Not long after the first European fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in January 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip and a party of men rowed up the Parramatta River and explored the area further west until they reached Prospect Hill on 22 April 1788. The party was surprised to see traces of the Dharug people, such as triangular bark huts, fired trees, animal bones, even a chewed piece of root. They saw no one but they were watched on all sides by the Aborigines. This pattern of avoiding contact continued for the next four years.

The following are several accounts of early contact between European settlers and Aboriginal groups in Western Sydney. These are the perceptions of the individual authors. The information presented here represents only a selection of views about Aboriginal History.For anyone wishing to learn more about Aboriginal History in Western Sydney, it is recommended that you contact Dharug Link at this address: D.T.A.C. ,P.O. Box 441 Blacktown 2148.Also refer to Atsic http://www.atsic.gov.au/main.htm (Australian and Torres Strait Islander Commission)

The earliest archaeological evidence for Aboriginal people in the Sydney region comes from the gravel beds which are now to be burried under sands and silts in the Penrith- Castlereagh area adjacent to the Nepean River. In these gravel stones artefacts have been found dating back at least 28,000 years,and possibly more than 40,000 years.

(The Dharug and Their Neighbours by Dr. James Kohen)
Their land was taken from them, their sources of food were taken form them, they prevented access to water, they died in thousands from European diseases, they were kidnapped, shot, hung, tortured and beheaded, and when they retaliated they were accused of perpetrating 'barbarous acts'.It was considered that the best way to cope with the'Aboriginal problem' was to remove the children from the influence of their parents, in effect, to destroy the culture altogether.

In response to the above clause Peter West writes in his book: A History of Parramatta:

Macquarie would not have seen the matter in this way. Doubtless he felt that he was trying to save the uncultured barbarians from the damnation by bringing them the benefits of Protestant Christianity. As the alternative idea was to see the Aborigines as fit only for death, Macquarie was an enlightened man for his day.

Click on image of Corroboree for info In 1855 a visitor to Camden Park photographed a small group of Aborigines on the estate. Six women, one with a young child, sat on the grass behind an older man
while a European woman watched from the background, All were dressed in oddments of European clothing. In 1858 about 200 Aborigines were assembled at Campbelltown railway station to celebrate the completion of the railway line. Given the smaller number Dharawal and Gandangara by the 1840's, they had probably been gathered from a wide area. Some frequent visitors to Campbelltown and Menangle in Mid-century came from quite distant tribes. Edrop at Menangle had a station at Coonamble and Aborigines from these occasionally worked on his farm at Menangle, crossing over the mountains and through the Burragong Valley." (Liston, C. Campbelltown: The Bicentennial History)

Macquarie, like most settlers, believed Aborigines should be 'civilised' , that is divested of their own culture and made 'European'. A Native institution established in 1814 at Parramatta by William Shelley was intended to educate black children for life as domestic servants or farm hands. However, parents were unwilling to lose their children and within a few years force was used to take children away from their bands.

The Native Institution itself was removed to Black Town (Boongarrumee) settlement in 1832 and a new building erected for it. Land grants had already been given to Nurragingy and Colebe in 1819 in this area, and also two Aboriginal girls who had attended the Native Institution, Polly and Betty Fulton. It was a serious attempt to establish Aboriginal people as settlers on the land in European terms, although the land itself was rather unsuitable for cultivation.

Macquarie established an annual feast to encourage attendance at the institution: four hundred Aborigines came to the 1824 gathering, but numbers declined thereafter and the practice ceased in 1835.About thirty people were living there in 1824 but by the end of the year most had returned to their own people and lifestyle. In 1828 there were nine Aboriginal and four New Zealand children, most of whom died by 1829. The settlement was finally closed in 1833 and the land and buildings auctioned off.

Bands of Aborigines continued to live around white estates and settlements and some still managed a semi-traditional existence, for Charles Darwin met a group of twenty at Emu Plains I 1836 who carried spears and demonstrated their use for him. He described them as 'good humoured and pleasant' and 'far from being such utterly degraded beings as they are usually represented'. Large gatherings and corroborees were still held during the 1830s.

The death rate was high, however, and by 1840 there were less than 300 Dharug Aborigines alive,only 10 per cent of the 1788 population. During the second half of the nineteenth century, it was believed that Aborigines would die out and that they needed to be 'protected' by restriction to missions and reserves. Establishments like these were located between Blacktown and Richmond, along the Richmond Road, on the west bank of the Hawkesbury River north of Windsor and in the Burragorang Valley. The white supervisors controlled their movements,food,clothing and shelter. Conditions were no less difficult and probably more degrading than they had been earlier, since they now were treated as institutionalised inmates. There were still fifty Aboriginal people at the Hawkesbury River reserve in 1900.
(From Karsken, Grace; Holroyd: A Social History of Western Sydney).

