Aboriginal culture

Barangaroo was a key figure in the local Aboriginal community at the time of European colonisation. Her legacy lives on in the cultural significance of Barangaroo the place.

People have been an integral part of the Barangaroo landscape for thousands of years. The Traditional Custodians, the Gadigal, used the land for hunting, the harbour for fishing and the foreshore as a place of congregation.

Barangaroo is named after a powerful Cammeraygal woman who lived in the area at the time of early colonial settlement. She was a key figure in local Aboriginal culture and community, and remains so today.

Barangaroo’s second husband was Bennelong, after whom Bennelong Point - the site of the Sydney Opera House - is named. The site was part of the territory of the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the Sydney city region, and was used for fishing and hunting. Large shell middens and numerous rock engravings close to the site indicate Aboriginal occupation dating back some 6,000 years, while radio carbon dates from other parts of Sydney indicate that the wider area was occupied for at least 14,500 years prior to European colonisation.

At the time of Aboriginal and European contact, Governor Arthur Phillip estimated there were about 1,500 Aboriginal people inhabiting the coastal areas of Botany Bay, Port Jackson and Broken Bay. But more than half of Sydney's Aboriginal population is believed to have died in the smallpox epidemic of 1789, in the first years after European colonisation.

Aboriginal people moved about the landscape, within their territories, in order to access the resources they needed. Campsites were usually located close to the shore, especially during summer when fish and shellfish was the staple diet.

The shores of Darling Harbour were an important source of cockles and oysters for both the Aboriginal and European communities.

Aboriginal people continued to live around the Harbour following European occupation. An idyllic lithograph from 1823 shows two windmills, a few small buildings, sailing vessels and Aboriginal people continuing their traditional lifestyle as cattle and sheep graze around them.

You can read more about Barangaroo and the Eora fisherwomen here.

Today, Aboriginal contemporary culture is celebrated at Barangaroo through artworks, events and commemorations, including NAIDOC Week and the popular Blak Markets. On January 26 each year, the WugulOra morning ceremony is a special moment to begin Australia Day by acknowledging Australia's shared history and the Traditional Custodians. Wugul Ora means ‘One Mob’ in the Sydney area Aboriginal language.

Clarence Slockee, Team Leader of Visitor Services Guides at Barangaroo, says of the development: “The reimagining of Barangaroo Reserve is unique in its ability to reinvigorate Aboriginal cultural heritage. It is incorporating structural changes and reintroducing endemic plant species. And there’s the proximity of significant landmarks that tell a story of people and place that is specific to Barangaroo. All this links to Barangaroo the woman and many other historically important Aboriginal people."

Visitors to Barangaroo Reserve can connect with the world’s oldest living culture and the site’s rich cultural history through a hands-on educational tour by one of Barangaroo’s Aboriginal Visitor Services Guides.

The tours provide an in-depth explanation of the Aboriginal history of Sydney Harbour and surrounds, including Me-Mel (Goat Island) and the significance of the site to Aboriginal Australians.