The land on which we stand is known as Cadi and the traditional custodians of this site are the Cadigal, one of 29 communities that make up the Eora Nation.
Convicts cleared nine acres of open forest by July 1788 on the eastern side of the botanic garden’s creek to grow grain and establish their first farm. As such the area now occupied by the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney was once the first frontier between a permanent European settlement and an Aboriginal people, the Cadigal.
We know that plants growing here before European settlement were used by the Cadigal to provide food and resources for many thousands of years and we have a small number of Forest Red Gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis), Swamp Oaks (Casuarina glauca) and Smooth Barked Apples (Angophora costata) still growing on this site that would have been part of this original vegetation.
This area was chosen by Governor Phillip to establish a farm because it was close to the fresh water creek and also because here the tall trees stood further apart from each other than elsewhere, perhaps the result of Aboriginal use of fire to manage the landscape. Those Europeans were not, we now acknowledge, the first people to work the land of this continent nor to cultivate plants for food. Aboriginal people throughout Australia over thousands of years used low intensity fire to promote the growth and harvest the seeds of Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) and other native grasses in order to make bread. A grinding stone at Cudi Springs near Brewarrina was found with evidence of Kangaroo Grass starch grains 32 000 years old suggesting Aboriginal people were making bread 15 000 years before the Ancient Egyptions did.
Thanks to Aboriginal writers, scholars and the shared traditional knowledge of the oldest continuous culture on earth we have learned and continue to learn the complex relationship and understanding Aboriginal people have of this country and its plants. Increasingly this knowledge is being shared in the original language of the people as Aboriginal communities especially in the highly populated parts of Australia revive, preserve and transmit these languages.
`Without a language, you do not have cultural autonomy, you do not have intellectual sovereignty, you do not have culture, you do not have heritage’. 3
In his poem, `Passage of Time’, Eric’s love of music and language resonate, and the loss and revival of the language of his ancestors are at its heart. He describes as a `transformative experience’ being able to speak his ancestors’ tongue; to hear the different intonations is an inspiration to him musically, and to engage with his language is a continuance of culture.4 His goal of sharing his passion with us is successful, awakening our understanding of the importance of language to Aboriginal people, the tragedy of its loss in some instances, and the imperative driving its revival.
- Briefing notes written by Paul Nicholson, RBG, on the Cadigal Garden.
- Professor Ghil`ad Zuckermann, linguist, Adelaide University, quoted www.CreativeSpirits.info, Aboriginal culture – Language – loss of Aboriginal languages.
- Eric Avery quoted in Rochford Street Review