By the 1820's few,if any, Dharug people lived within the township of Parramatta. In the surrounding district, especially to the south-west, there were still large areas of timbered country untouched by the European grantees and Aboriginal people continued to live there, finding occasional work as farm-hands and guides. The presence of the Native Institution for Aboriginal children in Parramatta provided a focus for Aboriginal gatherings and a reminder to the authorities of the needs of the Aboriginal people of the County of Cumberland.

Elizabeth Shelley nee Bean (c1782-1878), the daughter of a free settler, had taken over the management of the Native Institution after her husband's death in July 1815, barely six months after the Institution opened. Although she was supervised by a management committee if gentlemen, Elizabeth Shelley effectively ran the Native Institution at Parramatta until it was moved to Blacktown in 1823. The Native Institution was in the centre of town behind ST John's Church with the school building on the south-west corner of Macquarie and Marsden street. Mrs Shelley and her family occupied land bounded by Macquarie, Marsden and Hunter streets. The Institution had a large paddock, bounded by Argyle, Marsden and Hunter streets immediately behind St John's.

A Russian traveller in June 1822, A. P. Shabel'sky, later Russian ambassador to Washington DC, wrote: The institution at Parramatta for the instruction of the children of natives is more an experiment than an actual school; nor does it serve to show any obvious goodwill towards the natives on the Government's part . There are no more than 13 children in it . These speak English pretty well, but instead of giving them a simple education the authorities are attempting to fill their young heads with profound truths, which their very teachers do no comprehend.

The English government is not making great efforts to enlighten the natives and the latter ...have an insuperable aversion to whatever may lead them away from their primitive state of existence: for them an independent life is more precious than anything else.

One must not suppose, however, that these natives are the very lowest of mankind for they have certain rites which indicate that they,too, must be counted among rational societies. The removal of the Aboriginal school to farm land at Blacktown was as much a result of manoeuvring school to farm land at Blacktown was as much a result of manoeuvring among church and missionary groups as it was a recognition that the children had not flourished at Parramatta where they were subject to many undesirable European influences. From 1824 the emphasis of the missionary groups moved from Parramatta and Blacktown to the frontier at Wellington and Lake Macquarie.

For the people of Parramatta, the more enduring institution was the annual Aboriginal feast. Initiated by Macquarie as away of enticing Aboriginal families to leave their children at school, the feast had become the last major Aboriginal gathering in the County of Cumberland by the 1820's. George Allen and his mother, the matron of the Female Orphanage, attended the gathering on 28 December 1820. Allen reported:'There were about 22 natives present, and plenty of roast beef, pudding and beer and vegetables were provided for them. The Governor was very busy with them. There were a great number of Sydney folk.'

In December 1824, approximately 300 Aboriginal people assembled for the feast. Only a few months earlier the had been open warfare between black and white beyond the mountains,and martial law had been declared at Bathurst. When the fighting stopped, the peace process with the Wiradjuri people involved a meeting between their leader Windradeyne at the annual gathering of the tribes at Parramatta. The Europeans came to see the feared chief and local tribesmen, more familiar with Parramatta than Windradeyne, showed him the wonders of the town.

The last summer feast was in January 1832 and was attended by Governor Bourke and his wife. Bourke changed the date to early May in 1833 so that the blankets and clothing could be distributed as winter approached. Responsibility for organising the gathering was transferred from the William Aird at the Lumbar Yard to the management committee of the Female Factory. Rum, tobacco,potatoes,flour and bread were purchased from local shopkeepers. Knives, forks, platters and drinking cups were borrowed from the Surveyor General's office.

The tribes for the south traditionally camped at the head of A 'Beckett's Creek, near the junction of Woodville Road and Union Street. Those from the west camped along the Clay Cliff Creek. Others would assemble on the Western Road near the toll house, where their fires could be seen blazing through the night. John Taylor remembered that after the feast and blanket distribution, hundreds of Aboriginal people would gather for an evening corroboree on the vacant ground on the corner of Macquarie and Marsden streets, the site of the old Native Institution. James Hassall remembered a school visit in the 1830's to the Aboriginal camp near Prospect where the tribes had gathered prior to the annual feast. The giant corroboree was used to settle matters between different groups . Six to seven hundred Aboriginal men had assembled with their women. The men, naked and painted with white clay and red ochre, faced their opponents armed with spears, boomerangs, nullah- nullahs, waddies and shields. The two sides fougth and then, having settled the matter, feasted the next day.

At least one Dharug man served in the Boer War and at least 11 of the extended family served in the First World War. One of these men also served overseas in the Second World War and while he was away his wife's military pension was cut off because she was Aboriginal. (The Dharug and Their Neighbours by Dr. James Kohen)