Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia



>> Click here to view a list of Dharawal indigenous plant names and pronunciations.

>> Click here for a general overview of Aboriginal heritage at Sydney's Botanic Gardens 

Yandel’ora is the name the Dharawal people gave to Mt Annan. The summit at 290 m is the highest point in the vicinity and was a meeting place for the Indigenous tribes for a ‘once in a generation’ law-making corroboree. The name means ‘place of peace between peoples’.

Bush Foods Garden

In early 2004 a ‘Bush Foods Garden’ was started at the Australian Botanic Garden known as  the Fruit Loop. Our Education Centre uses the Fruit Loop as a teaching resource and our guided tours take visitors to it to see and taste the fruit in season and find out about some of the uses of the plants and trees by the Dharawal people.

Click here to find out about Aboriginal bush foods eaten by the Dharawal people.

The Stolen Generations Memorial

The Stolen Generations have been a focal issue for Aboriginal reconciliation in Australia and the Stolen Generations Memorial is part of the NSW Government’s and the Botanic Gardens Trust’s commitment to reconciliation with the Indigenous people of Australia.

Click here for more information.

At our other Gardens

Want to know about the Indigenous display garden at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney - it’s called Cadi jam Ora: First Encounters. The Indigenous display at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden is all about the Darug Aboriginal people.

Walks available at the Royal Botanic Garden include an Aboriginal self-guided walk and an Aboriginal Heritage Tour. Click here to find out about the story of the first encounters between Indigenous people of Sydney and the European settlers.

bush foods

bush foods

History of the Dharawal people

The following local Aboriginal history of the Mount Annan area has been extracted from the Mount Annan Botanic Garden Site Master Plan. The information was compiled by Spackman & Mossop, landscape architects & planners, from both historical research and consultations with local Aboriginal groups.

The Mount Annan area has a long history of Aboriginal occupation. The groups were drawn to the region as a result of the proximity of the Nepean River and its plentiful supply of food and water.

A number of clans or tribes lived throughout Western Sydney, although they all belonged to the overall group of people known as the Darug, a name used by Aboriginal people for those living along the Hawkesbury River in the north, west into the mountains, south to the Cox’s River, and east onto the Cumberland Plains. They were bounded to the west by the Wiradjuri, to the mountainous south-west by the Gundungarra, to the south-east by the Dharawal and to the east and north-east by the Cadi and Kurangaii. Although the majority of subclans throughout the Cumberland Plain were of the Darug and the spoke the Darug language, the Dharawal, who inhabited the Mount Annan region, spoke a distinct language (Dharawal or Thurrawal), of which two distinct dialects have been recorded.

The Dharawal people

The Dharawal peoples were basically divided into two separate groups: the Sweet (or Fresh) Water Peoples and the Salt Water Peoples. The Salt Water Dharawals occupied the lands from the Kurnell Peninsula and Botany Bay, south to Shoalhaven; and from the coast to the Illawarra escarpment. The Sweet Water Dharawals occupied those lands where ‘the rivers run the wrong way’ and include the Nepean, Wollondilly, Georges, Cataract and Nattai catchments.


It was the Sweet Water Dharawals who occupied the Camden and Campbelltown areas, and consisted of some 40 or 50 clans, each numbering in the vicinity of 30 to 60 individuals. The name given by the Sweet Water Dharawals to the Camden area around the Nepean River, later to be known to the European settlers as the ‘Cowpastures’, was Yandel’ora, which means land of peace between peoples. The lyrebird is the totem of the D’harawal people and even today is a symbol of peace and conciliation.

The Dharawal people set aside Yandel’ora as a special place and it became an important Aboriginal meeting place because every generation all the nations from as far north as Maroochydore, to as far south as Melbourne, met to determine laws, settle disputes and arrange marriages. About every four years smaller meetings were held to settle disputes between Dharawals and their immediate neighbours. The area known as the summit of Mount Annan became the chief law-making place, and the leaders of each tribe would gather on the summit once every generation and the laws would be established.

