Aboriginal heritage

echo point

The Darramuragal People

The Darramuragal or Darug people have been in this area for thousands of years, long before the arrival of European settlers.

They lived from Newcastle down to Sydney, mostly along the foreshores of the harbour. They fished and hunted in the waters and harvested food from the surrounding bushland. Spending much of their time developing a rich and complex culture, this included a distinctive language, customs, spirituality and law - the heart of which was their connection to the land.

Kinship with the land

The Aboriginal lifestyle was based on total kinship with the natural environment.

Wisdom and skills obtained over millennia enabled them to use their environment for maximum benefit.

Acts such as killing animals for food or building a shelter were steeped in ritual and spirituality, and carried out in balance with their surroundings.

Indigenous weather knowledge

September - October, Time of Ngoonungi

The flying foxes gather in the darkening skies over D'harawal Lands. They come in from the North and West, swirling over Sydney in a sky-dancing display just after sunset, before setting off for the night-time feeding grounds. It is also a very important ceremonial time for the D'harawals, which begins with the appearance of the splashes of the bright red Miwa Gawaian (Telopea speciosissima) in the bushland.

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The BOM Indigenous Weather Knowledge Calendar was launched in 2002 as a joint partnership between the Bureau, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and Monash University's Centre for Indigenous Studies.

The website is a formal recognition of traditional weather and climate knowledge that has been developed and passed down through countless generations by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. *Permission to use the D'harawal seasonal calendar is granted by the D'harawal Traditional Knowledgeholders' and Descendents' Circle.

History

The arrival of Lt James Cook in 1770 devastated in what amounts to the blink of an eye an incomparable and ancient people.

Those not lost completely were altered as survivors gathered into new groups. Much of what we do know about Sydney’s clans must be gleaned from archaeological remains.

While there are some families who have identified links to original Sydney clans-people, very few traditional stories remain about the sites and landscapes of the Ku-ring-gai area. Visit the Aboriginal Heritage Office for a detailed history of the land.

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Clans in the Sydney Region – courtesy of Dr Val Attenbrow, 2010.

Aboriginal sites 

In metropolitan Sydney, there are close to 6,500 Aboriginal sites, including rock art, shell middens, axe grinding grooves, ceremonial grounds, burial sites, stone quarries, fish traps and water holes. All sites are significant to Aboriginal people because they are evidence of the past Aboriginal occupation of Australia and are valued as a link with their traditional culture. 

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Grinding grooves on a rock face and a waterhole.

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Red hand stencil

Newly discovered 

In 2019, work led by six local Councils and the AHO has resulted in two previously unrecorded rock art sites being rediscovered in Ku-ring-gai. The sites have now been verified as authentic are in relatively good condition.

Red hand stencils

Both shelters have these, which were created by the original custodians mixing ochre and water and sometimes blood together into a pigment that is sprayed with the mouth, over a hand that then becomes a negative imprint on the rock. It provides a very intimate connection between someone in the past and the present.

Rock art

The AHO and specialists from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage recently removed graffiti from an important rock art shelter. The shelter is sometimes used by rock climbers for challenging ceiling climbs and there is a considerable amount of chalk left behind near the rock art. This site is outside of Council’s designated climbing areas and will continue to be monitored.

Rock art and midden sites

Click here for a 360º virtual tour of Aboriginal rock art and midden sites

Caring for sites

These sites are under threat every day from development, modern day usage, vandalism and natural erosion. Once they are destroyed, they are gone forever. Some of the sites that are located in Ku-ring-gai are still in remarkable condition and are an important part of our history. All Aboriginal heritage sites are protected under state and federal law.

If you would like to know more about the Aboriginal Heritage Office or the Volunteer Site Monitoring Program, visit the AHO website.

Aboriginal Heritage Office

Council is a member of the Aboriginal Heritage Office (AHO), located in Freshwater, which preserves and protects over 1,000 Aboriginal heritage sites across the North Shore. The AHO also studies Aboriginal life before colonisation and runs a series of educational walks and talks for school groups and the general public.

Get involved

  • The Education Centre and Keeping Place: Everyone is welcome, including school and community groups.
  • Schools: Free presentations, walks, talks and other activities are available for schools within a partner Council boundary, subject to staff availability. (Year 3 upwards).
  • Community Walks and Talks: These are all catered for by AHO staff. Whether it is an Aboriginal site tour, a bush tucker walk or a women only event, the AHO can assist.
  • Staff Training: There are specific courses for outdoor staff, planning and assessment staff, volunteer site monitors and others.
  • Site Protection: Assists Councils and residents in efforts to protect Aboriginal sites. This includes strategic planning issues, DA referrals, and conservation .

Bushwalks

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park offers excellent examples of local aboriginal heritage with a variety of different sites. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk, on West Head, offers visitors a unique look into past culture over a 2.5 hr loop trail.

Find out more

For more detailed information you can read the Aboriginal Heritage and History within the Ku-ring-gai Local Government Area (pdf. 1MB).

Aboriginal Heritage Sights and Sounds - Northern Sydney

Bushcare with care

Local Land Services has produced a Field Guide to help professional bush regenerators, biodiversity managers and Bushcare volunteers to protect and conserve Aboriginal landscapes.

Download the Field Guide here.