Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

The First Farm & Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters

Information taken from the interpretive signs in the First Farm - Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

The arrival of the First Fleet

Not far from this spot on 26 January 1788, Australia’s first Europeans established a penal colony. They had sailed from Britain for eight months on eleven ships, known as the First Fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. Who were the first Europeans to settle in Australia? More than 700 of the colonists were convicts. Their number included 188 women, at least 12 nationalities and four black convicts. The rest were soldiers and government officials, and there was one free settler. Well over 1000 people arrived on that day in January 1788 at what was later called Sydney Cove and is now Circular Quay. How did Aboriginal people react to the ‘invaders’? In the first few weeks as the Europeans poured onto the shore to clear the land for their farms and buildings, the local Aboriginal people, the Cadigal, avoided Sydney Cove. Within weeks the landscape had been completely transformed, food resources were being depleted and it became clear to the Cadigal that the ‘visitors’ were here to stay.

Stumped by a strange landscape

Sydney’s coastal landscape must have been confusing for the colonists. Huge trees, shrubs and native grasses all grew freely; there was water, a magnificent harbour and land that looked reasonably clear and suitable for cultivation. But appearances proved deceptive. The trees were so large with wide-spreading roots that clearing of the land was painfully slow. English axes of soft steel broke or distorted against the trunks of ironbarks and red gums. Eventually the convict labourers gave up trying to remove the larger stumps and sowed the seeds around them.

A reliable source of fresh water

Sydney’s coastal landscape must have been confusing for the colonists. Huge trees, shrubs and native grasses all grew freely; there was water, a magnificent harbour and land that looked reasonably clear and suitable for cultivation. But appearances proved deceptive. The trees were so large with wide-spreading roots that clearing of the land was painfully slow. English axes of soft steel broke or distorted against the trunks of ironbarks and red gums. Eventually the convict labourers gave up trying to remove the larger stumps and sowed the seeds around them.

Fruits from a foreign land

British settlers were devastated to learn that most of the fruit varieties they brought with them from England didn’t thrive in Australia because they required a cold winter to set fruit. Those soft fruits that did survive proved a tasty meal for native insects. The varieties of citrus fruits (and figs) represented in this garden bed were better adapted to Sydney’s climate, but even these needed fertilisers to grow well in the poor soil at Farm Cove.  

Plants picked up along the way

The early colonists had no choice but to bring everything with them. To supplement the seeds that they brought from Britain, they collected many different plants from ports along the way, such as the Cape of Good Hope, Rio de Janeiro and Tenerife, with climates similar to Australia’s. Represented here are coffee, bananas and sugarcane. The prickly pear was imported because it was host to cochineal beetles, the source of a valuable red dye. A related prickly pear was to have a profound effect on the Australian landscape.

Seeds that reaped a grim harvest

The First Fleeters expected that their new colony would be growing much of its own food within two years - like the crops you can see in the garden beds of the First Farm display. In fact, none of the grain crops flourished in the sandy soils of Farm Cove. The colonists soon discovered that ‘ transplanting’ European plants and farming practices did not guarantee instant success:

  • Soil wasn’t properly prepared for cultivation
  • Seeds were sown at the wrong time of year
  • Few officers and convicts had farming experience
  • Many plants were unsuited to Sydney’s climate

The race to prevent scurvy

After six months at sea with a diet of dried meat, rice and peas the convicts and marines of the First Fleet were in poor health when they arrived at Port Jackson. The initial sowing of seeds, on this site, germinated well but the growth of the vegetable seedlings was poor and many withered and died. Native animals also ate the young plants. The colonists turned to native plants to supplement their diet. Local plants such as Tetragonia tetragonioides, the native spinach, were eaten as a substitute vegetable.

Eora - the people and the place

The First Fleeters encountered a complex society of Aboriginal clans and languages when they arrived at Port Jackson. When the local people, the Cadigal, were asked who they were, they simply replied ‘Eora’, meaning ‘people of this place’. Governor Phillip recognised that learning the local language was vital for the establishment of friendly relations. This was to prove more difficult than expected and led to many misunderstandings and unfortunate consequences. Local language groups are acknowledged, along with the Cadigal, on the four bench seats in the Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden.

Who are the Cadigal people?

