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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Songlines: The art of navigating the Indigenous world

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

For thousands upon thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have navigated their way across the lands and seas of Australia using paths called songlines or dreaming tracks. A songline is based around the creator beings and their formation of the lands and waters during the Dreaming (creation of earth). It explains the landmarks, rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees, sky and seas.

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NAIDOC week: unlock water and Indigenous People

NAIDOC week with the ANMM via the Virtual Classroom. Image: ANMM.

NAIDOC week with the ANMM via the Virtual Classroom. Image: ANMM.

A virtual excursion suitable for students in Years 3 to 6

To celebrate NAIDOC week, Indigenous Programs Manager Donna Carstens and special guest Uncle Terry will discuss the cultural significance of water to Indigenous people.

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The death of Captain Barker

Barkers Knoll, sea outlet of the Murray 1840.  ANMM Collection

Barkers Knoll, sea outlet of the Murray 1840.
ANMM Collection

In Australia’s past, there were many unsung heroes whose quiet achievements deserve to be remembered, and it is often only by chance that they are brought to light. I recently came across a simple sketch of a remote and windswept piece of coastline in South Australia, and would have continued reading if I had not noticed the handwritten note on the top, “Spot where Captain Barker was murdered”. Although the area, particularly nearby Kangaroo Island, had been sporadically used by sealers since the mid 1700s, there was no settlement there in 1831 when Captain Barker visited. It seemed an unusual place for a murder to happen. As it turned out, not only was it a most unlikely location but Captain Barker was a most unlikely victim. Continue reading