The Darug tribe are an Aboriginal Australian people, who share strong ties of kinship and, in pre-colonial times, lived as skilled hunters in family groups or clans, scattered throughout much of what is modern-day Sydney.
Originally a Western Sydney people, they were bounded by the Kuringgai to the northeast around Broken Bay, the Darkinjung to the north, the Wiradjuri to the west on the eastern fringe of the Blue Mountains, the Gandangara to the southwest in the Southern Highlands, the Eora to the east and the Tharawal to the southeast in the Illawarra area.
The area around Concord was once inhabited by the Wangal clan of the Darug tribe, but little remains to remind us of the former Aboriginal occupation of this area. It originally extended from the suburbs of Balmain, Birchgrove and Leichhardt in the east, to Silverwater and Auburn in the west. The northern boundary was the Parramatta River, but the southern boundary is not defined. Neighbouring Darug clans were the Cadigal to the east, the Wallumedegal on the northern shore of Parramatta River, the Wategora to the west, and the Bediagal to the south-west.
The earliest recorded local contact made with Aborigines took place on the southern bank of the Parramatta River. This encounter on the 5th February 1788 was noted in the diary of Lieut. William Bradley R.N. thus:
“At daylight having a guard of marines, proceeded to the upper part of the harbour again, passed several natives in the caves as we went up and some on the shore near the place we left the beads and other things, who followed us along the rocks calling to us. We landed to cook our breakfast on the opposite shore to them. We made signs for them to come over and waved green boughs. Soon after 7 of them came over in 2 canoes and landed near our boats. They left their spears in the canoes and came to us. We tied beads etc. about them and left them our fire to dress mussels which they went about as soon as we put off. “
The seven Aborigines who crossed over from the opposite shore would have been Darug tribesmen but we don’t know whether they belonged to the Wallumedegal or Wangal clan. The area where they landed is now known as Breakfast Point but was known as Booridiow-o-gule by the Wangal.
The Wangal people were a coastal clan of the Darug tribe and, during the summer months, most of their food was gathered from the estuarine areas of their land. This food consisted mainly of shellfish and fish and the remains of these meals were left behind in shell middens which can still be seen in Cabarita and Rodd Point. During the winter months when fish were scarce, the Aborigines relied more on kangaroos, possums, emus, ducks, reptiles, insects, etc, plus a large variety of plant foods.
This area was also readily accessible to the Wangal people by canoe via the Cooks and Parramatta rivers or by using the native pathway from Sydney to Parramatta. It is believed Parramatta road was built upon this native pathway which had probably been in use for centuries. If the Wangal people did camp in the district they would have used bark huts or gunyahs, but It is more likely that they did not permanently use the municipality for camping purposes but instead frequented the area to gather food.
The area once supported large forests of eucalypt trees with many native grasses growing as an understorey. During kangaroo hunts or (Walabunga) as they were called, several clans would band together to form a large circle around their intended quarry. Then they would set fire to the grass, leaving only a narrow opening in the circle for the kangaroos to escape. As the frightened marsupials hopped to freedom the Darug hunters would spear them.
The most famous Wangal warrior was Bennelong, who first came to prominence when he was captured with Colbee, a Cadigal man, on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip. This drastic step was taken on the 25th November 1789, so the Governor could learn more about the Aboriginal people, their language and customs.
Bennelong became the only member of the Wangal clan to travel overseas to England, and he returned 3 years later to tell his people the wonders he saw there. Bennelong died in 1813 and is buried on private property in Ryde, or Wallumetta as it was known by the local Wallumedegal clan who lived there. The exact location of his grave is still disputed by local historians. Normally in Aboriginal society when a person died their name ceased to be used or passed on to another.
However, because of Bennelong’s remarkable effect on the first settlers, his name has lived on and is still used in today’s society. Although Bennelong lived a simple existence, living off the land, his name is now associated with such things as a luxury house at Bellevue Hill- Chateau De Benelong, a VIP cruiser MV Bennelong, Bennelong Point (home the world-famous Sydney Opera House) and Bennelong electorate. There is Bennelong Park in Putney and also at least two books written about his life.
Bennelong also claimed ownership of Goat Island saying his father had given it to him. From ethnographical records, we know that Bennelong and his wife Bangaroo often camped there.
For further information read Aboriginal History of Burwood by Michael Guider