Aboriginal and European history
Centuries of history at your doorstep
The area that is now Parramatta Park originally played a vital role in the lives of the Darug people, the traditional owners. Parramatta (known as Burramatta) is in fact one of the earliest sites of ancient Aboriginal occupation in Sydney, dating back 39,000 years.
European settlement of Parramatta began in 1788 when Governor Philip led an expedition through Darug country in search of farming land and established a colony by the river. Many colonial buildings and sites remain today.
The Darug people are the traditional owners of present-day Parramatta. They knew it as Burramatta (‘burra’ meaning eel and ‘matta’ meaning creek).
The core of Burramatta country was the tidal estuary between the Crescent in Parramatta Park to the Duck River, which flows into the Parramatta River not far from Homebush Bay.
The Darug organised themselves into family groups or clans of between five to 60 people. Each clan group had its own well-defined territory and its own traditional rights and responsibilities over the land. The people who lived in the Parramatta area called themselves the Burramatta.
Evidence of Aboriginal occupation of the area dates back 39,000 years. Several scarred trees and artefact scatters have been located in the Park along the ridgeline of the Crescent and around Domain Creek.
Parramatta Park Trust seeks input from local Aboriginal groups and individuals about specific projects and the general management of the park.
In September 1788 (the year the First Fleet arrived), Governor Phillip announced his intention to establish a settlement at Parramatta. The soil of the area was more suitable for farming than the area surrounding the settlement of Port Jackson.
By 1790, fruit trees were planted, cattle introduced, and crops of wheat, barley, maize and oats were being cultivated. One hundred convicts worked under supervision on the farm. They built a small house for Governor Phillip and later began construction on the town of Parramatta.
The colonial settlement was originally called Rose Hill. On 4 June 1791 it was officially declared as Parramatta. The same year, 4 settlers were granted land in the area.
Governor Hunter granted George Salter 30 acres in 1796. Salter erected a small cottage – which is still standing – sometime between then and 1800. Now known as The Dairy, it is one of the oldest buildings in Australia.
Governor Hunter created an improved Government House in 1799. It was later extended by Governor Macquarie, who also acquired George Salters building, which became a dairy, and constructed numerous cottages in the surrounding area.
Under Macquarie, Government lands were consolidated, farming was increased in the ‘Government Domain’ and an 800-hectare ‘Gentleman’s Park’ was established.
Brisbane replaced Macquarie as Governor in 1822 and in the same year ordered the construction of an observatory. The ‘transit stones’ that were used to support Brisbane’s transit telescope, are still standing today.
In 1823 Brisbane had a bathhouse constructed to the west of Old Government House. When in operation a sunken bath was located in the centre of the building surrounded by a suite of rooms. In 1886 the building was converted into a pavilion as it had been extensively vandalised after the Domain became a public park.