A very personal Australia Day 26 January – my family

Go back, way back…

Family story has it that through one of my grandmothers I am of Aboriginal ancestry; one of my nephews went into this further finding the group we came from was the Dharawal – variously spelt.


Click that and you will find in very large format the map of all of Australia

Thanks to Five Steps to a Better Black Life in Australia by Chris Graham

The Dharawal Aboriginal people are the caretakers of the land on the south coast of Sydney, from Port Jackson to the Shoalhaven River, extending west to Camden. Organised by family groups as opposed to tribes, the Dharawal people lived harmoniously with the land, moving around with the seasons using both the land and sea as a food source. With the European settlement of Australia marked by the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, so too came diseases which had a devastating effect on the Indigenous communities in the neighbouring Eora land of Sydney. It is supposed that 50% of Dharawal people died from the smallpox epidemic of 1789 before even coming into direct contact with the settlers.

With settlement spreading beyond the colony in Sydney down the coast, the traditional hunting land of the Dharawal people was subsumed by farm land. This substantial land clearing dimished the traditional way of life for the Dharawal people. In addition to the loss of land, Dharawal people faced the very real threat of violence. The hunting of Indigenous people was common in the Illawarra region and it is supposed that a significant number of the Dharawal people would have moved inland from the coast to avoid the bloody confrontations with the new land owners. So severely diminished was the local Dharwal community in the Illawarra region that by 1900 there was only 33 known Dharawal people living in the region. The Aboriginal population of the traditional Dharawal lands now accounts for approximately 2% of the total population and is comprised of the descendents of a number of different Aboriginal clans and tribes.

See also Minto Dreaming.

Here is just part of their story: "Massacre at Appin in 1816" by Verlie Fowler.

When Europeans took up land grants, they cleared and fenced the land, irrecoverably changing the patterns of hunting and gathering that had been followed by the Dharawal people for tens of thousands of years.

Some European settlers formed a close rapport with Aborigines. Charles Throsby of Glenfield was accompanied by Dharawal men when he explored the southern highlands area. Throsby was a persistent critic of European treatment of the Aborigines. Hamilton Hume who, in 1814 with his brother John, made the first of a number of long exploratory trips southwards, did so in company with a young Aboriginal friend named Doual.

Whereas the "mountain natives" (probably Gandangara) had a reputation of being hostile in defence of their people and their land, the Dharawal were peaceful and had no history of aggression. Unfortunately few settlers could distinguish between the two groups.

In 1814, Macquarie issued an order in the Sydney Gazette, admonishing settlers in the Appin and Cowpastures area. "Any person who may be found to have treated them [natives] with inhumanity or cruelty, will be punished?." This followed an atrocity when an Aboriginal woman and her children were murdered at Appin…

Certainly my father’s family has very much lived their lives in Dharawal country – Picton, the Illawarra, even Sutherland Shire. I guess part of me is a traditional owner of all that… 😉 (I will demand rent from a number of you later.)

Unwilling immigrant 1822


That’s a convict muster list. The first name with full details is my grandfather’s great-grandfather!

This is the convict’s son, William. There are no pictures of the convict.


On my mother’s side – not convicts

National background should be obvious. Here is my great-grandfather.


All bloody migrants, you see… Except maybe for the first lot. See also Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days and Family stories 2 — About the Christisons.

We do well on Australia Day to quietly think of all such stories that make up our country, including all more recent arrivals from so many backgrounds who are all of them the reality that now is Australia.

Such as:

msplace021Linked picture.

One thought on “A very personal Australia Day 26 January – my family

  1. That 1788 onward was pain for the original Australians is made clear in this summary history on the Sydney Architecture site.

    The Cadigal clan occupied a territory that embraced Sydney Cove and stretched along the southern side of Port Jackson from South Head to about Petersham. The tract of land from Petersham westwards to Rosehill, embracing the present Leichhardt municipality, belonged to the Wangal clan; the boundary that separated them from the Cadigal seems to have been the Balmain peninsula.

    Within eighteen months of the arrival of the First Fleet, smallpox, introduced by the Europeans, swept through the Sydney bands, killing over half the local indigenous population. Many were found dead in the rock shelters and bays of the harbour. The disease, named “gal-gal” by the Aborigines, spread so rapidly that many were dead before they had a chance to see the “gubbas” (white ghosts) who invaded the land. Captain Hunter, returning from the Cape of Good Hope in May 1789, was surprised to see no Aborigines or their canoes as his ship sailed up the harbour. In his journal Lieutenant Bradley wrote of the terror and panic that smallpox caused as it decimated the Aboriginal population.

    Deprived of their lands, their traditional food supply seriously disrupted, and many of the Sydney bands destroyed by smallpox, small remnants of bands combined to form new groups. It brought a drastic change to Aboriginal social relations and occupation patterns, with remnants of the Sydney bands withdrawing from the settlement, suspicious of whites and executing “vengeance on unfortunate stragglers”. In 1790 the 50-strong Cadigal clan had been reduced to three members and it seems likely that the adjoining Wangal clan, so close to Sydney Cove, was also decimated.

    The tribal life of the Aboriginal people of the Sydney region had also been effectively destroyed by 1820. Bishop Broughton later told a House of Commons Select Committee that by taking over the land and driving away the kangaroos and other game European settlement had made Aboriginal life in the traditional manner impossible. Survivors of the various clans around Port Jackson combined into a kind of “Sydney tribe” with their main camp on the north shore of the harbour; remnants of the clans on the southern side gathered on a campsite near the heads at Botany.

    The Parramatta “feast” which attracted seven or eight tribes from as far away as Broken Bay, Jervis Bay, the Monaro and possibly Port Macquarie, could muster only 400 Aborigines in 1824. By 1838, of the 500 Aborigines estimated to be living in the Nineteen Counties most had come from outside the district.

    Those Aborigines who survived in the Sydney region had to develop methods of existing within the totally dominant white culture. They lived as beggars and prostitutes, doing oddjobs and occasionally fishing. They lived in camps at the Government Boat Shed at Circular Quay, at Manly Beach, Lavender Bay, Botany Bay and La Perouse. Inland tribes were encountering whites as settlement spread and everywhere the frontier was the scene of bitter conflict between European settlers and Aboriginal occupants.

    Thousands of engraving sites exist within 100 kiometres of Port Jackson; the most lasting examples of Sydney Aboriginal art are to be found on the soft Hawkesbury sandstone rock which surrounds the Cumberland Plain. In the rock shelters and overhangs there are representations of wallabies, fish and eels; there are also images or stencils of hands, boomerangs, hatchets and spears…

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