Aboriginal people since 1788
Always was, always will be
The colony arrives
Aboriginal Parramatta is likely to have been a major economic and social hub when the British arrived in January 1788. By March 1789, a smallpox epidemic had caused the death of large numbers of the Aboriginal population on the Cumberland Plain.
The Aboriginal population was hit hard by conflicts with the colonists, as well as the disease they spread. The Burramattagal who survived smallpox and these conflicts were possibly absorbed into neighbouring clan groups. Some children were taken in by colonists
Aboriginal people were angered and saddened when their land, fishing spots and hunting grounds were taken by the colonists. Burramattagal living space, food and resources were being taken away from them and they told Governor Phillip they felt obliged to leave.
When conflict first broke out there were isolated battles over land. But from the mid‐1790s, Aboriginal people resisted the colonists more and more. In 1797, Bidjigal warrior Pemulwuy and about 100 armed Aboriginal people raided the government farm at Toongabbie,.
They were chased to the outskirts of town and from there they marched down High Street (now George Street) to attack the military barracks in today’s Robin Thomas Reserve. At least five (and possibly as many as 50) Aboriginal people were killed. Pemulwuy was shot several times and taken to Parramatta Hospital. He escaped, wounded and in irons.
The frontier war with the British that started in Parramatta later spread to the Hawkesbury and Nepean areas. As the fighting increased, Governor King issued a public order (in 1801) allowing colonists in Parramatta, Prospect Hill and the Georges River to drive away any Aboriginal people who approached their homes by firing shots at them.
Pemulwuy was killed in 1802 and his death marked the effective end of Aboriginal resistance in Parramatta until 1805, when hostilities flared up again and Governor King sought to reimpose his ban on Aboriginal people approaching the homes of colonists.
Aboriginal people reached out to Reverend Samuel Marsden, to open the way to reconciliation. Aboriginal women acted as intermediaries in a process where families put themselves under the protection of magistrates. At the time, a magistrate was a civil or military officer, appointed by the Governor to manage the convict labour force.
Under the magistrates, Aboriginal people could camp at Parramatta and nearby at Prospect and the Georges River. Some Aboriginal people travelled from the Hawkesbury to camp under similar protections, as the conflict shifted from Parramatta to farms along the Hawkesbury‐Nepean rivers.