1788-1809 Western Sydney - an outline history

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The traditional owners of the lands of Western Sydney are:
the Dharug,
the Dharawal (Tharawal)
the Gandangara.

The names of smaller bands of these Aboriginal clans are remembered in many place names throughout the region.

Wianamatta - a word now used to describe the shale soils overlaying the sandstone - is the Aboriginal name for South Creek which runs across western Sydney from Narellan to Windsor.

On 26 January 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip took formal possession of New South Wales for a British penal settlement. Within weeks of establishing a camp at Sydney Cove, the Europeans explored the countryside. The harbour and the Parramatta River provided the easiest routes and within the first year Auburn, Parramatta and the Baulkham Hills district had been visited and a new settlement founded at Rose Hill, soon called by its Aboriginal name of Parramatta. In 1789 Phillip explored and named the Hawkesbury river, Tench reached the Nepean and Dawes travelled beyond into the mountains as far as modern Faulconbridge. By 1795 the Europeans had reached the Camden area.

The better farming soils at Parramatta shifted the balance of settlement there for most of the 1790s, with government agricultural settlements at Toongabbie and Castle Hill as the young settlement tried to establish food supplies.

In 1789 a small pox epidemic swept through the Aboriginal people in the Sydney region, killing many. The surviving Aboriginal people resisted the occupation of their lands by European farmers. Violence occurred at Prospect, in the Hills district and along the river flats at the Hawkesbury as Aboriginal and European sought the same land. A detachment of soldiers was stationed at the Hawkesbury from 1799 because of the violence between Aborigines and Europeans.

James Ruse received the first land grant at Parramatta in 1791, in recognition of his self sufficiency as a farmer. Along the Parramatta River smaller grants to ex-soldiers and ex-convicts mingled with larger grants to prominent officials and free settlers. Smaller holdings had frontages to the creeks of the Cumberland Plain, while larger areas more suitable for pastoral use were located further away from water. The names of early farms provided many of the place names of Western Sydney. The government held back great swathes of land throughout Western Sydney from settlement. The land was used as commons for people to graze their animals and for government stock and it remained unoccupied for almost a century.

Parramatta, Toongabbie and Castle Hill were convict farming settlements. In 1804 Irish convicts at Castle Hill sought their freedom through an uprising. They marched on Parramatta but were defeated by the soldiers near Rouse Hill in the battle of Vinegar Hill, an allusion to the political uprisings against the English in Ireland. Four years later the military turned against Governor Bligh, arrested him and ruled the colony for two years. This is remembered as the Rum Rebellion because the military had long dominated the local economy and alcohol was an important trade good.