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Aboriginal 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. During 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 the territory, though spears were ineffective against the British weapons.

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

Aboriginal land-use in 1770

Both Cook and Banks tried hard to make contact with the Aboriginal people but were unsuccessful, because the Aboriginal people 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 Aboriginal people having fires, presumably camp and cooking fires. However, the journals give no indication that the Aboriginal people 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.

We saw them go into the woods where they lighted fires about a mile from us
Banks' journal, 30 April 1770
There were Six Canoes and Six small fires near the shore, and Muscles roasting upon thim and a few Oysters laying near
Cook's journal, 3 May 1770
We would like to acknowledge the Cadigal people of the Eora Nation within Sydney and pay our respect to Elders past, present and future.