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Port Jackson, NSW

Sydney Aboriginal country

We are alive, the land is alive

The raindrops and the streams are the tears and the blood of the land.

The texture of the stone is the texture of our skin.

We are alive, the land is alive. No colonial power can ever rob us of this.

Dennis Foley, Gai-mariagal Elder, 2001

A photo of a collection of houses and other buildings and trees overlooking an inlet of water and thirteen small white boats with tall mast.
Sydney Aboriginal country, Port Jackson, New South Wales. Photo: Jeremy Lucas.

It was Aboriginal people around Port Jackson who first experienced the effects of British rule on this continent. Ralph Mansfield, the likely collector of hunting and fishing implements, including the fishing line pictured below, lived in Sydney from 1825 and was editor of the Sydney Gazette. He witnessed firsthand the effects of the disease, violence and social dislocation that accompanied British colonisation.

Acquired during the early days of British settlement, the objects throw a different light on colonial times. As artefacts of hunting and fishing, they reveal lives lived in country. Gai-mariagal and other Sydney Aboriginal people still fish in Sydney Harbour.

Old objects

Fishing-line made of twisted brown bark fibre
Garradjun (fishing line), Sydney Aboriginal peoples, collected from Port Jackson, probably by Ralph Mansfield, in the 1830s, 975.4 x.5.5 x 2.5 cm. British Museum Oc.4062.

In 1834 George Annesley, second Earl of Mountnorris, commissioned Sydney resident Ralph Mansfield to acquire Aboriginal objects for his private collection. We think that this fishing line was among items collected by Mansfield. Noted collector Henry Christy bought them at an auction of Annesley’s estate in 1852. Christy, who died in 1865, bequeathed his private collection to the British nation and it later became part of the British Museum’s collections.

New objects

A light brown fishing rod made of wood with bits of metal around it. The rod is wider at the bottom and progresses thinner towards the top. A section in the centre of the rod is painted black, and there are three sets of metal loops attached alongside the thinner part of the rod.
Fishing rod, Gai-mariagal people, 161 x 3.3 cm, on loan from Kristopher Watters.
Dennis Foley
Dennis Foley, Gai-mariagal Elder, fishing at Kurrungul, North Head, Sydney Harbour, New South Wales. National Museum of Australia.
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