At the time of European settlement the Canada Bay area was part of the traditional lands of the Wangal clan of Aboriginal people. The Wangal were a clan of the larger Darug language group or Aboriginal nation. Their lives were strongly focussed on the harbour and its foreshores, especially in food gathering.
Aboriginal people also hunted animals, harvested plants and gathered raw materials in the bushland fringing the harbour. The Hen & Chicken Bay area, along with Homebush Bay, was traditionally a major meeting place for Aboriginal people from Port Jackson and the wider Sydney region.
Before the arrival of white settlers, Cabarita Park was a typical rocky outcrop along the shores of the Parramatta River. Cabarita may have been derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘by the water’ or may have been derived from a place in Spain where Surveyor-General Mitchell worked under Wellington.
Cabarita Point was first sighted by the first European settlers in February 1788 – by Captain Hunter on his journey up the Parramatta River. The park was reserved as a recreation area in 1856, and first accessible by steamer in the 1850s.
Early in its history the park was popular for picnics and watching boat races on the harbour. Part of the suburb was originally granted in 1795 to David Anderson, a private soldier in the NSW Corps. The grant was described as being at ‘Cabarita Point, at the upper part of the harbour’. Cabarita Park, a picnic area on Cabarita Point was known as Correy’s Gardens in the 1880s. This part of the river was the venue for early regattas, including the GPS schools ‘Head of the River’ before these races were moved to the Nepean River.
The park was dedicated for public use in 1880. Cabarita was linked to Burwood station by tram, and the park was popular with families for picnics. There was a segregated swimming pool, with one half for men and boys, the other for women and girls. Husbands and wives, as well as lovers, would lean on the dividing fence for a chat as the water swirled around their legs.
France Bay, Exile Bay and Canada Bay, adjacent to the park, commemorate a group of 58 French-Canadian exiles. After an 1838 rebellion in Canada these prisoners were sent to NSW and held in the Longbottom Stockade in Concord, at which time the 3 bays received these names. Cabarita Park was proclaimed a public park under the Public Parks Act 1912