Delivered by the Mayor of Hawkesbury City Cr Rex Stubbs on 27 March 1999
Australia is a hostile continent. It has been the home of Indigenous Australians for over 50,000 years. Here they perfected an environmentally sustainable society tens of thousands of years before Western civilisation became even vaguely aware that it was desirable.
Australia is also an island continent. This relative isolation protected Aboriginal Australia from outside intervention. That isolation ended in January 1788 when England established a penal colony at Sydney Cove. The vast majority of the new settlers were here against their will. Many were political prisoners who had fought for Irish independence.
The European settlers had little understanding of the nature of the country. Food shortages became crucial. Expansion of the settlement to Parramatta and Toongabbie soon occurred but these settlements were unable to supply an adequate food supply for the colony.
The Hawkesbury region of course is the home of the Darug people.
Governor Phillip explored the Hawkesbury River by boat in July 1789 reaching as far as an area now known as Yarramundi Falls at the junction of the Grose and Nepean Rivers. He planted crops on Richmond Hill before returning to Sydney.
Governor Phillip returned to the Hawkesbury by foot in April 1791. He was accompanied by Captain Watkin Tench who recorded in his journal the first meeting in the Hawkesbury between Europeans and the Darug people. The party met and stayed overnight with Gombeeree, Yellomundi and Deeimba at Bardenarang Creek. Tench's accounts shows the beginnings of understanding between the two peoples but also just how little was actually known about Aboriginal culture.
Settlement of the Hawkesbury by Europeans first occurred in January 1794 when twenty two families were granted farms on Pitt Town Bottoms, them known as Bardenarang. One of those twenty-two settlers was Joseph Wright from whom I am descended.
Conflict between the natives and Europeans was inevitable. The Aboriginals were being expelled from part of their land and found their traditional food supply diminishing. The Europeans were in a unaccustomed environment. They were struggling to overcome a shortage of food and supplies.
The farms on the Hawkesbury were essential to the European settlement's survival. Without food from the Hawkesbury the settlement would have had to be abandoned.
The Hawkesbury has been described as being in an open state of war between 1795 and 1805.
Captain Paterson reported on 15th June 1795, stated:
The number of settlers on the banks of the Hawkesbury, with their families, amounts to upwards of four hundred persons, and their grounds extend nearly thirty miles along the banks on both sides of the river. They have for some time past been annoyed by the natives, who have assembled in large parties for the purpose of plundering them of their corn; and from the impossibility of furnishing each settler with firearms for his defence, several accidents have happened. Within a few weeks five people have been killed and several wounded. It therefore became absolutely necessary to take some measures which might secure to the settlers the peaceable possession of their estates, and without which, from the alarm these murders have created, I very much feared they would have abandoned the settlement entirely, and given up the most fertile spot which has yet been discovered in the colony. I therefore sent a detachment of two subalterns and sixty privates of the New South Wales Corps to the river, as well as to drive the natives to a distance, as for the protection of the settlers.
It gives me concern to have been forced to destroy any of these people, particularly as I have no doubt of their having been cruelly treated by some of the first settlers who went out there; however, had I not taken this step, every prospect of advantage which the colony may expect to derive from a settlement formed on the banks of so fine a river as the Hawkesbury would be at an end.
After investigating complaints against the natives by a settler from Portland Head, Governor King reported, on 20th December 1804, to Lord Hobart
Wishing to be convinced myself what cause there was for these alarms, three of the natives from that part of the river readily came on being sent for. On questioning the cause of their disagreement with the new settlers they very ingenuously answered that they did not like to be driven from the few places that were left on the banks of the river, where alone they could procure food; that they had gone down the river as the white men took possession of the banks; if they went across white men's grounds the settlers fired upon them and were angry; that if they could retain some places on the lower part of the river they should be satisfied, and would not trouble the white men. The observation appeared to be so just and so equitable that I assured them that no more settlements should be made lower down the river. With that assurance they appeared well satisfied and promised to be quiet, in which state they continue.
Hostilities again occurred in 1816. By this time further grants had been issued in the Hawkesbury and in the District of Upper Nelson as the result of the emancipation of more convicts and the increasing white population. This again resulted in the displacement of natives from their traditional lands.
As a direct descendant of one of the first twenty two European families to settle in the Hawkesbury and as Mayor of the City of Hawkesbury:
I acknowledge that the land on which we stand is traditional Darug Land and that the Darug people have a long proud history, culture and heritage in which we, as residents of the Hawkesbury, should all take great pride.
I acknowledge that European Australians have not fully appreciated or understood the true significance and value of Darug culture and heritage and that as a result the Darug people have suffered greatly.
I am sorry for that lack of understanding of Darug culture and heritage and commit myself to working towards a true understanding of Aboriginal culture by all citizens of our country.
I am sorry for the loss of the land by the Darug people resulting from past events in our nation's history. I am sorry for the death and suffering which occurred as part of those events.
I am sorry for the "stolen generation" and other events, which came about as the result of the failure to understand indigenous culture and heritage.
The events of the past cannot be changed but they do need to be understood.
Let us commit ourselves today to acknowledge the injustices of the past; to work together to develop a full appreciation of Aboriginal culture by all Australians; and to walk together as one people into the Twenty First Century.
- H.R.A. series 1, vol. 1, p.499
- H.R.N.S.W. vol. 5, p. 513