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Interacting with Colonial Sydney

An album of Coastal Sydney’s Aboriginal people

When Cook sailed on from Kamay, our people remained. They were still there when more ships arrived 18 years later to set up the colonial outpost of Sydney. The impact was catastrophic for our people, but the survivors, our ancestors, drew on their deep connections to coastal Sydney to find ways to keep living in the expanding colony.

Cora Gooseberry (1770s–1852)

Cora Gooseberry was born around the time of the Endeavour’s visit to Kamay, and in colonial Sydney was recognised as a senior woman of Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay. Along with her cousin William Warrell, she camped in the Domain parklands next to Sydney in the 1840s and sold boomerangs and other implements in the city. She became friends with hotel owner Edward Borton and would often visit him.

William Warrell (1790s–1863)

Acknowledged as a local man in colonial Sydney, with roots in both Sydney and the Illawarra. With his cousin Cora Gooseberry, William visited the city regularly in the 1840s and sold boomerangs and other implements there, after demonstrating their use in Hyde Park. In his later life he set up camp on the South Head Road at Rose Bay, seeking a ‘toll’ from people passing through his country.

Mahroot (1790s–1850)

Mahroot was a Kamay man who staked out 10 acres of land on the eastern side of Botany Bay in the 1830s and lived there with his wife. Together, they built a hut on the land and set up a commercial fishing business. They also built five more huts along the shore and Mahroot became a landlord, renting them out to non-Indigenous fishermen and farmers. When the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel opened nearby at Botany in the 1840s, Mahroot also worked as a boatman, where his local knowledge of Kamay and its fisheries was well-respected.

Thomas Tamara (about 1800s–1860s)

An acknowledged leader of the ‘Sydney tribe’ in the colony with strong ties to the Illawarra, and to Botany Bay through his wife Nanny Nellola. When King William IV died in 1837, Tamara was one of 100 prominent Sydneysiders chosen to sign a pledge of allegiance to the new Queen Victoria. Tamara was an expert craftsman of boomerangs. He also ran a fishing business from a wooden boat, selling his catch to residents around the harbour, and to the Sydney markets.

Biddy Giles (about 1810–1888)

Members of Biddy Giles’ family witnessed Cook’s landing at Kurnell in 1770. In her later years Biddy, whose tribal name was Biyarrung, ran fishing and hunting tours around the Georges River and in what became Royal National Park with her English husband Billy Giles. She educated her customers and taught them Dharawal names for plants and animals.

Johnny Malone (about 1820s–c1880s)

A well-known Aboriginal resident of Botany Bay in the mid-19th century, Johnny ran fishing and hunting tours out of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel at Botany in the 1860s. He and his wife Lizzie (1830-1901) were also language informants to anthropologists in the 1860s and 1870s, giving samples of the Indigenous language that they still spoke. Lizzie was acknowledged as the most senior woman at La Perouse in the late-19th century.

Emma Timbery (about 1842–1916)

Born on the Georges River at Liverpool, Emma was one of the coastal Sydney people who established the La Perouse fishing village in the 1870s. Along with her husband George ‘Trimmer’ Timbery, she worked for local Aboriginal sympathiser Richard Hill at his house in Sydney. When Richard became chairman of the Aborigines Protection Board in the 1883, Emma used her relationship to obtain assistance for her people. She was an expert at shellwork (shell-encrusted ornaments) and her work was exhibited in Sydney and in London.

Kate Saunders (about 1850–1930)

Born Kate Sims, she had family connections north and south of Sydney and travelled widely in her early years. She was among the earliest residents of the La Perouse fishing village. In the early 1880s she was living in camps at Rushcutters Bay and Circular Quay, where she made shell ornaments for sale. At La Perouse in the 1890s, she provided language and cultural information to anthropologists. In her later years, Kate married Tom Saunders, who was born in the Shoalhaven and worked as a commercial fisherman based at La Perouse.

William Rowley (1856–1941)

William Rowley was born at Kurnell and lived most of his life around Botany Bay. He helped to established the La Perouse fishing village, before moving back to Weeney Bay, where where he married Elizabeth. He became foreman of Thomas Holt’s extensive oyster leases, worked as a commercial fisherman and sold cuttlefish. In the 1920s, at the height of the segregation era, Rowley bought a block of land next to his relative Ellen Anderson at Salt Pan Creek off the Georges River as a haven for his people.

Ellen Anderson (1850s–1931)

The daughter of Biddy Giles and Burragalang (Paddy Davis), Ellen was a direct descendant of the Gweagal people who were living around Kamay in 1770. She married Hugh Anderson, a Goulburn River man from northern Victoria.

They lived at Salt Pan Creek before buying a block of land in the 1920s, next to William Rowley. In a time of segregation and government control, it became a haven for local Aboriginal people. Ellen earnt a living by gathering and selling wildflowers. She also recorded he her extensive traditional knowledge with the help of Bondi resident Charles Peck.

Joe Anderson (about 1879–1938)

Joe Anderson, also known as King Burraga, was the eldest son of Ellen Anderson. He derived his name from his grandfather, Burragalang, who was a well-known identity in Sydney and the Illawarra. King Burraga was a fierce campaigner for Aboriginal rights in the 1920s and 1930s and could often be found in the Domain parklands in Sydney on his 'soap box' advocating for Aboriginal rights. King Burraga was often interviewed by newspaper reporters and he would point out that his grandfather had met Cook at Botany Bay.

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