For many thousands of years the traditional owners of this land were the Cadigal people. They were one of seven clans of Aboriginal people who lived in the coastal Sydney area. They spoke a common language that has become known as Eora. Cadi was the country of the Cadigal and Cadi Jam Ora means ‘I am in Cadi’. The land we now call the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney was Wogganmagule. Like Aboriginal people of all times and places, their identity, community, means of survival and spirituality were inseparable from their ancestral land. Where are they now? In 1788 about 1000 Europeans arrived from Britain to establish a penal colony. This event was to change the Cadigal’s lives forever. Within less than a year, almost two-thirds of the Cadigal had been killed by smallpox, while those that remained were driven inland, far away from their ancestral land, or stayed and were forced to interact with a foreign culture. The traditional owners of this land, Cadi, may no longer be living here, but its importance to Aboriginal people today is as powerful as ever.

Nature’s supermarket

The plants around you provided a veritable supermarket of nutritious foods for the Cadigal. There were fruits and berries, nuts, yams and other tubers, leaves and sweet nectars, all of which were collected by women every single day of their lives. They were experts at this because they had a complete understanding of seasonal cycles of the plants - and animals - within their tribal area. The European settlers experimented with native plant foods and had results that ranged from the amusing to the fatal. They didn’t have Aboriginal people’s knowledge of preparation, most of which was done by women who were rarely observed by the settlers.

Home is where the hearth is

This is a modern reconstruction of a ‘gunya’, or shelter, similar to those used by the Cadigal, the original inhabitants of this site. The Cadigal didn’t have any need for permanent shelters. They lived within a specific tribal area but moved constantly, following animal migration patterns and the seasonal availability of plants. This way, they didn’t overuse any one food source. Their shelters were made from sheets of bark - often from paperbark trees - and branches. Alternatively, they used the many sandstone caves or overhanging rocks along Sydney’s coastline for protection.

Canoe tree in the making

How many years would it take before the bark of this young casuarina tree could be used to make a canoe? Canoes were an essential part of life for the coastal Cadigal people, and building them required great skill. Finding the right tree was one thing, removing the bark and moulding it into a canoe was quite another. The bark had to be prised from the tree with a stone axe at just the right time of day - when the sap was running, and it had to be done slowly so as not to kill the tree. The bark slab was then fired over coals to dry it out, gaps were filled with plant resin and the ends lashed with vines.

Further information

 

 

Starting-from-Scratch

Download Starting from Scratch pdf

arrival

A-reliable-source
'It will scarcely be credited when I declare that I have known twelve men employed for five days in grubbing out one tree …' Surgeon John White, 1790, First Fleet surgeon.

fruits from a foreign land
Transporting live plants at sea in the 18th century was a tricky business. This plan for the Bounty’s Great Cabin (1792) was botanist Joseph Banks’ answer to protecting plants from their biggest killers, salt spray and sea swell. Plants were arranged in aisles so they could be watered with ease.

PLants-picked-up-along-the-way
By 1925 prickly pears had invaded more than 24 million hectares in Queensland and New South Wales, and the only effective method of control was a hazardous herbicide spray. By the 1930s moth larvae, introduced from Argentina, put a stop to this prickly pest.

tools
Hand tools brought out by the First Fleet were of poor quality and the convicts often ‘lost’ them in the bush or used them for purposes they were not intended for - like cooking: 'Two or three hundred iron frying pans will be a saving of spades ...' Governor Arthur Phillip, 18 November 1791.

the-race-to-prevent-scurvy
Scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, weakened the colonists and hampered the establishment of the settlement. Vitamin C is found in fresh vegetables.

aboriginal-flag

eora
This map shows language groups (black text) and clans (red text) of the Sydney District.

nature's-supermarket
'The woods, exclusive of the animals which they occasionally find in their neighbourhood, afford them but little sustenance ...' Captain David Collins, Deputy Judge Advocate of New South Wales, 1798.

gunya
This gunya in north-western New South Wales may look like it would collapse if you sneezed in it, but appearances are deceptive. It has, in fact, survived for many years.
Photo: Harry Creamer, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. 

canoe tree

Scar, or canoe, trees like this one in Windsor, New South Wales, are living archaeology. Often the search for the right canoe tree meant one tribe had to venture into territory that wasn’t theirs by law, so they had to barter for access to the trees.