Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Aboriginal Heritage Walk

The significance of native plants and the site of the Royal Botanic Garden to Aboriginal culture.

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

The native vegetation and the site of the Royal Botanic Garden were significant to Aboriginal culture. Early Aboriginal inhabitants of the site, the Cadigal, were hunters and gatherers and were intimately associated with the environment.

This walk is self-guided, takes about one hour to complete, and returns to the Palm Grove. Follow the numbers on the map.

Aboriginal-Heritage-Walk  Click here to download brochure

Aboriginal Heritage Tour - a guided Indigenous walk in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

Lilly Pilly

1. Davidson’s Plum Davidsonia pruriens
Bed 43
This tree has a limited distribution in eastern Australia. Local Aboriginal people in these regions ate the sour-tasting winter fruits.


2. Black Bean or Moreton Bay Chestnut Castanospermum australe
Bed 102
The seeds of this plant are produced in a large green pod. Though poisonous when raw, the Aboriginal people made the seeds edible by cracking them and soaking in running water for long periods, after which they were dried and roasted.

3. Original gum tree forest red gum Eucalyptus tereticornis
Lawn 25
This tree remnant is part of the native vegetation of the area. From time to time it has been a home to bees, cockatoos and parrots. Now known as Yurabirong it has been carved by Aboriginal custodians of this cove.

4. Bunya-bunya pine Araucaria bidwillii
Lawn 27
The tree cones each year but every third year produces a bumper crop of football sized cones containing nutritious seeds. In former years, this event was marked by Aboriginal festivities in the Bunya Mountains region in south-eastern Queensland. This meant feasting, cultural and economic exchanges, and competitions in which selected individuals and teams participated in sports such as wrestling, and spear and boomerang throwing.

5. Bolwarra Eupomatia laurina
Bed 33b
Bolwarra shrubs are native to the east coast of Australia. The fruits, appearing in late summer, are said to taste like guava, but the seeds cause tingling of the tongue. Aboriginal people made fishing line from bolwarra bark, which was then soaked in the sap of gum trees to prevent it from fraying.

6. Lilly pilly Syzygium australe
This is the large tree in the middle of the bed. Joseph Banks and Sydney Parkinson recorded Aboriginal people eating the berries at Botany Bay in 1770.

7. Macrozamia Macrozamia communis
Bed 13
These are not palm trees but more ancient cone bearing plants called cycads. Aboriginal people called this particular species burrawang. The seeds are rich in starch but are very poisonous. Before they could be eaten they were soaked in running water in a dilly bag for several days, then crushed into a powder and shaped into a cake and roasted.

8. Mat-rush Lomandra longifolia
Bed 1a
The leaves of this plant were woven into mats, baskets, and tight-fitting bands that were put around an aching part of the body to lessen pain.

9. Gymea Lily Doryanthes excelsa
Bed 13
The flower spike of this plant was eaten, like a giant asparagus. The roots were also harvested and made into roasted cakes.

10. Queensland bottle tree Brachychiton rupestris (not to be confused with the boab tree)
Lawn 1a
The starchy tissue of the stems and roots of the bottle tree was eaten, as were the seeds. The seeds are surrounded by irritating hairs which were removed by roasting in a fire. The roots yield good quantities of drinking water. The Aboriginal people also cut holes in the soft trunks of the tree, creating artificial reservoirs. Bottle trees (and related species) have fibrous inner bark which was used for making rope and twine for fishing nets.

11. Port Jackson fig Ficus rubiginosa
Bed 12
Figs were particularly useful to Aboriginal people. The fruits of all species are edible (though not always palatable). The inner bark of many fig species was used to make twine for dilly bags and fishing nets. The timber of figs is soft and spongy and was relatively easy to work into coolamons, shields, and even dug-out canoes. Fire was also made by twirling a sharpened hardwood stick between the hands against the softer dead fig wood. The milky sap of figs was used as a natural latex to cover wounds.

12. Candlenut tree Aleurites moluccana
Bed 19
The seeds of this tree were roasted and eaten by Aboriginal people in northern Queensland. The common name refers to the fact that the seeds are rich in oil. They were strung together by the European settlers with wire, and hung in a tree and lit to produce an artificial ‘candle’.

13. Cadi Jam Ora First Encounters Garden
This site represents the ‘first frontier’ between Aboriginal and European societies, leading ultimately to the tragic demise of the local Cadigal people. This display conveys Aboriginal people’s prior use of the site and their understanding of plants and the environment.

14. Grass-tree Xanthorrhoea sp.
Bed 22a
Grass-trees had many uses in traditional Aboriginal culture. The base of the stem was eaten, the flowers were soaked in water to make a sweet drink, and the woody stalks of the flower spikes were used to make spears. Grass trees were also an important source of resin for fixing spear and axe heads to shafts.

15. Heath-leaved banksia Banksia ericifolia
Bed 22a
The flowers produce large quantities of honey-like liquid which was soaked in water by Aboriginal people to make a honey drink.

16. Macadamia or bush nut Macadamia tetraphylla
Bed 30
Macadamia nuts were harvested by Aboriginal people in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. This plant has been commercially developed in Hawaii and Australia for many years.

17. Prickly-leaved tea-tree Melaleuca styphelioidies (growing together with strangler figs)
Lawn 5
The paperbark of this and other ‘tea-trees’ provided Aboriginal people with roofing materials, blankets, clothing, slings for babies, bowls and cups, and rings to cushion loads carried on the head. The aromatic leaves were bruised and placed in holes in the septum of the nose to clear stuffy heads.

18. Cabbage tree palm Livistona australis
Bed 28a
The growing tip, known as a ‘cabbage’, was eaten either uncooked or roasted by Aboriginal people and early settlers. Unfortunately this killed the tree. Cabbage palms were once common in the Sydney area, but their numbers have been greatly reduced.

19. Lawyer vine or ‘wait-a-while’ Calamus muelleri
Bed 57
This is a rattan palm native to Australia. The barbs and spines of the stems were stripped away, leaving a strong flexible ‘rope’ that was used as an aid to climbing trees, for making traps for marsupials and fish, and even a noose for catching crocodiles.

Visit the nearby Palm Grove Centre to find out more about Indigenous use of plants.