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Botany Bay

Encounters. Indigenous contact and culture: a classroom resource

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Gweagal and Bidjigal country

Botany Bay, New South Wales

The collection of the Gweagal shield at the place where James Cook first set foot in Australia is a key moment in history. Explore this encounter and the ways Gweagal and Bidjigal peoples maintain country and culture in Sydney today.

  • A map of Australia indicating the location of Botany Bay in New South Wales.
    Botany Bay, New South Wales
  • Botany Bay, New South Wales
    Setting the scene
  •  Elongated shield made from the bark of red mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa) with pointed ends, and slightly convex. The bark has a rough surface and appears blackened in places.
    Gweagal shield
  • A gararra or fishing spear, with three wooden prongs fixed in place with kangaroo sinew and gum, each with a mussel shell point.
    Gararra (fishing spear)
  • Ornamental shellwork in the shape of Sydney Harbour Bridge, with several kinds of small beige shells glued in rows to form blocks on a purple synthetic fabric-covered formwork.
    Harbour Bridge shell ornament


Do you know how a spear is made?

Hint: Watch the video below

What do you know about Botany Bay?

Video stories

Learn about making a gararra (fishing spear)

Watch Gweagal man Rod Mason and Dharawal Elder Shayne Williams make a spear at Botany Bay.

Activity: Create an infographic using pictures and captions to describe the process for making a fishing spear.

Learn about the youth program at Botany Bay

See what cultural activities are offered to young people at La Perouse Youth Haven.

Activity: What are some of the activities available for young people in your community? For example, do you learn a language or take part in a multicultural festival?

More activities

Gweagal shield

Activity: Have a close look at the Gweagal shield, pictured above. It is widely accepted as being among the material acquired when HMB Endeavour visited Botany Bay in 1770. Find out more about early encounters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Read part of James Cook’s journal on the National Library website to begin your research.

Sydney Harbour Bridge ornament

Activity: Bidjigal Elder Esme Timbery keeps her culture alive by collecting shells, for making things with her daughter and grandchildren. Do you have an activity that you do with your grandparents? Or do you have a skill that has been handed down to you? Describe or demonstrate it to someone else.

Activity: Visitors responded to questions as part of the Encounters exhibition on show in Canberra. Look at responses to the question ‘What story or skill has been passed down to you?’ on our Articulate website. Choose one response you find particularly interesting or surprising. Explain why.

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