Leichhardt Council acknowledges that the land we stand on today traditionally belonged to the Gadigal and Wangal people, of the Eora nation. Council acknowledges the descendants of the Gadigal and Wangal people who reside within the area, as well as all other Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people who have made the Leichhardt Municipality their home.
Land of the Eora
White Australia has a black history - a brief introduction to inner-west Sydney's Aboriginal history
The history of Aboriginal people in the Leichhardt area is, without doubt, a hidden one. What we today know as the Leichhardt Municipality was once the area inhabited by the Wangal band of the Dharug (Eora) language group. The "Eora people" was the name given to coastal Aborigines around Sydney - Eora means "from this place" - local Aboriginal people used this word to describe to Europeans where they came from, and in time the term became used to define Aboriginal people themselves. Wangal country was known as wanne and it originally extended from the suburbs of Balmain and Birchgrove in the east to Silverwater and Auburn in the west.
The northern boundary was the Parramatta River. Neighbouring Darug bands were the Cadigal to the east, the Wallumattagal on the northern shore of the Parramatta River and the Bediagal to the south. How long the Wangal had lived around Leichhardt is unknown, but we do know that the Dharug were living in the Sydney area for at least 10,000 years before the British invasion in 1788.
The initial contact between white and black Australia was disastrous for Aboriginal people, as they had no immunity to the many diseases carried by the first European settlers. Smallpox was particularly virulent and it ravaged the local Aboriginal bands within eighteen months of contact killing over half of the local population.
By 1840 the tribal life of Sydney's Aboriginal population had been effectively destroyed and the Aboriginal people who survived had to exist within a dominant white culture which forced them to live on the margins of society. With the local clans decimated, Aboriginal people soon became drawn to Sydney from areas as far afield as the Five Islands area near Port Kembla. They came partly to aid their brothers and sisters in their fight against invaders, to protect their rights to land and partly because of the attractions of the settlement. Arranged marriages also brought Aboriginal people from other areas to Sydney.
Occupation sites in the Leichhardt Municipality
Occupation sites are areas that show a concentration of debris associated with human occupation. Rock shelters and overhangs were used to provide campsites sheltered from wind, rain and sun. Charcoal, baked clay, fire blackened stones, food remains (usually shell or bone) and stone tools are commonly found in occupation sites.
Middens composed predominantly of shells are essentially the remains of shellfish meals eaten on the spot by Aboriginal people over a long period of time. Fish and shellfish were the main foods of Aboriginal people living around the harbour, with fishing being an important activity of daily life for both men and women.
In the Leichhardt Municipality 16 midden sites have been identified with 4 being readily accessible to the public. Shell middens can be seen at Whitehorse Point in Elkington Park , Balmain and in Rozelle on the foreshore at Callan Point. The other sites are on private property.
The middens are dated at approximately 4, 500 years old, and are recognised as significant by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and archaeologists. A series of interpretive signs can be found at these sites as well as at Yurulbin Point in Birchgrove, recognising the traditional owners of the Leichhardt area.
In 2004, following a change in the boundaries of the Leichhardt local government area, Leichhardt Council, in consultation with the Local Metropolitan Land Council, adopted the names Birrabirragal/Balmain, Wangal/Rozelle-Lilyfield, Gadigal/Annandale-Leichhardt and Eora/Leichhardt-Lilyfield for its four ward structure in recognition of coastal Sydney's Aboriginal history.
In the 2001 Census of Population and Housing approximately 380 people, or 0.78% of the Leichhardt local government area's population, identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Finding out about: Sydney's Aboriginal history (a brief selection of resources)
Australian Museum - Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney
City of Sydney - Barani
Gadigal Information Service
Infokoori, State Library of NSW
The Koori History Website
NSW State Archives relating to Aboriginal people
Reconciliation and Social Justice Library
Timeline of Aboriginal Resistance, 1790 – 1889
Dallas, Mary. 2000. Callan Point Aboriginal Management Plan
Guider, Michael.1998.Aboriginal History of Leichhardt Municipality
Plater, Diana (ed.) 1993. Other Boundaries. Inner-city Aboriginal Stories
Turbet, Peter.1989.The Aborigines of the Sydney District before 1788