The Yandel’ora area was a special place where Aboriginal groups would come together to peacefully resolve disputes. Those who entered Yandel’ora with problems were not to leave until they had been resolved, and all weapons must be laid down upon arrival and throughout the duration of stay in the area.

The visiting groups would be allocated an area to camp within Yandel’ora and would stay for weeks and sometimes months. Trees were marked to demarcate ‘lands within lands’ for different groups, and plants and seeds were brought in from the homelands to grow for the duration of their stay. This has resulted in disjunct plant communities across the region.

By the time Europeans arrived in 1788, the Aboriginal people of Western Sydney had developed a complex yet homologous culture. The original tribes had diversified to the point where more than 600 distinct languages were spoken throughout the region and they had developed a range of technologies for fishing, hunting, gathering, animal husbandry and agriculture (through yam plantings and fire-stick farming). They had a well established totemic religion that had changed very little (if at all) in 40 000 years of settlement and was based on a simple tradition of story telling. Historians now estimate that the Aboriginal population of Australia, at the time of European contact, was between 1 and 2 million; how many of these people inhabited the Cumberland Plain is not known, although they were, without a doubt, more numerous than the new arrivals.

>> Click here to find out about Aboriginal bush foods eaten by the Dharawal people.

>> Click here to view a list of Dharawal indigenous plant names and pronunciations.

The clash of cultures

The Dharawal people left tangible evidence of their first encounter with European settlement. Six months after the arrival of the First fleet, two bulls and four cows (then the colony’s only source of fresh meat) disappeared from the settlement at Port Jackson. The cattle wandered south, crossing the Cooks and Nepean Rivers before establishing themselves on good grazing ground in the Menangle-Camden district. The Dharawal saw these strange creatures and drew them on the wall of a sandstone shelter nearby. The Dharawal clearly depicted the characteristics of the bulls, which dominate the cave and the sense of their terror towards these new animals is also evident.

There had been no reports of violence between the Dharawal and the few Europeans settled around Mount Annan before 1810, but intensive European occupation of Minto and Macquarie’s newly declared Districts of Airds and Appin occurred over the following decade. Conflict was inevitable between such vastly different cultures and the severe droughts of 1814-16 exacerbated the situation.

Although battles were fought throughout the Campbelltown area, the Dharawal were more often observers than participants, but few Europeans were able to distinguish between particular groups of Aboriginal people; by 1816 the Europeans considered all the Cowpastures tribes to be hostile. The majority of combatants were tribes from the mountains and southern highlands, including the Gundungerra, who were more aggressive than the Dharawal.

The Appin Massacre of 1816 is widely regarded as the annihilation of the Aboriginal people of Campbelltown and Camden. Yet evidence suggests that the Dharawal did not play an aggressive role in the conflict. Other sources indicate that the Dharawal population was quite small by 1816, as many had succumbed to smallpox, influenza and other introduced diseases which had a profound effect on their lives well before the armed conflicts took place.

After the 1816 conflicts, the Dharawal remained south of the Nepean River in the Cowpastures district (including Mount Annan) under the tacit protection of the Macarthur family. In March 1818 James Meehan marked out some land on the Macarthur’s Camden estate for Dharawal (and others) that wanted to live there under Macarthur’s protection. A portion of the Camden estate was always known as ‘Budbury’s Paddock’.

The Dharawal numbers were further depleted by the 1820 influenza epidemic and between 1835 and 1845 the official number of Aborigines in the Campbelltown District fell from 20 to none, although it is clear from later records that a number of Dharawal did survive. However, the removal of their traditional hunting grounds for pastoral land and the dispersion of their tribe in the years following the conflict resulted in few Dharawal actually remaining in the district. Although corroborees were held at Camden in the 1850s, the gatherings comprised a number of tribes (including the remaining Dharawal) and it was clear that the Europeans were now the dominant ‘tribe’.


Lilly Pilly