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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders history in Punchbowl

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders history in Punchbowl

While there is limited information available about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders history in the Punchbowl area, it is understood that the Darug and Eora people were the original inhabitants of the Punchbowl area for many thousands of years before European settlement. The Darug were the dominant group.

The Darug and Eora lived in a close harmony with their environment. The land was fertile and provided kangaroo, emu, possum, wild honey, plants and roots.

Nearby, Botany Bay, the Cooks River and Georges River provided fish and shellfish. Reminders of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders lifestyle, dating back 3,000 years, can still be found along the Georges River, Cooks River and other areas. These include rock and overhang paintings, stone scrapers, middens and axe grinding grooves. Signs of occupation are found in rock shelters, which were used as cooking and camping places, and middens, made up of shells discarded from shellfish meals over hundreds of years. 

The new British settlers arriving in the area found the middens a useful resource. They burned oyster shells from the middens along the Cooks River to produce lime. This was then used in the making of mortar for building.

Also, signs of Aboriginal occupation are found in local rock shelters which were used as cooking and camping places. Among the most important of the surviving Aboriginal artwork sites in Canterbury Bankstown is a rock shelter located at Undercliff, in the area of the Cooks River. Archaeologists have labelled this site as a rarity in the Sydney region, and the paintings and etching are believed to be 1,000 to 5,000 years old.

A clash of cultures sadly occurred in the local area. A site of Aboriginal resistance to settlers has been commemorated on a heritage panel at Punchbowl. The incident in 1809 involved a group of Aboriginal people, including an Aboriginal leader named Tedbury, who was a son of Pamulwy.  Tedbury led the local resistance to white settlement. 

The image below is a picture of the Heritage Panel located at the corner of Cullens Rd & Mitcham St, Punchbowl unveiled by Councillor John Gorrie, Mayor of Canterbury on 7th April 1995.

The Heritage Panel reflects the early conflicts in the area. The story goes that in 1809, William Bond and Frederick Meredith were given land grants in the Punchbowl area and commenced farming on the land. Later that year a group of Aborigines, including an Aboriginal leader named Tedbury, gathered on the land being cultivated by William Bond. Reports in newspapers at the time wrote that the aboriginals ‘behaved in a very outrageous manner’ and ‘manifested an inclination to plunder’. Frederick Meredith joined in the defence of Bond’s farm and when spears were thrown, Meredith was injured. Following this, Bond and Meredith abandoned the farms. 

The farms included land located between two arms of Salt Pan Creek and was likely to be an area of important food source for the Aborigines. No doubt they were angered by the intention of Bond and Meredith to settle, clear and cultivate this land. This incident reflects one of many conflicts in the area in which Tedbury, the son of Pemulwy, was believed to have been involved.

Pamulwy and Tedbury feature in the design of the Indigenous Mosaic in Gough Whitlam Park at Undercliff. This was built by Council in 2004 to pay tribute to the original custodians of the area and their care and protection of the land around the Cooks River.