Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Indigenous people and Botany Bay

Botany Bay is the site of the first encounter on the east coast of Australia between the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land and a European exploration party. In the encounter, the actions of the people of the Dharawal nation - the Gweagal (Fire Clan, centred on the southern shore of Botany Bay) and the Kameygal (Spear Clan, from Kamay, the north shore of Botany Bay) - expressed their sovereignty over territory, though spears were ineffective against the more advanced weapon technology of the British.

The historic landing place precinct at Kundul (Kurnell) is now a place for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

burntBanksia1-500

Aboriginal land-use in 1770

Both Cook and Banks tried hard to make contact with the Aboriginal people but did not succeed, because the Aborigines avoided direct contact.after the initial encounter. Their two journals describe the appearance of the Aboriginal people, their spears and canoes, and their huts. The Gweagal and Kameygal people are described as being scattered in small groups, and subsisting mainly on fish and shellfish.

Frequent reference is made to the Aborigines having fires, presumably camp and cooking fires. Banks' journal, 30 April: we saw them go into the woods where they lighted fires about a mile from us. Cook, 3 May: There were Six Canoes and Six small fires near the shore, and Muscles roasting upon thim and a few Oysters laying near ... However, the journals give no indication that the Aborigines might have burnt the bush deliberately, nor do they mention any signs of past bushfires. But it was autumn and reasonably good weather.

Though not noted by Cook or Banks, we know that food plants in this area included fruits from species of Persoonia levis (Geebung), seeds from the cycad Macrozamia and some fern roots, the last two needing careful preparation before they could be eaten.

banksia1
Banksia integrifolia

M_communis
Cook mentions there were several Palm trees at Botany Bay, presumably the Cabbage Palm, Livistona australis, and the palm-like cycad Macrozamia communis shown here, the seeds of which were eaten by the Aboriginal people after treating them to remove poisons.

Persoonia_levis
Persoonia levis
, an Aboriginal food plant