydney on 13 February 1790, Governor Arthur Phillip listed the ‘Gomerrigal’ among ‘other Tribes which live near us’. The semi-official vocabulary, which I call the ‘Governor’s Vocabulary’, included ‘Gomerigal.Tongara’ in a list of ‘Tribes’ and gave the placename ‘Long Cove – – – Go-mo-ra’.

In 1790 Navy Lieutenant Philip Gidley King listed ‘Gommerigal-Tongara – Gomerigal-leon’ for the men and women of the clan. King wrote: ‘The tribe of Cadi are on the south side extending from the South head to Long Cove, at which place the district of Wanne & the tribe of Wangal commences.’

Indigenous people living at ‘Cockle Bay’ or Darling Harbour appear in the engraving by Philip Slaeger, published by Absalom West in Views  of New South Wales in 1813. There was still a Darling Harbour ‘tribe’ in 1830 when the Broken Bay leader Bungaree ‘died in the midst of his own tribe, as well as that of Darling Harbour, by all of whom he was greatly beloved’ (Sydney Gazette, 27 November 1830).

To trace the territory of the Gommerigal, we must first confirm the location of Long Cove. In March 1788, David Collins in An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798)  recorded that ‘A gang of convicts was employed … in making bricks at a spot about a mile from the settlement, at the head of Long Cove. On the same page, Collins said that Governor Phillip’s house (site of the Museum of Sydney, present Bridge and Phillip Streets), was to be built on the summit of a hill ‘commanding a capital view of Long Cove, and other parts of the harbour’.

In June 1790, Collins spoke of Long Cove ‘at the back of the settlement’. In September 1792 he remarked that the Military Barracks (close to George Street at Wynyard Railway Station) had a ‘commanding view down the harbour, as well as the fine piece of water forming Long Cove’. From this evidence it is apparent that Long Cove was the adjoining bay west of Sydney Cove, later named Cockle Bay, then renamed in 1826 to honour Governor Sir Ralph Darling.

Gomora, then, was the Indigenous placename for the present Darling Harbour-Barangaroo.

It is likely that Long Cove was not named for its length, but after Lieutenant John Long, adjutant on HMS Sirius, just as the present Double Bay was first called Keltie Cove after the ship’s master James Keltie and Woolloomooloo named  Palmer’s Cove after Commissary John Palmer.

It is possible that the  Gommerigal and tongara were two distinct clans, or that their name was incorrectly given or recorded. To add to the confusion, the meaning of gommerigal.tongara might be either ‘king parrot/dingo’ or ‘howling king parrots’. Captain John Hunter, who painted a watercolour of the male king parrot (Alisterus scapullaris), wrote the bird’s Aboriginal name as Go-mah/Murry (murry or mari meaning big; in this case the larger male).

In the Sydney coastal language tongara or tung-oro meant ‘dogs’ and was related to tonga, to cry, weep or howl like a tungo or tung-o, the native dog or dingo. Boys when initiated gained ‘power over the dog’, that is, they hoped to attain the keen eyesight, cunning and speed of the dingo. The operators in one section of the initiation ceremony at Wogganmagule (Farm Cove) in 1795, wrote Collins, paraded several times around the initiation circle, ‘running upon their hands and feet, and imitating the dogs of the country’[ie dingoes].

Plan de la ville de Sydney Capital des Colonies Angloises                                                                  Aux TerresAustrales                                                                                                                               Alexandre Lesueur (1778-1846)                                                                                                                             Engraving                                                                                                                                                         François Péron, Voyage de découvertes aux terres Australes, Paris 1802

The place where convict labourers dug up clay and built kilns to make fired bricks and roof tiles under the direction of master bricklayer James Bloodworth was a swampy area at the foot of a steep descent on the road to Parramatta. A few huts were built at first, and in time this ‘settlement’ grew into The Brickfields or Brickfield Village.

One of many Aboriginal pathways (muru) in the Sydney area, which became Botany Road, ran from near the Brickfields to the northwest arm of Botany Bay. Early maps show that in 1788 Darling Harbour and Blackwattle Bay was one continuous body of shallow water, fringed by mangrove swamps, from which flowed Blackwattle Creek, passing through The Brickfields close to the present Wattle and Abercrombie streets, Chippendale.

On 4 February 1788, William Bradley wrote in his journal:

Went into the SW Branch [southwest of Port Jackson], found it terminated in snug Coves, surrounded with Mangroves, rather shoal [shallow] water.

Following the logic of saltwater and watershed boundaries, a hypothetical territory can be projected for the Gommerigal.tongara. It would start in the east at Millers Point (named as Ilkan maladul on the sketch map by William Dawes – see Bennelong’s Island) at the entrance to Darling Harbour and then follow the original curving shoreline of Blackwattle Bay (now Glebe), ending at  the termination of Blackwattle Creek, somewhere near today’s Redfern Railway Station. The Gommerigal.tongara would therefore have acted as a buffer between the Gadigal to the east and the Wangal to the west.

