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The Domain's First People

The Cadigal people – the traditional owners of the Sydney city area – had a well-established community on the shores of Warrane (the Cadigal name for Sydney Cove – Circular Quay) when the First Fleet sailed into the harbour in 1788. Warrane was used as a gathering place for canoe routes and fishing by many of the 29 traditional Aboriginal nations within Eora.

The Cadigal were hunter-gatherers and their lives were intertwined with the land and harbour, which were abundant with possum, emu, kangaroo, insects, reptiles and sea creatures. They used tools and weapons made from the plants endemic to the area to catch food and spent much of their time hunting and fishing.

Cadigal women were adept at hand and line fishing and held in high esteem as the primary fishers of their community. They made their fishing lines from the fine silk thread of the golden orb spider's web, dried lomandra leaves, palm tree husk and kangaroo sinew. The waters of Woccanmagully (Farm Cove) were their special hunting place, these waters were also a ceremonial area where complex rituals were enacted. 

At the time of the First Fleet’s arrival, more than 29 clan groups frequented the area of Tobegully (Bennelong Point), where the Sydney Opera House now stands.

The 29 Cadigal Language Groups*

1 Kurrajong

2 Cattai

3 Boorooberongal

4 Bidjigal

5 Toogagal

6 Gomerrigal

7 Cannemegal

8 Mulgoa

9 Bool-Bain-Ora

10 Cabrogal

11 Muringong

12 Carigal

13 Cannalgal

14 Borogegal

15 Kayimai

16 Terramerragal

17 Cammeraigal

18 Gorualgal

19 Birrabirragal

20 Cadigal

21 Burramattagal

22 Wallumattagal

23 Wangal

24 Muru-Ora-Dial

25 Kameygal

26 Bediagal

27 Gweagal

28 Tagary

29 Norongerragal

Sustainability is a way of life for the Cadigal

Tobegully was a midden and integral to the Cadigal’s reverence and respect for the harbour and the food it provided. When gathering shellfish in the area, they would check to see what was last placed on the pile. This item would then be avoided to give the food source time to replenish. It was in this way that the Cadigal were able to ensure that the sacred waters of Woccanmagully remained plentiful.

If you're walking around the nearby area of The Rocks, keep an eye out for shells in the mortar of the historic houses, they were gathered from Tobegully by the colonial settlers and used as lime.

Learn more about Aboriginal culture in the Garden

The Garden’s Aboriginal Education Officers provide authentic cultural experiences for people of all ages. If you’d like to learn more about Aboriginal bush foods, art, dance and culture or want to take a guided tour, visit our What's On pages to book.

* Locations of Aboriginal groups in the Sydney area, based on a map by J Goodrum in Mulvaney, D J and White, Peter, 1987, Australians to 1788, Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, Sydney, p. 345.

We would like to acknowledge the Cadigal people of the Eora Nation within Sydney and pay our respect to Elders past, present and future.