Contested waterways – Aboriginal resistance in early colonial Sydney

Acknowledgement to Country

The Australian National Maritime Museum acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the bamal (earth) and badu (waters) on which we work. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the land and waters throughout Australia and pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to elders past and present.

The words bamal and badu are spoken in the Sydney region’s Eora language. Supplied courtesy of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Cultural Warning

The Museum would like to advise visitors that this content may contain the names and artwork, by deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

<em>Black Bastards Are Coming</em> © Gordon Syron, 2013. This work re-imagines European contact from an Indigenous perspective. The artist reverses the roles of first contact by depicting black soldiers in military red coats, approaching shore and firing guns at the white people standing in the shallows. ANMM Collection 00054536, reproduced courtesy Gordon Syron.

Black Bastards Are Coming © Gordon Syron, 2013. This work re-imagines European contact from an Indigenous perspective. The artist reverses the roles of first contact by depicting black soldiers in military red coats, approaching shore and firing guns at the white people standing in the shallows. ANMM Collection 00054536, reproduced courtesy Gordon Syron.

Warning: This article contains some words and terms used in the past by non-Aboriginal people that would be considered inappropriate today.

In the 19th century, Aboriginal people in the Sydney region used rivers, creeks and waterways as places of refuge and survival after the devastation of colonisation. In the first decade of the British colony, waterways were also important in resistance warfare. From 1788 to 1810 there were numerous raids conducted in canoes, as well as attacks by Aboriginal warriors on British vessels. The role of nawi – the Sydney tied-bark canoe – in this conflict has been overlooked by historians.

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New Ideas on Old Wars – The Archaeology of War

Maritime archaeologists and technicians study the shipboard computer screens during the 3D photographic survey of submarine HMAS <em>AE1</em>, in early 2018. Image courtesy Navigea Ltd.

Maritime archaeologists and technicians study the shipboard computer screens during the 3D photographic survey of submarine HMAS AE1, in early 2018. Image courtesy Navigea Ltd.

Expanding the Archaeologist’s toolkit

Once upon a time, the archaeologist’s toolkit was likely to consist of a shovel, trowel, bucket, brush, stakes and string. Today it includes a multitude of technological tools such as magnetometers, drones, ground-penetrating radar, 3D imaging and all sorts of acronyms including DGPS, LIDAR, ROVs, AUVs and many more. In the past, archaeologists were digging trenches in the ground or diving in shallow waters. These days even the roughest terrain and deepest of waters can be part of the archaeologists working environment. What was once thought impossible is increasingly possible – for example, the search for Australia’s first submarine AE1, lost in 1914 and thought one of the greatest unsolved Australian maritime mysteries, is now complete.

Today, an archaeologist can ‘look’ below the ground without even digging, they can send remote operating vehicles to incredible depths under water, and some are even investigating the potential for an ‘archaeology of the air’. And now with DNA analysis archaeologists can construct very human pictures from old bones.

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