Large-scale drainage and land reclamation dating from the 1840s has drastically altered the geography of the area. Before the reclamation of land for Blackwattle Park, Darling Harbour and Blackwattle Bay was a connected body of water that included Glebe Island, now joined to the mainland near the Anzac Bridge.

The area can be seen before these changes in Vue d’une partie de la ville de Sydney, engraved from an original drawing by Charles Alexandre Lesueur, a French artist who visited Sydney with the Baudin expedition. Brickfield Village is shown as No. 38, where Blackwattle Creek crosses the ‘Route de Parramatta’. Close by in later times the Kent Brewery (now Central Park) depended on water from Blackwattle Creek to brew beer.

The Gommerigal were responsible for the murder of William Okey and Samuel Davis, two convicts who had been cutting rushes for Captain James Campbell, which took place somewhere in Darling Harbour in May 1788, not (as often claimed) at Rushcutters Bay to the east of Sydney Cove.

Bradley stated that Campbell went by boat to the ‘SW arm’ of Port Jackson, where he found their bodies. Both Watkin Tench and Surgeon George Worgan used the term ‘up the harbour’, meaning to the west of Sydney Cove. Aboriginal people had taken revenge for the killing of a man after an incident at Major Robert Ross’s farm at Cow-wan (Ku-wang), adjoining Darling Harbour-Barangaroo, at what is now Peacocks Point, Balmain.

[Additions at 23 October 2017]


The Norongeragàl were listed among ‘Tribes’ in the ‘Governors’ Vocabulary’ and the clan’s names for men and women  were recorded by Philip Gidley King in his journal (MS  C115, Mitchell Library, Sydney) in April 1790 as Norongera-gal  and Norongera-gal.leon.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1892 Richard Hill said the Nannunggurrung (Norongeragàl) were located at Bottle Forest (now Heathcote), south of the Georges River, near the present Royal National Park. They would have been Dharawal speakers.

In his undated fragmentary Memorandum, Sir William Macarthur mentions that Dual from the Cowpastures (Camden in south-west Sydney) was

… killed by some natives from Illawarra 5 Islands in a fight between the tribes- & the Nonaguray [Norongeragal] Natives – a man of the latter tribe had put a five islander to death they came up to avenge it, & falling in with Dual killed him.

More recently, Joan Lawrence wrote in A pictorial history of Sutherland Shire Kingsclere Book, Crows Nest, 1998: 

The Noron gerral [sic] were located at Sandy Point and Mill Creek but they ranged south of the Georges River and west of the Woronora River.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020


Governor Phillip mentioned the Borogegal among ‘other Tribes which live near us’. In the ‘Governors’ Vocabulary’ it is recorded as ‘Boregegal.Yuruey’, indicating the clan were Eora (pronounced ‘yura’) and  as ‘Boregegal Yurrey’ by Philip Gidley King (1790).

Booragy (William Dawes Notebook B 44.3) or Búrroggy (James Larmer 1832) was the Aboriginal placename for the sharply pointed headland named Bradleys Head near the present Bradleys Head lighthouse, close to Mosman and Middle Harbour. The rounded headland further north, recorded by William Dawes as Taliangy, is clearly shaped like a tongue (dalang).

Nouvelle-Hollande — Cour-rou-bari-gal
Barthelemy Roger (1767-1841) after Nicolas-Martin Petit (1777-1804)
Hand-coloured engraving
Plate 18 in François Péron, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes, Atlas, 2nd ed. Paris 1824

Nicolas-Martin Petit’s original sketch of this man, drawn in Sydney in 1802, is inscribed ‘Morore’, though the caption appears as Cour-rou-bari-gal on the engraved plate, shown here. I suggested in the catalogue of Eora: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney in 2006:

An Aboriginal man, with his long hair wrapped in paperbark strips, told Nicolas-Martin Petit that his name was ‘Cour-rou-bari-gal’. As Booragy or Búrroggy was the Aboriginal name for Bradleys Head, it is likely that he had replied to the artist’s question “What is your name?” with kuri or guri (man) and Boregegal (Bradleys Head Clan).

Dawes wrote the name of a nearby headland he called Bush Point as Ngangoon (gnanung: nose peg). The ornament which distinguished Aboriginal men thrust through the septum of their noses resembles the spiky end of Robertsons or Cremorne Point.

François Péron
‘Natives of New Holland’
Table 11, vol.1 Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes …Paris 1807

Mo-ro-ré appears in the table of Indigenous men tested for strength by the French scientist François Péron from the Baudin expedition in the Sydney area in 1802. His age was estimated as 16-18 and he was described as ‘Small, but quite well built’.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020